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The 16th Annual Essential Theatre Festival is now CLOSED!

SuzRecfor tiff42014 marked the 16th year of the Essential Theatre Festival, and this was the third year in a row that we’ve featured exclusively Georgia playwrights, with great success and inspiring community and local support. Thanks for joining us if you made it out to the Festival.

Check back here or join our mailing list by submitting your email address at the bottom of this page, to stay up to date on all the latest Essential Theatre news. We’ll be sharing pictures and updates from this summer’s festival as well as news about what we’re up to next and what our artists, playwrights and company members are involved with around town between Festivals.

New Website! ..& Thank-you to our Supporters!


Our new website is live, and it’s all thanks to our awesome supporters who helped us to fund it!

We hope you find the new website useful and informative. Here are some things you may want to check out:

Tremendous thanks to our New Website supporters: Jessica Fern Hunt, Barbara O’Haley, Jennifer Kimball, Charles Swint, Amber Bradshaw and Ansley Wine Merchants, Mark Perloe and Nancy Dorsner. Thanks to your support, all our website visitors can enjoy a more dynamic, engaging and responsive website, and the playwrights whose work we have produced will have access to improved online resources to promote their work. Your support has been instrumental in helping us to give Georgia playwrights a voice. Thank you!

Would you like to support Essential Theatre?  Go here to find out how!



TONIGHT AT ACADEMY THEATRE: Shirlene Holmes’s Pathways, performed by Brenda Porter

The Academy Theatre’s been up to some pretty exciting things since their move from Avondale Estates last year. With two new homes, one in Stockbridge and one in Hapeville, the iconic Atlanta theater is growing so fast it makes your head spin.

This weekend, they’re hosting a long-time Essential family member, Brenda Porter, as she performs the one-woman show, Pathways, written by Shirlene Holmes. Pathways takes audiences on a journey through the lives of some of the most engaging, dynamic and successful African American women in our history, women who have often been overlooked or marginalized by history text books. Sometimes funny, always daring, these stories are exciting, fun and inspiring for people of all ages.

You’ll get to know the engaging characters in this story when you see the show tonight or Sunday afternoon — which, having seen it, I highly recommend. Let’s take a moment now to hear Brenda’s story, bringing Pathways and Essential Theatre together.

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Nearly New Festival creator Park Krausen on showcasing work by living writers

This weekend, “discover ‘nearly new’ work by living writers, performed by some of Atlanta’s hottest directors and actors in dialogue with amazing writers, producers and theater makers from Haiti, Quebec, Belgium, France, San Francisco, Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles! Celebrate the voices of women and youth through plays, graphic novels, and readings from and about the French-Speaking World. Shine a light on contemporary issues like bullying behavior, our obsession with Facebook, our litigious society and mothers and daughters.”


Meet Park Krausen, artistic director of Theatre du Reve and the person who first conceived of the Nearly New Festival, running through this Sunday at the Goat Farm. Featuring works by acclaimed writers from around the world, this year’s Nearly New Festival also featured a play by former Essential Theatre playwright Lauren Gunderson!

A large part of Essential’s mission is supporting the writers whose work we produce, even after the festival has closed, and for this reason any festival called “Nearly New” was bound to catch my eye. Why would a company choose to produce work that is “nearly” new? Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to talk with Park and learn more about what inspired the festival and why she feels so passionately about it.

How long has the Nearly New Festival been taking place?
This is the first year. It may become an annual or a bi-annual event.

And whose idea was the festival?

Where did the idea for the festival come from?
At Theatre du Reve, we have encountered so much new or nearly new work from around the French-speaking world. We cannot possibly produce all of these plays. We were also looking to connect with more women — writers and directors — and look at work for younger audiences. This was the impetus. 

What constitutes “nearly new,” in terms of whether a play should be in the festival?
Work that hasn’t been done in English or in the US before in public.

Why do you like the Nearly New Festival? What is unique or special about it to you?
It gives us an opportunity to look at work that others in the US might not have access to, simply because it is written in French. We get to share it with the world for a first hear.
Sometimes playwrights approach us with work about the French-speaking world, as was the case with Lauren Gunderson’s play, The Revolutionists. We were able to give it a read and put her work together with director Joanie Schultz who has done a lot of new play development in Chicago.

What can people get from this festival that they can’t get somewhere else?
You can hear work from the French-speaking world that hasn’t previously made it to the US. There is a different history, tradition, fearlessness. The government support sometimes gives playwrights from the French-speaking world more freedom.
We are bringing over artist Beleck Georges from Haiti, who generates work in his country with a different urgency and a different relationship to laughter, storytelling and starting from nothing but a meeting of the people in the room.

Where did the themes for this year’s festival come from?
Women and youth are often under- or mis-represented in theater. We wanted to hear from the mouths of babes and women — be they directors, actors, creators, writers, translators or illustrators.

How would you fill the blank: “If you like X, you definitely want to be there for the Nearly New Festival”?
The Kendeda Readings or Essential’s New Play Festival or the Playwrights Center or Youth Creates.

Do you have any final thoughts to share with readers about the festival?
We would love to invite audiences and theater-makers into the conversation: might this work find a home in the ATL? Feedback from the audiences is crucial so we can come back to playwrights, translators and theater-makers with questions and ideas.

-Interview by Jennifer Kimball, Managing Director of Essential Theatre 
and occasional stage and production manager with Theatre du Reve

Essential Director Ellen McQueen Chosen for First Atlanta Artist’s Lab

Longtime Essential Theatre director Ellen McQueen was one of the three artists chosen by the Alliance Theatre for the first Atlanta Artist’s Lab (AAL) program, through which she will be able to further develop The Projects Project, a multi-media theatre piece about the experience of people growing up in Atlanta’s housing projects. The Projects Project began as part of the 2012 Essential production of The Local, a collaborative theater project about the City of Atlanta, developed and directed by McQueen, a citywide portrait of Atlanta that Ellen conceived and directed, working with dozens of Atlanta writers, artists, photographers, and storytellers.

“First,” states Ellen, “let me say a huge thank you to the Alliance Theatre for creating the Atlanta Artist’s Lab, and another huge thank you to Peter Hardy and the Essential Theatre for taking a chance when I made the crazy proposal of a project called The Local.”

The Essential production of The Local was created collaboratively by a number of Atlanta artists, she says. “Included were pieces chosen from submission, pieces that were commissioned, and pieces created from interviews with different Atlantans. The idea of The Projects Project began with two pieces from The Local—a monologue and a dance—developed from and inspired by interviews with folks who grew up in the Atlanta housing projects. I was very interested by what I learned talking with those folks and wanted to know more. Then, the strong response from audiences to the material made it apparent that here was a story that ought to be told and was ready to be heard.”
“Atlanta has long been in the forefront with public housing. Construction on the first housing project in the United States began here in Atlanta in 1934. Techwood was dedicated by President Roosevelt in ’35 and officially opened in 1936. Now we’ve torn the projects down and are experimenting with new models. The Projects Project is looking at what life in the housing projects was like, how it shaped people and our city as well as the rest of the country. There’s a phrase attributed (probably apocryphally) to Mark Twain: ‘Atlanta’s a great city—if they ever get it finished.’ This phrase often comes to mind when I’m sitting in traffic stalled by construction. But an essential thing about Atlanta is that it is never finished, that it is, as its symbol suggests, a phoenix born again from its own consuming fires. I want this project to give some Atlantans a way to share their stories and give others a way to learn something new about our home, this great, complicated Southern city that is always making itself anew.”
“Happily for the city,” she adds, “the Alliance Theatre has instituted the Atlanta Artist’s Lab to support the development of projects that Atlanta artists are dreaming up, providing a way for all kinds of ideas to move from inside our heads out into the world. And happily for me, The Projects Project was chosen as one of the first three projects to be developed. The goal of this project, within the Lab, is not a full production, but a presentation in early August of what we will have created by then. It’s wonderful to have the freedom to experiment and explore (hey, that’s what you do in a lab, right?) Working with me already are James Knowles, photographer, Oliver (OT) Turner, rapper, and Meagan Dilworth, choreographer, all of whom I met while working on The Local. Other wonderful folks will be joining us. By August, we’ll have plenty of good stuff to show. I look forward to getting feedback from all of y’all who come to see what we’ve made, feedback that will guide us in continuing the ‘construction’ of our ‘Project.’ And who knows, maybe we’ll end up back at the Essential with it when it’s completed!”
This new program at the Alliance Theatre intends to do for metro artists what its renowned Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition does for playwrights on the cusp of professional careers across the country. It will provide financial support, a home base and space in which to develop new work. It is expected to be an annual event. The AAL attracted more than 60 proposals from 200 artists.
“Watching The Local come to life as part of the 2012 Essential Theatre Festival was an inspiring experience,” states Essential Managing Director Jennifer Kimball. “It was an epic endeavor, especially as part of a larger festival, and there were so many great stories that we got to share! I’m thrilled that Ellen has the opportunity to develop one of these stories more fully through the Atlanta Artists Lab. She has such a powerful and multifaceted vision. I can’t wait to see the end result!”
Congratulations, Ellen! We’re proud of you, and it’s just one more example of new work that began with Essential moving on out into the world — that’s a big part of our mission!

Henritze’s Play, Bitch of Balaclava, reading tonight as part of Brave New Works at Theatre Emory

Tonight at 7pm in the Schwartz Center at Emory, former Essential Theatre collaborator Patricia Henritze’s play, The Bitch of Balaclava, is being read as part of Theater Emory’s Brave New Works series.

Brave New Works is a festival of new play readings and exploratory workshops presented by the Playwriting Center of Theater Emory. Playwrights, adaptors, composers, and dramaturgs come together towork on these plays in development, with a combined company of student and professional actors.
I had the opportunity to connect with Patricia earlier this week and hear about her experience with Brave New Works, learn a little about tonight’s play, and find out what’s next   on her own creative horizon. Check it out!
Tell me a little about who you are and what your background is? 
I’m a writer, director, and teacher.  I’ve taught theater all over Atlanta: Agnes Scott, Clayton State, Kennesaw State, Oglethorpe.  I love teaching.  Most recently I directed Milvotchkee Visconsin at Synchronicity, and I’m currently directing Intimate Apparel at GA Perimeter, as well as teaching playwriting at Oglethorpe. My play The Bitch of Balaclava is in Brave New Works at Theater Emory this year.  
Do you primarily think of yourself as a Georgia writer? 
I don’t think of myself as a ‘Southern Writer’ at all.  That said, I have no doubt that my thoroughly southern roots have influenced my reading and writing.  I’ve lived outside the south for extended periods, but I always come back.  
How do you primarily think of yourself, either as a creator or an artist or a person?
When I describe myself, I usually say, “theater artist.” I come from performance art background and it’s normal for me to think in an interdisciplinary format.  I love to collaborate and have worked with dancers, musicians, and filmmakers. I’m currently stewing on a project that would involve a visual artist – I hope I get to do that soon.
Tell me about your history/relationship with Essential.
The earliest memories I have of Essential Theatre are going to see a play by Karen Wurl.  It must have been one of the first years of the festival.  I also remember seeing a Karla Jennings play there around that time (or the same time?) Then, nearly ten years ago, I directed Going to St. Ives by Lee Blessing for Essential and had a wonderful experience.  I’m still friends with the two actors from that show, Yvonne Singh and Shawna Tucker.
Where did your play come from? Where did you get the idea to write it?
I often write from image and this play came from a strong visual impulse. I often gravitate toward classical inspiration and history, but it’s funny because I don’t think of myself as intellectual in that way at all. This play is very physical, but very language rich at the same time.
What made you decide to actually pursue the idea?
I was actually in graduate school years ago when Ifirst started the play and proposed it as a final project of some kind.  But I ended up dropping it and secretly writing another play.  Then, at the end of the semester I had to show something and I didn’t have this play, so I gave them the other one that I thought wasn’t very good.  It won the graduate writing award that year.  Many years later, I picked this one up again.  Obviously, I wasn’t ready to write it at the time.
How did your participation in the Brave New Works series come about?
I met Vinnie Murphy through a Working Title Playwrights workshop. I brought in some work, he and I started talking, and then I sent him some more work.  I really enjoy talking theater with him. Eventually we began to talk about BNW and I went through the proposal process.  I was surprised when they chose this play.  
What is exciting or unique about Brave New Works?
Since it’s focused on process and it’s a university setting, they have the willingness and resources to develop work that might be less accessible or producible for other theaters. BNW creates opportunities for writers to explore new ground, which is rare – and getting more so every day. Also, working in the Schwartz Theater space is perfect for this play and having Vinnie direct this first workshop of the piece feels very lucky.
What has your experience with this process been, or been like?
The best part for me, so far, has been working with allthe people at Theater Emory.  Everyone I’ve met issmart and funny and kind – it’s been a real pleasure.  Plus, they liked this play.  Sometimes you write a play that you know has challenges and finding people interested in exploring those challenges is not always easy.  When you do, it’s a gift so you better just enjoy the ride.  And I have.
Outside of this reading, what else are you up to? What’s the next thing of yours we could go see, or the next thing you’re excited about seeing or being involved in?
I’m the Creative Director for Life Sentence, a music project that benefits the Georgia Innocence Project (GIP.) March 9th we have a co-sponsored event with True Colors Theater Company in conjunction with their play Race at the Southwest Arts Center.  Life Sentence is inspired by the life of Clarence Harrison,the first man exonerated by GIP. Clarence will be there talking about his 18 years of wrongful incarceration and his eventual release – and musicians Melanie Hammet and Ben Holst will be performing the songs they’ve written about his life.  It’s moving, but also entertaining.  The music isamazing, Melanie and Ben are so talented, and Clarence is a great storyteller with a dry sense of humor. The audience always has a great time. Plus, it benefits GIP so they can continue to free the innocent.  What could be better?
Bitch of Balaclava will be read tonight at 7pm in the Theater Lab at the Schwartz Center at Emory University. Admission is free. To make reservations call the Arts at Emory box office, (404) 727-5050.

Congratulations to Karla Jennings and Theroun D’Arcy Patterson, Winners of the 2014 Essential Theatre Playwriting Competition!

Atlanta, January 2014 – Essential Theatre has just announced Theroun Patterson and Karla Jennings as co-winners of the 2014 Playwriting Competition.  “It’s taken us a long while to come to a decision this year,” observes Peter Hardy, Founding Artistic Director of the theatre, “because of the large number of strong submissions we received.  But we feel that both of these plays are worthy of the prizes and will be excellent contributions to our Festival this summer.” Both playwrights will receive a $600 cash prize and a full production in this summer’s Essential Theatre Festival.
Having two contest winners in one year is not unprecedented, as this was also the case in 2006, when both Valetta Anderson’s “Leaving Limbo” and Larry Larson and Eddie Levi Lee’s “Charm School” shared the prize.  Since that time there has continued to be an increase in both the quantity and quality of plays submitted to this competition.
Karla Jennings’s play, Ravens and Seagulls, is a heartfelt story about four sisters going through the process of losing one of them to illness. “It’s often painful,” says Hardy, “but also has a lot of humor and some hope at the end.”
That Uganda Play, by Theroun Patterson, was written in reaction to Ugandan Parliament Member David Bahati’s “Kill the Gays” bill of 2010. “With the virulent anti-homosexual sentiments and violence in Africa and recently with the legislation signed into law in Russia, this play is timely and sheds light on a very American involvement with such a controversial figure like Bahati,” states Patterson in a 2013 interview. “My hope is that [this play] provokes debate and conversations late into the night long after it’s over.”
Both plays were previously workshopped by Working Title Playwrights, and That Uganda Play was also featured in the Bare Essentials Reading Series during the 2013 Essential Theatre Festival. Both Karla and Theroun have had other plays produced by Essential, Images in Smoke by Karla in 2000 and A Thousand Circlets by Theroun in 2011.
About Essential Theatre
Essential Theatre has been supporting Georgia playwrights and presenting new plays to Atlanta audiences since 1987. Since 2011, the Essential Play Festival has presented all world premieres by Georgia playwrights. Dates and venue for the 2014 Festival will be announced soon. For additional information about the festival, the contest or Essential Theatre, visit
# # #
For media inquires
Jennifer Kimball, Managing Director

(404) 587-3853

Thank you, Daniel Burnley

I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile now, but every time I sit down to write, I get lost in the photos, my own memories and the Facebook posts from friends of Daniel’s. It’s been almost a month, and I still can’t believe we’ve done our last show together, that I’ve seen Daniel’s amazing talent onstage for the last time. This Thanksgiving, there’s a lot to give thanks for. And through the tears that still well up for a man that, let’s face it, I worked with once a year at most, I suppose it’s fitting that it took me till Thanksgiving week to be able to say it. Thank you, Daniel. There aren’t words enough, so just — thanks.

On October 25, 2013, the world lost a wonderful actor and human being, Mr. Daniel Burnley. The Essential Theatre was blessed to have him on our stage and in our family for many years, and our world will not be the same without him. He was an unforgettable man to those who knew him, and the characters he created onstage were unparalleled in my experience. 

Here are some thoughts that our artistic director, Peter Hardy, shared with me around the time of Daniel’s wake, which fittingly enough was held at Manuel’s Tavern, a longtime haven for the Atlanta theatre community.

“Most people in the Atlanta theatre community knew Daniel Burnley — over the past few decades he’d worked with most of the companies in town, at one time or another, along with a bunch of film work.  I got to know him in 2005, when I directed him in the Essential Theatre’s production of Sam Shepard’s THE LATE HENRY MOSS, which is a play I loved and really wanted to do, but don’t think I would have had the courage to take on if Daniel hadn’t been willing to do the title roll.  Which he was, and without really knowing me much at all, for which I’ll always be grateful.  He was splendid, and that show is still one of my proudest memories with the Essential Theatre, and Daniel went on to do exemplary work for us in four more productions — CHARM SCHOOL, JIM CROW AND THE RHYTHM DARLINGS, THE DARKER FACE OF THE EARTH and QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT.  In just about every case, Daniel was taking on a role for us that no one else (that was available to us) would have been willing or able to do — or, at least, not nearly as well as he did them.  Daniel told me repeatedly how much he believed in the work Essential was doing, and how he’d give up the chance to get (much) better playing work in films to do one of our projects.  Which was an honor for us, but also just a testament to the generous and committed person that he was.  All that being said, he was also just a good guy, a good friend, and someone that all of us will miss a lot.”

Thank you, Daniel, for your crass humor, your quick laughter, your generous spirit, your belief in the work we do at Essential, and for making that work better with your involvement. We love you, and we miss you!

Daniel Burnley (July 29, 1956-Oct 25, 2013)
photo courtesy of Valerie Weaver

“Connecting with Deaf Audiences” Final Report

In 2013 for the first time, sign language interpretation was offered as part of the Essential Theatre Festival. This was a pretty big undertaking for us – there’s a lot of work and a lot of money that goes into making this happen smoothly and well – and we were very excited to be bringing this new aspect into our festival.
To help fund the project, we participated in our first ever power2give crowdfunding project. If you’re not familiar with power2give, it’s actually pretty awesome, and you can learn more about it here. We’d started out hoping to raise money, but through our power2give project, we gained so much more. The outpouring of community support and enthusiasm was touching, encouraging and absolutely inspiring to all of us. People we’d known for years contacted us thanking us for the work we do every year, for our years of support of Georgia artists, and for our commitment to sharing quality theatre with anyone and everyone we meet. People we’d never realized had an interest reached out to say thank you for bringing new theatre to Deaf audiences, and thank you for engaging us in conversation. And the support we received from members of Atlanta’s own Deaf community was heartening and inspiring as well. The video you see if you go to our project page would never have been possible without two of our most committed Deaf collaborators, Amy Cohen Efron and AJ Wooddall. And the geographic extent of the response was impressive too: Terp Theatre in Detroit, MI, contacted us and said,  

“You are embarking on a wonderful project, which will greatly enhance your local theatre community’s ability to better reflect the diversity of our world…Your community-centered approach is to be lauded…Our heartfelt congratulations to you, from your friends in ‘The D’.”

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Interview with playwright Lee Wright

Learn more about Lee Wright, author of Wednesday’s Bare Essentials offering, Fortunes of Warren.
A real live Georgia native!

Born and raised in north Georgia, I currently live in Lookout Mountain, GA (near Chattanooga, TN) with my wife, Christie, and our three-year-old son.

How did you get into writing plays?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in junior high.  By 2007, I had written many short stories and a couple of really terrible mystery novels, but wasn’t having much luck finding homes for them.  After seeing a production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lun, I was inspired to try my hand at a play.  My first play, Haint Blue, was written specifically for the Chattanooga Theatre Centre’s 2008 Festival of New Plays.  It won the grand prize and received a full production that ran for six performances over the course of three weeks.  Encouraged by that success, I wrote my second play, Fortunes of Warren, and submitted it to the next biennial Festival of New Plays. That play was one of three runners up and received two staged readings in April of 2010.  Both plays have recently been self-published, along with a short story collection, on
Where else can we find your work?

My short stories have appeared in Metal Scratches, Literary Juice, Apocrypha and Abstractions, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Eunoia Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Word Riot, Linguistic Erosion, Foliate Oak, The Rusty Nail, Danse Macabre, MicroHorror, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Hogglepot, and others.  Every few months, I get around to writing a blog post which you can find at

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?

Being a father takes up an awful lot of time so, other than a few one-act plays, I haven’t written any new works for the stage since Fortunes of Warren.  I recently started working on a new young adult novel and I’m starting to write short stories again.  I am also investigating the possibility of turning Haint Blue and/or Fortunes of Warren into low-budget, indie films.
Tell us a little bit about the play we’ll be hearing on Wednesday night.

Fortunes of Warren exists in the same literary world as my previous play, Haint Blue, and was originally intended to be part of what I was calling “The Storm Trilogy”.  They would have been three very loosely related stories that each involved a hurricane.  I eventually dropped Fortunes from that planned series but retained a few of the small connections.  Like Haint Blue, Fortunes of Warren was written specifically for the Chattanooga Theatre Centre and their Circle Stage, a black box style theatre that seats a little over a hundred people.  Both were inspired by plays like Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune that feature very small casts and have just one setting.
The title for Fortunes of Warren came to me first and I immediately had the idea for a story about a fortune teller and a very naive customer.  I wrote the first half of the story without really knowing where it was going.  During the writing process, I read an article about gender identity and it mentioned that many people who have always identified as one gender could actually be medically classified as the other–or both.  That article about gender ambiguity inspired the twist and gave me a way to talk about love and marriage equality.

The Bare Essentials series is free and open to the public. Donations graciously accepted. Complimentary wine before and after the show. For more information on all the readings as well as the other plays in the festival, visit