Meet the Playwright: Abraham Johnson

Monday night’s Bare Essentials Play Reading is Dead Gay Body, written by Abraham Johnson. Read on to learn a little more about the playwright and the play we’ll be seeing Monday night!

Playwright Abraham Johnson

Playwright Abraham Johnson

Abraham Johnson (all pronouns) is an Atlanta-based playwright who writes Big Messy Queer plays centering around audience communion. Abe has been named a two-time Lambda Literary Playwriting Fellow, a resident artist at the Sundress Academy, and a finalist for the 2020 National Young Playwrights Residency. In 2021 Abe will be a 4x finalist for the Greenhouse Residency at SPACE on Ryder Farms, as well as a playwriting scholar at the Suwanee Writers’ Conference. Production or development credits include the New Georgia Group, the Horizon Theater, Process Theater, Out of Box Theater, Essential Theatre, Synchronicity Theatre, Out Front Theater, Langhorne Players, the Classic City Fringe Festival, the Lionheart Theater Company, the Workshop Theater, and the intern/apprentice companies at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.

Hi Abe! So what can you tell us about the play we’ll be hearing Monday night?

Strange, homosexual things are happening at Ronald Reagan High after the suicide of Twinkie McBottoms. When Twinkie’s last words are discovered–“I hate straight people”– the school counselor is thrust into action, determined to create a safe space for straight students to be themselves again. She will have to team up with the first openly gay student body president, a secretly senstive football player, a garden-loving Principal, and even the audience to organize a “Diversity Day” that these heterosexuals will never forget. But first, we have to figure out: why are there dead gay bodies popping up all over school? And who the heck has even heard of Laramie, Wyoming? * If you like queer anger, straight people being idiots, and LGBTQ history, this is a play for you.

Where did you get the idea for this play? What made you want to write it?

I started this play a week after the Pulse Shooting in Orlando. I remember being totally shocked and frozen from the news… until I started seeing all of these #thoughtsandprayers posts. A ton of people I loved and still love were trying to bury this horrible event with hashtags. I was like, “Um, we actually might need something a little more powerful? Right now?” So that energy yanked me into the world of this play. Originally, the first couple of drafts were really somber and reaching towards a logic that wasn’t there. Then when I produced an early draft at the University of Georgia I had this epiphany that there didn’t need to be logic. I was a younger playwright then, and I thought I needed to write straight realism to be taken seriously. But once I leaned into the absurdity of trying to hashtag away hate crimes, it cracked open the world of this play.

How did you get into playwriting?

Writing has always been a part of my family – my grandfather was a poet, both my parents are writers, and my brother is a writer. So writing was always something I gravitated towards. It wasn’t until around 11th grade that I fell in love with acting and theater. After a couple of school productions and getting closer with my high school theater teacher, he heard I had won a national award for a short story I had written. He prompted me to try writing a play, and I pretty immediately was like, “Um, literally all playwrights are dead, what are you talking about?” Finally I caved and wrote a pretty bad one-act play. He organized a reading of it with a couple of theater students, and at the end of that reading he announced that we would be producing it in the Fall. That was my big kick-start moment.

Wow! Thank you, High School Theater Teacher!

So that first play reading obviously had a pretty big impact on you as a playwright…As you’ve developed as a writer since then, what has been the importance of staged readings in your own creative process and the development of your plays?

To me, staged readings are the point in the development process when you get to dream the most technicolor version of your play possible. And you get to do that with actors! And a director! I miss the tiny dramas of in-person readings – people tapping pencils, talking to actors next to water fountains, the awkward parking lot goodbyes – but even in virtual readings there are so many things to learn from actors and directors innovating within the confines of a zoom box.

What do you hope to gain from this Bare Essentials experience? What has your experience with this reading been so far?

Getting to have a majority Black creative team on this project has already brought so many new dimensions to this script, especially because at the core of this play is how politics, identity, and diversity can be manipulated by supremacist systems. Not to mention how complicated the question is of “who is complicit?” Talking with Parris and Lexi about the “hashtag activism” of Ronald Reagan High has hit a well of recognized experience, and that’s shifted some of my edits about how complicit F***** is, and what systems of power are at work in this world. So really I just hope that by the end of this process we’ve all learned a little more about how much power these characters are wielding.

We had our first cold-read of the script last weekend and I was stunned from the actors. They clicked into place in a way I haven’t felt with this script before. What’s been most exciting is that they’re not just magnifying the comedy, but they’re adding so much dimension that I didn’t know was there to explore. The role of F***** has grown more tragic. Counselor is a volcanic hot mess. Principal Nancy brings such a sense of history to the world, and Buck has defined into such a loveable himbo. The actors are bringing the heat in this reading, and of course that’s due in part to the vision and support that our director Parris and stage manager Lexi have been able to provide.

That’s fantastic to hear! I can’t wait for the reading AND the conversation on Monday night. Do you have any other projects on the horizon that we should be aware of?

Yes, actually! On November 21st I have a virtual reading of my script “and we will eat your grief” with RDA Producing in Syracuse, NY. I’m really excited for this experience just because the reading is a part of their Frontera Residency program–– as the inaugural playwright, I got to pitch them literally whatever 3 projects I wanted to work on. Additionally, in summer 2021 I’ll be a playwriting scholar at the Suwanee Writer’s Conference which I’m thrilled about.

Readers, note the links to RDA above – if you’d like to see another Abe Johnson play, it looks like you’ll have the chance very soon!

Abe, do you mind if I ask how you found out about Essential Theatre and our playwriting contest?

I met Peter Hardy when he gave a panel at the the 2016 Horizon Young Playwrights Festival. In talking to him afterwards about the Essential playwriting contest, I had no idea that playwrights like Lauren Gunderson and Topher Payne came out of this theater. That was a big “aha” moment for me–– realizing that Atlanta (and Essential more specifically) had helped support and launch such major national voices.

And we’re glad to be able to play a role in supporting your voice as well – you’ve already come a long way from “Um, literally all playwrights are dead, what are you talking about?”

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Dead Gay Body will take place online, starting at 7:30pm this Monday,  November 16.
Sign up through Eventbrite to get your link to attend!

Directed by Parris Sarter. Stage Managed by Lexi McKay.
CAST: Marcie Millard, Markell Williams, Mia Kristin Smith, Chris Harding

All readings in the Bare Essentials Play Reading Series are free and open to the public thanks to support from Georgia Humanities, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, through funding from the Georgia General Assembly. Funding for this program is also provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. This series is curated by Essential’s founding Artistic Director, Peter Hardy.

Funding for this program is provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.

Meet the Playwright: Thomas Brazzle

Thursday night’s Bare Essentials Play Reading is Smoked, written by Thomas Brazzle. Read on to learn a little more about the playwright and the play we’ll be seeing on Thursday!

Thomas Brazzle

Playwright Thomas Brazzle

Thomas Brazzle is an actor, writer and director based in Georgia. After spending time studying puppetry and performance abroad in London and Barcelona, Thomas returned to the US to focus on creating new work and working in regional theatre. He has performed at The Guthrie in Minneapolis, Shakespeare and Company (Lenox, MA), Connecticut Rep, The Alley Theatre (Houston, TX), TheatreSquared (Fayetteville, AR) and many other regional theaters. He now writes and directs films with his production company Whet Ink Productions. Recently, Whet Ink’s first web series, Infinite Jest, has been selected for many film festivals across the world. Thomas also serves as the Chair of Programming for the historic Morton Theatre in Athens, GA. Thomas graduated from Stephen F Austin State University in 2008 with a BFA in Theatre, and in 2014 from The University of Connecticut with a MFA in Acting. (www.thomasbrazzle.com / www.whetink.com)

Hi Thomas, can you tell us in your own words about the play we’ll be seeing Thursday night?

Sure! Smoked is a collection of ideas that stem around legacy, brotherhood, family, gentrification and what will we leave behind for the next generation once our time is done. During the rapid expansion of gentrification in present day Austin, TX the past and future collide within the fracturing walls of Flint’s Bar-B-Que. Joe Flint and his brother Jake have ran their families’ restaurant for over forty years, and it has been a stalwart in the community for over half a century. Friends like Doc, Rodney and Red frequent the restaurant so much that they are considered practically family. The college student employees try to keep the restaurant afloat and take matters into their own hands when they hire a new employee to pick up the slack, Michaela. A bright, smart, hip and business savvy woman, Michaela has many ideas to help save the restaurant from the onslaught of gentrified businesses taking out family owned establishments like Flint’s. However, Michaela has her work cut out for her as she tries to convince Joe to let go of the old guard and usher in new ideas. Just when they seem to meet on common ground, a new proprietor, Patillo, from Mississippi comes to Austin to buy out the last of the local African American businesses to make way for his fancy new housing and business developments. Faced with the reality they are growing old and the next generation may pass them by for the fresh and new, Joe and Jake with the help of friends, new and old, discover how they can hold on to their past and family legacy, while lifting up the future.

Wow, it sounds like this play could also have been set in any of a number of neighborhoods around Atlanta. How did you decide that Austin, TX, is where this story needed to take place?

I am originally from Texas, born and raised. Many of these characters are inspired from people I grew up with. The banter between the older men at the restaurant are literally conversations I remember hearing coming from my living room growing up between my father and his friends. The restaurant setting is inspired by one of my favorite restaurants, Crystal’s Pizza, in Irving, TX. It was a magical place, simple and pleasant.
[But] this play came about from many moments in my life.  The idea came about because of my time living in Harlem, NY. I saw how gentrification quickly swallowed up the culture of Harlem, and how its residents were being pushed out up north into the Bronx. Today, the Bronx is starting to become gentrified and again those residents are being pushed out. This broke my heart and I felt the story of African Americans losing their businesses and homes to change was something I wanted to tell. However, I wanted to tell it in a place that many people don’t know about when they hear the word gentrification.
Texas, specifically Austin, TX, is seeing a lot of tech companies buy up land and build new facilities. Colleges are buying up land, and real estate investors are building overpriced condos to take advantage of young college students venturing into Austin. It’s “the new gold rush, “as one article put it in my research about Austin. Austin has had a dark history about its inhabitants always being pushed out. I felt it was the glue that connected all of my ideas about legacy. Ask many Texans and they will tell you that Texas has such a rich history, but the state is quick to bury it away. This play hopefully puts a spotlight on what is happening in Austin and throughout the state.

Hopefully so!
So tell me, how did you get into playwriting, anyway?

I took a playwriting class in undergrad with playwright Jack Heifner. The class was amazing and I instantly was hooked. Furthermore, I have begun to write much more because I was finding in my acting career that I was being cast in plays predominately written by white men. I noticed the lack of diversity in playwrights on theatre’s season announcements, and this made me want to begin to share my voice and help change the narrative that there aren’t enough plays by artists of color.

Thank you for your action and your advocacy – and your creative talent! Hopefully this reading will not only benefit you as a writer but also support the changing of that narrative. It’s certainly something we at Essential are eager to see happen!

So our first rehearsal was last night. What has your experience with this reading been thus far?

I had a wonderful conversation with Taryn about the play and what it meant to me, and how it came about. I also got to see how Taryn connected to the play and it was nice to see that the themes were already clear to them.

That’s excellent! I’m definitely looking forward to the audience talkback after this reading. Speaking of which, what do you hope to gain from this reading, as a writer, or for your script?

I hope to hear feedback from the actors, director and those that tune in. I have lived in the world of this play for a while, and to be able to hear different perspectives helps me understand the play on a deeper level, because I begin to see what it brings about for people other than myself. I am eager to see what moments stick with the actors and the audience, and what characters they gravitate or are affected by.

If our audience wants to follow you beyond Thursday night’s reading, what’s the best way to do that?

You can find my work as a writer and director at www.whetink.com, and keep up with my acting career at www.thomasbrazzle.com. I can be seen in a national commercial for Cricket Wireless that is airing now, and I am starring in the film Lake Artifact on Amazon Prime. I am currently in the writer’s room with my team for Season 2 of my web series Infinite Jest,* set to film next Fall.

*exciting trivia for Essential fans: Ash Anderson, who first appeared on Essential’s stage as Ada Lovelace in our 2017 regional premiere production of Ada and the Memory Engine, appears as Ariel in Infinite Jest

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Smoked will take place online, starting at 8pm this Thursday,  November 12.
Sign up through Eventbrite to get your link to attend!

Directed by Taryn Carmona. Stage Managed by Dionna D. Davis.
CAST: Herman Spearman (Joe Flint),  Byron Willis (Jake Flint),  Edmarie Montes (Michaela Potts/Laura Flint), Jeffrey J. Jackson (Dwayne/Rodney), Greg Hunter (Kalob/Red), Roger Payano (Doc), John Doyle (Quinn Potts), and Matthew Baldoni (Clarence Patillo/Hooded Figure)

All readings in the Bare Essentials Play Reading Series are free and open to the public thanks to support from Georgia Humanities, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, through funding from the Georgia General Assembly. Funding for this program is also provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. This series is curated by Essential’s founding Artistic Director, Peter Hardy.

georgia humanities literature arts

Funding for this program is provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.

Meet the Playwright: Hannah Manikowski

Our first online play reading ever will be happening on Tuesday night! Read on here to learn a little about our playwright and the play we’ll be seeing on Tuesday:

 

Playwright Hannah Manikowski Hannah Manikowski is a Georgia-born, nationally recognized new play artist who holds a BFA in Directing from the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University. Hannah loves women in both the lesbian sense and the feminist sense, and she especially loves writing plays by, for, and about them. She is a 2020 O’Neill finalist and the winner of the 2018 – 2019 Judith Barlow Prize. Additionally, she is a proud alumna of The 24 Hour Plays: Nationals, Horizon Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival, and the inaugural Tepper Semester Playwriting Program, where she studied under Antoinette Nwandu. Following her reading with Essential Theater, Hannah’s newest play, The Sunrise from the Moon, has an upcoming reading with the MACH 33 Festival, a collaboration between Pasadena Playhouse and CalTech. Oh: perhaps most importantly, she foster homeless bunny rabbits.

Please share in your own words a little about the play we’ll be seeing.

I wrote Sunrise in response to my own experience with the profound loneliness connected with existing specifically as a lesbian in a world that did everything in its power to prevent me from identifying this part of who I am – and that continues to do everything in its power to prevent me from connecting with my history and my community as a woman who’s exclusively same-sex attracted. Idk, sometimes, I feel like I’m from the moon. It’s also kind of an exploration of my experience with ambition and how being a characteristically ambitious human has served as my life raft in an otherwise unstable, chaotic life while simultaneously totally fucking me up. Also I fucking love jellyfish.

Where did you get the idea for this play? What made you want to write it?

This play is the vehicle for talking about all the seemingly disparate, sometimes unintelligible ephemera that collides and becomes enmeshed with/inseparable from Who I Am as a lesbian woman in 2020. Basically!! Shit is whack!! And I don’t know how to talk about ANY OF IT without talking about ALL OF IT!! Which is why this play is full of outer space and a disarming accumulation of Vanilla Coke and moon mannequins and jellyfish and Billie Holiday. Basically: as a writer, I feel a lot like one of those little birds that runs around collecting shiny things, and, on the surface, none of it seems connected, but THEN he tosses all that shiny stuff together, and – ta-da! – he’s built a nest! And he wins the girl! And he does a funny lil dance to boot! So, I collected a lot of shiny things, and this play is the nest, and Essential is the lady bird I am hoping to woo, and, when all is said and done, I hope we can come together and do a funny lil dance to boot.

How did you get into playwriting?

I grew up holed away in my room, writing fiction to escape an insidiously abusive, isolated home life. Everyone I knew anticipated I would become a novelist – but then I found theatre, and, for the first time, I was able to connect with a loving, supportive community. Theatre offered me a level of safety I had never known. Within months, it consumed my life. Naturally, my writing took a backseat. I loved acting, but I was dissatisfied with the lack of agency afforded to me in the field. So, I went on to study Directing at Carnegie Mellon University. Frankly, while I was grateful for the creative liberties offered to me as a director, directing itself often made me queasy with anxiety. I dreaded the hours leading up to my rehearsals – until I wrote a short story for a creative writing class, and my professor approached me to say, “Hannah, this isn’t a short story; this is a scene from a play.” She was right. I started writing for Playground, CMU’s yearly festival of new student work, and I directed my own pieces. Writing for the stage felt like putting on glasses for the first time in the sixth grade. Suddenly, the world came into focus. Ever since, I have been enraptured by the world of new play development: particularly when serving as a playwright, but also when working as a dramaturg or director. For me, that’s home.

What is the importance of staged readings in your own creative process and the development of your play?

For me, it’s in understanding the rhythm of the piece. When you hear your work read aloud with actors, suddenly, you have a window into its cadence: where it clips along, where it lags, where it sings… I’ve always loved the energy of a reading. It’s jointly terrifying and thrilling to gauge the reactions of a room of people who are connecting with your work for the first time – especially when it’s work over which you’ve been slaving away for months or years.

What do you hope to gain from this Bare Essentials experience?

Mostly, I’m excited to reconnect with the piece and with my identity as a playwright! Lockdown has sapped my creative energy. I miss my artistic community, and I’m ready to jump back into the work I love.

Where else can we see your work, either recently, currently or in the future?

Sunrise will soon enjoy a reading through the MACH 33 Festival, a collaboration between Pasadena Playhouse and Caltech. My website (where you can also find my fiction podcast) is here and  my NPX profile is here.
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Sunrise from the Moon will be our first-ever online play reading!
Tuesday, August 11, at 7:30pm.
Directed by Peter Hardy.
Readers: Ash Anderson, Erika Miranda, Jeff Hathcoat, Kevin Qian,  Amee Vyas, Yolanda Asher

All readings in the Bare Essentials Play Reading Series are free and open to the public thanks to support from Georgia Humanities, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, through funding from the Georgia General Assembly. Funding for this program is also provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. This series is curated by Essential’s founding Artistic Director, Peter Hardy.

 

Funding for this program is provided by the Fulton County Board of Commissioners.

 

Additional resources for distance learning

Recommended by Education Associate Emily McClain:

The Georgia Department of Education has a fantastic collection of Fine Arts resources for all content areas. It’s free and available to teachers and I wanted to share with my teacher-network. We are resilient and creative and endlessly flexible. We will continue to share our love of art and music and theatre and dance with our students in this new medium!

Recommended in a recent email newsletter from the office of Essential’s Congressman, John Lewis:

Educational Tools for Distance Learning: While many schools have temporarily closed their doors, tools are available to assist parents with educating their children from home. However, each school or school district fosters its own program on how to adjust to the current pandemic. I recommend contacting your relevant institution for best practices. Talking to children about Coronavirus may be difficult but the CDC has provided an online resource to help parents and those working with children approach the subject. PBS has also provided tips on how to approach the topic.

Although changes have been made in how our students are learning, civil rights must still be protected. The Department of Education has released a fact sheet and webinar to serve as guidance for protecting the civil rights of students with disabilities for schools using online learning tools during the COVID-19 outbreak. Additional resources for schools and school personnel may be found on the Department of Education’s website.

In addition, there are nationwide resources available for distance learning provided by PBS and the Smithsonian.

For Students:
PBS Kids Livestream Channel
PBS Kids Game App

For Parents:
The PBS Daily Newsletter
PBS Parents Website

For Educators:
PBS Learning Media K-12
PBS Distance Learning Resources
Smithsonian Learning Lab (Resources for Distance Learning)
Smithsonian Resources and Collections
Smithsonian Museum Specific Collections

Looking for some creative, inspiring programming that’s a little more home-grown? Check out the digital offerings from Atlanta’s own Center for Puppetry Arts here!

The work these people have long done to develop frontier-pushingly accessible programming is profound, and their response to our current situation has been swift and inspiring. Icing on the cake? Tried and true Essential audiences will recognize at least one friendly face in their Digital Learning Artist-in-Residence Jeffrey Zwartjes!

And the winners are…

Essential Theatre announces the winners of the 2020 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jennifer Kimball, Managing Director
jennifer@essentialtheatre.com

2020 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award Winners press kit

February 2020 – Essential Theatre is proud to announce the winners of the 2020 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award: The Outrage Machine by Daniel Carter Brown and The Wishing Place by Beverly Trader Austin. The Outrage Machine and The Wishing Place will each receive a full production in the 2020 Essential Theatre Festival this summer as well as a cash prize. Now in its twentieth year, the Essential Theatre Playwriting Competition is the only competition of its kind. The 2020 Award is sponsored in part by Corbin Real Estate Team.

About Daniel Carter Brown and The Outrage Machine

Daniel Carter Brown is an actor, playwright, and director who moved to Atlanta from Chicago a decade ago. Since that time, his writings have seen regular production with companies such as Out of Box, New Origins, Onion Man and others. He also performs with several companies around town and works at Emory University School of Medicine, training actors to portray patients as part of the medical school curriculum.

The Outrage Machine is a semi-comedic exploration of internet journalism, social media, and the culture of outrage. This summer’s production will be directed by Essential’s founder and artistic director, Peter Hardy. “It’s a strong, timely script,” says Hardy, “a sharply-observed, fast-paced look at a real thing that’s happening in society today — the way social media and the internet have created an environment in which anger is fostered and manipulated to drive commerce. It’s also a compelling and believable story about a young woman looking for a way to make a living by helping people to be more well-informed, only to find that the truth isn’t always the surest way to generate clicks.”

 

“The first version of this play was written before the 2016 election, when I realized how many web journalists seemed to be intentionally provoking anger instead of presenting facts objectively,” shares Brown. “Then 2016 happened, and I practically had to rewrite the whole thing. The ideas I was trying to introduce were now mainstream, and the play became more of an exploration of how things got like this.” 

About Beverly Trader Austin and The Wishing Place

Beverly Trader Austin is a native Atlantan for generations back. “My great-grandfather had a yard full of chickens on Peachtree Street where the Bank of America building stands now. My uncle Glenn had his professorship threatened and crosses burned in his yard for attempting voter registration in the 1940’s. I was reared, as were most of my generation, on school integration, women’s rights, anti-war activism, and environmental protest. Those issues tend to haunt my plays, my journalism, and my time in the classroom,” Austin shares. Beginning in 1974, her work has been professionally performed and favorably reviewed in London, New York, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and around the Southeast, with more than three dozen productions of her plays to her credit to date.

The play that won this award, The Wishing Place, looks at two families living in 1960s rural Georgia, one black and one white. It will be directed by long-time Essential collaborator Ellen McQueen. “While The Outrage Machine is a thought-provoking script with a driving urban pulse,” observes Hardy, “The Wishing Place is emotional and dreamy, full of the wonder of nature. It’s about people who feel deeply connected to the place where they grew up, where their families have lived for generations – and who yearn to escape it.” Director McQueen adds, “It’s about longing and belonging.” “The Wishing Place will, I think, make for a very nice balance and counterpoint to The Outrage Machine,” Hardy concludes.

The 2020 Essential Theatre Play Festival will take place from July 24 to August 23, 2020, at the West End Performing Arts Center in Atlanta’s Historic West End. Join Essential Theatre on March 14, 2020, to meet this year’s playwriting award winners and get your festival pass at our annual Celebration of Georgia Playwrights! The Celebration will take place from 4-6pm at Manuel’s Tavern. Admission is free but RSVP is requested.

About the playwriting competition

Now in its twentieth year, this is the only competition of its kind, exclusively dedicated to the work of Georgia playwrights, with the winner receiving both a cash prize and a full production. Playwrights must be residents of the State of Georgia. There are no restrictions as to style, length or subject matter, though previously unproduced plays that would run an hour or more in performance are preferred. The deadline for the 2021 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award competition is April 23, 2020. Past Essential Theatre Playwriting Award winners include Karen Wurl, Karla Jennings, Vynnie Meli, Lauren Gunderson, and Topher Payne. For more information or to submit your play, visit EssentialTheatre.com/Playwriting-Competition.

For more information and the latest updates, join our newsletter, follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or check out our website at www.EssentialTheatre.com

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For media inquires: 
Jennifer Kimball, Managing Director
jennifer@essentialtheatre.com

Calendar Listings
Celebration of Georgia Playwrights
Hosted by Essential Theatre, Inc
March 14, 2020
First Level Space, Manuel’s Tavern
602 North Highland Avenue NE
Atlanta, GA 30307
Tickets available on Eventbrite or at EssentialTheatre.com

The Essential Theatre Festival 
July 24th – August 23rd  
The Essential Theatre 
at West End Performing Arts Center
945 Ralph David Abernathy Blvd, 
Atlanta, GA 30310
Festival Passes go on sale March 14 at www.EssentialTheatre.com

Meet the Playwright: Daniel Carter Brown

Read on to find out about the playwright and the play we’ll be seeing Monday night!

Tell us a little about yourself, personally and professionally.

I am an actor, playwright, and director who came to Atlanta from Chicago a decade ago. I’ve had two full-length plays produced in Atlanta: Honor The System at Out of Box Theatre, and Steal My Heart with New Origins Theatre Company. I’ve also had numerous short plays produced by Onion Man Productions and others, and I wrote, produced, and directed four sketch comedy shows under my former company Give Us Brains! I also write and perform political sketch comedy for the weekly podcast Barely Audible Whisper. As an actor, I can currently be seen as George Bailey in OnStage Atlanta’s production of It’s A Wonderful Life. I work frequently at Out of Box Theatre, most recently this summer in Entertaining Lesbians. I spent a year as an apprentice at the Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse when I was new to Atlanta, and later performed in several plays there including playing Demetrius in Midsummer Night’s Dream. I also toured several children’s shows with Georgia Ensemble Theatre, and performed and/or directed with various other theatre companies, including Academy Theatre, Onion Man Productions, Tribal Theatre Group, and Merely Players Presents. I am married to the lovely and talented Emily Sams Brown, who I met at Out of Box Theatre when we played twins in The House of Yes. We welcomed our first child, Rayme Claire, last year, and we have two sweet dogs, Archie and Ruby. I work at Emory University School of Medicine, training actors to portray patients as part of the medical school curriculum.

Please share in your own words a little about the play we’ll be seeing.

In short, this is a play about how the internet makes us angry on purpose. It’s a criticism of journalism and the way we consume it. It’s also a criticism of the gig economy, and the listlessness it has imposed on a generation. The main character, Rina, begins the play with no aim other than to find a foothold somewhere in the world. But when she finds a place where she can make an impact, she also finds that she can do some damage. The Outrage Machine is not a satire, but my satirist roots certainly show as I use humor to shed light on a serious societal problem.

Where did you get the idea for this play? What made you want to write it?

The first version of this play was written before the 2016 election, when I realized how many web journalists seemed to be intentionally provoking anger instead of presenting facts objectively. Then 2016 happened, and I practically had to rewrite the whole thing. The ideas I was trying to introduce were now mainstream, and the play became more of an exploration of how things got like this.

How did you get into playwriting?

I’ve always had a drive to write, but never been drawn to writing narrative. When I first tried writing dialogue, it clicked. That’s what I want to write. For most of my young life, it was all about comedy–sketch and parody–but as I grew up and got to know myself as an emotional human being, I realized how fulfilling it is to let emotion into my writing, and how, in many instances, it makes the comedy funnier.

What is the importance of staged readings in your own creative process and the development of your play?

It’s one of the best parts of the process. There are some things you just don’t catch until you hear them out loud. The actors’ perspective teaches you about your work, and you realize the importance of some things, and the unimportance of others. Hearing the audience reacting to just the words–not the staging, not the antics, not the design — only happens in this setting.

What has your experience with this reading been so far?

Pure excitement. I love the cast Peter put together, and can’t wait to hear what they do.

Where else can we see your work, either recently, currently or in the coming year(s)?

I had a reading of another new full-length play, a romantic comedy titled Happy Places, at Out of Box Theatre at the beginning of the year. And Out of Box is currently producing one of my sketches as part of Santa After Hours.

How did you find out about Essential and the playwriting contest?

I worked with Peter Hardy on the touring show And Then They Came For Me at GET, and as a creator, supporter, and fan of new works, I’ve followed Essential ever since.

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The Outrage Machine will be read at the West End Performing Arts Center on Monday, December 9, at 7:30pm. Directed by Peter Hardy.

Readers: Rylee Bunton, Bridget McCarthy, Charles Travontia Thomas, Joey Davila, Sean Kelley, Parris Sarter, Aaron Gotlieb, Najah Ali

All readings in the Bare Essentials Play Reading Series are free and open to the public. This series is curated by Essential’s founding Artistic Director, Peter Hardy.

2020 Festival power2give campaign

December 8 through January 22

For the first time in several years, we are THRILLED to announce that Essential Theatre has been awarded a power2give campaign from the City of Atlanta in support of the 2020 Essential Theatre Play Festival!
Our campaign is LIVE December 8 through January 22!

As a matching program, power2give is a gift to donors and Essential alike: for every dollar we raise through power2give, the City of Atlanta will contribute matching funds – up to $20,000!

If you think supporting Georgia’s writers and artists is important, if you enjoy seeing great new theatre by playwrights from your community, if you believe that Georgia’s playwrights are great American playwrights and want to help us amplify their voices, if you have enjoyed Essentials’ work in the past and would like to support it in the future, If you appreciate seeing new creative and cultural opportunities represented in West End, the Festival’s home since 2014, or in Georgia as a whole, please consider making a donation to Essential Theatre through power2give this holiday season – and see your dollars have double the impact!

Bare Essentials Reading Monday December 9

Join us at the West End Performing Arts Center for our next Bare Essentials Play Reading:

THE OUTRAGE MACHINE
Written by Daniel Carter Brown
Directed by Peter Hardy


“Is something that was supposed to bring us all together only driving us further apart?”

The Outrage Machine is a semi-comedic exploration of internet journalism, social media, and the culture of outrage. Twenty-something Rina Marsh gets a job writing headlines for The Centurion, an upstart website aiming to stand out for its integrity and responsibility. Rina finds that pushing people’s anger buttons results in more views, and she and the website become rapidly successful. But one headline goes too far, and Rina finds out what happens when an angry public gets out of control.

Cast:

Rylee Bunton, Bridget McCarthy, Charles Travontia Thomas, Joey Davila, Sean Kelley, Parris Sarter, Aaron Gotlieb, Najah Ali

“I was drawn to this play because I found it to be a sharply-observed, fast-paced look at a real thing that’s happening in society today — the way social media and the internet have created an environment in which anger is fostered and manipulated to drive commerce. It’s also a compelling and believable story about a young woman looking for a way to make a living by helping people to be more well-informed, only to find that the truth isn’t always the surest way to generate clicks.”

-Essential Theatre Artistic Director Peter Hardy

Join us Monday night!

All readings in the Bare Essentials series are free and open to the public. Free parking in the Wells Fargo lot next door. Be sure to stay after for exciting conversation with the director, cast and playwright!

Meet the Playwrights: Ted Westby and John D. Babcock III

Wednesday night’s Bare Essentials reading is The Odds Against Death, co-written by John D. Babcock III (Independent, 2017) and Ted Westby. Read on to find out a little more about the pair, and about the play we’ll be seeing on Wednesday!

The writers:

John D. Babcock III is a writer for Agatha’s – A Taste of Mystery and the Mystery Café of Indianapolis. He is also a writer/performer with Sketchworks Comedy. John was cast in, and wrote additional scenes for, the Sketchworks Comedy production of VAPE THE MUSICAL– a parody of GREASE. VAPE won BroadwayWorld Atlanta’s 2018 award for “Best New Work” (non-professional). In August 2019, VAPE ran at Improv Asylum’s theatre in New York City. John’s play INDEPENDENT – about filmmaker John Cassavetes – received its premier at Essential Theatre’s 2017 Play Festival. John’s other writing credits include on-air scripts for Turner Classic Movies, Laughing Matters corporate entertainment, and the upcoming fantasy/comedy web series “The Campaign.” John enjoyed writing THE ODDS AGAINST DEATH with Ted Westby and looks forward to seeing their work on stage.

Ted Westby hails from a small Midwestern town and never really grew up. After somehow finishing college he spent twenty years writing and producing on-air content for TV stations around the country. During those tumultuous last years he foolishly wrote and produced four no-budget Indie short films that to this day have been seen by less people than it took to make them. For the past decade, after abandoning his steady day job and screenwriting aspirations, he has made his living photographing actors and a few regular people. In the last few years he has co-written two stage plays, a Television Pilot script, and threatened to finish his true-life book detailing his absurd life with photo models. Ted refuses to eat beets and still enjoys listening to music on cassettes and vinyl.

The Play:

THE ODDS AGAINST DEATH is a modern, classic farce in which a simple romantic dinner for two becomes an evening where five people are confronted with deceit, deception, and Death herself. The play “encompasses my feelings toward love, death, and foolish ideals – not necessarily in that order,” says Ted. “Our endeavor was to give an audience both an entertaining evening as well as a few choice bits to contemplate while they walked back to their cars.”

Where did the idea for this play come from?

Initially conceived by co-author Ted Westby as a short film, The Odds Against Death began its life as a good old fashioned farce about love, miscommunication, and death. He introduced the idea to Babcock and the pair fleshed out the idea and made it into a two act play. “I’ve always been fascinated by theoretical characters, ie: Death, Imaginary friends, anyone out of the accepted norms of ‘reality’,: says Ted, adding, “I found it a wonderful concept to have Death actually come and ‘kill’ someone’s romantic ideals, thus forcing them to come face to face with absolute reality.”

How did you get into playwriting?

Ted: I’ve been writing most of my life, predominantly scripts and screenplays. My original introduction to play-writing began years ago at the 24 Plays presented by the good people at the Horizon Theatre. I co-wrote three short plays during three different 24 Hour Play fests. The Odds Against Death is my first full-length stage play.

John: I began writing sketches and stories in grade school. I continued writing through high school and began writing longer pieces in college. I had a natural interest in writing and was something I always kept doing.

What is the importance of staged readings for your creative process and the development of your play? What do you hope to gain from this Bare Essentials experience?

“Staged readings are a great opportunity to hear the characters come alive. It’s beneficial hearing actors read the work out loud and observing how they interpret the character,” observes John. “Reactions to staged readings inform me what areas need work and what areas did well.” He adds, “There are always surprises.”

“Until you hear it out loud, read by voices other than your own, you don’t really hear it live and breathe,” says Ted in agreement.

“THE ODDS AGAINST DEATH has had a handful of private readings,” says John, “but Ted and I are really looking forward to having the play read to an audience. An audience reaction is what we hope to gain from the reading at Bare Essentials.

Ted adds, “This will be our first reading with an impartial audience. This will be a real good test of how it will be received by a general audience… I hope.”

# # #

The Odds Against Death will be read at the West End Performing Arts Center on Monday, August 12, at 7:30pm. Directed by Bill Murphey.

Readers: Mary Saville, Robby Owenby, Evan Cleaver, Diany Rodriguez, Steve Hudson, Christie Brumfield Baggett, Kathleen McManus, and Anne Stainback Davis.

All readings in the Bare Essentials Play Reading Series are free and open to the public thanks to support from Georgia Humanities, in partnership with the Georgia Department of Economic Development, through funding from the Georgia General Assembly. This series is curated by Essential’s founding Artistic Director, Peter Hardy.