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.