Meet the Playwright: Emily McClain

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This Tuesday’s Bare Essentials Play Reading is The Rock and the Hard Place by Emily McClain. Read on to learn a little more about the playwright and the play we’ll be seeing on Monday!

Emily McClain is a familiar presence to Essential Theatre regulars: her play Slaying Holofernes won the 2019 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award, and in 2020 she co-created and led our community Introduction to Playwriting class, which along with our other playwriting courses she continues to lead to this day.

She keeps busy throughout metro Atlanta as a playwright and theatre educator, teaching at School of the Arts @ Central Gwinnett and most recently had a workshop production of her ghost comedy America’s Most Haunted presented by some bodies theatre collective.

Here’s what we learned from Emily about her upcoming reading with us this Tuesday night:

ET: Hi Emily, what can you tell us about the play we’ll be hearing Monday night?

EM: This play is a legal drama that follows the Risk Theatre tragic structure where characters must wager something of great worth against impossible odds. In this case, Elsie goes to extreme lengths in her attempt to exonerate her father as he is wrongfully accused of murder and is to be executed.

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


This play started in 2019 as a short scene for the Courtroom Drama Series which focuses on ethical scenarios and presents them in an open ended forum for continuing legal education. I developed into a full length play over the course of 2020 and submitted it to the Risk Theatre competition in 2021 where it was selected as a semi-finalist.

I was drawn to the subject matter of the play because the nature of the moral conflict at the heart of the play is deeply interesting to me: when all other standard possibilities are exhausted, what is the absolute limit of a normal person in attempting to right a wrong? How far can we be pushed before we cross over into violence if we feel it’s justified? What Elsie does at the end of the play feels both surprising (given who she is at the start of the story) and inevitable (given what she’s gone through during the course of the story). This apparent contradiction is what makes the tragic elements of the story work.

ET: How did you get into playwriting?

EM: I’ve always enjoyed creative writing but I started writing plays in 2017. I finished my first full length play, Slaying Holofernes, in 2018 and submitted it to Essential where it was named a co-winner for the 2019 festival.

ET: (You heard that right, readers. Slaying Holofernes was Emily’s first full length play!)

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

EM: I love staged readings because they allow a play to take its first baby steps towards coming to life. When I’m writing the dialogue I hear it in my head a certain way but until it’s actually coming out of the mouths of performers I don’t know if it’s working the way I thought. Staged readings also give a great sense of the flow and momentum of the piece as a whole. They are a part of my creative process with every script I write.

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

EM: Even though the play is ultimately a tragedy, I’m hoping that there’s enough heart and humor that the audience feels a full range of emotion. I’d like to hear feedback about the play as a whole and on the character arcs and their relationships as well.

ET: What has your experience with this reading been thus far?

EM: I had a really wonderful conversation about the play with Kyle (the director of the reading). I’m excited to hear the play and talk with the performers about their thoughts as well.

ET: Where else can we see your work? How can we keep up with you?


My short play Tooth or Dare was recorded as a podcast episode on the show Gather By The Ghost Light that’s available now.

My first South African production of my one act comedy Aunt Zelda’s Painting just closed last week- I wasn’t able to attend but I heard it went well!

By the end of the year, my psychological thriller Owl Creek will be released as an audio drama by Empty Room Productions and I’m really looking forward to hearing it.

The Rock and the Hard Place, by Emily McClain, will take place at 7:30 on Tuesday August 22 at 7Stages Theatre. Reserve your free ticket at!