Meet the Playwright: Hannah Manikowski

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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.