Tag Archives: play development

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.