Monday, December 20, 2010

The good news for Essential Theatre playwrights keeps coming in!

Gabriel Jason Dean, winner of the 2010 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award for QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT, has another production coming up – D’ANGELICO, opening in January as part of FronteraFest in Austin, Texas.

Back in 2000, we produced the World Premiere of Atlanta writer Karla Jennings’ IMAGES IN SMOKE (named one of the Best Shows of the Year by Creative Loafing), and since then she’s gone on to score multiple awards, productions and commissions. Now she’s won the Northern Kentucky University Y.E.S. competition for her play MONSTROUS BEAUTY, which will be produced there in April, and then October will see the World Premiere of her Tea Party spoof WHACKING THE TURKEY at Denver’s And Toto Too Productions.

Lauren Gunderson won our first official Playwriting Award in 2001, for her play PARTS THEY CALL DEEP, and she too has gone on to a great career, with productions and commissions all around the country. This spring will see a Triple Rolling World Premiere of her play EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR, starting off with a March production by Atlanta’s Synchronicity Performance Group.

So, remember – keep an eye out for this summer’s World Premiere of Theroun D’Arcy Patterson’s A THOUSAND CIRCLETS, the winner of the 2011 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award. Directed by Betty Hart, it’ll be part of the 2011 Essential Theatre Play Festival, along with two Regional Premieres (soon to be announced).

Since 1999, the Essential Theatre – bringing Atlanta what’s new! And, you can support Essential Theatre's effort to bring you some great new plays by making a donation today. Your donation is Essential!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Word Feast: Food for the Body & Sou

WordFeast: Food for the Body and Soul! December 13th 7:30 pm at Actors Express. The work of 2011 Playwriting Award Winner Theroun Patterson will be included.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Theroun Darcy Patterson wins 2011 Essential Playwriting Award

We're proud to announce that Atlanta playwright Theroun D'arcy Patterson has been named as the winner of the 2011 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award for his script A THOUSAND CIRCLETS.

This powerful and emotional work falls into the classic tradition of the American family drama, telling the tale of an African-American clan trying to heal old wounds as they face new challenges – and just as they are poised to reach the pinnacle of their professional success, the father’s illness threatens to bring it all crashing down. The Essential Theatre Playwriting Award is the only competition of its kind, exclusively dedicated to the work of Georgia writers, and this will be the tenth year that it has been given out. As winner, Mr. Patterson will receive a cash prize of $600, and his play will be given a full production as part of the 2011 Essential Theatre Play Festival, performing next summer in the Actor's Express space. For more information on the Essential Theatre, visit

Monday, September 27, 2010

Essential is Big Winner at the Metropolitan Theatre Awards

The Essential Theatre is proud to have won five Metropolitan Theatre Awards at the MAT Ceremonies held on Sunday, Sept. 26 at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center. Our 2009 production of Joan Ackermann's ICE GLEN won the prizes for Best Director of a Play (Ellen McQueen), Best Major Supporting Actor In A Play (Jim Sarbh), Best Lighting Design for a Play (Trish Harris), and Best Scenic Design for a Play (Rob Hadaway). The Essential Theatre's World Premiere production of Vynnie Meli's JIM CROW AND THE RHYTHM DARLINGS won the award for Best Original Work.

The Essential Theatre would like to congratulate all the winners and all the nominees!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Artistic Director Peter Hardy Named Best Playwright by Creative Loafing

As artistic director of Essential Theatre, PETER HARDY has been Atlanta's de facto midwife of new local plays. In the summer of 2010, however, Hardy put the spotlight on his own script, Sally and Glen at the Palace, and the nostalgic dramedy packed enough punch to upstage many of Essential's productions going back for years.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Will the Essential Theatre ever be eligible for the Suzis?

The Essential Theatre would like to congratulate some of our friends and collaborators on their recent Suzi nominations:

Robin Bloodworth, nominated as Best Leading Actor for "Ethan Frome" at Theatre in the Square, worked with us years ago in a terrific Lee Blessing play called "Down the Road".

Ellen McQueen, nominated as Best Featured Actress for "Ethan Frome", directed our productions of "Sally and Glen at the Palace", "Ice Glen", "After Ashley", "Night Travels", "Charm School" and "A Lovely Undertow".

William S. Murphey, nominated as Best Featured Actor for "Around the World In 80 Days" at Theatrical Outfit, appeared in the very first Essential Theatre production, years ago -- a double bill of "Witches Brew" and "Ghost Story", and later in "And They Dance Real Slow In Jackson".

Will the Essential Theatre ever be eligible for the Suzis? You can help us make that happen by
making a donation! It's all about the size of our budget, so why not become a financial supportor of the Essential Theatre today?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Congratulations Gabriel Dean and Peter Hardy

More great news about the recently finished 2010 Essential Theatre Festival: Our production of Peter Hardy's SALLY AND GLEN AT THE PALACE was named by the Sunday Paper as one of the Top Shows of the Season, and Gabriel Jason Dean's QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT, winner of the 2010 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award, has been chosen by the Duel Theatre of New York City for a production this fall, running Nov. 12 - 26. Congratulations to Gabriel and thanks to everyone who made this year's Festival our best ever!

Monday, July 26, 2010

More Comments

Monday Night, July 26 at 8 p.m. in the Actor's Express space, it's donate-what-you-can (cash only) Industry Night for the Essential Theatre's Georgia Premiere of Peter Hardy's award-winning play SALLY AND GLEN AT THE PALACE, directed by Ellen McQueen (ICE GLEN) and starring Jacob York and Kate Graham.

“Peter Hardy’s Sally and Glen at the Palace is a lovely valentine to the movies, a trivia buff’s dream and a sweet, coming-of-age story about friendships made in unlikely places. You have to admire Hardy’s delicate approach and the winning performances of Kate Graham (Sally) and Jacob York (Glen). York is a wonderful comic actor who ultimately reveal his character’s tenderness and vulnerability ... Graham and York are two young performers to watch.”
Wendell Brock, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“An intimate, unassuming two-character romance about 1970’s college students who work at a movie theater, Sally and Glen at the Palace is ... warmly realized by director Ellen McQueen and co-stars Jacob York and Kate Graham ... written (so well) by Peter Hardy. On either side of the stage, illuminated displays of ever-changing posters ingeniously establish the period setting ... the thoughtful and sensitive performances by York and Graham [prove] that bigger doesn’t always mean better.”
Bert Osborne, Sunday Paper

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Your Comments on "Qualities of Starlight" by Gabriel Jason Dean

The World Premiere of Gabriel Jason Dean’s QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT, directed by Peter Hardy for the Essential Theatre Play Festival. Featuring Patricia French, Daniel Burnley, Matt Felten, Kelly Criss, Alex Van and Nina Kyle.

Visit for dates and times for this production.

"A work of great imagination which is directed by Peter Hardy, superbly acted and wonderfully set … it is a terrific show and an enjoyable evening, one you do not want to miss." Bob Heller, Publishers Feature Syndicate

"The performance was amazing wonderful and so dang funny. We really enjoyed it."
Joan Punkett, Community Events Coordinator, VSA Arts of Georgia

"The set design was fantastic – like walking into a living yard sale – all the details, from the scummy refrigerator to the rubber chicken and the prayer hands were priceless. The Elvis soundtrack was a nice touch – his music has always had a hint of sadness mixed in with the upbeat rhythms and fun lyrics, mirroring what was going on stage really well. I can’t say enough about the cast, especially Patti French – they made that family come alive (and that lizard!) Great work Essential Theatre!"
Hannah Leatherbury, Program Director, Individual Artist Services, Southern Arts Federation

"Saw the third play, QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT, at the Essential Theatre Play Festival. Lovely play with great ideas, poetics, humor, a suppy of meth, a "cool" ghost and a rockin' lizard!"
James Beck

"I thought the script was great and Daniel Burnley just blew me away." Barbara Hawkins

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What People are Saying about Essential's Productions

Darker Face of the Earth
by Rita Dove, directed by Betty Hart
The Georgia Premiere of a stunning tragic drama by a Pulitzer Prize-winning African-American poet (and former Poet Laureate of the United States). The classic story of Oedipus is re-imagined on a slave plantation in the American South.
Adult situations, with some violence. VIDEO

"A luminous choreopoem that shows off the strengths of a strong supporting ensemble …A scintillating meditation on the shifting balance of power between master and servant, husband and wife, “The Darker Face of the Earth” transports the mythology of classical literature to the landscape of the Old South, which cultivated its own imitative and monumental style of Greek architecture, romance, heroism and war.... Replete with a chorus, soothsayers, dreams and symbols … A commendable job of displaying Dove's glorious gift for language and storytelling."
Wendell Brock, Atlanta Journal Constitution

"For those of you lucky enough to be seeing THE DARKER FACE OF THE EARTH tonight, you are in for a treat! I saw the preview - and was mesmerized ... ensemble, direction, movement, musc, story, staging and set, lighting."
Jackie Scott Prucha

"I was mesmerized. Everyone needs to see it!"
Yolanda Asher

"Saw two fine pieces of theatre this weekend that both happened to be great tragedies: King Lear at Georgia Shakespeare and THE DARKER FACE OF THE EARTHh at the Essential Theatre."
Joe Gfaller

"I thoroughly enjoyed THE DARKER FACE OF THE EARTH at Essential Theatre last week. Sweeping, stirring. Betty Hart directed a wonderful production."
Vynnie Meli

Sally and Glen at the Palace
by Peter Hardy, directed by Ellen McQueen
The Georgia Premiere of a comic drama about the growing friendship between two very different college students working together in the lobby of a 1970s movie theatre in a southern university town. Winner of a New Southern Theatre Festival Playwriting Award. VIDEO

"Peter Hardy has given us a touching and intimate work that's an absolute must for cinephiles! Ellen McQueen directed this production brought to life by Kate Graham and Jacob York. Kudos to you all! And thank you, Peter."
Scott Poythress, Actor

"Playwright Peter Hardy's script was wonderful, the acting was superb. So funny and poignant in the first act. So poignant and more serious in the second. I left with a big smile and one tear. I'm going to see it again later in the run."
Letitia Sweitzer

"This show is elegantly written -- touching and smart. I saw it once on my own, I plan to bring my wife to it again."
Hank Kimmel

"Sally and Glen at the Palace" by Peter Hardy, part of Essential Theatre's Play festival was just great! The acting is A+ and the staging wonderful. And a terrific script that will make you laugh and move you. So, treat yourself to a terrific play."
James Beck

"An excellent play! Bittersweet, and true."
Ann Neff

"I was very impressed with the writing, performances and direction. The evolving relationship between Sally and Glen is funny, moving and poignant. It had me laughing and crying. If you're a film buff, then you'll really appreciate all the references and comments about the films at the Palace in the 70's. "Sally and Glen at the Palace" deserves a longer run. I hope theatres in Atlanta and across the country will consider adding it to their season."
Yolanda Asher

"It's a good-hearted show with a light touch that spins into something surprisingly tender and profound at the end, it moves fast, and if you're a film buff (especially of '70s films) you'll be in paradise. Clever set and direction and solid acting, too."
Karla Jennings

Sunday, July 11, 2010

WABE's Lois Reitzes interviews Rita Dove about "Darker Face of the Earth"

Former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove was in town at a reception for the Atlanta premiere of her play, Darker Face of the Earth. Essential Theatre Company is performing the work at Actors' Express.

The play is a re-telling of Oedipus, the classic Greek tragedy in which a king tries unsuccessfully to avoid his fate, of killing his father and marrying his own mother. Dove's play takes place on a slave plantation in the American South. Recently, WABE's Lois Reitzes spoke with Rita Dove about the play. She began by asking: Why Oedipus?

Listen Now

Historical Notes on "Darker Face of the Earth"

  • The Trials of Girlhood

  • Could Slaves Read and Write

  • House versus Field Slaves

  • South Carolina

  • A Slaveholder's Daughter

  • Slaves and Music

The Trials Of Girlhood – excerpt from Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
During the first years of my service in Dr. Flint's family, I was accustomed to share some indulgences with the children of my mistress. Though this seemed to me no more than right, I was grateful for it, and tried to merit the kindness by the faithful discharge of my duties. But I now entered on my fifteenth year--a sad epoch in the life of a slave girl. My master began to whisper foul words in my ear. Young as I was, I could not remain ignorant of their import. I tried to treat them with indifference or contempt. The master's age, my extreme youth, and the fear that his conduct would be reported to my grandmother, made him bear this treatment for many months. He was a crafty man, and resorted to many means to accomplish his purposes. Sometimes he had stormy, terrific ways, that made his victims tremble; sometimes he assumed a gentleness that he thought must surely subdue. Of the two, I preferred his stormy moods, although they left me trembling. He tried his utmost to corrupt the pure principles my grandmother had instilled. He peopled my young mind with unclean images, such as only a vile monster could think of. I turned from him with disgust and hatred. But he was my master. I was compelled to live under the same roof with him--where I saw a man forty years my senior daily violating the most sacred commandments of nature. He told me I was his property; that I must be subject to his will in all things. My soul revolted against the mean tyranny. But where could I turn for protection? No matter whether the slave girl be as black as ebony or as fair as her mistress. In either case, there is no shadow of law to protect her from insult, from violence, or even from death; all these are inflicted by fiends who bear the shape of men. The mistress, who ought to protect the helpless victim, has no other feelings towards her but those of jealousy and rage. The degradation, the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can describe. They are greater than you would willingly believe. Surely, if you credited one half the truths that are told you concerning the helpless millions suffering in this cruel bondage, you at the north would not help to tighten the yoke. You surely would refuse to do for the master, on your own soil, the mean and cruel work which trained bloodhounds and the lowest class of whites do for him at the south.

Could Slaves Read and Write?

For many slaves, the ability to read and write meant freedom—if not actual, physical freedom, then intellectual freedom—to maintain relationships amongst family members separated by the slave trade. A few wrote slave narratives, which, when published, powerfully exposed the evils of slavery. For slaves and their teachers, the exercise of reading and writing was a dangerous and illegal one. In most southern states, anyone caught teaching a slave to read would be fined, imprisoned, or whipped. The slaves themselves often suffered severe punishment for the crime of literacy, from savage beatings to the amputation of fingers and toes.

Although some masters did teach their slaves to read as a way to Christianize them, most slave owners believed that teaching such skills was useless, if not dangerous. They assumed that slaves had no use for reading in their daily lives, and that literacy would make them more difficult to control, and more likely to run away.

For those who managed to become literate and escape to freedom, the ability to write would spark the growth of a powerful genre of literature: the slave narrative.

House versus field slave

Well it seems to me that there is a parallel that is emerging called plantation politics: the politics of the slaves in the field were often different from the politics of the slave who got to sleep in the Big House–I mean White House. You see the slaves on larger plantations who worked in the field would often direct their angst toward the big house where their master lived. So it posed a dichotomy of loyalty when the master would artfully pick a slave to work in the big house. This slave who once was from the field, was now working in the place where their anger had once been directed, and the ultimate question is where do their loyalties lie.

It’s not a hard stretch of the imagination to believe what a quandry the slaves in the house were facing. Realize now that often times they received better food, and a better place to sleep, even better clothing, they were no longer toiling in the hot sun doing back-breaking work during the summer months, and they were protected from the elements during the winter months. The house Negro had to deal with where their loyalties lie.

But the field Negroes–ohhhh, the field Negroes–they knew where their loyalties lay. They were beholden to God and to themselves and each other. They knew where to direct their anger, it was usually at the white man who would stand on the veranda and look out over the plantation, over the legalized and systemitized economy that kept them in bondage. Whether or not their master was a fair one (and fair by what standards) or not, the master was still overseeing and actively participating in what was keeping them in bondage.

South Carolina

Slave owners had more control over the state government of South Carolina than of any other state, blending aristocratic traditions with democracy. South Carolina's plantation owners played the role of English aristocrats more than the planters of other states, whereas newer Southern states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, allowed more political equality among whites. Although all white male residents were allowed to vote, property restrictions for office holders were higher in South Carolina than in any other state. South Carolina had the only state legislature where slave owners had the majority of seats. It was the only state where the legislature elected the governor, all judges and state electors. The state's chief executive was a figurehead who had no authority to veto legislative law.

The majority of the population in South Carolina was black, and overwhelmingly enslaved: by 1860 the population of the state was 703,620, with 57 percent or slightly more than 402,000 classified as enslaved African Americans. Free blacks numbered slightly less than 10,000. Unlike Virginia, where most of the plantations and slaves were concentrated in the eastern part of the state, in South Carolina plantations and slaves were common throughout most of the state. After 1794, Eli Whitney's cotton gin allowed cotton plantations to grow throughout South Carolina. By 1830, 85 percent of inhabitants of rice plantations along the coast were slaves. When rice planters left the malarial low country for cities such as Charleston, up to 98 percent of the low country residents were slaves. By 1830, two-thirds of South Carolina's counties had populations with 40 percent or more enslaved; in the two counties with the lowest rates of slavery, 23 percent of the population were slaves.

The white minority in South Carolina felt more threatened than in other parts of the South, and reacted more to the economic Panic of 1819, the Missouri Controversy of 1820, and attempts at emancipation in the form of the Ohio Resolutions of 1824 and the American Colonization Petition of 1827. South Carolina's first attempt at nullification occurred in 1822, when South Carolina adopted a policy of jailing foreign black sailors at South Carolina ports. This policy violated a treaty between the United Kingdom and the United States, but South Carolina defied a complaint from Britain through American Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and a United States Supreme Court justice's federal circuit decision condemning the jailings. Foreign blacks from Santo Domingo previously communicated with Vesey's conspirators, and the South Carolina state Senate declared that the need to prevent insurrections was more important than laws, treaties or constitutions.

A SLAVEHOLDER'S DAUGHTER: Kearney, Belle, 1863-1939

The South was in its glory. It was very rich and very proud. Its wealth consisted of slaves and plantations. Its pride was masterful from a consciousness of power. The customs of society retained the color of older European civilization, although the affairs of state were conducted according to the ideals of a radical democracy. Its social structure was simple, homogeneous. Three castes existed. The slave-holders constituted the gentry. Generally, those of this class served in the legislatures, studied law, medicine, theology; conducted extensive mercantile enterprises and controlled their private finances, - seeking recreation in hunting, traveling, entertaining, and in the cultivation of the elegant pursuits that most pleased their particular turn of mind.

The life of the great landowners and slaveholders resembled that of the old feudal lords. The overseer stood between the master and the slave in matters of detail. He conducted the local business of the plantation, managed the negroes, and was the possessor of almost unlimited power when the less serious-minded planter preferred his pleasures to his duties. The middle class carried on the concerns of commerce and the trades incident to a vast agricultural area, and were the men of affairs in its churches and municipalities. The third class constituted a yeomanry, - small farmers who, for the most part, preempted homesteads on the poorer lands, sometimes owning a few slaves, and who lived in a world of their own, - the westward drift from the Atlantic seaboard and the Blue Ridge mountains, with an inherited tone of life that defied change until the public school, of post-bellum origin, began its systematic inroads on the new generation.

Ladies of wealth and position were surrounded by refinements and luxury. They had their maids and coachmen and a retinue of other servants. There was a time-honored social routine from which they seldom varied; a decorous exchange of visits, elaborate dinings and other interchanges of dignified courtesies. Every entertainment was punctilious, strongly suggestive of colonial gatherings. No young woman went out unchaperoned. Marriage was the ultimatum of her existence and was planned for from the cradle by interested relatives. When the holy estate had been entered, women glided gracefully into the position of the most honored occupant of the home and kept their trust faithfully, making devoted wives and worshipful mothers.

The popular delusion is that the ante-bellum Southern woman, like Christ's lilies, "toiled not." Though surrounded by the conditions for idleness she was not indolent after she became the head of her own household. Every woman sewed, often making her own dresses; the clothing of all the slaves on a plantation was cut and made by negro seamstresses under her direct supervision, even the heavy coats of the men; she ministered personally to them in cases of sickness, frequently maintaining a well managed hospital under her sole care. She was a most skillful housekeeper, though she did none of the work with her own hands, and her children grew up around her knees; however, the black "mammy " relieved her of the actual drudgery of child-worry.

The women of the South, in the main, realized their obligations and met them with reflective efficiency. Notwithstanding their apparent freedom from responsibility and their outward lightness of character, there was the deepest undertone of religious enthusiasm pervading their natures; and this saving grace has clung to the Southerners through all their changing fortunes. They are the most devout people in this nation to-day. Among them is found less infidelity, - fewer "isms" have crept into their orthodoxy. As they have remained the most purely Anglo-Saxon, so have they continued the most reverent. The army of governesses and public school teachers was made up of gentlewomen of reduced means, the large middle class, and of women from the North. Teaching, sewing and keeping boarders were about the only occupations open to women of that day by which they could obtain a livelihood.

Slaves and music

African American work songs originally developed in the era of slavery, between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. Because they were part of an almost entirely oral culture they had no fixed form and only began to be recorded as the era of slavery came to an end after 1865. The first collection of African American 'slave songs' was published in 1867 by William Francis Allen, Charles Pickard Ware, Lucy McKim Garrison. Many had their origins in African song traditions, and may have been sung to remind the slaves of home, while others were instituted by the slave masters to raise morale and keep slaves working in rhythm. They have also been seen as a means of withstanding hardship and expressing anger and frustration through creativity or covert verbal opposition.

A common feature of African American songs was the call-and-response format, where a leader would sing a verse or verses and the others would respond with a chorus. This came from African traditions of agricultural work song and found its way into the spirituals that developed once slaves began to convert to Christianity and from there to both gospel music and the blues. Also evident were field hollers, shouts, and moans, which may have been originally designed for different bands or individuals to locate each other and narrative songs that used folk tales and folk motifs, often making use of homemade instruments. In early slavery drums were used to provide rhythm, but they were banned in later years because of the fear that black slaves would use them to communicate in a rebellion, nevertheless slaves managed to generate percussion and percussive sounds, using other instruments or their own bodies. Perhaps surprisingly, there are very few examples of work songs linked to cotton picking.

Friday, July 9, 2010

What people are saying about "Darker Face of the Earth"

"Very fine performance of the “Darker Face of the Earth.” Very strong cast and well produced."
Joe Bankoff, President and CEO of The Woodruff Arts Center

"The scope of this play is large, and the execution is sharp. This play is engaging theatrically, visually, historically and spiritually. Essential always puts on a good show, and this may be its most awe-some yet. I hope this play gets the kind of turnout it deserves. Congrats to Peter, Betty, Essential and the outstanding cast!"
Hank Kimmel, Board Chair, Working Title Playwrights

"A very well acted piece. I especially liked the actress playing Phoebe. This concept of Oedipus made the story more real than any production I've ever seen."
Barbara Hawkins-Scott, Director, Actor

"I was mesmerized. Everyone needs to see it!"
Yolanda Asher, Actor

"For those of you lucky enough to be seeing "The Darker Face of the Earth" tonight, you are in for a treat! I saw the preview - and was mesmerized ... ensemble, direction, movement, music, story, staging, set and lighting"
Jackie Scott Prucha, Actor

"Beautifully written, beautifully performed. The rhythms, music, poetry, timing. . . wonderful performances and production."
Lynne Ashe

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Congratulations to our Metropolitan Atlanta Theatre Awards nominees

The Essential Theatre has done pretty well with the Metropolitan Atlanta Theatre Awards over the past few years -- getting lots of nominations and some wins, including two for Best Direction of a Play (Dina Shadwell for FIX ME SO I CAN STAND and Ellen McQueen for AFTER ASHLEY), Best Actor in a Play (Spencer Stephens for FIX ME SO I CAN STAND) and Best Supporting Actor in a Play (Bobby Labartino for MRS. BOB CRATCHIT'S WILD CHRISTMAS BINGE). This year we're proud to say we've got nine nominations all told -- for two of the productions in last summer's Essential Theatre Play Festival, ICE GLEN and JIM CROW AND THE RHYTHM DARLINGS:

Major Supporting Actor

Jim Sarbh - "Denby" - ICE GLEN
Daniel Burnley - "Policeman" - JIM CROW AND THE RHYTHM DARLINGS

Major Supporting Actress

Ann Wilson - "Dulce Bainbridge" - ICE GLEN

Costume Design

Jane Kroessig - ICE GLEN

Set Design
Rob Hadaway - ICE GLEN

Lighting Design
Trish Harris - ICE GLEN

Sound Design


Moira Thornett Director's Award
Ellen McQueen - ICE GLEN

Best Overall Performance of a Play


Best Original Work


Congratulations and thanks to all our nominees! And come see this year's Essential Theatre Play Festival, running July 8 - August 8 at Actor's Express! The lineup:
  • THE DARKER FACE OF THE EARTH by Rita Dove, Directed by Betty Hart
  • SALLY AND GLEN AT THE PALACE by Peter Hardy, Directed by Ellen McQueen
  • QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT by Gabriel Jason Dean, Directed by Peter Hardy

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Stop the Gusher, Be an Usher

Become an Usher

We are seeking two ushers for each performance. Please visit our online Theatre Festival Usher Calendar to determine performance dates and availability. Click HERE to volunteer.

Essential Evening with Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet Laureate Rita Dove

Essential Theatre presents "Darker Face of the Earth" by Rita Dove, directed by Betty Hart, opening night reception with Pulitzer Prize Winner, Former U.S. Poet Laureate, playwright Rita Dove.

Regional Premiere - This stunning tragic drama takes the ancient Greek legend of Oedipus and re-imagines it on a slave plantation in the American South.

Ms. Dove's books will be available before the performance and during intermission for sale by A Cappella Books. Ms. Dove will be available after the performance for a book signing.

July 8th, 2010
VIP Reception 7 pm
Performance 8 pm

Essential Theatre @ Actors Express
887 W. Marietta St.
Atlanta, GA 30318

Tickets ~ $28 per person in advance/$30 at the door for the VIP Reception
$18 General Admission in advance $20 at the door.
Box Office: or call 800.595.4849

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Film critic Pauline Kael proposed that the real Golden Age of American Movies was not the much-heralded 1940s, but instead the long decade of the 1970s, when a kind of freewheeling creativity and an explosion of new voices and impulses were unleashed. American film suddenly revealed more varieties of stories, more unconventional talents, more dialogue with foreign film and forbidden subject-matter than ever before. In Peter Hardy’s Sally and Glen at the Palace, pop movie culture does not coarsen the mind and emotions, but creates a conduit for the most delicate moments of (imperfect) communication. Peter Hardy’s young heroine and hero--battered, puzzled, and tentatively brave—find in the movies that whirl through the local movie palace a whole new vocabulary with which they can explore and share their most vulnerable truth—their unsure steps on the path of growing up.
Michael Evenden, Associate Professor Theatre Studies, Emory University

Notes on QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT by Gabriel Jason Dean

Starlight plays tricks with time: while we feel the stars are timeless, and name them after gods, science tells us that they are actually time-bound, that—counter-intuitively--the light that shines on us bears a specific history, and tells us about the nature and origin of things. Gabriel Jason Dean‘s Qualities of Starlight lives in this mystery: we follow a scientist who has learned that creation is forever beginning again (upending easy ideas of origins and consequences, doom and possibilities)--even as he journeys to encounter his family past, but finds there nothing but the unexpected. Science crashes violently into nature, identities shift, memories speak, and the future can only be won by renegotiating the past. In this light, the cosmos is no more wondrous than a troubled human family improvising its path into the future.
Michael Evenden, Associate Professor Theatre Studies, Emory University

Monday, June 14, 2010

Notes from Betty

I am especially pleased with how hard working and talented the cast of Darker Face of the Earth is. They are a collective pleasure to work with and they make me laugh every rehearsal--I love laughing and NO it's not a comedy; we just like to have a good time!
Betty Hart

Darker Face of the Earth
by Rita Dove
directed by Betty Hart
preview July 7, 2010
opens July 8, 2010

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Essential Theatre Cooking Class.

Why take a gourmet cooking class from a kitchen & bath remodeler? David Sturm,
Certified Kitchen and Bath Remodeler & Professional Chef knows kitchens inside and out — literally.For 10 years David spent his career as a chef working for restaurant companies such as Pano and Paul’s of the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group and Trotter’s of the Liberty House Restaurant Corporation.

“When I was 27, I decided to expand my culinary talent & even trained under a sushi chef and began teaching in-home sushi classes.” While with the Liberty House Corporation David was trained in Italian sauces, and found ways to include them in easy to make meals at home.

Today, David demonstrates the functionality of his kitchen designs & remodels by instructing how to prepare gourmet meals for homeowners in their newly remodeled kitchen. And now, he is happy to pull out his chef’s hat to teach you some basic to intermediate tips in gourmet preparation in support of The Essential Theatre.

Value: $50 per person
Up to six people per class

Visit to learn about our Wine & Words, An Essential Evening of Wine, Georgia Playwrights & more!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Thanks to our wine sponsor Ansley Wine Merchants

I'm writing because I am involved in a very exciting fundraiser. You all know that I love theater. Right now, more than ever, theater's are struggling terribly. In tough times, the arts are considered a luxury. But we all know that we can't exist without art. I'm doing my part to make sure that theater in Atlanta survives and thrives! Join me!

Ansley Wine Merchants will be the wine sponsor for the Essential Theatre's first big fundraiser "Wine and Words: An Essential Evening of Georgia Wines and Playwrights". On Sunday, June 27th, one of my favorite theatre companies in Atlanta will be at the Four Seasons, performing for you! This event, with food, service and space donated by the Four Seasons Hotel - will feature an auction, raffle, wine tasting and many performances from this years Essential Theatre Festival! A repertory of three plays, the annual festival is known for finding new amazing artists - playwrights, actors and more. Get to know Essential while enjoying wines from all over the United States - and featuring several Georgia wineries including Tiger Mountain, Wolf, and Frogstown - as well as other regional wineries like Biltmore Estates.

Go to to purchase tickets and to learn more about Essential Theatre!

Amber Bradshaw

2010-2011 Actors Express Season Announced

I want to congratulate Actor’s Express for what looks to be a really interesting 2010-2011 Season. Lots of great choices!

I’m always glad to see one of David Hare’s plays produced here in Atlanta – I think he’s one of the greatest playwrights working today, and the Express production of THE JUDAS KISS should be something to see. Twenty-five years ago I directed Hare’s play KNUCKLE and it’s still a favorite theatre memory of mine – with a cast that featured past and present Atlanta actors like Ann Wilson, Simon Reynolds, Scott Higgs and (my dear old dad) William Hardy.

SEE WHAT I WANNA SEE is a complex and fascinating new musical that we thought about trying to do at the Essential (but decided we just didn’t have the resources to do a musical yet). I’m excited that I’ll be getting a chance to see it at the Express.

And finally, hats off to our old pal Lee Nowell, whose play ALBATROSS will receive its World Premiere at the Express next fall. Lee directed six productions for the Essential Theatre, going all the way back to our first Festival, in 1999, when she helmed Paula Vogel’s DESDEMONA, A PLAY ABOUT A HANDKERCHIEF. She’s been really coming along as a playwright in recent years, and kudos to the Express for producing her work.

The Essential Theatre is proud to be performing at Actor’s Express this summer, coming back for our second year in the space, with the 2011 Essential Theatre Play Festival!

For more information and to purchase a season subscription to Actor's Express visit them at

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Your Input is Essential

We’re about to start rehearsals for this summer’s 2010 Essential Theatre Play Festival, and we’ve got lots of plans for marketing and reaching out to new audiences – but we can always use some new ideas. Here’s a rundown of some of the angles, story elements and subject matter that we’re dealing with this summer, and I’d like to know if anyone has suggestions about ways we might leverage these to reach out to particular groups, organizations or audience segments (with offers for group sales, or cross promotion, or whatever!). We’d also be interested in arranging for talkback sessions, etc.

If you have the chance to look over this material and it gives you any ideas, please E-mail Me! . We’d appreciate it!

Rita Dove’s THE DARKER FACE OF THE EARTH is a poetic tragedy that takes the Greek legend of Oedipus (born under a curse that he will grow up to murder his father and marry his mother) and transposes it to a slave plantation in the American south. The author is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and a former Poet Laureate of the United States. We will be bringing her to Atlanta for the July 8 opening of her play. We hope to reach out to those interested in African-American culture and history, classical literature and contemporary African-American literature, and poetry in general.

My play SALLY AND GLEN AT THE PALACE is about the friendship of two college students working in the lobby of a movie theatre in 1973. It is full of the love of movies from that period, and memories of a time of single-screen movie houses whose atmosphere was very different from the multi-plexes of today. We’d love to reach out to lovers of movies everywhere, as well as those concerned with the issues of date rape and sexual abuse.

Gabriel Dean’s QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT is the world premiere of a play about a noted young astronomer who comes back to his childhood home in the mountains of northern Georgia for the first time in several years, to discover that his parents have become addicted to crystal meth. It’s a dark comedy about serious issues, and we’d like to reach out to groups concerned with drug addiction as well as to astronomers and all those interested in the stars.

Please visit our Wine & Words, An Essential Evening of Georgia Wines, Playwrights and more! website or make a silent auction donation.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Great Things are Happening for Essential Theatre Playwrights

Lots of great things are happening for Essential Theatre playwrights. Our friend Karla Jennings recently won the 2010 John Gassner Award for her play MONSTROUS BEAUTY, a riff on the life and times of the notorious Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. This national prize was initiated in 1967 to recognize outstanding new work by American writers. Her play will receive a cash prize and a staged reading in New York City.

Karla was one of the first Georgia playwrights whose work we produced – back in 2000, when our production of her play IMAGES IN SMOKE was named one of the best 15 shows of the year by Creative Loafing. She’s been going great guns since then, co-founding the Atlanta group Working Title Playwrights in 2001, and that same year seeing a workshop production of her play DISH BABIES at the Two Roads Theater in Los Angeles, where it was nominated for three ADA awards. She was also awarded the Hermann Kesten Fellowship to have her play CLAY’S WAR presented at an international writers’ conference in Germany. THE RUBY VECTOR was chosen for development at the prestigious Lark Theatre in New York City, and won the 2005 Playwrights First Award. An earlier one-act version of this play had originally been commissioned by Georgia Tech’s DramaTech Theatre. More recently, Karla’s play THE SMILES won the Pillars Playwriting Prize and was given a workshop production at Georgia College & State University in Milledgeville.

Karla says: “Essential’s faith in playwrights strengthens their faith in themselves, which keeps them writing. Essential Theatre helps Georgia speak for itself.”

Lauren Gunderson won the Essential Theatre Playwriting Award in 2001, for PARTS THEY CALL DEEP, written when she was just 17 – we like to think we discovered her. A few years later she won again, for her play BACKGROUND, but she’s been having a fantastic career all over the U.S.A., with so many productions and commissions we haven’t been able to keep track of them all. Here are some of the recent highlights:

Last summer she was in residence at the Eugene O’Neill Center’s National Playwrights Conference, developing her play FIRE WORK with director Sean Daniels (formerly Artistic Director of Atlanta’s Dad’s Garage Theater). This year she’s been commissioned by the Kennedy Center’s Performances for Young Audiences group to write two new science-themed plays for youth, and she has also become the first-ever Playwright In Residence at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, California. Last year her play EMILIE: LA MARQUISE DU CHATELET DEFENDS HER LIFE TONIGHT was produced at California’s South Coast Repertory, and it’s now being published by Samuel French.

Coming up soon, Lauren’s play (EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR) will be featured in the Playwright’s Foundation Rough Readings Series in San Francisco, and right here in Atlanta on May 25 as part of Synchronicity Theatre’s SheWRITES Play Reading Festival. Also in Atlanta, her play DENISE² will be workshopped at Actor’s Express as part of the TURNER IN THE WORKS Series, on June 7.

Lauren writes: “The professionalism with which the Essential Theatre handled my work and delivered a beautiful performance allowed me entrance into the world of playwriting. It was an honor to work with them and a huge boost for my work to have won the Playwriting prize.”

And hey, how about Gabriel Dead, winner of this year’s Essential Award for his play QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT? Gabriel has such a big summer coming up that he won’t even be able to be here for the opening night of our production of his play – he’ll be working on another script of his, THE FREEMAN ELEGIES, in a residency at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca, New York. Then he’ll be attending a week-long residency at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. Plus, his short play PIGSKIN will be performed as part of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival this summer!

Friday, May 7, 2010

New Honors for Playwright Gabriel Jason Dean

I thought you guys would appreciate knowing this. One of my short plays, PigSkin, was accepted to the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Festival this summer in July. YAY! The week before QOS opens.

Then, as if that wasn't enough good news, I got offered a residency at the Hangar Theatre in Ithaca NY to work on my new play The Freeman Elegies. Then, I'm going to the O'Neill for a week long residency.

I'm feeling pretty darn good today!


~Gabriel Jason Dean