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?

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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