Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thank you, Daniel Burnley

I've been meaning to write this post for awhile now, but every time I sit down to write, I get lost in the photos, my own memories and the Facebook posts from friends of Daniel's. It's been almost a month, and I still can't believe we've done our last show together, that I've seen Daniel's amazing talent onstage for the last time. This Thanksgiving, there's a lot to give thanks for. And through the tears that still well up for a man that, let's face it, I worked with once a year at most, I suppose it's fitting that it took me till Thanksgiving week to be able to say it. Thank you, Daniel. There aren't words enough, so just -- thanks.

On October 25, 2013, the world lost a wonderful actor and human being, Mr. Daniel Burnley. The Essential Theatre was blessed to have him on our stage and in our family for many years, and our world will not be the same without him. He was an unforgettable man to those who knew him, and the characters he created onstage were unparalleled in my experience. 

Here are some thoughts that our artistic director, Peter Hardy, shared with me around the time of Daniel's wake, which fittingly enough was held at Manuel's Tavern, a longtime haven for the Atlanta theatre community.
"Most people in the Atlanta theatre community knew Daniel Burnley -- over the past few decades he'd worked with most of the companies in town, at one time or another, along with a bunch of film work.  I got to know him in 2005, when I directed him in the Essential Theatre's production of Sam Shepard's THE LATE HENRY MOSS, which is a play I loved and really wanted to do, but don't think I would have had the courage to take on if Daniel hadn't been willing to do the title roll.  Which he was, and without really knowing me much at all, for which I'll always be grateful.  He was splendid, and that show is still one of my proudest memories with the Essential Theatre, and Daniel went on to do exemplary work for us in four more productions -- CHARM SCHOOL, JIM CROW AND THE RHYTHM DARLINGS, THE DARKER FACE OF THE EARTH and QUALITIES OF STARLIGHT.  In just about every case, Daniel was taking on a role for us that no one else (that was available to us) would have been willing or able to do -- or, at least, not nearly as well as he did them.  Daniel told me repeatedly how much he believed in the work Essential was doing, and how he'd give up the chance to get (much) better playing work in films to do one of our projects.  Which was an honor for us, but also just a testament to the generous and committed person that he was.  All that being said, he was also just a good guy, a good friend, and someone that all of us will miss a lot."
Thank you, Daniel, for your crass humor, your quick laughter, your generous spirit, your belief in the work we do at Essential, and for making that work better with your involvement. We love you, and we miss you!

Daniel Burnley (July 29, 1956-Oct 25, 2013)
photo courtesy of Valerie Weaver

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

"Connecting with Deaf Audiences" Final Report

In 2013 for the first time, sign language interpretation was offered as part of the Essential Theatre Festival. This was a pretty big undertaking for us - there's a lot of work and a lot of money that goes into making this happen smoothly and well - and we were very excited to be bringing this new aspect into our festival.
To help fund the project, we participated in our first ever power2give crowdfunding project. If you're not familiar with power2give, it's actually pretty awesome, and you can learn more about it here. We'd started out hoping to raise money, but through our power2give project, we gained so much more. The outpouring of community support and enthusiasm was touching, encouraging and absolutely inspiring to all of us. People we'd known for years contacted us thanking us for the work we do every year, for our years of support of Georgia artists, and for our commitment to sharing quality theatre with anyone and everyone we meet. People we'd never realized had an interest reached out to say thank you for bringing new theatre to Deaf audiences, and thank you for engaging us in conversation. And the support we received from members of Atlanta's own Deaf community was heartening and inspiring as well. The video you see if you go to our project page would never have been possible without two of our most committed Deaf collaborators, Amy Cohen Efron and AJ Wooddall. And the geographic extent of the response was impressive too: Terp Theatre in Detroit, MI, contacted us and said,  
"You are embarking on a wonderful project, which will greatly enhance your local theatre community's ability to better reflect the diversity of our world…Your community-centered approach is to be lauded...Our heartfelt congratulations to you, from your friends in 'The D'."
So this undertaking turned out to be much more than we'd originally thought it would be, and it's just the beginning of what we hope will be an ongoing conversation with Deaf audience and artists in the coming years.
All of our power2give supporters were promised a final report, so they could see the specific difference their support made. Because it's such an exciting story, we've decided to also share this report with you. Below is the report that our power2give supporters received. We are so thankful to all of them for supporting us as we continue to push the boundaries of accessability and inclusiveness in our work, and we hope you are excited by this experience as well.
If you're interested in finding out more about the Essentail Theatre, our Playwriting Competition for Georgia writers, our annual play festival or our outreach and accessibility initiatives, please check us out at, on Facebook or contact me directly via email at

Connecting with Deaf Audiences
Final Report

Some Numbers:
·      44 individual donors supported “Connecting with Deaf Audiences” through power2give. We had 59 individual donors for all of 2013. That means a whopping 74% of our donors were inspired by CDA!
·      3 of the festival’s 27 performances were interpreted. That’s one performance of each of the plays we produced.
·      Approximately 40 people attended the talkback series, or around a dozen per talkback. Of these, over half were Deaf.  Without our interpreters staying through the talkbacks, over half of our talkback participants would not have had this opportunity!
·      Though our Deaf patrons weren’t singled out in any way, on average between 3 and 16 audience members utilized the interpretation services at each interpreted performance. Several hearing audience members also stated that they had come on the interpreted nights because they enjoy the interpretation, which was unanticipated but not surprising!
·      As of today, 10 videos on our YouTube channel – our entire 2013 Festival collection – have now been closed captioned. By the 2014 festival, we will have all our archive videos captioned and will caption all new videos released on our channel to provide greater accessibility.

Focus Group Findings:
As part of our outreach, Essential offered free theatre tickets to any Deaf audience member who agreed to participate in a post-festival focus group. The goals of this focus group were to discuss:
·      participants’ experiences with Essential this summer
·      the experience participants would like to have with Essential
            >as an audience member
            >as an artist
·      the experience participants would like to have in Atlanta theatre as a whole.

Due to insufficient response to scheduling requests, the focus group was cancelled. However, Deaf participants offered abundant feedback during the festival and specifically in the talkbacks. Here are some of the things we learned:
·      We were warned before the shows not to expect a huge turnout of Deaf audience members, due to the fact that we had not previously offered interpreted performances and were doing new plays by emerging artists that didn’t contain Deaf themes, characters or performers.
·      However, we did have several new festival attendees as a result of adding this service, and everyone who came enjoyed the shows very much.
·      Participants particularly enjoyed the opportunity to interact directly with the playwrights after seeing the shows.
·      There is a great interest in seeing work by Deaf artists.

What Folks Had To Say About CDA:
Dan McDougall, of Terp Theatre in Detriot, contacted us to express enthusiasm for our “Connecting with Deaf Audiences” initiative. He had this to say:
It's great to read about your approach to inclusion of the Deaf community in your future work - especially today! I co-founded TerpTheatre in Detroit, and we have just announced our two year research and book project focusing on interpreted theatre.
[ ]… You are embarking on a wonderful project, which will greatly enhance your local theatre community's ability to better reflect the diversity of our world… Your community-centered approach is to be lauded, and would be a great discussion for our book. Our heartfelt congratulations to you, from your friends in "The D".
Amie Kroessig, a long-time Essential company member, sent us this message after our first interpreted performance:
Thank you for Essential Theatre for bringing sign language interpreters In for the deaf patrons last night for Stray Dogs. It was very interesting and fun seeing the emotions being portrayed by the interpreters. (Remembered some from when i had to sign when i was younger) I believe all theaters should have at least one night of bringing in the interpreters.
One unanticipated response that we received was that several hearing audience members said they specifically came to the interpreted performances because they enjoyed watching the interpreters.

How Our Programming Will Develop in 2014:
·      We are actively seeking a corporate sponsor to support the interpreted performances for the 2014 festival. We don’t have one yet, but it’s our goal to leverage the support you have shown and the positive feedback we received to entice a corporate sponsor.
·      We’ll involve our interpreters earlier and more actively in determining where they will be placed on the stage for the next festival.
·      In response to the interest that was expressed in the possibility of our doing a show by a Deaf writer or involving a Deaf character or actor, we will advertise the playwriting contest deadline in every Deaf forum we can reasonably access in addition to the literary and theatre community posts we have traditionally made as the contest deadline approaches.
·      By the 2014 festival, we will have all our archive YouTube videos captioned. We will caption all new videos released on our channel as well, to provide greater accessibility.
·      Because none of Essential Theatre’s staff is Deaf, we will also seek to engage a Deaf community consultant to advise in matters of marketing, outreach and program development.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Interview with playwright Lee Wright

Learn more about Lee Wright, author of Wednesday's Bare Essentials offering, Fortunes of Warren.

A real live Georgia native!
Born and raised in north Georgia, I currently live in Lookout Mountain, GA (near Chattanooga, TN) with my wife, Christie, and our three-year-old son.

How did you get into writing plays?

I've wanted to be a writer since I was in junior high.  By 2007, I had written many short stories and a couple of really terrible mystery novels, but wasn't having much luck finding homes for them.  After seeing a production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lun, I was inspired to try my hand at a play.  My first play, Haint Blue, was written specifically for the Chattanooga Theatre Centre's 2008 Festival of New Plays.  It won the grand prize and received a full production that ran for six performances over the course of three weeks.  Encouraged by that success, I wrote my second play, Fortunes of Warren, and submitted it to the next biennial Festival of New Plays. That play was one of three runners up and received two staged readings in April of 2010.  Both plays have recently been self-published, along with a short story collection, on
Where else can we find your work?

My short stories have appeared in Metal Scratches, Literary Juice, Apocrypha and Abstractions, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Eunoia Review, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Word Riot, Linguistic Erosion, Foliate Oak, The Rusty Nail, Danse Macabre, MicroHorror, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Hogglepot, and others.  Every few months, I get around to writing a blog post which you can find at

Are you working on any new projects at the moment?
Being a father takes up an awful lot of time so, other than a few one-act plays, I haven't written any new works for the stage since Fortunes of Warren.  I recently started working on a new young adult novel and I'm starting to write short stories again.  I am also investigating the possibility of turning Haint Blue and/or Fortunes of Warren into low-budget, indie films.
Tell us a little bit about the play we'll be hearing on Wednesday night.
Fortunes of Warren exists in the same literary world as my previous play, Haint Blue, and was originally intended to be part of what I was calling "The Storm Trilogy".  They would have been three very loosely related stories that each involved a hurricane.  I eventually dropped Fortunes from that planned series but retained a few of the small connections.  Like Haint Blue, Fortunes of Warren was written specifically for the Chattanooga Theatre Centre and their Circle Stage, a black box style theatre that seats a little over a hundred people.  Both were inspired by plays like Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune that feature very small casts and have just one setting.
The title for Fortunes of Warren came to me first and I immediately had the idea for a story about a fortune teller and a very naive customer.  I wrote the first half of the story without really knowing where it was going.  During the writing process, I read an article about gender identity and it mentioned that many people who have always identified as one gender could actually be medically classified as the other--or both.  That article about gender ambiguity inspired the twist and gave me a way to talk about love and marriage equality.

The Bare Essentials series is free and open to the public. Donations graciously accepted. Complimentary wine before and after the show. For more information on all the readings as well as the other plays in the festival, visit 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Interview with playwright Karen Wurl

Learn more about playwright Karen Wurl, whose play Cemetery Row is part of this year's Bare Essentials reading series and will be read tomorrow night at 8pm.

About Karen Wurl:  
I was born in Chicago roughly a million years ago (55), and growing up I had an aunt who did theatre with the Playwrights Center at Hull House.  So although I grew up working class in the suburbs, I got to be around theatre and new plays, and I decided at an early age to be a playwright.  By high school, though, I had decided theatre was lame and so I missed out on that whole experience, sadly.  
I moved to Atlanta in 1983, and I raised three daughters here.  I got active in Atlanta theatre around 1987, and started having things produced and staged-read in 1988.  In the '90s, I also started doing spoken word and slam poetry, but playwriting remains my favorite genre.
So, I lived in the Atlanta area till 2007, when I moved to Michigan to get an MFA in playwriting. I've been out of state ever since: 3 years in Kalamazoo, 1 year in Madison, WI, and then I wound up in Lubbock, TX, where I'm working on a PhD in Fine Arts focusing on theatre.  This should be my last year of course work, so I should be able to come back home to GA as soon as next summer, fingers crossed, to work on my dissertation.
About Cemetery Row:
I first began writing Cemetery Row in 2008 in Dramaturgy class at Western Michigan University - we were all required to turn in a creative project, either a documentary play, or an adaptation, or something else I forget quite what, but in any case, Cemetery Row is an adaptation of the romantic ballet Giselle, upon which I have been a bit fixated since I was a little girl who wanted to be a ballerina (this was before I settled on playwriting).  Giselle is a ghastly but delicious story about a girl who dies of a broken heart and these spirits, called Wilis, who are the departed souls of rejected and deceived young women who died "before their wedding days."  It's set in some kind of generic romantic European village setting; I moved my version to present day Milwaukee.  In that class, I was only required to write the first 15-20 pages of the play (we had many other assignments to do as well), but the play was going so well, I finished it and that first version was developed in the summer of 2009 in WMU's New Play Project.  It also won best full-length play in our region's Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, and had a staged reading there.  
I wound up revising the play to be my thesis play, and that version went through another developmental rehearsed reading process at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre as part of Theatre K, Kalamazoo's new play initiative.  Kalamazoo is actually quite a good town for playwrights; it has a very active theatre community, 2 colleges doing theatre, and lots of opportunity.  The version that resulted from that thesis/developmental reading process is the version you all are reading.
Where did you get the idea for this play? What made you want to write it?
I wanted to write this play because the image of an Ophelia-like young woman, driven mad by a broken heart, is a romanticized one, one I grew up with, and one I consider fairly messed up.  I think we as a culture get some kind of perverse gratification out of this figure.  That said, I don't think Cemetery Row necessarily breaks any ground in working with this trope - we've got the dead girls, my version of the Wilis, who've moved from victims to victimizers, which still doesn't solve anything - but I hope the play entertains at least.
What are your thoughts about being a playwright?
Being a playwright?  Don't quit your day job(s).  Live, and don't hold your breath.  I do it because there's nothing else like it, and I've gotten really good at poverty.  I don't expect a PhD is really going to change any of that for me anytime soon. 
What are your thoughts on Tuesday's Bare Essentials reading of Cemetery Row?
Atlanta is my home, officially and emotionally, so it means a lot that this piece will be heard in Atlanta.  I have a happy history with the Essential Theatre because the Essential is doing great work on behalf of Georgia playwrights.  I try to submit a play every year!  
What's next for you?
I have been directing and learning to direct, and I want to do more of that.  I have plans with my kids to work on (writing/pitching/producing) web- and/or TV-miniseries.  I hope to find teaching work in Atlanta next year so that I can support my dissertation habit, so anyone out there who knows where I might find adjunct work teaching Theatre and/or English classes, I've got experience with both, please hit me up on facebook...
I'm currently working on my dissertation - two plays and accompanying academic prose.  Both plays involve women and death.  That's getting to be my signature.  Female-centric ghost plays.  
The Bare Essentials series is free and open to the public. Donations graciously accepted. Complimentary wine before and after the show. For more information on all the readings as well as the other plays in the festival, visit 


Monday, July 29, 2013

Interview with playwright Theroun Patterson

Learn more about actor and playwright Theroun Patterson, winner of the 2011 Essential Theatre Playwriting Award and author of this Wednesday night’s Bare Essential play, That Uganda Play

About That Uganda Play: I originally wrote the play in late 2011-early 2012 with a staged reading of the original draft with Working Title Playwrights and Academy Theatre in January 2012.  The play started as a sort of knee jerk reaction to reading an NPR interview with David Bahati, a Ugandan Member of Parliament that introduced his Anti-Gay Legislation, causing an uproar with Gay Rights groups because the Bill essentially criminalized homosexuality and would have allowed for unprecedented governmental persecution of gays.  The article simply made me angry.  I started writing to try and understand that type of hatred, to know where it came from, and perhaps to feel better about a my own frustrations about a prejudice that I can't control; that I can't stamp out on my own. With the virulent anti-homosexual sentiments and violence in Africa and recently with the legislation signed into law in Russia, this play is timely and a sheds light on a very American involvement with such a controversial figure like Bahati.  Not only that, but I wanted to ground the play within two families and show how a global problem works its way down into our most personal relationships.  Honestly I hope a theatre with an interest in starting a community dialogue about social issues will produce this play. My hope is that it provokes debate and conversations late into the night long after its over. 

About Theroun: I started as an actor, working for eleven years on Atlanta stages.  I started seriously writing plays in 2005, producing and directing my own readings with the help of generous peers that donated their time and talents.  In 2009, I joined Working Title Playwrights and wrote the first of four plays that year.  I've written a dozen full lengths since 2006.  I'm pleased to be working with Essential again after the production of my play A Thousand Circlets.

On the Bare Essentials Series: The reading series allows me the opportunity to refine the play and find new audiences for it to continue a dialogue generated by art.

What is it like to transition from acting to writing? As an actor, there was always an underlying anxiety about performing, but as a writer I have absolutely no fear.  I'm willing to learn in front of others, to continue to grow and experiment with story and structure.  Playwriting is the form of expression that fits me best as an artist. Acting is secondary to that.

Where can you look for Theroun’s next work? Next for me, is a production of fugitive:EROS and The Chemicals Between Us with Out of Box Theatre next season, as well as the production of Origin Story with Academy Theatre in their new home. I'm also about to start on a new commission with Pinch N Ouch Theatre as well as Mad Hope Theatre Project.

The Bare Essentials series is free and open to the public. Donations graciously accepted. Complimentary wine before and after the show. For more information on all the readings as well as the other plays in the festival, visit