Theater Review - New playwrights find their stages in Atlanta

Theater workshops, competitions, and apprenticeships offer guidance for new playwrights in Atlanta

For unknown writers, entering a script into a playwriting competition or workshop may seem like a long shot. But you don't have to be Stephen Sondheim, Tom Stoppard, or even local favorite Topher Payne to get a play produced in Atlanta. Between the competitions, apprenticeships, and workshops, there are several ways to connect with a community that is hungry to stage new plays. As the writers of Moxie and The Spins learned, it takes a lot of effort and time, but if you are willing to put in the work, there are people here who want to help realize your vision.

Moxie is the work of Lane Carlock and Brian Kurlander, both established actors in Atlanta who have been writing together for a few years. The play is currently on stage at Theatrical Outfit, extended to run through Feb. 28, but it began as a project sponsored by the Alliance Theatre's Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab. While working on another script, the writers received an email about the lab and they decided to submit Moxie, which at the time only existed as a 1,000-word outline. They condensed the outline to around 100 words and wrote a scene, and got accepted into the inaugural year of the Alliance program.

Kurlander admits he didn't expect much from submitting the proposal. "In a town with some extraordinary playwrights and talents, what are our chances as two burgeoning playwrights competing against those established names?" When they got the call, he admits it was a bit terrifying as they realized, "Now we're going to have to write this thing!" They established an intense schedule. On top of their acting projects and commitments to their respective families, they set aside five hours a day to devote to getting their draft finished by the end of January 2014. They used Google Docs so that they could work from their homes, and they often accessed the document at the same time. "I'd be writing and I'd see Lane's cursor erasing it!" Kurlander laughs.

Carlock found the Alliance program helpful both financially and for professional guidance. "Not only do you have grant money that they give you to help support what you're doing," she says, "but they help you find actors that are appropriate for the roles, and you get the resources of the Alliance behind you in terms of using the stage and designers there. It all leads up to the showcase in August, so it's essentially a nine-month process where they are helping you along in every way possible." She found conversations with Alliance Artistic Director Susan Booth especially valuable. "Having that feedback from such a brilliant director was priceless."

The pair decided to do their own reading prior to the showcase, and Theatrical Outfit Director Tom Key was in the audience. He expressed interest then, and once the official showcase took place, he reached out to the Alliance about including Moxie in Theatrical Outfit's schedule. Kurlander is still overwhelmed that they have gone from concept to a stage production of the play in around two years' time. "To go from nothing to a production is extraordinary and really just humbling. You feel like you've got the whole world behind you," he says. "We have an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the support starting at the Alliance, which really took a chance on two unknown playwrights." After the run at Theatrical Outfit, the writing team is planning to continue to revise the work and then submit it to theaters outside of Atlanta.

For Sara Crawford, a local singer/songwriter and author of the play The Spins, the journey to production took a different route. She graduated with a master's in playwriting from the University of New Orleans and joined the apprentice program at the Horizon Theatre in 2009, where she began work on The Spins. "It's pretty much for people who have just gotten out of college with theater degrees and want to get started in the Atlanta theater scene," she says regarding the Horizon mentorship program. "There were a lot of classes and we read a lot of theater books, and we helped the working crew at Horizon." The program contains actors and playwrights, so the writers were able to have their works read by talented actors as part of the year-long program.

In 2011, Crawford submitted her play to the Essential Theatre Playwriting Award competition, where she was a finalist. She notes that Essential Theatre's Artistic Director Peter Hardy helped her to think about the play in different ways, but she was focusing on fiction writing and left The Spins on the shelf for a few years. After seeing a few productions at Out of Box Theatre, she was inspired to try her luck submitting her play, and now she is inspired to create new works. "This whole project has really gotten me back into the playwriting mode," she says.

In addition to the Horizon and Essential Theatre programs, Crawford recommends other unknown writers join the Working Title Playwrights group, where she has recently renewed her membership. "They are a really great organization for playwrights in Atlanta," she says, noting the group often stages workshops and staged readings of new work by local actors. "It's a really great tool to get feedback and get your work out there."

Nearly every theater company in town has mentorship programs and competitions for local writers, so if you're a budding Chekhov, you can find your place here.

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