When you drive into Atlanta from any direction, you’re likely to end up maneuvering around Spaghetti Junction. Officially known as the Tom Moreland Interchange, this four-level stacked intersection is where I-285, I-85, US-23, and Buford Highway connect, resembling a plate of spaghetti with its long, curling strands. When I moved to Atlanta to further my career as a dramatist, I spent a lot of time on the various strands of Spaghetti Junction traveling to the myriad theatres centered in Midtown Atlanta and its outskirts. As a dramatist, I’ve always called Atlanta my home. It was where my playwriting education began and where my first play was produced.
Atlanta has a plethora of learning opportunities for both new and seasoned dramatists. Working Title Playwrights (WTP), founded in 2000, aims to give playwrights a place to develop their work. Under the leadership of Amber Bradshaw, Managing Artistic Director, WTP offers numerous programs, including the Monday Night Development Workshops, The Table Series, the WTP Writers Room, the Ethel Woolson Lab, classes, and seminars. As Bradshaw says, “WTP is Atlanta’s leading new play incubator and artist service organization. We support, nurture, and uplift the voices and creative spirits of new play artists. By collaborating with our vibrant local community, we are building a new American theatre that represents the rich culture and celebration of difference that we witness in Atlanta every day.” During the pandemic, WTP programs were moved online, providing the opportunity to reach playwrights around the country. According to WTP president Hank Kimmel, “WTP is pushing new play development to the hub of the Atlanta theatre scene and beyond. At some of our WTP events, we have folks from seven different states. We’re filling a void for many.”
A newer writers’ group, Merely Writers was founded in 2018 under the Merely Players Presents umbrella. The theatre is run by Joanie McElroy and the writers’ group by Daniel Guyton. The program has bimonthly meetings during which dramatists share their work and get feedback. Merely Writers also produces full-length play readings and offers writing workshops. Writers from all over the world participate in Merely Writers. Daniel Guyton, writing development coordinator, states, “Like many organizations throughout the world, we’ve been conducting our meetings virtually since April 2020. While Zoom theatre seemed like a terrible burden at first, it soon became a source of wonderful surprises as we managed to attract writers and actors from all over the world, including India, Australia, New York, Boston, Arizona, and more. As more and more theatres are now moving back to in-person gatherings, we are actually feeling saddened by this, because we don’t want to lose such great connections. Instead, we are now creating a hybrid model where we meet virtually for some meetings and in person for some meetings. This way, we can hopefully retain those members who are not close by but also serve those writers who may be less computer savvy. Our goal is to help writers, and we don’t want any form of distance or technical difficulties to get in the way.”
New play development opportunities also exist for specific sociodemographic groups. Hush Harbor, founded by Addae Moon and Amina McIntyre, and Tertulia, founded by Sherry Shephard-Massat, are specifically for Black artists. Horizon Theatre recently announced the launch of the nationally-recognized New Georgia Woman Project: Black Women Speak program to develop plays that will amplify the voices of Black women. Through this program, Horizon has commissioned a cohort of nine Black female playwrights to create new plays to bring to the stage the stories, lives, and concerns of Black women. The playwrights include Candrice Jones, AriDy Nox, A’ndrea J. Wilson, and Shay Youngblood, as well as an Emerging Playwrights Collective of Tramaine Brathwaite, Amina McIntyre, Chiwuzo Ife Okwumabua, Kelundra Smith, and Dana Stringer. According to Marguerite Hannah, Associate Artistic Producer of Black Women Speak, “Black Women Speak is and I believe will become more than I even imagined. I am seeing a hunger to create a community for Black women playwrights, a community of nurture and sisterhood outside of the minority majority gaze. In Black Women Speak we have the opportunity to highlight and elevate our own values and spirit. Black Women Speaks seeks to give us authority over our own narrative. BWS is a writer’s lab, a playwright commission project, a vibrant community engagement vehicle. We create safe spaces where we can authentically be ourselves and out of those safe spaces opportunities for our art to flourish. And our partnership with Black women in the community ensures we uphold the responsibility to represent.”
Out of Hand Theater focuses on social justice and community engagement work with a focus on racism. Their Equitable Dinners program is a free monthly series geared toward community learning. Sofia Palmero’s recently presented one-person play Questions explores a young Latina immigrant’s decision to come to the United States. “Working with Out of Hand was great,” Palermo says. It was awesome to make art that had a very focused purpose. The meeting with the speaker helped to give me a lot of perspective about what topic we were covering and how to approach the piece. I became an artist because I truly believe that stories are what change us, not research and statistics. Getting to be a part of something that acknowledges that and uses it to enact change and expand people’s awareness was really special. Questions is one of my favorite pieces I’ve written, and I couldn’t have done it without the team there.”
Atlanta is also home to many playwriting festivals, play incubator programs, and play commission opportunities. Actor’s Express produces the Threshold New Play Festival and the Amplify: Podcast Plays from Actor’s Express, which center the work of Atlanta-based writers. Actor’s Express has also launched a new play commissioning program that focuses on Atlanta-based playwrights. The first writer to receive a full-length commission is Quinn Xavier Hernandez. Theatrical Outfit produces The Graham Martin Unexpected Play Festival, which is a four-part series of digital readings of brand-new plays by Atlanta playwrights in partnership with Working Title Playwrights. Push Push has created SeedWorks, Metro Atlanta’s first Agile Lab for Creators. True Colors commissions new work from Black writers, and Synchronicity Theatre runs the Stripped Bare program, an incubator for new work written by female artists. Horizon Theatre makes a place for young playwrights with the New South Young Playwrights Festival. Through this festival high school and college students from all over the country participate in a week-long intensive that ends in a showcase of their one-act plays. 7 Stages collaborates with local, national, and international artists to initiate and develop new performances. Finally, the Alliance Theatre launched the Reiser Lab in 2013 to provide a producing home for theatre artists of multiple disciplines.
Many of these opportunities are described as “incubators” of new work: a place to plant and fertilize ideas. But where do dramatists go once their work is more fully grown? Several theatres in Atlanta also produce new work, including the professional theatres Actor’s Express, 7 Stages, Horizon Theatre, Theatrical Outfit, Aurora Theatre, and Alliance Theatre. The Essential Theatre, run by Peter Hardy, exclusively produces new work by Georgia writers, running an annual playwriting contest. Community theatres also are open to producing new work, with theatres such as Onstage Atlanta Theatre Company, Lionheart Theatre Company, Live Arts, and Academy Theatre all producing new plays.
I started my journey as an Atlanta playwright more than fifteen years ago. When I think back to that beginning, I remember that first trip I made into Midtown Atlanta to see the very first production of my very first play. I was traveling on I-85 and got tangled up in Spaghetti Junction. At the time it was frustrating, which is the feeling most drivers experience when stuck in the spaghetti sauce, but now it seems appropriate. Those spaghetti strands would eventually lead me all over the city. They would take me to small theatres, large theatres, professional and community theatres. They would introduce me to playwrights of all ages, ethnicities, and experience levels. But most of all, they would, and still do, feed and nourish me as I continue my journey as a dramatist.