This Year’s Essential Theater Play Festival Shines a Light on the Misuse of Social Media, Overcoming Grief and Fighting for Equity – WABE

Essential Theater has nurtured new plays for Georgian playwrights since 1999, launching the careers of successful playwrights such as Lauren Gunderson and Topher Payne.

Running now until August 28, this year’s 23rd edition Essential Theater Festival will present three new plays and a series of play readings. Founding Artistic Director Peter Hardy joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom and playwright John Mabey to talk about what this year’s festival has in store.

Throughout Essential Theater’s life, its scope has shifted from narrow to broad and back again.

It was originally a vehicle for founder Peter Hardy to produce his own plays, and soon began to feature annual play lists from writers from all walks of life. For many years, Essential Theater has made it a point to host at least one new play by a Georgian playwright. Soon after, the festival expanded its Essential Theater Playwriting Award competition, “still the only one of its kind with winning plays receiving both prize money and a full production”, according to Hardy. “The cash prize is currently $750.”

Today, Essential Theater has focused on exclusively performing and celebrating new plays by Georgian writers, a specialization that has been in place since 2012. “It’s very important to me,” Hardy said. “I am a playwright myself. It’s very important to me to have a situation that supports and helps playwrights and that’s the kind of opportunity I would like to find myself as a writer.

The 2022 Essential Theater Play Festival opens with a production of “The outrage machineby Daniel Carter Brown, which Hardy describes as “a satirical drama about the misuse of social media.” He added: “It’s not just about technology. It’s about the all-too-human tendency to make quick judgments about others without really knowing their full story. It’s very easy to get terribly angry with someone after hearing them say two sentences.

In addition to the reading-workshops and stage readings, the festival presents another complete production, John Mabey“A Complicated Hope”. Mabey said: “At its core, it’s the story of three very different people – a mother, a daughter and another gentleman who come together through grief. They all have a common bond that connects them to someone they have lost.

Reflecting on the story’s wavering between grief and optimism, Mabey offered, “What I’ve achieved in my own life is hope… doesn’t always look like what you think it’s going to look like. And I wrote every scene with that in mind so that there are sparks of hope in every scene, and the characters discover them and work their way to find them.

Mabey brings a background in mental health counseling to his work, which he says has inspired him to become a “much better writer”. He said: “In my training as a counselor I have…spent hundreds of hours with clients where the goal is to sit down with the other person through active listening and listen to them talk at the same time. of what they say, but also of what they say. under and between words. Because we don’t often say what we mean, especially when we’re trying to fight something inside of us. And so I bring that into my writing – everything the characters want to say but struggle to say.

John Mabey’s “A Complicated Hope” opens August 5 at the West End Performing Arts Center. For more on this year’s Essential Theater Play Festival and its other events and productions, visit

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