Much attention has been paid to Atlanta’s booming film industry in recent years, but that’s not the only place where the city’s arts scene is flourishing. Atlanta has long been a home for Southern scribes, and playwriting is no exception. Pearl Cleage, Topher Payne, Steve Yockey and Lauren Gunderson — the most produced playwright in America, according to American Theatre magazine — have all launched careers here. From dark comedies to plays for teens and everything in between, here are eight local playwrights who prove that the play is still the thing.
Daryl Lisa Fazio
In “The Flower Room” at Actor’s Express, researcher Ingrid writes erotica after she loses her job studying human sexual behavior. In “Split in Three” at Aurora Theatre, Penny travels to Mississippi in 1969 to find the father she never knew during a period of forced integration. Firefighter Chris burns the candle at both ends as the opioid epidemic sweeps through her hometown in “Safety Net” at Theatrical Outfit. Playwright Daryl Lisa Fazio, 47, who is also a graphic designer, creates roles that give voice to ordinary women who do extraordinary things.
“I think I was put on this earth to tell stories about women who are the heroes of their own stories,” said Fazio, who grew up in Starkville, Mississippi. “With regard to the scenarios they find themselves in, sometimes it’s inspired by current events, and sometimes it’s to expose people to something they’re unfamiliar with, and hopefully generate some empathy.”
Fazio, whose plays also have been produced by Horizon Theatre and Synchronicity Theatre, says she would like to see every theater in Atlanta produce at least one play by a local playwright every season. Currently, she is writing a play about female coal miners in Appalachia and preparing to reprise her role in “Safety Net” at Penobscot Theatre Company in Bangor, Maine.
As co-founder of the site-specific theater company Found Stages, Georgia State English professor Neeley Gossett creates plays that have been performed in offices, parks, inns and other unorthodox venues. Earlier this year, she took a stab at a text message play called "The Year Without Summer," in which users subscribed to, and eavesdropped on, a drama unfolding between an ambitious researcher, her husband and a presumptuous research assistant.
Removing the walls from theater is Gossett’s way of engaging young people with the arts. Her children’s play “Alice Between” sets “Alice in Wonderland” in a modern middle school and was produced by the Alliance Theatre in 2017. On New Year’s Eve, Found Stages brings back her hit show, “Frankenstein’s Ball,” an immersive retelling of Mary Shelley’s book told from the point of view of the women and the monster himself.
A professor at Spelman College, Will Power, 49, is a recent transplant from Dallas who aims to bring more young people to theater by infusing classical texts with hip-hop.
“Speaking across generations is a part of my artistry, so even before I taught college, I sought opportunities to mentor young people,” Power said. “A lot of people think of theater as this ancient art form, but theater is the now, because it’s happening right there as you breathe.”
"Seven," his adaptation of Aeschylus' "Seven Against Thebes" about King Oedipus and his sons' battle for the throne, was produced to favorable reviews in 2016 by the New York Theatre Workshop. In February, the Alliance Theatre produces his "Richard III" adaptation, "Seize the King," which will be restaged in Piedmont Park in June.
Power's folkloric musical "Stagger Lee" will be staged at the Atlanta University Center in April, and he is working on a new children's book about the history of the West End for the Mayor's Summer Reading Club.
An alumnus of the theater program at Kennesaw State University, Avery Sharpe, 28, made a splash last year as the star of the comedy “Black Nerd” at Dad’s Garage. At the same time, he showed off his dramatic chops when his first play, “Woke,” about childhood friends who clash over their views on acts of police brutality, won the Essential Theatre Playwriting Award.
Current events also inspire Sharpe's latest scripts — one about the suicide epidemic among farmers and a short play about child separation at the border. He is also writing a short play for kids at the Whitehead Boys & Girls Club as a part the Alliance Theatre Youth Arts Initiative. Sharpe returns to his love of comedic performance in "Twelfth Night" at Atlanta Shakespeare Company in January.
Lawyer turned career counselor turned writer Natasha Patel, 45, strives to give her characters a life as rich as her own. Having grown up in Tucker when hers was one of only a few Indian families in the area, she became acutely aware that the experiences of her family and friends were not often found in the Southern narrative. Now that she is involved in theater, she is striving to open up the art form to South Asian communities.
“I want to see Indian characters, or even just immigrant characters, having the same experiences and wanting the same things as other Americans,” Patel said. She points to “Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle” as a good example. “They’re not given the model minority treatment,” she said about co-stars Kal Penn and John Cho. “They’re just two guys who want to get stoned and eat burgers, rather than immigrants living in isolated, insular communities.”
Patel's play "Widowwood," about a Bollywood character who escapes her Hollywood romance narrative, had a staged reading at Synchronicity. And, "Borderstone," about a motel maid whose world is literally being drained of color, received a reading at the Alliance Theatre in November. It receives another reading at the Threshold New Play Festival at Actor's Express in January. She is currently working on a young adult play set in Putnam County about teens anticipating a visit from "The Color Purple" author Alice Walker.
Quinn Xavier Hernandez
Quinn Xavier Hernandez, 23, started acting in his hometown of Lake Wylie, South Carolina, after being cast in his elementary school production of “Beauty and the Beast.” He earned his undergraduate degree in theater at Clemson University and while there, was selected to participate in the semester-long National Theatre Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut. He thought his natural next step was getting his MFA at Yale, however, a trip to Atlanta altered his plans. He found an artistic home in Working Title Playwrights, and his play “Momma” — about two women at odds over an unwanted pregnancy and a desperate desire to conceive — received a reading as part of the competitive Ethel Woolson Lab in June. Hernandez says he wants to tell stories that give opportunities to groups of people who don’t get to see themselves onstage and that encourage uncomfortable, enlightening dialogue.
Sofia Palmero got into theater because her middle school crush asked her to audition for “The Wizard of Oz.” What kept her in theater was the “power of capturing people’s attention, especially in the age of social media.” She is drawn to narratives that amplify women’s voices and cites as her inspiration playwrights Lauren Gunderson and Tanya Saracho, cofounder of Teatro Luna, an all-Latina theater company in Chicago.
Palmero’s goal in playwriting is to reveal one simple truth about the interconnectedness of everything in every story. She has written short plays for Latinas in Media Atlanta (LIMA), a collective of Latinas working in theater and film. “Primavera,” a coming of age story, was a part of the LIMA one-act play showcase in October. “To Build A Home,” set in the waiting room of a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office, was featured in their Festival del Microteatro in partnership with Aurora Theatre last year.
She is currently writing a script about an unlikely femme fatale during the zombie apocalypse and will perform in "Bull in a China Shop" at Outfront Theatre Company in January.
Amina S. McIntyre
When Amina S. McIntyre, 37, was a teen, her family faced a difficult choice — to recommend the death penalty for the person who killed her cousin, or not. The decision splintered her family, but their faith kept them from falling apart. She dramatized some of the events in “On the Third Day,” written during a playwriting apprenticeship at Horizon Theatre five years ago and staged at Vanguard Rep in East Point in 2018.
For McIntyre, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in religion at Vanderbilt University, God and art go hand-in-hand.
“In the arts and spirituality, we understand that creation is bigger than one human being,” McIntyre said. “I write in a way that allows me to interrogate the themes that religion brings up without telling people how their faith should be.”
In collaboration with playwright Addae Moon, McIntyre is forming an experimental theater company called Hush Harbor, as well as writing a play for the inaugural Black Women’s Theatre Festival in Atlanta, both set to launch next summer.
Along with issues of faith, McIntyre is interested in telling more Atlanta stories that are centered in joy.
“I’m really obsessed with this idea of joy, because we’re so involved with trauma,” McIntyre said. “There has been more written about trauma than joy. That’s where the significance of Hush Harbor comes in — finding joy.”
'Frankenstein's Ball.' Dec. 29-31. $60 and up. Presented by Found Stages at The Highland Inn and Ballroom Lounge, 644 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta. www.foundstages.org.
'Twelfth Night.' Jan. 4-6. $15 and up. Atlanta Shakespeare Company, 499 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta. 404-874-5299, www.shakespearetavern.com.
'Borderstone.' 7 p.m. Jan. 19. Free. Presented by Actor's Express, 887 W. Marietta Street, Atlanta. 404-607-7469, www.actors-express.com/readings.
'Bull in a China Shop.' Jan. 30-Feb. 15. $15-25. Outfront Theatre, 999 Brady Ave. NW, Atlanta. 404-448-2755, www.outfronttheatre.com.
'Seize the King.' Feb. 14-March 8. $25 and up. Alliance Theatre, 1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 404-733-4650, www.alliancetheatre.org.
'Stagger Lee.' April 16-19. Free. Spelman College Baldwin-Burroughs Theater, 350 Spelman Lane SW, Atlanta. www.spelman.edu.