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Essential Theatre Festival showcasing Georgia talent
by Bobby Tedder
July 18, 2013 12:26 PM | 2774 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A scene from "Swimming with Jellyfish," featuring, from left, Audra Pagano and Ann Wilson.
A scene from "Swimming with Jellyfish," featuring, from left, Audra Pagano and Ann Wilson.
The 15th annual Essential Theatre Festival has returned to build on its tradition of connecting local artists with their communities.

The collective production runs at Actor’s Express in west Midtown today through Aug. 11. The 2013 trio of featured plays is due to join Essential Theatre’s resplendent history of previously produced organic, carefully crafted and provocative works.

This marks the second consecutive year that all productions put on by the fest were created by Georgia residents.

“We felt as if we had the material,” said theater founder and artistic director Peter Hardy. “And, it makes for a good brand for us.”

Hardy, also an acclaimed playwright, wrote “Mysterious Connections,” one of the productions in this year’s spotlight. It focuses on two lonely women haunted by their respective pasts and are able to enter each other’s dreams.

Like the other projects in the rotation, it is being brought to life by an ensemble cast.

The Matthew Myers-penned “Stray Dogs” is being billed as a comedy/crime story/romance in the style of famed movie director Quentin Tarantino. The play earned Myers the 2013 Essential Theatre Playwrighting Award.

Katie Grant Shalin’s “Swimming with Jellyfish” rounds out this year’s collection of festival showcases. The production, a world premiere, centers on a family trying to hold things together amid mounting crises.

Anyone looking for any other common thread between the three works will surely be disappointed.

“We never have a theme,” said Hardy. “We’re really just looking for very strong plays that we find exciting.

“We always strive for variety … and we always try to present work that’s not been done in this part of the country before.”

Organizers are touting a new wrinkle being injected into this year’s festivities.

The theater is incorporating its “Connecting with Deaf Audiences” initiatives this go-round. By doing so, it joins the ranks of other theaters around town by providing American Sign Language interpreters for designated performances during the festival’s run.

The move is meant to push the boundaries of theater accessibility and inclusiveness, Hardy said.

Amy Cohen Efron, a local deaf community activist, has expressed her support of the change.

“I have been to see shows at other [Atlanta] venues, but I have long wanted to engage with a more locally based theatre here in our hometown, and, to have a chance to exchange ideas with that theatre, said Efron. “Now that Essential Theatre has extended that invitation … I am truly excited.”

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