Supporting creative work by women
Katie Atcheson has treaded the boards as a member of Ensemble Studio Theatre and at theaters across the country. Her full-length play, Verano Place, is now wowing audiences and critics at the New York International Fringe Festival. The play, set in the 1970s, follows Emily after her academic parents move to California and decide to have an open marriage.
Katie spoke to Works by Women about the play’s development process, working with director Josh Hecht, and the Youngblood artists at EST give her hope.
WORKS BY WOMEN: Tell me about the development process for Verano Place. How valuable are programs like Naked Angels’ Tuesdays@9 and Ensemble Studio Theatre’s First Brew?
KATIE ATCHESON: I wrote the first draft of Verano Place in a class aptly called First Draft at ESPA with Eddie Sanchez. Since I’d only ever written short plays before, that class gave me the structure to get to the end of the piece. As did my husband Matt Hoverman, who invaluably coached me from the side as I wanted to give up many times during the process! It is incredibly vulnerable subject matter which made it really hard to delve into. I never would have gotten to the end without Matt. Once I did, I submitted the play to ESPA*Drills–ESPA/Primary Stages play development program run by Tessa LaNeve–and it got in! I couldn’t believe it.
Then I continued rewriting for years afterward in fits and starts. Having the opportunity to bring in scenes to Naked Angels Tuesdays@9 and EST’s First Brew reading series was invaluable. These programs provide a safe space to try things out in front of an audience of peers. But it’s also quite scary as your raw piece is being seen in front of sometimes 100+ people, cast on the spot with actors you’ve never seen before and with no rehearsal. It’s a huge gamble and risk but that is the fun of it. And there’s nothing like hearing real-time response to see what is working and what is not. It is so valuable to me to be part of these communities. Writing is very lonely otherwise and plays are meant to be played, seen and heard.
WBW: How long have you been working with director Josh Hecht? What’s your collaboration been like?
KA: Tessa LaNeve introduced me to Josh Hecht, and he directed the ESPA*Drills Workshop of Verano Place at 59E59 Theatre four years ago. It was a great match. He is a wonderful director but also an amazing dramaturg. He has helped greatly with the development of Verano Place–just making it a much better play. His style is very gentle, but he is also a laser beam for problems and ways to improve the storytelling. He directed the EST Memberfest reading last year and now is directing the FringeNYC production. I have only worked with him on this play, and I think that continuity has been great for the production and for me.
KA: I love the music! I love the aesthetic! I love the silliness and ridiculousness, the innocence and the exploration of the time. I love that people were really trying new things. The Human Potential Movement. My parents were really involved in that. And though they may have been a little too involved, they were smart, interesting and kind people. And I learned a lot of open mindedness from them and have continued a fascination with personal development in my own life.
WBW: What excites you about being in FringeNYC?
KA: It’s thrilling to be in a massive group of artists all producing work at the same time under the same crazy deadlines and somehow pulling it off! I love the community aspect and the fact that FringeNYC is a New York institution at this point, and the fact that we are getting exposure that our play never could on its own. I’m very grateful for that.
WBW: What do you plan to do after the festival?
KA: Sleep for a week.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
KA: I think the challenge to be taken seriously is still huge. To have our stories told and point of view matter and to not be marginalized is so important. Women have fantastic stories to tell and those stories can and should appeal across genders but there is an inherent cultural bias in our society, I think, that gives men more strength and power and preference. Ageism is also a major challenge women face and the lack of great roles for women 40+. That is something I take very seriously in the pieces I write. I want to create great roles for women of all ages. I think the onus is on us as women and playwrights to do that. We can’t and shouldn’t wait for men to do it.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
KA: The younger generation of female playwrights that I know are fierce, like Mariah MacCarthy (interviewed by Works by Women here), Anna Moench (interviewed by Works by Women here) and Leah Nanako Winkler. I’m a member of EST and work as an actor with Youngblood playwrights a lot and these women are so frickin talented and so strong, smart and funny. I know we are in good hands with them. Their voices will be heard and deserve to be! Activist artists like The Kilroys give me hope as well. Thanks to groups like them, there is a rising consciousness about the notion of gender parity in the play selection process at major theaters which is fantastic and will change things for the better.
Verano Place is at the New York International Fringe Festival. For tickets and more info, visit www.fringenyc.org.
Photo Credit: Michael Thomas Holmes