Recap: Theatre Connections at Atlantic Theatre Company
ATLANTIC THEATRE COMPANY
May 14, 2019
Atlantic Theater Company (atlantictheater.org) became the fourth theatrical organization in New York to partner with the League of Professional Theatre Women for our program, Theatre Connections. The program was held at the Atlantic Theater Company’s administrative offices and rehearsal space (76 Ninth Ave.)on May 14, 2019 at 4 pm.
Theatre Connections is a two-year-old program that aims to build bridges between LPTW members and theatrical organizations in New York by arranging a group conversation to hear about artistic plans and directions of the organization. Forty LPTW members attended this members-only event.
Founded 34 years ago, the Atlantic Theater Company has grown into a powerhouse off-Broadway company with two theater venues – the Linda Gross Theater on West 20th Street and Atlantic Stage 2 on West 16th Street. The company has produced more than 200 plays including The Band’s Visit; Spring Awakening and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Its extensive awards include two Tonys, 25 Obies, three Audelco Awards and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The Atlantic also operates an Arts-in-Education program, an Acting School and has an active student production element and community outreach program (https://atlanticactingschool.org/). The theatre describes itself as “a family of artists dedicated to exploring essential truths onstage” and “uncovering and celebrating stories of our varied human existence.”
Launched by NYU students who were studying acting techniques based on principles created by David Mamet and William Macy, the Atlantic first formed as an ensemble theatre and a school-based on Practical Aesthetics. The company produced its first play in 1985.
Leadership from the Atlantic joined in conversation with LPTW members: Neil Pepe, Artistic Director; Mary McCann, Acting School Executive Director; Pamela Adams, General Manager;Abby (Abigail) Katz, Director of New Play Development, and Annie MacRae, Associate Artistic Director (bios and contact information are at the end of this recap).
After a brief introduction by Cindy Cooper, program director for the LPTW Theatre Connections, Malini Singh McDonald, Co-Vice President of Communications, facilitated a discussion drawing upon questions submitted by League members and concluding with an open Q and A.
Here are some of the highlights.
The theatre and the acting school work together in an integrated way, said Mary McCann, executive director of the school.
The basic tenets of the acting techniques used by the school are outlined in the book, Practice Handbook for the Actor. Neil Pepe described it as an action-objective technique based around serving the story of the play, respecting the business of theatre (arriving at rehearsal prepared, doing your job, being on time) and “building a practical set of tools to harness the truth of who you are,” he said.
Classes include voice, movement, masks, and more. The school hires teachers for specific classes, relying upon recommendations, recruiting, and sometimes advertising on theatre job-posting sites. Except for the Practical Aesthetics component, teachers need not have gone to the Atlantic school to be considered for a position.
Atlantic school students, in addition to participating in student productions, can be considered for Atlantic Theater Company productions on “an inside track,” where appropriate.
Casting and Actors
Once limited to its ensemble for casting, the company now works with two outside casting directors to reach beyond the ensemble. Atlantic Acting School students, as noted above, may be suggested to the creative team if an appropriate role is open. For casting purposes, the company also goes to Equity Principal Auditions (EPAs), and, according to Neil Pepe, accepts resumes.
But, as with all areas of its work, the Atlantic leaders note that they like to work with people with whom they are familiar.
The artistic staff of the theatre consists of three people (Katz, MacRae, Pepe) and two or three interns who also read scripts – a small, tightknit staff, they say. They do 25 shows a year, including 15 community shows, said Annie MacRae, associate artistic director.
The theatre finds plays from various channels – “a combination of readings, meetings, talking to other artists,” said Abby Katz, director of new play development. The company does not accept open submissions, but relies on agents, referrals, people with whom it has a relationship and plays it discovers.
Katz said that it has been her practice to prioritize writers of color and women of all background to give more attention and time to those who haven’t been represented on stage in the past.
To identify material, they follow major festivals, such as the Humana Festival and Under the Radar at the Public, awards such as Weissberg and Susan Blackburn. They read through Playbill online daily and track certain writers’ groups, for example at the Public, Ars Nova and Youngblood at EST. They follow the work of culturally specific smaller companies such as Fire This Time, Noor, Intar, NAATCO, My-Yi and New Black Fest, and take note of the rolling premieres program of the National Play Network.They do not look for work at fringe festivals because of the “sheer volume.”
Literary and artistic staff members go to many readings(see below). One artistic staff member might go to two or three readings a week and read two or three plays. “It’s hundreds of plays we engage with in some way annually,” said Katz.
Interns with script analysis ability read scripts from agents first, and pass them on to Katz and Annie McCrae. They, in turn, put together a list of 12-15 plays for consideration by the Artistic Director.
“A lot of it is timing, we connect with the right playwright at the right time and they have the right play, and it fits in well with what you are doing,” said Katz.
Choosing a play is a complex puzzle, taking in the creative pieces and then assessing the risk in producing the play, said McCann.
The Launch Commission program tries to identify writers who are early-career and have less than three commissions to “give them a little push,” said Katz. It has now worked with 10 writers in two years.
To expand its scope and diversity, the Atlantic is producing a Summer Mix Fest, which focuses on new plays by artists from specific cultural communities. Upcoming is an Asian-American Mix Fest and last year the theatre supported a Middle Eastern Mix Fest. Curators familiar with those communities have been involved in selections.
The company is now developing children’s plays. They are looking to get rights to certain children’s books and develop them from the ground up, according to Mary McCann.Teams write one song for a proposed musical, and two teams are selected.
If a play fits within its mission and vision, the Atlantic will work with commercial producers who are seeking to develop a play and are willing to offer enhancement monies.
The company does consider musicals, although they find that the cost — $1.2 to $1.6 million – makes them hard projects to pursue.
Socially Relevant Work
The Atlantic looks for good storytelling, said Katz, and stories that speak to them in a “vibrant way” often deal with social issues but come at it “at an angle.”
Directors tend to be selected from people with whom the theatre has “some sort of relationship, some point of reference,” said Pepe.
The company has internships in all areas, and that is one way to get inside the company. Abby Katz first got involved in the company as an intern.
They like international work, said Pepe, and that they are considering more of it these days. The Summer Mix Fest has introduced them to a broader array of international artists.
The theatre is interested in technology in theatre, but does not consider itself to be at the forefront. Even though their offices are in the “Google building,” they have not been able to form a significant artistic partnership with the company.
Effect of Dedicated Space:
The company has a long-term lease on the Linda Gross Theater on West 20th Street that lasts for another 20 years. It raised the funds for significant renovations several years ago. Even with a settled venue, the cost of the lease–now $19,000 per month – poses a challenge in programming.
The company is looking at ways to incorporate theatre deeper into the community and to expand engagement with audiences in real-time and in ways that extend beyond social media.
At least once during each production they have a talkback. The theatre also partners with teachers, who see a play and then come with students and engage in an audience discussion.
General Manager Pam Adams said that the Atlantic received a grant from a foundation to hire ambassadors for different interest groups to go out to communities. The plan is for ambassadors to be or to go to influencers in specific communities, talk to them about what the Atlantic is doing, bring influencers in to see plays, and to then provide ticket discounts to communities.
Inviting the Atlantic to Readings
Atlantic team members prefer to get notices via email rather than snail mail. The information is sent to the interns who make a running list. The artistic team is drawn to plays that have something that attracts their attention – an actor or director, for example.
Their preferred time to attend industry readings is in the daytime. Tuesdays, Thursdays and sometimes Fridays are recommended: three p.m. is a good time; 11 a.m. may also work.
Importance of Relationships:
Throughout, the team emphasized the importance of relationships. Neil Pepe said, “If you have friends in your life that you rely on, and those friends recommend someone else – it’s like that. That’s a lot of how it works.”
Notes by LPTW Member Cindy Cooper with help from LPTW Member Kim M. Jones
CONTACTING THE ATLANTIC THEATER COMPANY:
The Atlantic Theater Company has staff emails listed at this site: https://atlantictheater.org/about/who-we-are/
In general, the email ‘formula’ is first initial of first name followed by last name (at) atlantictheater.org
Pamela Adams (General Manager) earned her BS in Business with a minor in Theatre from the University of the Pacific, and did graduate work in Theatre Management at CSU Long Beach while spending summers working at California Music Theatre in Sacramento. She moved to the east coast 18 years ago to join Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, where she spent 10 years in various capacities including Marketing and Company Management, eventually becoming the Producing Associate. Pamela joined Trinity Repertory Company in Rhode Island as General Manager in the fall of 2010 and moved back to New York in 2012, to join Manhattan Class Company as General Manager. She is currently the General Manager at Atlantic Theater Company. Pamela serves on the Board of the Off-Broadway League as Secretary, as well on the Labor Management Committee. She is also the Board Treasurer for the National Alliance for Musical Theatre where she also serves as Co-Chair of the Festival Selection Committee for NAMT’s Festival of New Musicals. Pamela resides in New Jersey with her husband and is an avid advocate, fundraiser and spokesperson for breast cancer awareness.
Abigail Katz (Director of New Play Development) has been on the artistic staff since 2009. In 2014 she expanded Atlantic’s play development program by creating the Amplified Reading Series as well as the Launch Commission for early-career writers. She has been a dramaturg for several plays at Atlantic as well as for projects at Native Voices at the Autry, New Dramatists, the Kennedy Center, and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. She was previously Literary Associate and Dramaturg for The Civilians, where she worked on productions Brooklyn at Eye Level, This Beautiful City (The Vineyard Theatre) and Paris Commune (The Public Theater). She was also Producer for Voice &Vision, a company devoted to developing women theatre artists. She teaches in Atlantic Theater Company’s Professional Conservatory program and the College of Performing Arts at The New School, and has taught in the MFA program at Columbia University School of the Arts and SUNY Stony Brook/Southampton. Abigail received her MFA in dramaturgy from Columbia University School of the Arts.
Annie MacRae (Associate Artistic Director) at the Atlantic for five years; previously worked in Manhattan Theatre Club’s literary department as a literary intern, play development assistant, play development associate and literary manager and Sloan project manager. Since 2008, she ran MTC’s Ernst C. Stiefel 7@7 Reading Series and MTC’s partnership with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. She featured work by Annie Baker, Amy Herzog, Halley Feiffer, Joshua Harmon, Ayad Akhtar, Rachel Bonds, Penelope Skinner, Matthew Lopez, Steven Levenson, and Adam Bock in MTC’s reading series. Through the Sloan Foundation, MacRae commissioned a range of American, British, Australian and Irish writers, including Lucy Kirkwood, Simon Stephens, Nick Payne, Lisa D’Amour, Bess Wohl, Heidi Schreck, Greg Pierce, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, Madeleine George and Samuel Hunter.
Neil Pepe (Artistic Director and Director): Neil’s recent directing credits include Juno and the Paycock at Irish Repertory Theatre, the New York premiere of Simon Stephens’ On the Shore of the Wide World, and the world premieres of George Brant’s Marie and Rosetta, Kenneth Lonergan’s Hold On To Me Darling and David Mamet’s The Penitent, all at the Atlantic Theater Company in New York. Broadway credits include the musical, Hands on a Hardbody; the acclaimed revival of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow; and A Life in the Theatre. Off-Broadway credits at Atlantic Theater Company include John Guare’s 3 Kinds of Exile; Moira Buffini’s Dying For It; Jez Butterworth’s Parlour Song, Mojo and The Night Heron; Ethan Coen’s Happy Hour, Offices and Almost an Evening; Harold Pinter’s Celebration and The Room; Adam Rapp’s Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling; Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange; Hilary Bell’s Wolf Lullaby; David Pittu’s What’s That Smell?; Howard Korder’s Sea of Tranquility; Edwin Sanchez’ Clean; Quincy Long’s Shaker Heights. Additional off-Broadway credits include David Mamet’s American Buffalo (Donmar Warehouse, Atlantic Theater Company); Romance, Keep Your Pantheon and School (Center Theatre Group, Atlantic Theater Company); Zinnie Harris’Further than the Furthest Thing (Manhattan Theatre Club); Jessica Goldberg’s Refuge (Playwrights Horizons); Tom Donaghy’s The Beginning of August (South Coast Repertory, Atlantic Theater Company); Frank Gilroy’s The Subject Was Roses with Martin Sheen (Center Theatre Group); and Eric Bogosian’s Red Angel (Williamstown Theatre Festival). Neil has been the Artistic Director of the Atlantic Theater Company, since 1992. He is married to Mary McCann and has two children.
Mary McCann (Founding Member, first Executive Director, now acting School Executive Director)is a founding member of Atlantic Theater Company where she was elected the first Artistic Director of the Company; she is an actor and has been the Executive Director of the Atlantic Acting School since 1990. As an actor, Mary has performed in many plays at the Atlantic Theater Company including: On the Shore of the Wide World, Harper in Harper Regan, and Claire opposite Simon Russell Beale in Bluebird all by Simon Stephens and directed by Gaye Taylor Up-church, Our New Girl, Ghost Stories, Ethan Coen’s Almost An Evening and Offices, Body Awareness by Annie Baker, Spring Awakening, The Cherry Orchard, The Night Heron, The Hiding Place, This Thing of Darkness, The Beginning of August, Wolf Lullaby, The Water Engine and more. Broadway: The Old Neighborhood, Our Town, Search and Destroy. Other Off-Broadway and regional include: Conor McPherson’s The Weir at The Irish Repertory Theatre, Oleanna (Orpheum Theater); Uncommon WomenandOthers (Second Stage); Boys’ Life (Lincoln Center). andGod of Carnage at Shadowland Theatre. Mary can be seen in upcoming seasons of Elementary and Jessica Jones. Other film and TV include: “Can You Ever Forgive Me” directed by Marielle Heller, Caught, What If…?, The Accident, Brightest Star, Phil Spector Bio Pic, Flood, The Green, Little Children, House of the Devil, Sordid Things, Choke, The Spanish Prisoner, Sleepers. Television: “Madame Secretary,” “Boardwalk Empire,” (recurring) “Law and Order SVU,” (recurring) “The Black List,” “Person of Interest,” “A Gifted Man,” “Mercy,” “The Unit,”(recurring) “Law & Order,” “Law & Order Criminal Intent,” “Cashmere Mafia,” “The Naked Brothers Band,” “Sex and the City,” “Sports Night,” “ER,” “Door to Door” and “The Con.” Mary lives in New York City; she is married to Neil Pepe and has two children.
READ Past Theatre Connections event recaps here:
Manhattan Theater Club
New York Theatre Workshop
The Public Theater