Interview: Lauren Morris of PROJECT DAWN at Horizon Theatre

By: Oct. 21, 2017

Atlanta's Horizon Theatre is known for fearlessly producing new work, and PROJECT DAWN is no exception. This new play by Karen Hartman follows the lives of 14 women, played by 7 actresses. These characters are on both sides of the law, with each actress playing one woman in the justice system and one woman who has been affected by the horrors of sex trafficking and/or drug abuse. The stories told are fictionalized versions of similar stories Karen Hartman heard while visiting the Project Dawn Court in Philadelphia, PA .

BroadwayWorld sat down with PROJECT DAWN's Assistant Director and Community Outreach Project Manager for the Horizon Theatre, Lauren Morris who shared with us her passion for advocating for marginalized voices in theatre, her experience assistant directing a rolling premiere, and the role community outreach is playing during the show's run.

What drew you to the story and the project as a director instead of an actor-even though you have experience acting?

I have really felt drawn to directing-I would say in the last ten years, and I've really started to focus on that. I was drawn to PROJECT DAWN and Horizon specifically because of how much new work they do.

I'm really passionate about marginalize voices in new plays-whether that is the writer him or herself or that is some marginalized voice in the story or the opportunities it gives to actors. And PROJECT DAWN hit all of those things. I also really like that the biggest job I've had with the show-aside from me assistant directing-is as Community Engagement Director.

How have you and the director, Lisa Adler, learned from other theatres who have performed the piece during its "rolling premiere"?

The National New Play Network has this program called "The Rolling World Premiere." The idea behind it is that the playwright has a workshop of the new play at a theatre, produces the play, gets to see that play there, and then gets to take it to a new city to see that play there with a new director's eye and a new cast...

So Lisa Adler, who directed the play in Atlanta, did go to Malvern, PA, where People's Light & Theatre is, and she saw the play several times [when PROJECT DAWN premiered there]. She met with the director; she met with the playwright. She also did a lot of connecting with people who were doing community engagement there. A lot of the ideas came from what Lisa was able to learn there. It is a collaborative process between those three theatres.

And Karen Hartman, the playwright, did come down to Atlanta to see the show. She made a couple of tiny changes to the script, but I'm not sure she's going to do any rewrites before it transfers to The Unicorn in Kansas City.

The cast of PROJECT DAWN consists of seven actresses playing fourteen characters. Did the distinctions between the characters come from directorial choices, costuming, or something else entirely?

There's a very specific-and subtle, I would say-theatrical conceit that Karen has written into the play. The character changes sometimes happen on stage right before you in the middle of a line. They happen lightning fast. When you see the play, the most amazing thing is the physicality that the actors bring to it. And I think that's one of the most beautiful things about this script because an important thing to remember is circumstances in our lives can sometimes take us to places that wouldn't be our first choice.

So it's a really powerful thing to see a lawyer also play someone who is recovering from being a victim of commercial sexual exploitation. This woman who is this powerful District Attorney turns around and is this ex-prostituted woman, and I think that is a big point that Karen is trying to make-that we don't always look like our pasts; we don't always look like our story.

What are you helping Horizon to do in terms of community outreach for the show?

We've had guest speakers after every performance from a variety of organizations. Some of them have been survivors who now speak about their stories, but many of them are established organizations in town. And I loved being able to do that because it was able to take the art and connect it to the practical world around us and connect to the community of people who are doing amazing work in Atlanta around trafficking.

Those talkbacks, while they are relatively short at the end of the show, I think it really brings the audiences' experience full-circle because they can see that this is such a tough and important and huge issue in Atlanta right now. We also have a resources table in the lobby with information about those organizations and how you can get involved.

To find more information about the Atlanta-based organizations that have partnered with PROJECT DAWN, like Beloved Atlanta, Devereux, the Phoenix Program, and many more, visit the PROJECT DAWN "Discover" page here. PROJECT DAWN runs until October 29, and tickets can be purchased at the Horizon box office or online.

Photo Credit: Horizon Theatre