Pam Harbaugh | Theater critic and “Casserole” playwright
Pam Harbaugh, long-term ATCA member, critic, and arts writer at Florida Today, and administrator of Space Coast’s Junior Theatre Workshop program, now devotes much of her time to playwriting and directing. Her play Casserole was one of six winners in the 2020 national competition sponsored by the American Association of Community Theatre and was published in the 2020 AACT NewPlayFest Winning Plays Volume 4. Multi-talented Pam (director, actor, play adjudicator), has just been informed that Dramatic Publishing Company will publish an acting edition of “Casserole” in Spring 2022. We decided to explore with Pam the origin story of this play and its next steps.
The play synopsis online reminds me of the play The Cake (I saw the Manhattan Theatre Club production during the 2018-2019 season), that also involved cooking, religion, and family conflicts. What is the story of this play?
The synopsis is on the Dramatic Publishing site.
“Set in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Casserole revolves around Clair Wilson, a Godly woman with love to spare. A normal day goes into high gear when Clair learns that a publisher saw her recipe for “Mayonnaise Casserole” and wants to feature her in a new cookbook, The Midwest Chef. Leonard, her grumpy husband, isn’t happy with the situation and their daughter Erica, an abstract artist living in New York City, suddenly shows up with stunning news and a mysterious friend, Penny. Arriving for dinner are the hipster editor, Zachary, and his photographer, Nicholas, who have a hidden agenda for the cookbook. A wild menu is set before them. A food-slinging argument erupts, revealing secrets and setting the stage for Clair’s loving wisdom.”
Tell us more about your transition from full time newsroom work.
After retiring from a newsroom, I got a gig to write freelance reviews and theater stories for an area publication. I also began putting more energy into my own creative writing. One of those ideas that I finally got onto paper was a story about Clair Wilson, an endearing character who I had toyed with for years and years as a joke. As I was getting Clalr onto paper, she took over and evolved into the heart of sweetness and kindness. I fell in love with her. The play really just bubbled up and out and became “Casserole.”
So how did Clair’s story get in the hands of the NewPlayFest?
A few years later, a local artistic director asked me to publicize the deadline for playwrights to enter the AACT NewPlayFest. I had “Casserole” living on my computer’s desktop. I figured, what the heck, and submitted it.
I was notified that the play passed the first round, then the second. Then the email came with the news that “Casserole” was one of six winners and would be produced and published in an anthology. I was so stunned I thought I had read the email wrong. I called a friend and read it to her and she confirmed that it had, indeed, won.
I understand that dramaturgy played a part in your play’s development.
AACT’s dramaturg, Kathy Pingel, helped me tweak the script. AACT then flew me to Boise, Idaho where the Boise Little Theatre produced it in October, 2019. I workshopped the play with Ms. Pingel at my side. I was very lucky to have done this before the pandemic hit.
So what’s next with the play and your work in theater?
I was thrilled when the anthology came out in 2020. The current excitement is the publication of the DPC acting edition in this spring.
It’s been so much fun, so encouraging. And this new chapter came exactly when I needed it — a few months after my dear husband, John, left us.
– Interview by Martha Wade Steketee. Edited for length and clarity.