Impact: Interview with Playwright Amy Engelhardt

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Impact
“Impact” is a new play by Amy Engelhardt that will premiere in video form at the cell theatre.



“Impact” is a new play by Amy Engelhardt that will premiere in video form at the cell theatre. This play was filmed entirely at the historical Playhouse at White Lake’s newly renovated theatre venue and the performance will be available to stream online May 21 – June 1. The show follows a woman named Amy to Lockerbie, Scotland, shortly after the 30th Anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. What starts out as a bucket-list trip quietly evolves into a personal and global exploration of grace, kindness and simplicity.

Amy recently discussed this play via an exclusive interview.

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in theater and how did you
break into the industry?

Amy Engelhardt (AE): I’m a Broadway “bridge and tunnel” kid. But I’m also 1st generation Sesame Street/Electric Company, when the shows regularly referenced classic music, theatre and literature because they knew the parents were watching with their kids! Took “musical comedy” classes at five, plus more theater training in New York in my teens. Trained classically at Syracuse University and not-so-classically at Berklee College of Music in Boston. Toured with a band for 14 years, but when theatre is in your blood, it’s not optional… and I found myself back in theatre by the early 2000s. Only this time, I was in it as a writer.  I don’t do theatrical performances very much – it’s not my focus anymore.

MM: Why were you inspired to write “Impact” with a focus on a plane crash and a journey to Scotland? How personal is this show?

AE: I’m primarily a comedy writer – I live in the smart/funny. But when something this moving happens to you, even if you’re a comedy writer, it compels you to tell its story. Pan Am flight 103, obliterated by a terrorist bomb in December 1988, was the FIRST 9/11 for those of us who knew people on board. 35 Syracuse University students were on that flight, and I knew five of them. It was front-page, international news, reshaping everyone’s sense of globalism, boundaries, etc. “Terrorism” became personal for us that day. So, I’d always wanted to go to Lockerbie, Scotland, where the debris landed and 11 people were killed on the ground, just to pay my respects. A series of amazing coincidences started cropping up in my life in late 2018 (the 30th anniversary of the event) that all pointed to Lockerbie. And in 2019, when I got a gig in the promotional tour for Amazon Prime’s GOOD OMENS series, London was the final stop, providing me the chance to go. And I ended up accompanying two women with much stronger ties to the event than mine; the sister and best friend of one of the passengers I knew from Syracuse, Nicole Boulanger. The focus of IMPACT is the beauty we found in Lockerbie, a place we associated only with pain – and the kindness and compassion shown by the people there. The show isn’t a grief parade, it’s a celebration of what it means to be human in the BEST sense. We could all use a dose of that right now!

MM: How much research into the history of the crash did you do for this play and how long did it take to complete in total?

AE: When I told close friends the complete story of my trip, the odd “follow signs” and my two companions, they were so moved by it, they encouraged me to write about it. I’m really not a fan of one-person shows, but I was so affected by this journey myself, I thought maybe they were right. I wouldn’t say I “researched” it so much as re-examined the events with new eyes. The piece was supposed to workshop in summer 2020, then, well… you know what happened. In late 2020, I realized it could be adapted for a small screen and started putting a team together to film it.

MM: What were some of the most interesting and/or memorable aspects that you discovered while writing this?

AE: Theatre is one of the most collaborative art forms. That’s one of the reasons I love it.  So, I loved bringing it to friends who were professional visual or stage artists and hearing their ideas about presentation, form and design. And on a personal level, I found new patterns in the events as I ordered and explored them. Sometimes a project tells you what it is as you are writing it. That was very true of IMPACT.

MM: What’s your favorite part of this play and why?

AE: Talking to the audience AFTER IT about their own experiences – both at the time and in general. That’s the impact of the piece itself – a sense of community is formed. This story is about my experience, but I’m an observer in it as well – and most of us are, if we’re lucky. And I couldn’t have foreseen that it would resonate as it does now – with its threads of grief, isolation and the worst aspects of human nature – but ultimately being overshadowed by compassion and kindness.

MM: Was it a challenge to create online theater during a lingering pandemic?

AE: It’s a different animal, that’s all. It’s not pure theatre and it’s not pure film. There are aspects of both, and the best pieces ride the line and borrow from each medium. I was more conscious of the need for visual elements and variety (IMPACT incorporates over 100 pictures and videos), but the length of the piece (about an hour) was right for this era. The piece itself is a hybrid too, so that aligns well with the approach. It’s part presentational, part me in a diner or a living room telling friends, “Hey, this happened and struck me to my very core.”

ImpactMM: What is some of the best feedback you’ve gotten about this piece thus far?

AE: Audiences want to meet the people I’m talking about. They find the parallels in their own lives – none of us is immune to loss, and all of us want to believe the best of people, which is the ultimate point of the show. And they want to buy the music in the piece (three original songs, though this is NOT a musical).

MM: What other projects are you working on right now and what themes might you like to explore in future works?

AE: Well, I’m actually much more of a comedy writer, so I’m back in that saddle again. And recording and mixing my second solo album, FINISH WHAT YOU. Production has been delayed twice now by challenging circumstances, so the title is REALLY ironic at this point!  I’m also about to embark on a new musical for young audiences with a brand-new collaborator in New York. And the other day I was thinking about a middle-aged ANNIE sequel…

MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?

AE: I’d like to do this piece live – that’s how it was conceived – as if you’re in my home and I’m just telling you a story – but there happens to be a piano nearby, and possibly a cellist.  And I’d like to do a second production of BASTARD JONES, the off-Broadway rock musical
comedy I scored. It was a sold-out smash, and its message is also extremely relevant: You cannot deny anyone the pursuit of happiness because of their birth circumstances.  I guess you could say my “ultimate goal for the future” is…impact.

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Sliding scale tickets to “Impact” can be purchased at https://www.showtix4u.com/event-details/51808. For more information visit www.thecelltheatre.org. To learn more about Amy, visit her official website: www.amyengelhardt.com