Feature photo: The cast and creative team of the world premiere of Goodnight, Tyler on the first day of rehearsals at the Alliance Theatre. Photo by A’riel Tinter.

From Northwestern University to Atlanta:

B.J. Tindal’s Big Break

By Sally Henry

When B.J. Tindal resolved to have a calm year at the beginning of 2018, winning a national award was not on the agenda. “I got the call on January 3rd, I believe,” shares Tindal. “My New Year’s resolution for that year was, ‘I just want everything to be quiet, and simple,’ and then I get the call announcing I won a nationally-recognized playwriting competition! I said, ‘Wow, OK… Cool! I guess that’s the kind of year I’m having!’”

Playwright B.J. Tindal and Director Kent Gash on the first day of rehearsals for the world premiere of ‘Goodnight, Tyler’ at the Alliance Theatre. Photo by A’riel Tinter.

With six months still to go in graduate school at Northwestern University, Tindal had submitted Goodnight, Tyler to the 2019 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition on a whim as part of a widespread effort to land a bona fide premiere for the piece that, until then, had seen mostly staged readings. At that time, the idea of it actually playing in Atlanta felt like a pipe dream. While the playwright admits the idea of working with the Tony Award-winning theatre was at first intimidating, the experience has proven to be a perfect incubator for Tindal’s “baby.” Through inclusive roundtable discussions, the entire cast, crew and creative team has weighed in on the work throughout its production.

“An integral step in the process is creating the time and space for anyone participating in the production — from the cast and the director to the stage manager — to have an honest, open conversation with the play and be able to say, ‘This confuses me,’ or ‘What if this were true?’” Having seen Goodnight, Tyler through a few incarnations by now, the playwright believes it is vital to let each new group of people express what they see to give it a fresh spin. Tindal feels that the team at the Alliance truly understands the heart behind this piece, with director Kent Gash as a driving force behind new opportunities for it.

Costume designs on the first day of rehearsals for the world premiere of ‘Goodnight, Tyler’ at the Alliance Theatre. Costume design by Kara Harmon. Photo by A’riel Tinter.

“What makes development easiest is when you have a group of people that you know all want to produce the best possible version of the work,” Tindal says. “In terms of taking criticism, that was a big lesson for me that I’m finally able to understand. Everybody wants this to be good; everybody’s excited about it, so when there’s a comment made that I might disagree with, my first instinct is now, ‘I want to understand where this is coming from, because even though I don’t necessarily agree with it, I want to see what you’re seeing.’” A perhaps unintuitive thread of humor finds itself as a backbone of the somber narrative, per the playwright’s directive. “The thing about this play is it’s a heavy subject, and the instinct is to play the heaviness, play the sad, and play the tragedy, but I always feel the opposite. I want to play the joy, play the goofy, play the silly, and believe all of that other stuff will follow. And this group has been so, so willing to go there.”

Actors Chris Harding and Andrea Frye on the first day of rehearsals for the world premiere of ‘Goodnight, Tyler’ at the Alliance Theatre. Photo by A’riel Tinter.

Ultimately, the full-fledged premiere of Tindal’s Goodnight, Tyler has been raised by a village. “I really do push back on the idea of a play being created by a singular person, because I think that there’s so much unseen work that goes into making a play come alive. It’s made up of many different playmakers.” Credit for Goodnight, Tyler belongs to all the playmakers involved in its past and present various incarnations as staged readings, as well as those who support the production in myriad ways — including Tindal’s mother. “I think it’s always important to thank my mom [laughs]. Thanks, Mom! When I talk about the shared ownership and labor that goes unseen, I think of her. This would not be possible at all without the love she’s given me.”