An interview by Paul Sapp

Pam Harbaugh, EATING BLACKBERRIES playwright, photo courtesy of the subject.

Hickory – A California family struggles to navigate the perils of wildfire season, and the emotional upheaval of divorce, in the new play EATING BLACKBERRIES. Written by Florida-based playwright Pam Harbaugh, and produced as part of the American Association of Community Theatre’s (AACT) 10th Annual NewPlayFest, EATING BLACKBERRIES will have its world premiere at Hickory Community Theatre (HCT) on Friday, April 5th. Performances will presented in the Jeffers Theatre and continue through April 20th.

For playwright Harbaugh, who grew up in Orinda, California, where the play is set, EATING BLACKBERRIES represents a personal journey that has taken her across the country, and now finds her returning home through her work.

“I went to New York City because I wanted to be the next Carol Burnett,” she admits. “But I didn’t. Then I started a children’s program at the 13th Street Theater in The Village. And when I moved to Florida, doing more children’s theatre, I noticed there weren’t enough roles for girls. So, I started rewriting fairy tales, and then my own original works, with parts for the little girls who wanted to get on stage and act. And then I told people I was going to do adult theatre, and started writing more plays concerning my own self and my own interests.”

“[EATING BLACKBERRIES] started with a friend telling me about the difficult divorce she was going through. I was thinking about how men go and start second families and how women really don’t do that. So I started the play — I was calling it “Second Family” — and was focusing on that.”

“At the same time, my dear late husband had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. After he died, I was really angry and so the characters were really angry. They were in difficult situations and they were not balanced, really. And during this time, there were a lot of fires in Northern California. And that was distressing, being in Florida and seeing it happening.”

“Then the pandemic happens and people started talking about fish in the canals of Venice, about wildlife encroaching, and that when the smog lifted they could see the Himalayas like never before. I started thinking about the seismic changes going on in the earth and in families. This change in nature, of course it’s gonna happen with us because we’re part of nature. That’s where I found a prism for all these characters: I was dealing with change myself then, and change is hard for people.”

Harbaugh, who was a NewPlayFest winner in 2020, recently traveled to Hickory. There, she met the cast and creative team for HCT’s production of EATING BLACKBERRIES, and took part in a weekend of workshop rehearsals.

“This is a great competition for playwrights to enter. It’s done with such respect and such serious consideration of the works. You get this amazing experience where you get to workshop the play at a theatre like this [HCT], then actually see the play come to fruition. It’s not even something you dream, and then all of a sudden you realize this is happening to you.”

Paul Sapp, interviewer, photo by Eric Seale.

Harbaugh looks forward to returning for the world premiere of the show—as a playwright and, more importantly, as an audience member.

“I will be very interested to listen in on the audience reaction. Sometimes they find things funny that you didn’t even think were funny, or they’ll find things sad that you didn’t. And I’m very interested to see the artistic interpretation on the part of [HCT Artistic Director] Eric Seale and his design team, and the actors. This is an extraordinary organization.”

“It is important to give theatre audiences the opportunities to see shows that they might not otherwise. I think this is important for growth—for audiences to understand what a theatre is capable of doing. And I hope that people will be sure to come here and support this amazing theatre.”

EATING BLACKBERRIES will run for three weekends, from April 5-20. Performances are at 7:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30pm on Sundays. There is a bonus Thursday performance on April 18 at 7:30pm as well.

Tickets for EATING BLACKBERRIES are $16 for adults and $10 for students. Tickets may be purchased online at or by phone at 828-328-2283.

EATING BLACKBERRIES is rated PG-13, with some adult language and themes.

EATING BLACKBERRIES is supported by the United Arts Council of Catawba County through the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, with funding from the State of North Carolina and from the National Endowment for the Arts.

The Hickory Community Theatre’s 75th anniversary season is sponsored by A Cleaner World, Green Park Dentistry, Paramount Automotive and Sunbelt Xpress. The Hickory Community Theatre is a funded affiliate of the United Arts Council of Catawba County and supported by the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.