From Playwright to Politician


Being a student, university employee, politician and a playwright/director are all stressful positions on their own, but Amie Gates is getting good at making them all look easy. Gates starts her day with an 8-5 shift as an administrative specialist for the Department of Behavioral Sciences and currently follows it up with rehearsals for “Altered Memories”, a play she wrote and is now directing for the ATU theatre program.

“I made a proposal last year to the theatre department with my play,” Gates said. “I was doing productions with Tech. ‘The Crucible’ and ‘All the Ways the World Will End’ last spring, and Faith Spencer was the assistant technical director at the time, and she had read my play, ‘Altered Memories’… So we were having an end of the year get together and award ceremony at the theater, and Professor (Frances) Roberson had said, ‘you know, we are looking for something for the spring production’… and Faith was like, ‘Amy, that’s you! That’s you!’”

Gates has had an appreciation for the art of production since she was a kid. Most children dream of being a movie star, but Gates has always enjoyed the idea of being a creative force behind the scenes.

“When I was a child I was fascinated with movies before I even knew what theater was… And I remember when I was a kid, I was watching a behind the scenes thing on ‘Gone with the Wind,’ and I loved that movie. In the behind the scenes special, they were talking about the director and what the director does in the movie. And I was like, oh my gosh, you can get paid to do this for a living?” Gates explained.

“So I’ve like wanted to be a director since I was like 10 years old.”

Directing positions are hard to come by because community theatres typically go to a foundation of directors with years of experience. Writing positions are also hard to find as community and University theatres mostly put on known productions. Working with the ATU theatre program has made these positions much more accessible for Gates.

“I think Roberson said, ‘I’m assuming you want to direct?’ And I’m like, ‘yes, I absolutely do.” She had no idea that this was my lifelong dream when she asked, but it makes it a little bit easier on the production if you can have the writer direct it because they automatically know the motivations, already know the characters, already know all of this…” Gates said.

While her directorial debut with ATU theatre is new for Gates, her relationship with Arkansas Tech is anything but. Growing up in Dardanelle, Gates graduated high school at Tucker Coliseum in 1988, but went on to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Lyon College in Batesville. In 2021, after living out of state, Gates found herself back in Russellville with a drive to complete her degree. After finding a job listing for an administrative specialist position at ATU, she knew this was the place for her.

“When I moved back here, I still hadn’t finished my bachelor’s degree, so I decided it would be a good time for me to try to go back to school. And right around that same time I saw a couple of job ads to work as an administrative specialist. And so I thought, well, I’m going to apply for that… It just, it worked out really well for me to start working here. And I’m so happy to be back in Arkansas. So it just made sense to work here and go to school here at the same time. It just makes it very convenient”

Gates is pursuing a degree in psychology. Her passion for psychology seeps into her production “Altered Memories,” based on a Freudian theory.

“Sigmund Freud has his theory on personality. It states that there are three different parts of your personality: the id, the ego, and the superego,” Gates said. “And I decided to write a play about a conversation within the head of one person between their id and their ego. The id is like the base part of you. And the ego is supposed to balance out the superego and the id, but in this case, I made it two.”

The production follows Id and Ego as Ego discovers Id has altered a memory of abuse and trauma as a method of coping. Noticing Id’s behavior changing, Ego tries her best to correct the altered memory in order for balance to remain. Gates recommends victims of abuse be aware of the sensitive content before watching the production.

“You kind of have to see it to really get what I’m talking about and have a good understanding of Freud’s theory. But I consider it a comedy because there’s definitely a lot of comedy to it, but it does have some serious parts.”

After wrapping up production on “Altered Memories,” Gates plans to run against incumbent Matt Duffield for State Representative of District 53, which includes Russellville. Gates says her education in psychology has been helpful in understanding voters’ motivations and behaviors.

“I took a class last year that was an independent study on careers and political psychology… I basically read the textbook and wrote papers on how psychology and politics intertwine. The further I go in campaigning, I can see that a lot of the stuff that I’ve learned throughout my education has really helped in how I look at things and how I want to conduct my campaign and what might be more effective than other things,” Gates said.

“It’s helped me to look at how people have different experiences and motivations behind their political behavior. And it helps me to understand how that happens.“

Gates explained one of her initial interests in the world of politics started after being an advocate at a domestic violence crisis clinic. She became growingly dissatisfied with the treatment of mental health in Arkansas and America as a whole.

“It’s ridiculous how we treat it when it’s clear that it affects so many different parts of our society. A lot of the violence that’s in our country stems from poor mental health care and the stigma that prevents people from seeking out healthcare.”

After Gates started considering a run for local office, Senator Breanne Davis introduced the LEARNS bill, which was approved by the state legislature. Gates said she felt there were a lot of problems with the bill and made education her number one priority for her campaign.

“The LEARNS bill is going to destroy our public school system. We’re already seeing public schools closing down because of the two-tiered school system. If we don’t do something, I can’t even imagine how much damage that’s gonna do to our state.“

The “two-tiered school system” Gates referred to is based on the allowance of private schools to receive state funds through a voucher program. The bill introduced this program following an increased demand across the country for “school choice,” a concept centered around the belief that parents should get to choose where their kids go to school. Those against the LEARNS act believe this part of the bill will lead to public schools being underfunded and overlooked.

Gates added, “I’ve had a few private forums with educators because they’re afraid to talk… and got a lot of feedback on the problems that they’re seeing with LEARNS and there really isn’t any part of it that is going to work for us. Even here at Tech, I’ve talked to former education majors that are now switching to another profession because of the learns bill. And that $50,000 starting pay is great. Teachers have needed a raise for a long time, but the problem is it’s capped at $52,000.”

Gates plans to kick off her campaign in May, but in the meantime continues pursuing her passion as a playwright and director. “Altered Memories,” alongside “Cryptid House,” a short film written by Jasmine Greer and directed by Sarah Pollock, premieres April 12-13 at 7 p.m. and April 14 at 2 p.m. in the Techionery theatre. Admission is $5.