Lottery tickets are not a big line item in our household budget. We have a tradition of buying scratch-and-win tickets for everyone who joins us at Christmas Eve dinner. No one remembers quite how this ritual started, but it seems to have phased in around the time we were phasing out Santa. Perhaps we replaced dreams of sugar plums with fantasies of hitting the jackpot. In any case, this holiday custom sets us back about $25. And of course, whenever there’s a huge Powerball prize at stake, I fork over five or ten bucks for the pool at work, unable resist the enthusiasm of our office manager, Mary Lyon, who talks about her plans to buy a villa in Tuscany. So, on average, I chip in thirty or forty dollars a year to the Georgia Lottery revenue stream.
Amber Dermont's debut novel, "The Starboard Sea," is set in a fictional world of beauty and privilege that she remembers clearly, but with a healthy dose of cynicism. The associate professor at Agnes Scott College grew up in a Victorian coastal village on Cape Cod. “When you grow up by the ocean, you have no idea how lucky you are,” she says. In her novel, teenager Jason Prosper is reeling from the suicide of his prep school sailing partner and first love, Cal, and trying to fit in at a new, lesser East Coast boarding school that is full of similarly rich, fallen kids. “We weren’t bad people,” Jason says, “but having failed that initial test of innocence and honor, we no longer felt burdened to be good.” He finds some comfort with a girl named Aidan and, alternately, with a smug band of annoying, perhaps dangerous classmates. It’s a coming-of-age story about learning to navigate by the right stars—or sometimes in the pitch black. The descriptive passages are lovely, whether Dermont is writing about the open sea or an ancient doorman: “In his navy wool uniform, all epaulets, gold tassels, and brass stars, his kind face glistening with sweat, Max looked like the commander of a sinking ship.” And the author is remarkably adept at writing in the voice of a teenage boy. “Not a challenge,” she says, laughing. “I have the mentality of a fourteen-year-old boy. No, I have a real love for teenagers. I really am fascinated by them, because they’re so much smarter than we are.”
When pianist Herbie Hancock gazed out over Piedmont Park on Memorial Day in 2007, there was barely a patch of grass unoccupied by picnic blankets or folding chairs. It was closing night of the three-day Atlanta Jazz Festival, and 100,000 people packed the park to celebrate the free event’s thirtieth anniversary. A year later, a relatively meager crowd wedged into Downtown’s Woodruff Park for just two days of concerts. The event had to be relocated due to drought, costing the festival thousands in lost sponsorship dollars. Organizers staged a “no-frills festival,” relying mostly on $120,000 in residual funds, says Camille Russell Love, director of the Office of Cultural Affairs. “I basically told my staff, we’re going to create a festival that we can afford to create,” she says. “We’ll use local artists, but we won’t lose the momentum of the festival.”
In 1982 michael horne and Palmer Wells opened Theatre in the Square in the former banquet hall of the old Marietta Depot restaurant. IBM employees by day, they soon realized why the word "depot" was part of the name. The C&S locomotives would rumble down the tracks bordering downtown Marietta so often, they probably could have qualified for membership in the actors’ union. The train noise would sometimes distract from a comedic or tender moment, but I always remember the times when the thundering roars would embellish a scene of high tension, as if the elements were lending a soundtrack.This year Theatre in the Square finally ran out of steam. The 2008 economic slump dramatically reduced contributions to the company, leading to huge debts, unpaid rent, and difficulty even meeting staff payroll. On March 19 its board voted to shut down.Pearl Cleage’s "Flyin’ West" unexpectedly became the final production of the small suburban company that maintained impressive standards for three decades. In my years as a theater critic, I saw more than ninety productions at the Marietta playhouse, from Bill Murphey playing about forty roles in the one-man comedy "Fully Committed" to Jessica Phelps West burning Suzi Bass’s hands with a hot plate in the harrowing "Beauty Queen of Leenane." In fact, it was Theatre in the Square that sparked my interest in the stage.As a film buff in high school in 1983, I noticed that the mystery "Sleuth" was playing in Marietta, and I was curious to see a live version of such a smart, twisty movie. After years of being dragged to theaters, "Sleuth" was the first play I ever saw on my own. It was a revelation to see the action from the front row of an eighty-five-seat playhouse. And while big theaters like the Alliance or the Fox resembled museums or palaces, Theatre in the Square felt more like visiting somebody’s home.At the time, Wells and Horne were learning by doing. “We had no strategic plan,” says Wells. “We scheduled our first season so a show would close on Sunday and the next would open the following Thursday night, so we’d have to build the sets in the space in the meantime. Sometimes we’d work on a set all night, then get up and go to work at IBM in the morning.”In 1985 the pair moved the theater to a larger (but no less train-proof) space on nearby Whitlock Avenue. Theatre in the Square built a loyal audience, programming crowd-pleasers while also showcasing provocative but accessible new work. Unquestionably the company’s signature style belonged to sunny comedies with Southern twangs, and even its tamest and most commercial scripts drew energy from the Atlanta area’s funniest actors.Theatre in the Square’s audience couldn’t get enough of "Smoke on the Mountain," in which the hapless Sanders Family Singers perform an accident-prone show at a depression-era Baptist church. I saw it three times. "Smoke on the Mountain" may be the opposite of edgy, but Theatre in the Square’s renditions were so warm and well-acted, they gave "wholesome" a good name. The playhouse staged hundreds of productions of "Smoke" and its sequels, "Sanders Family Christmas" and "Mount Pleasant Homecoming," using the same actors so often they felt like a real family.Theatre in the Square might still be open if it had produced nothing but Sanders-style shows. But the company was never content to rely on the incessantly staged chestnuts that fill seats at the average community theater. Though never avant-garde by the standards of, say, 7 Stages in Little Five Points, at least once a season Theatre in the Square pushed the limits of what a Cobb County audience could
As longtime Atlanta playwrights Larry Larson and Eddie Levi Lee see it, the Waffle House witching hour occurs every morning around 3 a.m. That’s the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment when babies are born in the parking lot and cops Taser waiters just for fun. That’s precisely the mood the legendary duo hope to capture in their latest effort, "The Waffle Palace: Smothered, Covered, and Scattered 24/7/365," running May 11 to June 24 at Little Five Points’ Horizon Theatre Company.
The Atlanta Regional Commission's monthly Regional Snapshot report is a feast for anyone who likes colorful charts and demographic data. The latest dispatch, "Employment Centers Drive Commuter Patterns," feels particularly meaningful in light of the upcoming regional transportation referendum.
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