Get thee to the suburbs: Atlanta’s OTP theater scene is booming

Three new companies are helping debunk the myth that the suburbs are void of culture
Theatre Illustration by Adam Maida

Illustration by Adam Maida

With more than a dozen professional theaters in the metro area, many actors move to Georgia to launch their careers—and not just ITP. Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company reimagines classics and brings in the hottest plays from New York, and Georgia Ensemble Theatre has been producing school tours, new comedies, and musicals in Roswell for 25 years. The city of Lawrenceville’s $26-million arts complex includes the expansion of Aurora Theatre, the second-largest professional theater in the state. Anthony Rodriguez, Aurora’s producing artistic director, says Lawrenceville offered more opportunity for growth and expansion than other areas—and more than half its patron base is from inside Gwinnett county.

The success of these theaters debunks the myth that the suburbs are void of culture, and other artists are taking note. Here are a few new companies that are bringing theater to the suburbs.

1. City Springs Theatre Company

In 2012, the City of Sandy Springs made plans to develop a cultural hub in its downtown area, and this September, City Springs Theatre Company will open its inaugural season in the new Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. Helmed by Brandt Blocker, formerly of Atlanta Lyric Theatre, City Springs will kick off with a season of musicals, starting with 42nd Street. Ninety-five percent of the theater’s $1 million in seed funding has come from private sources, Blocker says—a sign of the excitement residents feel about having the arts in their own backyard. “I have been working in nonprofits a long time, and I have never seen such strong support in such a short amount of time for a product we haven’t put onstage yet.”

2. Shakespeare Kennesaw

For years, the Legacy Gazebo amphitheater on the Kennesaw State University campus was mostly used for concerts, but Shakespeare Kennesaw is turning it into an Elizabethan playhouse. “I have this affinity for Shakespeare, and there really wasn’t a summer Shakespeare option in the state of Georgia where you could hear one of these plays under the stars,” says Rick Lombardo, chair of Kennesaw’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies. Plans for next year include two Shakespeare shows and two family-friendly shows.

3. Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square

Emil Thomas was a senior theater major at Ball State University when his father told him that he had purchased Theatre in the Square. The theater has a long history—the original company closed in 2012 after 30 years in operation, and attempts to revive it had failed. Today, Thomas strives to create a welcoming space where patrons can see a variety of new plays and reimaginings of classics—plus a space for young artists to start their careers. “The human condition is always seeking something new, and theater does something that film and TV cannot do, because it’s a human-to-human interaction,” Thomas says.  This season included the Brother/Sister Plays trilogy by Tarell Alvin McCraney, who cowrote the Oscar-winning film, Moonlight. The trilogy’s final play, Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet, runs August 18–September 9.

This article appears in our July 2018 issue.