Officials at Georgia Shakespeare are working to remake their venerable theater company.
Less than two years ago, Georgia Shakespeare had to put out a call for emergency help. The company said it needed to raise $500,000 in just a few months or it would close. Donors rallied and Georgia Shakespeare was able to keep going.
But the crisis forced the Brookhaven-based theater group to take a hard look at itself.
“We needed a change,” artistic director and Georgia Shakespeare co-founder Richard Garner said recently.
This year, as Georgia Shakespeare opens its summer/fall season on the campus of Oglethorpe University June 21 with a revival of the play “Metamorphoses,” company officials are rethinking their business, and hope to bolster the company’s finances by broadening its operations.
Georgia Shakespeare’s 2013 season at the Conant Performing Arts Center at Oglethorpe University
“Metamorphoses” by Mary Zimmerman, June 21-July 21.
“Mighty Myths & Legends” adapted by Richard Garner and Allen O’Reilly, July 2-20.
“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare, Oct. 3-27.
Season tickets cost from $40 to $100.
For more information: 404-504-1473.
“Going into this year, not just theater groups, but any nonprofit arts group I know has been saying, ‘We’ve got to reinvent the model,’” Garner said.
Georgia Shakespeare has entered into partnerships with theater groups at colleges in Gainesville and Kennesaw, and plans to add performances with those to expand its season.
“We definitely have taken a look at our business model and looked at it from all different angles,” said Jennifer Bauer-Lyons, director of company initiatives. “We have this great relationship with Oglethorpe, but we … have to think, ‘How can we get outside the walls of [Oglethorpe’s] Conant Performing Arts Center?’”
She describes the 2013 season as part of a major transition for the theater company that was founded more than a quarter century ago. “I think from the campaign in 2011, through 2012, those years have been transitional, transformational, for us all,” Bauer-Lyons said. “We’re right in the middle of it.”
One immediate change is obvious. Georgia Shakespeare is presenting fewer plays this year.
In the past, the company staged as many as six or seven shows in a season, Bauer-Lyons said. But it opened 2013 in May with a “Shake in the Park” production of Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing,” and plans to present only three more plays – a revival of the popular “Metamorphoses” in June and July; “Mighty Myths & Legends,” a children’s play, in July; and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in October.
“The 2013 season is a smaller season. That was by design,” Bauer-Lyons said. “It wasn’t really about saving money. We needed the time to reinvent our business model.”
“This is kind of rock bottom as far as the quantity of work,” Garner said.
The idea was to create time to plan, he said.
“We needed to pull back, to slow the train down,” Garner said.
Over the next couple of years, Georgia Shakespeare officials say, the theater company will change.
Through new partnerships with Kennesaw State University and with the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, which includes Brenau University and the University of North Georgia, Georgia Shakespeare plans to develop new shows in those cities. Eventually, Bauer-Lyons said, Georgia Shakespeare will have bases in four north metro Atlanta counties – at Oglethorpe in DeKalb, at Piedmont Park’s “Shake In the Park” in Fulton, Gainesville in Hall and Kennesaw i
“We’re expanding our geographic footprint, but we’re also focusing on one product at a time,” Bauer-Lyons said. “It’s expanding who we work with and how we work with them.”
Georgia Shakespeare says the new alliances will allow it “to co-develop new artistic works and to integrate the company’s artistic productions into the academic programming of its partners.”
“We are working together on something rather than trying to go it alone,” Bauer-Lyons said.
Georgia Shakespeare also is expanding its college internship program, Bauer-Lyon said. This summer, the company has 22 interns working in all phases of programming, from acting to building sets, and from box-office sales to marketing, she said.
This summer, even the choice of the main play Georgia Shakespeare is producing was figured in to the company’s transition. “Metamorphoses,” originally staged in 2006 and 2007, had been one of the theater group’s most popular plays. “When we did it, it was the most powerful and important piece of theater we had done,” Garner said.
He said he had to tell his house-cleaning crews to wait longer after the end of the show to start cleaning the theater. Some patrons just sat in their seat, thinking about what they had seen, for 10 to 15 minutes, he said. “It’s a really powerful piece of theater,” he said.
So it seemed the perfect play for revival in 2013 “if we’re going to do one thing and remind people we’re still here while we regroup.”
Actress records show’s metamorphoses
Music, movement and the importance of a good cup of coffee to a theater production are just some of the subjects that actress Carolyn Cook has explored as she blogs about her experiences in the Georgia Shakespeare production of “Metamorphoses.”
Cook, who says she plays “all the old women” in the show, in which actors take multiple parts, plans to keep her blog – Lifelong Metamorphoses, found at lifelongmetamorphoses.wordpress.com – going throughout the run of the play and perhaps longer.
She said she hopes the blog will give members of the audience a sense of what goes into preparing a play for a performance. “I just feel like theater is a communal experience,” she said. “The audience comes to the theater and they have a group experience, but I don’t think they realize how much they influence what we do. I just want to open a door and say, ‘You’re welcome. Let me show you around.’”