Love – and Shakespeare – are again in the air.
The Conant Performing Arts Center, nestled in the Oglethorpe University campus in Brookhaven, welcomes Richard Garner, former director of the Georgia Shakespeare Festival, as a guest director for a play sponsored by the Alliance Theatre.
“Shakespeare in Love” runs from Aug. 30 to Sept. 24.
Garner has been freelancing as a director for the Alliance and other organizations around Atlanta and working as an actor and teacher since the dissolution of the festival in the fall of 2014. Conant hosted the festival for many years.
“I’m very excited,” Garner said. “This is homecoming.”
Major renovations underway at the Alliance prompted the nonprofit organization to seek off-site venues around the metro area for its 2017-2018 main stage season. The Alliance’s artistic director assigned one of the plays in the line-up to be directed by Garner at Conant.
This event is significant to Garner because it marks the first time since the dissolution of the festival that six members of the ensemble reunite with him for a play at Conant, he said.
Based on the 1998 Academy Award best film winner of the same name, ”Shakespeare in Love” is a romantic comedy that unfolds as a fictional story guessing what might have inspired the Bard, as a young, struggling playwright, to conceive the play “Romeo and Juliet.”
Garner credits the father of a high school buddy who was an English professor with teaching him about the art of storytelling and igniting a passion for studying Shakespeare.
“He sparked in me the power of a story,” Garner said. “Shakespeare became a real person to me as a keen observer of the human spirit.”
While attending college, Garner befriended a classmate who became part of the Oglethorpe staff in the 1980s and who persuaded Garner to join him at the Brookhaven university. For a decade, when Conant was not even a glimpse in an architect’s mind, Garner and his colleague offered Shakespeare classics under a tent on the Oglethorpe campus.
Years later, when Conant was built in the 1990s for the university’s own use and to allow the festival to move indoors, a formal volunteer program was launched.
Longtime volunteers Colin Clark and his family — wife Lynne and daughter Beatrix — recall the old days of the festival with nostalgia.
“Atlanta is impoverished because of the closing of the festival,” Clark said. “That is why it is particularly exciting to have Richard back in Conant doing this play.”
Garner remains connected to the Oglethorpe theater and its students in different ways. Matt Huff, Oglethorpe’s director of the theater program, said that the relationship his department established with Garner and his staff before the festival dissolved has remained in place. Huff said he likes to invite “top-notch professional actors and directors from the community” to either teach a class or attend or direct some of the students’ plays.
Garner insisted on having some Oglethorpe theater students casted in the current show. This move is consistent with the educational component of the Alliance’s mission, Huff said. Three Oglethorpe theater students made the cut.
“I’m thrilled to be working with Richard,” senior Meredith Myers said. “This is a wonderful opportunity.”
“I’m beyond excited to be working with Richard,” junior Alex Oakley said. “I enjoy everything about the theater, especially the effect on the audience.”
Junior Gillian Rabin gives Garner credit for being “caring toward the student actors” and for having “a great artistic vision.”
“I can hardly wait,” Rabin said.
“Shakespeare in Love”
(Adults & children 12 and up)
Directed by Richard Garner
Aug. 30 – Sept. 24
Conant Performing Arts Center
Oglethorpe University campus
4484 Peachtree Road