As Michael Enoch tells it, he got his first taste of big time rock-and-roll at age 14 by sneaking out with an older pal to see Led Zeppelin. Then, in college, he caught the theater bug.
Enoch grew up in a small West Virginia town where his family had lived for generations. “I got out as soon as I could,” he said.
After high school, he served in the Air Force and trained in electronics. After that, college. One day, Enoch’s roommate asked him to see if he could repair a damaged tape recorder in the theater department. He went just to fix the recorder, he recalled recently, but ended up hanging around, enamored by what he saw. “I got hooked,” he said.
Many college students dabble in theater for a while and then move on, but with Enoch, the lure of the bright lights stuck. He found his place on the technical side of the show — the lights, sound, design. He graduated with a theater degree and found jobs at nearby performance venues, then moved on to jobs at other, larger venues.
“I just liked being around theater,” he said. “The people I worked with doing shows were so different from where I grew up and what I did.”
Over the past several decades, he’s traveled the world while working backstage. He’s run theaters, arenas, stadiums or convention centers scattered from Champaign, Ill., to Las Vegas, Nev., to Thailand and China, he said. “I have never really done anything else,” he said.
Now, at age 64, he’s in a new job as general manager of Sandy Springs’ shiny new Performing Arts Center located in the $229 million City Springs development the city government built to be the new center of town. The performing arts facility is part of the same elegant, glass-fronted building that houses Sandy Springs City Hall. Enoch figures that when the new facility stages its first shows later this month, it will be the eleventh building he’s opened.
“I’m excited to get started,” he said one recent afternoon as he walked through the building while construction workers made last-minute fixes here and there. “I’ve been a year-and-a-half now without doing a show. I just want to do a show.”
The center features a 1,070-seat, three-level Broadway-style theater, a smaller 350-seat theater, rehearsal space and rooms for conventions. When it’s in full operation, it’ll provide spaces for anything from bar mitzvahs to operas, from weddings to lectures to open-air concerts with room for a couple of thousand people in the park outside. Enoch says the facility will host about 300 events a year (including Sandy Springs City Council meetings).
“I have heard a few people who have not been here say we built a small, community theater,” he said. “That’s not what we built. We built a Broadway-level theater.”
As general manager, Enoch oversees everything at the center from booking shows to food service. He’s ambitious for the place. There are a lot of venues in metro Atlanta where people can see a show, he admits, but he thinks the Sandy Springs center will find its niche. “We think we’re going to be the premiere event facility of our type in Atlanta,” he said.
In the past, he’s worked with professional sports teams and run venues he says brought performers such as the Rolling Stones, Metallica and Tony Bennett to China. (Not U2, he said; the band couldn’t get government-issued work permits in China because they were too friendly with the Dalai Lama.)
He argues City Springs’ shows may differ in scale, but not necessarily in quality. The big theater opens Aug. 11 with a performance by jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis. A week later, Broadway star Sutton Foster is scheduled.
But as he talked about upcoming shows, Enoch seemed most eager to spotlight one set for the small theater on Aug. 16. In that one, the center has paired local jazz performer Joe Gransden and his big band with singer and “America’s Got Talent” winner Landau Eugene Murphy. Enoch said he met Murphy, a fellow West Virginian, in China. He calls the show “a match made in heaven.”
Once it’s up and running, how will he determine whether City Springs is a success? “Success to me is to have a series of events and educational programs that bring a diversity of people into the site,” he said. “You’ll see millennials all the way to families. The mayor wants to make sure we have a diversity of programming so we have all sorts of people in the place.
“What I see as success is when I hear people talking and saying this is the center of the community. And that this is where they bring their families. I’ll call that success.”
Joe Earle is editor-at-large at Reporter Newspapers and has lived in metro Atlanta for over 30 years. If you know someone with an interesting story to tell who would make a good subject for an Around Town column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.