Fresh from winning five awards for last year’s offerings — including best musical — Sandy Springs’ Act3 Productions theater company is preparing for its 16th season, starting Sept. 7 with “Godspell.”
“Community” is a word Act3’s directors use frequently in describing how they select a season’s worth of shows.
“Important in all these considerations is what makes the season appealing to our audiences and to the actors who will audition and perform,” says Artistic Director Michelle Davis. “In a small space like Act3’s, the actors and audiences need to feel a connection. It is like being part of a community.”
The community approach has the small black-box theater regularly in contention for local theater awards. Act3 took home five awards at the 2018 Metropolitan Atlanta Theater (MAT) Awards ceremony on Aug. 26, led by Best Overall Performance of a Musical for its 2017-2018 season production of “Into the Woods.” Act3 was nominated for 15 awards for last season.
Act3 began in 2003 in East Cobb County and moved to Sandy Springs seven years ago. It was long the city’s only community theater company. It is based in what had been a nameless warehouse behind all the retail shops and restaurants in Sandy Springs Plaza at the intersection of Roswell and Johnson Ferry roads.
Now Act3 has theatrical neighbors virtually across the street with the birth of City Springs, a new civic center that includes the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center, which opened in early August. The new City Springs Theatre Company is performing larger-scale Broadway-style musicals at City Springs. Act3 aims to fill a smaller niche, and its youth troupe performed at the City Springs grand opening.
Act3 is a semi-professional theater company that presents a full mainstage season of five diverse shows — musicals, dramas, improvisation and original productions — in its intimate 100-seat playhouse. The company also operates its Act3 Arts Academy with year-round classes, workshops and performance opportunities for K-12 students.
Act3 is opening its 2018-2019 season on Sept. 7 with the award-winning 2012 revised version of the hit Broadway musical “Godspell.” The Christian-themed musical, with music and lyrics by Stephan Schwartz, first took Broadway by storm in 1971; a hit film followed in 1973. The revised version features new arrangements by Schwartz and the injection of contemporary cultural references.
In the play, a small group of people help Jesus tell different parables using games, storytelling, audience interaction and comedy. The eclectic songs include the international hit “Day by Day,” “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” “By My Side” and “Turn Back, O Man,” among others. The music ranges from pop and rock to vaudeville as the story of Jesus’ life unfolds from his public teachings to the Last Supper and, ultimately, his crucifixion.
The company chose “Godspell” to open its season because it met Act3’s long list of criteria for shows that will make a good season. Selecting productions that work together is a lengthy, multifaceted effort that starts almost a year before the first actor enters stage right.
“Directors may pitch show ideas for the next season from Nov. 15 to Jan. 15, and we begin the selection process mid-January,” said Davis.
She and Mary Sorrel, Act3’s executive director and board chair, bring show candidates to the table. For musicals, they call on the expertise of John-Michael D’Haviland, music director for Act3 and instructor at the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts at Pebblebrook High School.
“We look at our viable options, starting with a mix of shows that work well together,” said Davis.
The selection process includes obtaining the license to produce a show. There are a number of small and mid-size theaters in metro Atlanta that may be vying to produce the same show; however, there is a 50-mile radius exclusivity rule, so the earlier Act3 can apply for a license, the better.
Act3’s season bookends are an opening production that is an attention-getter that will draw audiences, usually one with good name recognition and is a known hit, like “Godspell”; and a closing production that “will compel audiences to come back for the next season,” said Davis. For 2018-2019, that show is the musical “Big Fish,” which went from novel to Broadway hit to top-grossing film.
In the mix of season shows, Act3 includes an edgier work — this season, “The Graduate,” based on the novel and hit 1967 romantic comedy-drama about a young man who has an affair with a married older woman and then dates her daughter. This season’s holiday production is “Radio Christmas Carol,” a sequel to “The 1940s Radio Hour,” an Atlanta favorite which ran for 25 years at the original Theatre in the Square in Marietta. Act3 also always offers one or two family shows, like the February production “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a prequel to Peter Pan and Neverland.
Besides the mix of shows, there are physical considerations, too. The number of cast members and the orchestra, if it is a musical, must fit comfortably on the small stage as well as backstage. Act3’s entire stage and seating area is about 1,756 square feet in the 3,414-square-foot building. Generally, the cast ranges from 8 to 15.