The Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s production of “A Tuna Christmas” this month is a way to celebrate the holiday season – and a successful new partnership with Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center.

“A Tuna Christmas” is the second production GET, the resident professional company at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center, has brought to Oglethorpe under a “binding partnership” forged in 2018.

Enoch King, left, and Jill Hames star in the Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s production of “A Tuna Christmas.” (Special)

The first, in June, was a remount of GET’s 2018-2019 season hit “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Connections between the theater company and the university, however, were already ongoing. GET produced “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Conant in 2017. A number of Oglethorpe alumni work or have worked with GET and others have acted in season productions. And the university also hosts two of GET’s summer theater camp sessions.

The Conant partnership grew out of a conversation between Anita Allen-Farley, GET’s co-founder and producing artistic director, and Sharon Moskowitz, the center’s managing director. “Sharon and I had a conversation that GET was going to have to find satellite space to perform if we wanted to increase the number of our productions each year,” said Allen-Farley. Another benefit, she said, would be to expand the theater company’s audience.

Moskowitz said her role as managing director of CPAC is “to bring in partnerships and collaborations in the performing arts with our mission in mind to enhance the cultural landscape of the university and the community.” After seeing GET’s production of “A Comedy of Tenors” last season in Roswell, she brought the partnership ideas to Oglethorpe President Larry Schall.

A roundtable of 10 officials from Oglethorpe and GET assembled in early 2018 to design the partnership, including Schall, Moskowitz and Theatre Department head Matt Huff on the university side.

By March 2018, the group had developed the terms of the partnership. It is ongoing and will expand as opportunities arise, including opportunities for university students for onstage and technical experience.

The Conant is heavily scheduled during the school year, so GET has claimed a timeframe for a production during the summer and during winter break each year. GET pays an amount under a licensed agreement for each use of the theater, and Oglethorpe takes a “very small portion” of ticket sales, said Moskowitz.

The Conant production of “Driving Miss Daisy” was a success for the partnership. Large crowds of new audiences packed the intimate 513-seat theater to see the iconic show.

“A Tuna Christmas” is one of the six productions in GET’s 27th season and will be performed only at the Oglethorpe location, running Dec. 13-29.

In the comedy, two actors take on the personae of 22 different citizens of the little town of Tuna, Texas, with quick-change artistry of personalities, voices, ages, attitudes and attire. It’s a study in speed, adaptability and comedic talent. The fastest head-to-toe costume change must be completed in 8 seconds.

The plot centers on a hot competition in the annual Christmas lights competition, won 14 years in a row by town snob Vera Carp, leader of the Smut Snatchers of the New Order. On the loose is a “Christmas Phantom” vandalizing the yard display and creating contest chaos.

“A Tuna Christmas” is the second in a series about the town of Tuna written by Ed Howard, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams. The GET production is directed by well-known Atlanta playwright Topher Payne.

“This play is hilarious,” said Allen-Farley. “I like to laugh, and we chose it for the holidays so people could enjoy laughing for a couple of hours. It’s a respite from the same old bad news that is out there every day. And the characters are wonderful. You will recognize a lot of them. You may not like some of them, and there are some that will melt your heart.”

‘A Tuna Christmas’
December 13-29
Conant Performing Arts Center
Oglethorpe University
4484 Peachtree Road, Brookhaven
Tickets: get.org  or 770-641-1260

–Judith Schonbak

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