Sitting here in late April to write about Atlanta’s 2019/2020 Season, I was diverted by a news article that referred to our city as “Kingpin of the Deep South,” a characterization less common nowadays in favor of “The New South,” a term I first encountered by way of Horizon Theatre Company’s annual New South Play Festival for new work. “The South we explore…is not the one of the past but the one of today—in all its diversity and contradiction…a complex place with many perspectives, cultures and people.” That statement seems relevant as Atlanta theatres have been especially cognizant of (re)defining both their mission and their target audience since the 2008 recession resulted in the loss of some beloved theatres. Ironically, this has led to more theatres presenting new works in the Atlanta metro area and a slight rise in work by local writers. Now some further reshaping is about to happen, not just because of COVID-19 but also due to the leadership change at three uniquely vibrant theatres: True Colors Founding AD Kenny Leon has turned over the reins to his Assistant AD Jamil Jude; long-time AD of Theatrical Outfit has stepped away to make room for his Irish successor, Belfast-native Matt Torney; and Founding AD of Serenbe Playhouse Brian Clowdus is pursuing other projects with a replacement TBA.
So, with some change-up already happening, here’s how the season of new work looked until things came to a halt with mid-March “stay in” orders.
Those producing plays by local writers included Theatrical Outfit with Safety Net by DARYL LISA FAZIO (also winner of the 2018 Alliance Theatre Reiser Lab) and Essential Theatre with the 2019 Playwriting Award winners Slaying Holofernes by EMILY MCCLAIN and Babyshower for the Antichrist by Ben Thorpe. Academy Theatre presented Coda by SHARON MATHIS and then partnered with Impact Theatre for The Rerooting by Betty Norwood Chaney. Theater Emory gave us Wooden Nickels by Joseph Skibell, and Out of Box Theatre presented Entertaining Lesbians by TOPHER PAYNE as part of their new Beta Test Series.
There was also amazing new work happening in Georgia outside of Atlanta, first at Maxwell Performing Arts Center in Augusta, with a production of A Scythe of Time, book by Welsh playwright Alan Harris and music/lyrics by Augusta-based composer MARK A. SWANSON. Moving about as far away as possible from Scythe’s setting in the world of Victoria-era newspaper sensationalism was a site-specific production of The True Story of Pocahontas, commissioned by Serenbe Playhouse and performed in an outside area near their base in Chattahoochee Hills. Playwright Kara Morrison. who is a member of Waccumaw Siouan Tribe, worked on the piece with director Tara Moses, a Citizen of the Seminole Nation, and a large cast that included two women of Native American heritage.
Other Atlanta region theatres stepped forward with new work as well. The Alliance Theatre managed to get in three of the five scheduled: Max Makes a Million, adapted by Liz Diamond from the book by Maira Kuhn; Becoming Nancy; with book by Elliott Davis, music by George Stiles, and lyrics by Anthony Drewe; and Maybe Happy Ending by the American-Korean team of Will Aronson and Hue Park. Synchronicity Theatre presented Hands of Color by Kimberly Monks and Wayfinding by WHITNEY ROWLAND.
In sum, with such a great diversity of voices, this was a season to celebrate. There was even the usual ground-breaking work by Out of Hand Theater, who presented the one-man show Conceal and Carry by Sean Christopher Lewis and performed by actor/writer Lee Osario in the homes of mini-producer hosts around the city. Each night ended with a fully participatory conversation about the complexities of gun control in America.
The Downside: sixteen canceled or postponed productions.
The Hope: theatres and individual artists hit cyberspace and made their artistic voices known anyway. Amen.