“All the world’s a stage…” is a line from Shakespeare you may recognize. What you may not is the way the Alliance Theatre interpreted those famous words for its 2017-18 season. As the beloved theater undergoes its first complete renovation since the building opened in 1968, the performances take to the road. The directors, players and sets will make all of Atlanta their stage by its culmination. From world premieres like the one-act plays by Pearl Cleage happening at Fulton County Southwest Arts Center and “Sheltered” (winner of the 2018 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition) at Actor’s Express to classics like “Candide,” “The Jungle Book” and, of course, a few nods to the author of those aforementioned lines.
The latter included “Shakespeare in Love,” kicking the season off last fall at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center. “For the Alliance to be getting around in the community, going into people’s neighborhoods is a really cool thing,” says Director Richard Garner. “Bringing the Alliance quality into these familiar spaces is really going to be an eye-opener for a lot of people out in these communities.”
That’s exactly the intention of Susan V. Booth, Jennings Hertz artistic director. “For 48 years, metro Atlanta has supported us by making the trip to our front door,” she says. “It seemed like we had the opportunity to return the favor, and to do so in a way that celebrated the best of Atlanta by taking our work to a slate of cultural venues across our city.”
“The Alliance has always been kind of the flagship theater in Atlanta, and it certainly has been the flagship building as well,” Garner adds. “I think it is really insightful of [the Alliance Theatre] to say that now we will go to them, and they’re doing a great job really covering all parts of Atlanta and exposing people to the Alliance quality and brand.”
Directing “Shakespeare in Love” at the Conant was also a perfect fit for Garner, as he helped build the center that was instrumental for his former theater company, Georgia Shakespeare, for many years.
To close out the season, the company thought outside the theater box, quite literally, by performing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” outdoors in the Skyline Garden at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. With arguably one of the best views of Midtown, this new space abounds with several varieties of succulents, cacti and flowers, and includes a 200-seat pavilion intended for multi-use events.
“The garden is such a great backdrop for the arts in general,” says Mary Pat Matheson, president and CEO of the Atlanta Botanical Garden. “We’ve always been good at showcasing visual arts, but now we have the chance to bring performing arts into this environment. To me, it adds one more element, and that is of the unexpected. The creativity behind doing [this play] at the garden— it’s going to be something that no one has ever seen before in Atlanta.”
Another perk is that through the purposeful selection of very different venues—from Dad’s Garage Theatre Company to the Atlanta History Center, Atlanta Symphony Hall to Marcus Jewish Community Center and more—they’re able to reach audiences that might otherwise choose alternate plans for a night out. It’s allowing the theater to gain new fans before their revamped home reopens, and for loyal Alliance members to experience other unique venues. It’s a win-win for expanding everyone’s performing arts palate.
“We’re always looking at audience development and this lets us get the word out that [the garden] is a remarkable thing to come visit,” Matheson says. “It’s going to be something new to experience, and people are always looking for that.”
Back at the Alliance, the renamed Coca-Cola Stage will open in time for the theater’s 50th anniversary season. Its transformation will include improved rehearsal, education and artist support spaces as well as provide significant enhancements to the audience’s experience.
In the meantime, taking this season’s shows on the road doesn’t come without challenges, some as unique as the performances themselves. Garner’s cast and production crew rehearsed in the original Alliance Theatre rather than at the Conant. The stage at Skyline Garden had to be built over an existing water feature, and the same cast learned to deliver lines alongside chirping tree frogs, the evening traffic soundtrack and people playing tennis at Piedmont Park. In short, everyone and every venue has a role to play this season. And, as they say, the show must go on.