Much ado for Georgia Shakespeare as it announces new academic partners

Name of Publication: 
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Excerpt of Article: 

By Howard Pousner - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In a matter that is more consequential than it might seem, five student actors from three Georgia colleges are sharing the stage with Georgia Shakespeare’s professional cast during performances of “Much Ado About Nothing” through Sunday at Piedmont Park.

It’s a small start to something potentially big for the longtime Atlanta theater troupe and for regional theater lovers.

Georgia Shakespeare is launching partnerships with Kennesaw State University, Brenau University and the University of North Georgia, the company is announcing Thursday exclusively in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The goal: to develop more plays, offer more and more varied internships to students and integrate the professional troupe’s productions into the universities’ programming.

The idea for the new alliances and a deepening one with longtime partner Oglethorpe University emerged from discussions about sustainability and a new operating model that followed Georgia Shakespeare’s emergency $500,000 fundraising campaign in late 2011, artistic director Richard Garner said.

“These past three or four years have just taken a toll on every theater artist I know, that (feeling of) ‘I’ve just got to look at what’s right in front of me. How do we survive this week?’” Garner said. “The new academic partnerships have energized all of us here. It’s so forward looking, and that really is exciting.”

Extended for free by Georgia Shakespeare, the partnerships will operate differently with each institution, based on the particular strengths of the individual theater programs and each school’s interests.

One play development project already being discussed is an adaptation of “Arabian Nights” (also known as “1,001 Nights”) by Margaret Baldwin, lecturer and interim coordinator of general education for Kennesaw State’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies. The company considers Baldwin a trusted collaborator, having written the family show “Tom Thumb the Great” and developed it with KSU students on its way to a Georgia Shakespeare premiere in 2008.

For the “Arabian Nights” folk tales, Baldwin and KSU students would spend an academic year preparing a stage adaptation, then Garner and Georgia Shakespeare would spend another year fine-tuning it before adding the play to its season schedule.

Though it will take two or three years before a play developed by an academic partner is scheduled, Garner anticipates that the partner universities will directly contribute to a play every season after that.

“Georgia Shakespeare and the educational institutions want to stake a claim for being known in this part of the country for this development of exciting new takes on classics, timeless stories,” Garner said.

“Together we will be able to sustain an extended creative process that few professional theater companies can afford,” said Karen Robinson, professor and interim chair of KSU’s Department of Theatre and Performance Studies.

In addition to realizing savings in play development, Georgia Shakespeare expects to generate revenue through new ticket sales, sponsorships and grant opportunities.

The troupe, founded in 1986, also will make its production staffs and actors available for lectures and workshops, said Garner, who will co-teach an auditioning class at KSU starting in the fall.

The partnerships also open up the possibility that Georgia Shakespeare, whose indoor stagings are limited to the summer and one fall month at Oglethorpe’s busy Conant Performing Arts Center, could remount season works or stage collaborative new ones at university facilities.

“We wouldn’t want to impose on an intown Atlanta audience that you’ve got to get to Gainesville to be part of a subscription,” Garner said, “but it could be part of an incentive to subscribers.”