ACT­ING OUT A look back at 20 years of LGBT At­lanta the­ater

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

Back in 1996, I moved to At­lanta from Athens – buoyed by the Olympic Games of that year – and al­most im­me­di­ately be­gan writ­ing about the lo­cal the­ater scene. My first the­ater story for South­ern Voice was back in 1998, a re­view of the drama “Sky­light” at Hori­zon Theatre. I’ve writ­ten about lo­cal plays for South­ern Voice and now Ge­or­gia Voice since.

A lot has changed since that time, most notably the num­ber of the­ater com­pa­nies in the area. At­lanta has al­ways been ripe for play­houses, but the amount of the­aters pro­duc­ing on a reg­u­lar ba­sis has grown im­mea­sur­ably. Luck­ily, queer work has al­ways been in the mix. The lo­cal the­ater com­pany that has been re­spon­si­ble for the most gay fare over the years has been Ac­tor’s Ex­press. No­table LGBT work from the com­pany has in­cluded “Res­cue & Re­cov­ery” by Steve Mur­ray, Ter­rence McNally’s “Love! Val­our! Com­pas­sion!” and Paul Rud­nick’s “Jef­frey.” The Ex­press has also staged work from out play­wright Steve Yockey and this spring pre­sented Joshua Har­mon’s “Sig­nif­i­cant Other.”

On­Stage At­lanta and The Process Theatre are also at the top of lo­cal queer work, with many Charles Busch plays be­hind them as well as “De­sign­ing Women Live!” The now de­funct Theatre Out­lanta also brought LGBT fare to town for awhile. The city’s largest the­ater com­pany, the Al­liance Theatre, just fin­ished their world pre­miere pro­duc­tion of “The Prom,” about a high school girl who wants to take her girl­friend to the prom. The Broad­way in At­lanta series brings gay-themed pro­duc­tions to town, most re­cently “Kinky Boots,” while “Cabaret” opens in a few weeks. At some point or another, most At­lanta area the­aters have pro­duced LGBT work.

Theatre in the Square, founded by Palmer Wells and his part­ner Michael Horne, was known for ex­cep­tional, risky pro­duc­tions. They made un­in­ten­tional head­lines when Cobb County passed an anti-gay res­o­lu­tion as a re­sult of their play “Lips To­gether, Teeth Apart.” Yet it didn’t hin­der the com­pany’s work. In 2005 the com­pany staged a nice ver­sion of the gay-themed “Take Me Out.” Theatre in the Square closed down in 2012 then opened back up last year un­der new own­er­ship.

Another ma­jor change has been the pro­lif­er­a­tion of play­wrights and world pre­mieres. World pre­mieres used to be a rar­ity. These days, a world pre­miere hap­pens sev­eral times a month. Many of those pre­mieres have come via To­pher Payne, who be­gan writ­ing plays shortly af­ter I be­gan cov­er­ing the­ater. His first was “Beached Wails.” Of all the play­wrights that have made lo­cal noise, his climb has been the most no­table, with shows spread­ing through­out the coun­try, in­clud­ing off-Broad­way.

He is not lo­cal, but the work of play­wright Tarell Alvin McCraney has made a dent in the city. His work al­ways has an LGBT com­po­nent, from “Choir Boy” to “In the Red and Brown Wa­ter” to “Mar­cus, or the Se­cret of Sweet.” One of his plays, “In Moon­light Black Boys Look Blue,” is the in­spi­ra­tion for the new film “Moon­light.”

Of late, out Brian Clow­dus has be­come the new “it boy” of lo­cal the­ater. As the artis­tic di­rec­tor of Serenbe Play­house, launched in 2010, his pro­duc­tions are al­ways coura­geous, al­ways an event. The best was his “Hair” a few sea­sons ago but the re­cent “Miss Saigon” was also a huge suc­cess.

No cur­rent com­pany spe­cial­izes in LGBT pro­gram­ming, but one has re-emerged. The new Out Front Theatre Com­pany boasts the Ge­or­gia de­but of the stage mu­si­cal “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” next week, with two other plays this sea­son.

Per­son­ally, I am ex­cited to see them around. I look for­ward to what they can bring to the ATL ta­ble, as well as see­ing over­all what – and who - the next decade of lo­cal the­ater brings with it.

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