Atlanta for Dramaturgs — Atlanta theatre life , Jaz Dorsey , Melita Easters — AAPEX

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Atlanta for Dramaturgs

My hometown of Atlanta, Ga. is a fascinating city bursting with theatre. After a 22 year absence, I returned home this past weekend for the opening of MRS. JOHN MARSH - Melita Easter's one woman show about GONE WITH THE WIND author Margaret Mitchell, starring Kandace Christian. ( for which I have served as dramaturg.

Being tied to the theatre trying to get the show up and running, I didn't have a chance to get around the city to check out the theatre scene for myself, but I did have the pleasure of hosting quite a few of my Atlanta playwright associates as our guests for the opening weekend performances. There was much gratifying talk about new play readings and development and working with dramaturgs.

On Friday, June 3, I was fortunate enough to hang out with
Hank Kimmel, one of the founders of Atlanta's Working Title Playwrights. Our theatre, The Ansley Park Playhouse, is located right next door to The Temple on Peachtree Street, known to most of us thanks to Alfred Uhry's DRIVING MISS DAISY. So Hank and I went to Temple and then to see the play together. Originally from New York, Hank is a member of Atlanta's growing crew of theatre folk who have moved from The Big Apple to The Big Peach.

Working Title Playwrights( has been on my radar for about 3 years, but the organization was formally initiated in 2003 and pretty much every one of my Atlanta playwright friends is either a current or past member. In addition to the expected role of giving playwrights a forum in which to develop their work, Working Title has become an amazing force for developing community in Atlanta theatre and for connecting Atlanta's non-theatre population to the joys of the "legitimate stage" I spent most of the weekend chatting with playwrights connected to Working Title, learning not only about their work but also the work of their friends and colleagues. Based on what I heard, I wouldn't be surprised if Atlanta's next major export is playwrights.

While Atlanta may never rival New York for the sheer number of theatres, it is still a wonderland of theatrical delights, boasting such long time companies as Theatrical Outfit, Horizon Theatre, Actors' Express, 7 Stages, Onion Man, True Colors and, most recently, The New African Grove Theatre - along with the internationally acclaimed Alliance Theatre, where I once worked briefly as Assistant to the Directors in the early 80's. Atlanta also boasts several fine university theatre departments including Georgia State, Emory and Oglethorpe. A great overview of Atlanta's companies can be found at

Atlanta's theatre companies are scattered across the city from Decatur to Marietta and even to Cumming, where my associate Mercury runs The Gypsy Theatre Company.

Back in the 1980s, Atlanta's acting community came together to form a group called Actors in Renaissance, which met on Saturday mornings on a monthly basis. Though A.I.R. eventually faded out, it's legacy is strong in the wonderful community of artists it birthed and the fantastic theatre companies which were born out of it's communions.

Two fascinating new works out of Atlanta that have hit my radar in recent times both come out of The Theatrical Outfit. These are Tom Key's adaptation of CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES of a year or so ago, and a new work which opens in August - THE GREEN BOOK by Calvin Ramsey. For those of you unfamiliar, "The Green Book" was a travel guide for African Americans published during the era of segregation. I have yet to read Ramsey's play but am intrigued to see how he approaches his subject.

One jewel of a venue on Peachtree Street is The Ansley Park Playhouse, where our production of MRS. JOHN MARSH runs until June 19th. Ansley Park is an absolute treasure of a 130 seat blackbox with an outstanding young staff lead by the amazing Stan Gentry. It is also home to Atlanta's longest running play, PEACHTREE BATTLE, which debuted just before 9/11 and resumes performances later this summer. The play is about the "Old Atlanta" street that I grew up on, Peachtree Battle Avenue. It' s slightly scandulous and reminds me of the days when I turned my grandmother's home into a Dramaturgy Center back in 1981 - much to the horror of the neighbors! Especially when we started rehearsals for an African version of ROMEO AND JULIET in the back yard!

PEACHTREE BATTLE's authors, John Gibson and Anthony Morris, have found the ultimate location for a Peachtree Street Theatre - right in the nook of a curve about a mile north of The Alliance, where Peachtree Street does a 90% angle on the journey from Mid-Town to Buckhead.

Speaking of Buckhead, 30 years ago I wrote a musical called MANHATTAN BLUES. The central character, Tallulah Buckhead, was an Atlanta deb who wanted to be an actress - NOT very Junior League - but Tallulah follows her dream and makes her mark, and if she were with us today (and maybe she is), I think this is what Tallulah would say about Atlanta:

When I'm dancing at The Shubert Theatre
I'm dancing on Broadway
And when I'm singing at The Shubert Theater
I'm singing on Broadway
But when I'm dancing on Peachtree Street
I'm still dancing on my Broadway feet:
I'm doing Broadway 
Where ever I go.

Come to Atlanta and Go to the Theatre!

Jaz Dorsey
www.mrsjohnmarsh. com

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