Letter to the Editor: Atlanta Lyric Theatre, Five Years in Review
The theater, which makes is home at the Strand on Marietta Square, reflects on the last five years.
Dear Friend of The Lyric,
Five years ago this month, I began my journey as the newly installed artistic director and general manager of Atlanta Lyric Theatre. It was an awesome opportunity for both me and the company, and, as I reflect over the past five years, I am overwhelmed by how much we have grown and what we have accomplished together.
In 2007, The Lyric was facing a critical time organizationally, financially, and artistically. With the resignations of the long-time Artistic Director and the General Manager and Development Director, The Lyric was void of leadership.
The business model at the time was not conducive to artistic or financial stability. The company was performing at the Georgia Tech Ferst Center, a large and expensive venue for a small theatre company to occupy. Only two productions of three performances each could be afforded, thus limiting our exposure to potential audiences. The identity of The Lyric was lost, as were our patrons, in trying to navigate the sprawling Georgia Tech campus to find our venue. Through the generosity of Lyric patrons Ken and Trish Byers, the company was afforded a second home-The Byers Studio Theatre.
While The Byers Studio provided an outlet for The Lyric to perform additional work throughout the season, the 125-seat studio was set up in unused office space in a senior citizens' center off I-75 and Northside Drive. Our valiant efforts to create a cozy and comfortable theatre environment also left the company struggling to produce in such a small venue while trying to cover expenses.
With a staff of three (a part-time administrative manager, part-time technical director, and myself), my first season at The Lyric in 2007-08 was an eventful one.
My first production at The Byers Studio Theatre was "Little Shop of Horrors" starring Broadway's Claci Miller and Felicia Boswell. It was a triumphant success artistically in the small venue. The show was the first Lyric production to be recognized by the Suzi Bass Awards (Atlanta's version of the Tony Awards) with nine nominations-tying it with Georgia Shakespeare's "Richard III" for the most nominations that year.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution stated, "Though it may come as no big surprise that the Alliance, the city's largest playhouse, and Georgia Shakespeare, Atlanta's leading repertory company, lead the pack, the Lyric's performance is particularly impressive. The musical theater producer, formerly known as the Savoyards, has flown largely under the radar screen in recent years. But under Artistic Director Brandt Blocker, who arrived last year and directed "Little Shop," it seems to be on the move."
And on the move we were producing artistically successful productions of "Forever Plaid," "Peter Pan," and "Anything Goes." Of "Peter Pan," Atlanta InTown newspaper wrote, "What a treat it is when everything goes right. The Atlanta Lyric Theatre's production of "Peter Pan," with stage and music direction by The Lyric's new artistic director and general manager Brandt Blocker, is a sparkling jewel of a show-equally appealing to the very young and the young at heart." Yet, despite the newfound artistic success we were achieving, the company's finances were still quite bleak. It was time for a big change - for The Lyric to find a true home.
In the summer of 2008, after an extensive search of many different venues throughout the metropolitan area, Atlanta Lyric Theatre entered into an agreement with Friends of The Strand, Inc. to become the resident musical theatre company at the Earl Smith Strand Theatre on the historic Marietta Square. This alliance allowed The Lyric to expand its business model by producing five to six shows with twelve performances each per season all under one roof.
Through the generosity and leadership of The Lyric Board of Directors, Atlanta Lyric Theatre contributed $250,000 to the Strand Theatre Capital Campaign, a campaign dedicated to extensive renovation of the 531-seat art deco theatre. In addition, through the generosity of Lyric Board Member Marcia P. Lane, an orchestra pit and stage rigging were added to the Strand facility. On December 5, 2008, The Strand Theatre, now known as "The Home of Atlanta Lyric Theatre," reopened to a sold-out performance of "Disney's Beauty and the Beast." Local theatre-goers embraced our partnership with The Strand, and, during the first season in our new home, our subscriber base increased by 200%.
Also in 2008, with the help of the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund, the Lyric implemented afive-year strategic plan outlining the organization's goals and aspirations. As we navigated through one of the largest economic downturns this country has ever experienced, The Lyric continued to thrive and expand its reach under that plan. We have recently updated that plan, and a case statement for support has been adopted by The Lyric Board.
Extended agreements have been, and are being, forged with the American Federation of Musicians union and Actors' Equity Association to ensure the level of professionalism and quality our audiences have come to expect. Our staff has grown to include five full-time employees and hundreds of actors, designers, technicians, and musicians. The annual budget has grown too, from just over $600,000 in 2007 to just under $1,000,000 in 2012. And, the subscriber and patron base has grown immensely, shattering all attendance records since the company's inception in 1980. The Lyric consistently leads in musical nominations at the Suzi Bass Awards, and, in 2010, won Best Musical for our production of "Hairspray."
The Atlanta Junior Lyric program continues to grow and flourish, providing opportunities for young aspiring artists to learn valuable skills through performance. Junior Lyric has taught dozens of students in the past five years through engaging productions of "Schoolhouse Rock, Live!," "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," "Annie, Junior," and this year's "Alice in Wonderland, Jr."
The Lyric has also helped scores of people both here at home and around the world through collections and donations to Atlanta's Project Open Hand, Broadway Cares: Equity Fights AIDS, and The American Red Cross relief effort for victims of the Japanese tsunami.
Five years. What a journey it has been! Always mindful of our roots as a Gilbert and Sullivan light opera company, we have truly witnessed the organization develop into a fully realized musical theatre company. After all these incredible achievements: the amazing shows, such as "The Will Rogers Follies," "Smokey Joe's Café," "The Sound of Music," "The Mikado," "Chita Rivera Live," "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Rent," and "Forty-Second Street," the fabulous artists, the incredible musicians, the talented technical crew, the dedicated staff, and the tireless commitment of our volunteers, one thing remains paramount in our vision-YOU. Our audience is the reason we exist, the reason we create, the reason we remain.
Thank you for an amazing five years. Through your support and patronage, may The Lyric continue on for many years to come!
Brandt Blocker, Artistic Director & General Manager