Christopher Dills, managing director of Next Stage Theatre Co., sent Tumlin and Tom Browning, chairman of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority, an email Sunday expressing his concerns that one theater may be getting preferential treatment from the city. He wants to know why his act has received little applause from city officials who are quick to hand out public funds to another group.
“You may not be aware, but the facility that housed Theatre in the Square’s Alley Stage has been producing quality live theatrical events for nearly a year,” Dills wrote.
A second theater company, Young Actors Playhouse, recently moved into the main stage area that used to be the home of Theatre in the Square as well, Dills said.
“I applaud your dedication to the arts and to the beneficial impact that the arts can bring to the City of Marietta and its historic square,” Dills wrote in his email. “I do not applaud the apparent disregard to the other performing arts businesses in the city, in particular, the other theatre companies located along the square and their impact and contribution to the cultural and economic diversity and prosperity that make the Marietta Square such a popular destination in metropolitan Atlanta.”
Three acts in one venue
There are three theater companies now operating out of the two connected buildings owned by Councilman Philip Goldstein that formerly served as the home of Palmer Wells’ Theatre in the Square.
Theatre in the Square closed in March 2012 because of financial problems. It occupied the 125-seat Alley Stage and a larger 225-seat main stage building.
Next Stage Theatre Co. moved into the Alley Stage in August. Dills said they use 96 seats in the Alley Stage now and pay Goldstein $2,600 a month in rent for the privilege.
They also sublease the space to yet another theater company called Out of Box Theatre during their down time.
At the beginning of this month, another theater company, Young Actors Playhouse, moved into the main 225-seat stage of the old Theatre in the Square building. Young Actors Playhouse owner and founder Don Goodner of Canton said he is in negotiations with Goldstein to lease the space for three years.
“While we do not provide the volume of patrons and visitors to the square that the Atlanta Lyric Theatre provides, nor the monetary influx, we are just as important and deserve to not be ignored by the City of Marietta, which we have chosen to call home,” Dills wrote to Tumlin. “I would encourage you to consider that change is a good thing and to consider the other, smaller theatre companies who are contributing to the rich environment of the Marietta Square.”
Like Next Stage Theatre, Goodner said his Young Actors Playhouse doesn’t receive any funding from the city.
“We have just moved in and we’re still in the process of introducing ourselves to the political world of Marietta, and we have gotten the application in for the grants that come in from the tourism,” Goodner said. “We’re looking over them and making sure we have all our ‘t’s’ crossed and ‘i’s’ dotted. Seeking government funds, that would be extra money that we would use to put on better shows. It’s not anything we need in order to survive.”
To profit or not to profit
Tumlin said the reason the city provides groups like the Strand and the Lyric money from the auto rental tax, but not the Next Stage Theatre Co., is that the Lyric and Strand are nonprofits, whereas the Next Stage Theatre Co. is a for-profit company.
“It’s the for-profit that made us shy away,” Tumlin said.
If the city began giving auto rental tax collection money to for-profit groups, it would open it up to every restaurant in town, he said.
“If that was the case, the pizza place brings in more people than anyone around,” Tumlin said. “The for-profit, it just taints it. Sally Macaulay (executive director of the Marietta/Cobb Museum of Art), her sole purpose is promoting the arts, not to have a big bottom line.”
Dills and Goodner said they are at work forming nonprofits for their theater companies.
Last week the Atlanta Lyric Theatre, the resident musical theater company for the 531-seat Earl Smith Strand Theatre, announced it was leaving the Strand because it could not agree to the financial terms of a renewed lease.
In response, Tumlin and Browning proposed that the city and Development Authority sponsor five musical shows that the Lyric intends to produce this season.
The city would send that sponsorship money to the Friends of the Strand, the nonprofit that governs the multi-use performing arts and events facility. That money would in turn allow the Strand to reduce the Lyric’s rental payments and keep the theater company on the Square.
Brandt Blocker, the Lyric’s artistic director and general manager, said his board agreed to accept the mayor’s proposal. Tumlin said he’s waiting to hear from the Strand board, his own City Council and the Development Authority to approve the deal on the table.