About 100 members of that community gathered at The Strand on Thursday to celebrate his personality and all he’s brought to the theater.
“There’s not a corner of The Strand that doesn’t have Earl in it,” said Cassi Costoulas, who will be taking his place as the newly-named general manager of the theater.
Reece gave Costoulas an apron with the Wonder Woman costume printed on it, saying “this is what you’ll be expected to do.” The room filled with laughter, but Reece yelled over the crowd, “It’s true.”
Reece officially retired from his position running the theater Thursday, but the theater’s namesake, Earl Smith, half-jokingly said he won’t allow it.
“We had an agreement between the two of us that whichever one left, the other would follow,” Smith said. “But I’m not ready to retire, so he’s not going to retire.”
Smith said he likes to phrase Reece’s decision to retire as “stepping back,” but he’ll still be around.
Reece said The Strand has become one of two loves of his life — the other is his wife, Terri.
Following a career directing theater at Pebblebrook High School, Reece came to The Strand when it reopened to the public following a grand renovation.
“A group of concerned citizens from Cobb County and Marietta spearheaded by Earl Smith got together the money to renovate, restore and reopen the theater,” Reece said.
Friends of The Strand, Inc. formed in 2002 and started the Bring Back The Strand campaign to raise $5 million to restore the theater. As part of the renovation, the stage was rebuilt, and two reception rooms, as well as a terrace on the roof, were added.
Reece said the building had become rundown from many varied uses since it was built in 1935. The building was a movie theater, a concert hall and a church at different times. Prior to the 2009 reopening, Reece said it had to be “gutted and rebuilt.”
Since the unveiling, Reece said The Strand has become a “cornerstone of the Square and Marietta.”
With the new building, Reece wanted to create a new community to support the arts in Marietta, and he succeeded. In its first year, the theater put on 300 events, which was far more than Reece’s goal of 100.
“It’s just been overwhelming the way the community has embraced us, that we would be able to meet every goal that we set for ourselves,” Reece said.
Smith said he had confidence in Reece, but he went beyond those expectations.
“He was able — much to my surprise — to walk in there and take these shows and put together local talent and do well at the box office,” Smith said.
After hundreds of events each year, Reece said it was hard to pick a favorite.
“There are just so many things that I look back on and say, ‘Gosh, that was so fun or such a wonderful event,’” Reece said.
After a teaching career that lasted 33 years and a seven-year stint at The Strand, Reece said he is now ready to retire.
He said he is retiring at the same time as his brother, Randy, and wife, and the three have plans to travel together.
Reece also had health problems six months ago when he learned his heart wasn’t functioning at full capacity. He said his heart is healthier now, and he wants to spend more time with his family than at work.
“I have — unmistakably — the best wife in the world,” Reece said. “We have been together 33 years, and without her, I would not have survived. She is that important to my health and well-being.”
Reece said his plan for the coming years of retirement is to forego all plans.
“I want every day of my life from now on to be like a snow day, where I can just wake up and do whatever I want,” Reece said.
Reece trained Costoulas for 17 years, so his legacy will continue. Reece taught Costoulas while he was director of the Cobb County Center for Excellence in the Performing Arts at Pebblebrook High School in south Cobb. Reece said Costoulas later interned at The Strand.
“It’s a feeling of pride to see someone that I’ve worked with all those years accomplish something like being the leader of The Strand,” Reece said.
Reece was a mentor to many who showed him their thanks by singing a custom version of the song “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent” at his farewell party Thursday.
Costoulas said she won’t lose touch with Reece, and she will put to use everything he has taught her.
“Earl Reece has always challenged me. He’s kind of seen my potential and seen things in me and challenged me to do them, which is what you want in a mentor,” Costoulas said.
Although she said she wants to continue “everything” Reece started at The Strand, Costoulas said she will also try new things.
She’s already started. The Strand will welcome its first national tour of the show “Menopause The Musical” from Jan. 13-18, she said. The show centers around a cast of four women who sing parodies of baby boomer-era music about women’s issues while shopping for lingerie at Bloomingdale’s.
“Marietta is becoming such a huge tourism city, so we want to make sure that we’re not just using local talent but bringing in people regionally and nationally, too,” Costoulas said.
Job: retiring executive director of The Strand Theatre
Born in: Marietta
Spouse’s name: Terri
Family: Randy Reece, brother
Degree: Bachelor’s in education from Georgia Southern
Job: general manager of The Strand Theatre
Born in: Marietta
Family: John and Cindi Costoulas of Marietta, parents
Degree: Bachelor’s in human services from Kennesaw State University