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HISTORY of Alliance theatre

1968 - 1978

The qualities that have come to define the Alliance Theatre were there from the very beginning. A spirit of community, a capacity for resilience, reinvention and a pursuit of The Big Idea. In its first decade, the Alliance Theatre opened, closed, reopened, merged, and changed its name. Three times.

MICHAEL HOWARD, Artistic Director, 1968 - 1970

"After the Orly crash, there was never any argument about what to do to honor the perished — everyone knew we had to build the arts center. The only question was whether or not Mr. Woodruff would give enough money to make it happen... In the beginning, it was a small board of directors for the Alliance that pulled together to make everything happen. I can remember making chili for fundraisers — 12 pots! We just really believed in it... The theater adds so many dimensions to one's life. It makes you feel equal to everyone. It enlarges one's view on life, and, if it's a good play, it leaves something that you remember that you'd never thought of before."  —Helen Regenstein, Founding member for the Municipal Theater Board of Trustees; Alliance Theatre Lifetime Board Member; Current season ticket holder

When the Atlanta Municipal Theater opened its doors on October 29, 1968, the first production on its newly-constructed stage at the Memorial Arts Center was a centuries-old work of theater so daunting in scale it had never been staged in North America. King Arthur brought nearly 300 actors, ballet dancers and opera singers from the Atlanta Municipal Theater's resident companies together for a lavish production the Atlanta Constitution called, "one of the most ambitious projects in America's new theater season." A few months later, the Atlanta Municipal Theater was bankrupt.

King Arthur featured a cast of 275, including a ballet company of 30, an opera company of 40, 25 speaking parts and 14 soloists.

DAVID BISHOP, Business Manager, Takes Over Artistic Leadership, 1970 - 1976

But the community that built a home for the arts came together again. Undaunted, the Arts Alliance opened its own theater, the Alliance Resident Theatre. By the end of the decade, the Alliance Resident Theatre had merged with the 50-year-old Atlanta Children's Theatre to become the Alliance Theatre Company under the artistic direction of Fred Chappell.

In 1973 the Atlanta Children's Theatre becomes part of the Atlanta Arts Alliance.

FRED CHAPPELL, Artistic Director, 1976 - 1985

1978 - 1988

The Alliance Theatre's second decade was marked by a series of "firsts." The Alliance Theatre School was founded in 1979, offering acting classes and programs for children and adults. Its founding signaled the Theatre's commitment to being a part of the next generation of Atlantans, building a more compassionate community.

During the 1984/85 season, the Alliance premiered local playwright Sandra Deer's work So Long on Lonely Street, which became the first of nine Alliance Theatre productions to go on to Broadway.

"In the early 80's, the Alliance Theatre, under Fred Chappell's artistic direction, was a leader in creating The Atlanta New Play Project which brought together all of Atlanta's professional theaters in a desire to develop and produce new work. My first play, "So Long on Lonely Street," first saw the light of day as part of that project. From there it premiered at the Alliance, in the Studio Theatre, then on the Mainstage, and went on to Boston and New York, all under the very fine direction of Kent Stephens. The legendary Cheryl Crawford was one of the producers. Alas, New York didn't love it like we had, but it was a thrilling time of fun and pride for all of us at the Alliance to see our work on Broadway." — Sandra Deer, Playwright

TIMOTHY NEAR*, Interim Artistic Director, 1986 - 1987

*Timothy Near was one of the first female artistic directors in American Regional Theatre.

Under the direction of Managing Director Edith Love and Interim Artistic Director Timothy Near, the Alliance became one of the first LORT theatres led by women.

ROBERT FARLEY, Artistic Director, 1987 - 1990

1988 - 1998

When Kenny directed August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone, it was the first August Wilson play on the Alliance's mainstage. The Alliance would go on to produce all ten of Wilson's history cycle plays.

KENNY LEON*, Artistic Director, 1990 - 2001

*When Kenny Leon was named Artistic Director, he became one of the first LORT African American Artistic Directors in the United States.

In 1990, Kenny Leon became the sixth Artistic Director of the Alliance Theatre. He was the Alliance's first African American Artistic Director, and one of the first African American Artistic Directors in United States theater. Under his leadership, the Alliance would begin to produce more work by artists of color, telling stories that truly reflected the diversity of the city around it.

The Alliance produced two world premieres by playwright, poet and author Pearl Cleage during this decade, Flyin' West in 1993 and Blues for an Alabama Sky in 1995. Blues remained in continuous production for the next two decades (and counting), including a remount on the Alliance Stage in 1996 as part of Atlanta's Olympic Arts Festival and a 20th anniversary production in 2015 directed by Susan V. Booth.

In 1997, the Alliance sent its second production to Broadway. Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo, commissioned and premiered by the Alliance, was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and four Tony Awards, winning for Best Play.

"The thing I remember most about the premiere production of Blues for an Alabama Sky, directed by Kenny Leon, was the opening scene the first night we had an audience. We were in the Hertz and the front row was very close to the set. When Phylicia Rashad as Angel made her very tipsy entrance with Mark Young as Guy and Gary Yates as Leland, she stumbled and almost fell in a well-choreographed move that she executed flawlessly. When she did, the people in the front row reached out to catch her, not realizing that nothing happens to Ms. Rashad on the stage that she does not intend to happen. But that involuntary gesture made me know they were with us. I thought to myself, we've got 'em! ... The thing I remember most about our recent revival of the play, directed by Susan Booth, was the first day the actors sat around the table and read the script aloud and they realized they were all at the top of their game. Their pleasure in the creative journey that was to come was like watching champion athletes realize they will have a chance to compete against their peers. At that moment, I knew they were going to do something amazing. And they did." —Pearl Cleage, Alliance Theatre Distinguished Playwright in Residence

1998 - 2008

Cue the spotlight. In its fourth decade, the Alliance walked onto the National Stage. Literally.

SUSAN V. BOOTH, Artistic Director, 2001 - Present

In 2007, Artistic Director Susan V. Booth stepped onto the stage at Radio City Music Hall to accept a Tony Award® for Regional Theatre on behalf of the Alliance, its artists and audience.

Susan was named Jennings Hertz Artistic Director in 2001, becoming one of the first women to lead a major theater company in the United States. Her vision for elevating new voices in American theater inspired many groundbreaking initiatives, including: the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition, a program that gives a world premiere to a student playwright and has helped launch the careers of Mike Lew, Kenneth Lin, Jiréh Breon Holder, Madhuri Shekar, Alix Sobler, and Academy Award® winner Tarell Alvin McCraney; and the Palefsky Collision Project for teens.

The Palefsky Collision Project for teens invites Atlanta area students to collide with a classic text and then create a new piece inspired by the classic work but perceived through their own utterly unique and contemporary prism.

The Alliance premiered three productions in this decade that went on to Broadway — Aida, The Color Purple, and Sister Act: A Divine Musical Comedy which entered the canon of American musicals and established the Alliance as a launching pad for Broadway-bound productions.

​ "I had only been to Atlanta once as a kid to visit family. Coming to work at the Alliance I didn't know what to expect. Working there fresh out of grad school prepared me for the world. The artistic staff, the technical support all treated me like a professional even though I was just a kid. The audiences there embraced me as an Artist with a capital A. I've been back to Atlanta many times as an adult and each time its to visit family, that family at the Alliance." —Tarell Alvin McCraney, Playwright

2008 - 2018

The Alliance Theatre had long been home to stories of transformation — and now, the Theatre itself was about to be transformed.

Off stage, more and more young audiences were finding a home at the Alliance and finding the Alliance closer to home: in their classrooms, in every Atlanta public school, in over 50 counties throughout the state of GA, and in summer camp programs located across metro Atlanta. The Alliance applied theater strategies in the business world as well—developing more emotionally intelligent, dynamic, and compassionate business leaders.

The Alliance Theatre Education Department puts a focus on literacy and social emotional learning.

In 2011, under the guidance of Rosemary Newcott, Sally G. Tomlinson Director of Theatre for Youth and Families, the Alliance launched the Kathy & Ken Bernhardt Theatre for the Very Young in 2011, developing professional theatre for its youngest audience members, children ages 0-5 and their caregivers. Programs like these welcomed more than 90,000 children and their families annually to meet theater — and each other — with curiosity, compassion, and joyful discovery.

On stage, the Alliance sent three more productions to Broadway and collaborated with artists who found the Alliance and its audiences to be a giving home for new work and untested ideas. Twyla Tharp. Stephen King. John Mellencamp. Barry Manilow. Pearl Cleage. Lin-Manuel Miranda. Tom Kitt. Janece Shaffer. Natasha Tretheway. Kristian Bush. Casey Nicholaw.

"As a creator there is no better regional theater to work at than the Alliance, and so much of it has to do with the staff and the audiences. The passion and enthusiasm that the people who work there show for new works is unparalleled — it is a wonderful atmosphere to be able to create in with savvy audiences to try out new material with." —Casey Nicholaw, Director

The Alliance also established the Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab, which provides developmental resources for three performance projects annually, to continue developing new works by Atlanta-based artists.

The Alliance was a place where 'What if?' was met with a lean forward, not a step back.

That visionary spirit was there when Susan Booth asked the Alliance's Board of Directors, "What if we had a theatre worthy of the art on its stage?" And it was there when the Board, the patrons, and the Atlanta community leaned forward, stepped in and linked arms to build something entirely new. Thus, the Coca-Cola Stage.