A Death-Counterfeiting Sleep for Georgia Shakespeare Company

The Atlanta cultural scene was dealt a huge blow today. The Georgia Shakespeare Company announced it was ceasing operations after a 29-year run due to “substantial financial deficiencies.”

In a statement, the theater company said its board voted unanimously to cease operations.

Board chairman Daniel Norris:

While we were heartened by a strong wave of moral support, the reality is that we were unable to secure the funds required to create a sustainable path forward.  Consequently, we came to the sad conclusion that we needed to cease operations. We apologize to our patrons for having to cancel Henry V and Panto, and we thank all our loyal supporters who have backed us so generously over the past 29 years.

It would appear Atlanta is at a bit of a crossroads. The ASO, a symphony that would be a crown jewel for any city, has to rely on 5,000 subscribers in a city of more than 5 million and the organization’s woes are well known. A great theater company that was an anchor can’t survive. If this is the new trend for the city we can give up being a dynamic world-class city.

The full statement is below.

Georgia Shakespeare Ceases Operations


29-Year Atlanta Professional Theatre Unable to Secure Necessary Funding

October 8, 2014, Atlanta, GA –With deep regret, the Georgia Shakespeare board of trustees voted unanimously to cease operations, given the theatre company’s substantial financial deficiencies.  The action includes the cancellation of the production of Holiday Panto planned for December, as well as ending the employment of remaining staff.

In September, the company cancelled its October production of Henry V, and said it would evaluate the future direction of Georgia Shakespeare in consultation with its long-time supporters and key members of the Atlanta funding community.

“While we were heartened by a strong wave of moral support, the reality is that we were unable to secure the funds required to create a sustainable path forward.  Consequently, we came to the sad conclusion that we needed to cease operations,” said board chairman Daniel Norris.  “We apologize to our patrons for having to cancel Henry V and Panto, and we thank all our loyal supporters who have backed us so generously over the past 29 years.”

Despite the financial challenges, Georgia Shakespeare delivered some of its most notable accomplishments in 2014.  More than 5,800 people attended its production of As You Like It at Piedmont Park in just five days, with 1,642 people setting a single-show attendance record.  During the critically acclaimed production of the British comedy One Man, Two Guvnors, the company also attracted its first sell-out of the expansive Conant Theater in many years.

“We made great progress in recent years in creating a sustainable business model, but our lack of operating capital made us extremely fragile financially,” said Jennifer Bauer-Lyons, Managing Director.  “Many people have fought heroically to enable Georgia Shakespeare to keep producing world-class theatre with great local artists, but ultimately we were not able to attract the operating capital required for us to operate as a healthy organization.”

Georgia Shakespeare was founded in 1986 as a summer festival.  Over the years, it developed as one of Atlanta’s most prominent cultural institutions, operating as one of two LORT theatres (along with the Alliance Theatre).   The company focused on “timeless stories now,” with contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare serving as the core of its programming.

“We believe this is a huge loss for Atlanta, given the critical role Georgia Shakespeare has played in the city’s cultural ecosystem,” said Norris.  “We would encourage all Atlantans to fight vigilantly to support their favorite local professional theatres and arts organizations.”

Patrons who have previously purchased tickets to Panto should check Georgia Shakespeare’s website for further information.

Co-founder and Producing Artistic Director Richard Garner expressed appreciation to Georgia Shakespeare supporters.  “I am indebted to the artists, staff, board, funders and ticket buyers who made up Georgia Shakespeare over 29 years.   Together we created a body of work of which we can all be proud and I feel very optimistic that the legacy of this theatre company will live on through the work of GS artists and staff members who continue to flourish throughout the rest of the Atlanta cultural community.”



  1. Jon Lester says:

    Too many people of influence actually don’t like much in the way of arts and culture, and would be perfectly happy if the entire corridor from Atlanta to Charlotte looked like one big Alpharetta. Some such people are also in Clarke County government, so even Athens can’t take quality of life matters for granted.

      • Jon Lester says:

        I name Alpharetta as but one example of a thousand places with very little visible local color, and Alpharetta itself isn’t the blandest of the bunch, but I think some of you get what I mean.

  2. Charlie says:

    So this is where we stab ourselves, then the GA Shakesspeare Company wakes up from what was only really a deep sleep, then they stab themselves because we’re dead. Right?

      • NoTeabagging says:

        We are such stuff
        As dreams are made on, and our little life
        Is rounded with a sleep.
        The Tempest (4.1.168-170)

    • Dave Bearse says:

      Speaking of sleep and death…

      To be, or not to be, that is the question—
      Whether ’tis Nobler in the mind to suffer
      The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune,
      Or to take Arms against a Sea of troubles,
      And by opposing, end them? To die, to sleep—
      No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
      The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
      That Flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation
      Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep,
      To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there’s the rub,
      For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
      When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
      Must give us pause.

      Having given a billionaire, and the company led by a billionaire that is among the largest landowers in the US, each a few hundred million, we’ll have the two newest stadiums in the US for all of couple of years going for us.

      • Baker says:

        “Having given a billionaire, and the company led by a billionaire that is among the largest landowers in the US, each a few hundred million, we’ll have the two newest stadiums in the US for all of couple of years going for us.”

        Amen Brother.

    • Harry says:

      Edit: Sorry, I was thinking about the Atlanta Shakespeare Theatre, one-half block north of the Peachtree-Pine shelter. I don’t know how those folks survive either.

        • Harry says:

          To whom do you refer, the shelter or the theater? They’re both having survival problems. If you mean the shelter, then I’m sure you’re making a joke – that place is hardly a ton of fun – the homeless live like animals on the surrounding streets, just waiting all day to get a warm meal and maybe a place to sleep. George or somebody should be there for 24 hours and do a piece like he did at Grady.

          • Baker says:

            I definitely advocate for a Chidi piece on Peachtree-Pine. Creative Loafing has done some great work there but a 24 hour Chidi take would be pretty awesome.

          • MattMD says:

            What, you don’t have the stones to do it? Stunning.

            You sure seem to have plenty of time to post here and I’d put up the money to hire an editor if you decided to go through with it.

            • Harry says:

              I do have the stones. Put up some money for a bodyguard and hire George for my editor. Actually I’d like to be there on election day to film the county workers on county time handing out cartons of cigarettes and walking around money, and the buses loading up and heading out to polling places.

  3. MattMD says:

    To the post, I’d say that Atlanta has a long ways to go before being referred to as a “world-class” city. There are more than a few rust-belt cities which blow Atlanta away in cultural attractions.

    The ASO subscriber base does seem low considering our regional population.

    • Ed says:

      But would you go to Buffalo or Youngstown or Erie or any of the others? Can you even get to them easily? And TBH, sure the Cleveland Symphony is fantastic and some would say better than the ASO. Fine. But on the whole, any Rust Belt city that has one cultural attraction that is superior to Atlanta’s can’t compete with everything Atlanta has.

    • NoTeabagging says:

      The ASO story is yet to be fully told. The ASO is under the management of the Woodruff Arts Center (WAC), which also houses the Alliance Theatre and the High Museum of Art. Rumors abound that the WAC has mismanaged debt, donations, and assets. Possible “conflicts of interest” deals are emerging between the WAC and its board members, who happen to get business form the WAC instead of using non-board member related businesses to provide these services.

      The ASO musicians salaries are only $10 million a year, %25 of the total $37-40 million dollar budget. The WAC is asking musicians to continue taking a pay cut to make up for the approximate annual deficit of $2M. All eyes are on the WAC to explain why they cannot cut this amount for the other %75 of the budget rather than the core product.
      The musicians took a pay cut, averaging $14,000 each, during the last contract negotiations. They are asking the WAC to fulfill their promise to raise funds and restore the musicians pay to a competitive salary. As I understand it, the musicians are asking for a modest raise that will phase in over the new contract and it is still less that what they lost in the last contract.
      They also want more for the increased health plan costs, otherwise any pay raise is wiped out and the musicians will actually make less.
      Another sticking point, the musicians want control over keeping the size of the core orchestra and replacing musicians that leave. The musicians fear the management will keep the core size too small if the WAC has control.

      The ASO has tried creative approaches to get season subscribers. Patrons can pick their choice of concerts to receive a season discount. The ASO has also added new works by contemporary composers in an effort to attract younger patrons. Unfortunately, it is not all about ticket sales. The bad PR generated from the last contract lockout soured many patrons that would normally make extra donations. The public is showing great support for the musicians but not the WAC. Can the ASO/WAC management regain the public trust to increase giving and financial support? That is the question.

      • Harry says:

        The ASO musicians have had no respect for decades from the board and management. They are under-compensated and constantly being released well before their expiration date for younger personnel. As you say, the board insiders have been playing games with choice of vendors. I’d like to see a comparison of ASO budget expense categories compared to other symphony companies around the country. I imagine musician salaries in major cities are typically a lot more than 25% of the budgets.

          • NoTeabagging says:

            Jump to point 3.c. in the link below.
            “We have learned that, on average, 40% of the total budget of U.S. symphony orchestras goes to players’ salaries and benefits. The figure last year for the ASO was 25%. Clearly the ASO has become administratively top-heavy with no measurable benefit from the standpoint of the financial health of the Symphony itself. 75% is a MASSIVE overhead and it needs to be asked whether reducing the size of the administrative staff would free up sufficient funds to help pay musicians salaries and benefits.”
            You can read the entire plea to the community for support and a summary of the ASO negotiations here.
            This is one of many articles circulating that now show the Woodruff Arts Center management has manipulated the ASO and fabricated their debt.

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