The Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab program announced by the Alliance Theatre on Thursday grew out of a series of national feedback sessions in which individual theater artists were asked by leaders of the country’s largest cultural institutions, well, what they wanted.
The answers came “loud and clear,” said Alliance artistic director Susan Booth, especially when she brought home the idea for the national dialogue initiated by the theater service organization Theatre Communications Group and focused it on Atlanta.
The Alliance heard that the metro area’s theater artists yearned for an artistic home, wanted to be welcomed into the Alliance "whether we're on the payroll or not,” yet cherished their independence and the opportunity to create work with fellow artists of their choosing.
The final piece of feedback, though, was Booth’s favorite: “We want to know what the heck goes on in there.”
For all the local talent it taps every season, the Alliance, like other divisions of the Woodruff Arts Center, the nonprofit that so dominates Atlanta’s arts funding, is used to individual artists and smaller groups enviously gazing up at it like it's a castle rising behind a deep moat.
The Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab may not permanently alter the perception of theatrical haves and have-nots, but it will create partnerships, three per year, between the city’s largest stage and small artist groups.
A sign of the theater community’s buy-in is in the response to the open call the Alliance extended for Atlanta artists to submit developmental works for consideration of the Artists Lab’s first round of support. Expecting a handful of applications, the Alliance received 68, representing 204 artists.
A panel of five judges, including Booth and Alliance playwright in residence Pearl Cleage, selected three teams. Each is benefiting from Alliance resources in varied forms — monetary ($10,000 to further develop the works-in-progress), expert talent (the chance to tap the troupe’s artistic, educational and production staffs) and physical (spaces to rehearse and stage the works)..
The trio of initial winning projects will be given showcase presentations, free to the public, Aug. 8-9 on the Alliance’s Hertz Stage.
Here are the shows and their creators:
- "The Projects Project," a performance piece (spoken word, visual images, music and dance) built around true stories of people who grew up in the “war zone” of the Atlanta housing projects. Developed by Ellen McQueen with consultants James Knowles and Oliver Turner. Performance: 7 p.m. Aug. 8.
- "Moxie," following the life-impacting journey of a handmade book made by a Marine, who is killed while serving in Afghanistan, as a gift for his son. Developed by writers Brian Kurlander and Lane Carlock in collaboration with directing and dramaturge consultant Elisa Carlson. 1 p.m. Aug. 9.
- "Uprising," by Gabrielle Fulton, a show reflecting on liberty, self-determination and sacrifice in a free black community in secession-era America. 8 p.m. Aug. 9.
Reservations are requested via 404-733-5000 or www.alliancetheatre.org.
"This is not a revenue-producing project," Booth said, "this is an investment in our local artist community."
Still, she characterized the Artists Lab's impetus as being "more (about) self-interest than benevolence."
The Alliance, which presents 11 plays a year, is not only interested in identifying worthy new work to stage but emerging talent it can collaborate with in the future.
Giving the winning projects initial stagings (much more than a reading, but far from full) , however, is the first priority.
"Our goal is that these amazing artists find lucrative, supportive, producing homes for their work," she said.
As the Artists Lab organizer, the Alliance gets the right of first refusal.
"In my heart of hearts, I hope there's a blood bath," Booth joked. "I hope (Theatrical Outfit producing artistic director) Tom Key and I are punching each other in the jaw, fighting over work that comes out of the lab."
Support for its launch year was provided by the David, Helen and Marian Woodward Fund, the Charles Loridans Foundation, the Mark and Evelyn Trammell Foundation and the Woodruff Arts Center.
Booth announced Thursday that an undisclosed gift from long-time Atlanta arts patrons Margaret and Bob Reiser will keep the program going in perpetuity.
In fact, the Reiser Atlanta Artists Lab will begin accepting applications for its 2014-15 round at the end of this month, when submission information will be posted on the Alliance's website. Deadline: Oct. 15.