I arrived in Atlanta on Sunday January 5th and took the MARTA train into midtown. Easy, fast, cheap and clean. I was immediately thrown into the Alliance Theatre’s production of The Geller Girls, finishing the clothes needed for tech rehearsals. Costumes are designed by Linda Roethke. The play is about two sisters (one a dressmaker), their father who runs an emporium/dry goods store, his wife (stepmother to the girls) and a young suitor who works in the dry goods store. The play takes place during the 1895 Cotton Exposition held here in Atlanta's Piedmont Park, just blocks from the theatre.
The Alliance Theatre costume shop has a staff of 13-15. Carol Hammond is the Shop Manager and she is also the assistant costume designer for the main stage productions. Everyone is highly skilled. In this smaller shop scenario, everyone has to pull their weight and then some. They all cross over into costume crafts, working on everything from millinery to leather. What I find impressive is how fast they switch gears. So far I have only been a "sous" stitcher. I'm not sure that I will build anything. The cutters seem to do all the major construction. Not having to translate for the stitchers saves time. They pattern, cut, stitch and do most of their own R & D.
During my first week, temperatures dropped into the single digits at night with a negative wind chill factor. The temperature stayed below freezing for 60 hours, then up to 60 degrees for a day followed by a flash flood warning and tornado warning. All within 7 days. And we thought Oregon was unpredictable!
The Alliance has two stages. The main stage seats over 700 with a balcony. They are going to remodel and reduce the house size to reduce royalties. The smaller space is The Hertz, a black box theatre that seats 200.
The Geller Girls tech was challenging. Various issues with the set could not be resolved before the end of tech rehearsals and we only got to do one run through in costumes before the evening preview. That would be incredibly stressful for a dresser at OSF, but the Alliance presents more preview performances than OSF does, which allows for more time to solve problems. At the top of the OSF season, three plays are teching, dress rehearsing, previewing and opening in rotating rep, so the sets are constantly shifting on and off stage. At the Alliance, the set of the current show is always on stage so crews can work things out in the afternoon.
I had the opportunity to attend the Alliance’s Company Call and learned of their plan to remodel both the public and backstage spaces. I wonder how OSF could ever remodel or upgrade the Bowmer without shutting down for a season? The Alliance plans to continue performing in The Hertz while producing main stage shows in various venues around the city (ah, remember the Bowmer Tent?*) I was so surprised and delighted by this solution. If only OSF had those opportunities. My artisan exchange is making me realize just how challenging the OSF environment is. We're like Galapagos turtles: we have adapted to our closed-off environment to be our own breed.
The Alliance is unique (at least to me) in that it is part of a larger arts organization. The Woodruff Arts Center is the umbrella for The High Museum of Art, The Atlanta Symphony and The Alliance Theatre. I think this brings a sense of calm to the work because there's someone to catch you if you fall. The Woodruff Center provides IT, Box Office, Custodial and Building Maintenance and there are challenges when those shared resources do not serve The Alliance’s specific needs and vision.
Woodruff Arts Center
High Museum of Art
I have noticed that drivers really like to honk their horns in Atlanta! Not the "Hey be careful" horn, but the "Hey you're in my way and I don't care if it's not your fault" horn. Otherwise people are very friendly and polite. But they will run you over, so watch out!
Next weekend I plan to take a backstage tour of The Fox Theatre, a beautiful old road house. So few remain. Then maybe the Georgia Aquarium. I must see the Botanical Gardens before I leave too. Too many restaurants so little time.
*The Bowmer Tent was a temporary performance venue erected when OSF’s Bowmer Theatre was unexpectedly closed for emergency repairs.