GTA Southern Stage
‘Red Letter Jesus’
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18; 2:30 p.m. Oct. 21
‘Gospel of John’
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 and 21
Where: Sylvia Beard Theatre, 2200 Buford Highway, Buford.
Tickets: Purchase online at gainesvilletheatrealliance.org or by calling the box office at 678-717-3624.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to notice the abundance of stage talent and theater groups in Northeast Georgia. From award-winning high school programs to standout community theaters, Hall County and the surrounding area is chock full of good performers.
And it is about to get a little better.
The city of Buford has recently collaborated with the Gainesville Theatre Alliance for a new endeavor aiming to boost the cultural appeal of South Hall County. In turn, it could also boost the economic standing by bringing in entertainment dollars from neighboring counties.
The new venture will be collectively known as GTA-Southern Stage, calling Buford home. Specifically, the new Sylvia Beard Theatre, built in conjunction with the city’s community center.
The Gainesville Theatre Alliance, which has won several national awards for its productions and service to the community, is known to many in Northeast Georgia as the place to go for quality, entertaining performances. The GTA is a partnership effort between Gainesville State College and Brenau University that considers itself the area’s professional company. The GTA is responsible for producing several up-and-coming performers, set designers, artistic directors and costume designers — some who have come cross-country to participate.
Jim Hammond, GTA’s artistic and managing director, describes the new Buford Community Center and Theatre as an extraordinary achievement creating the potential for outstanding work.
"The development of a professional company division (Southern Stage) of GTA has been in the plans for years. What accelerated its birth was the construction of Buford’s Sylvia Beard Theatre and the city’s offer to host the company," Hammond said.
From our first meeting, city leaders made it clear that they wanted productions of the highest quality, and that’s exactly what GTA-Southern Stage has in store."
Hammond had the opportunity to tour the space in February and subsequent meetings with city officials, he says, shaped the vision for GTA Southern Stage.
The new facility is also something to get excited about.
"The Sylvia Beard Theatre is brilliant in its classic design and state-of-the-art technology, and at 270 seats, audiences have an intimate connection with the performers," Hammond said.
Hammond says it is his understanding that the facility will be available for many groups, including youth and community theater.
"GTA Southern Stage’s purpose in the facility is to serve as the resident professional theater not only producing outstanding work, but also providing workshops and additional training for artists of all levels," he said.
With the significant support of Gainesville State College — soon to be part of the University of North Georgia — and Brenau University, Hammond notes, GTA is uniquely qualified to establish a "dynamic, professional company."
The plan for Southern Stage is to grow in three phases. The inaugural season, and phase one, will bring acclaimed stage actor Brad Sherrill to Buford with his one-man shows "The Gospel of John" and "Red Letter Jesus" presented in repertory.
Sherrill, a member of Georgia Shakespeare’s acting ensemble, has earned critical acclaim with more than 600 performances throughout the U.S. and Europe.
The rest of the season will include "The 7-Shot Symphony," story-telling to live country music set in the Wild West and performed by Live Action Set, and "In Acting Shakespeare," actor James DeVita’s autobiographical story of his inspiring transformation from a New Jersey longshoreman to an award-winning Shakespearean actor. The GTA Repertory Company will also perform at GTA-Southern Stage in March.
Phase two of Southern Stage will begin in April with the first locally produced show, Alfred Hitchcock’s "The 39 Steps," which Hammond says is attracting actors from all over the country.
And eventually with phase three, there will be a coordination of all of GTA’s performance venues — Buford’s Sylvia Beard Theatre, Brenau’s Hosch Theatre and Pearce Auditorium, Gainesville State’s Ed Cabell Theatre and the Georgia Mountains Center Theatre — with the rest of the arts and business community. That effort, Hammond says, will allow convention and visitors bureaus to sell Gainesville, Buford and the Lake Lanier area as a leading cultural destination in the Southeast.
"This is exciting news for residents and visitors in Northeast Georgia," said Gladys Wyant, executive director of The Arts Council Inc. "Gainesville-Hall County arts organizations have long been known to produce and present quality theatrical and musical productions. To add the consistency of an ongoing professional theater company under the Gainesville Theatre Alliance wing will complement our other local theatrical and art organizations and programs and bring more tourists to our area for a great experience in the arts of Northeast Georgia."
The future of the Southern Stage one day will encompass a larger effort.
"With Brenau University acquiring the Georgia Mountains Center, that opens the opportunity in the future for performances on the Gainesville square in the theater where GTA was born," Hammond said. "That work will be called GTA Main Street. We would be sharing that venue with the Georgia Mountain Players."
He also hopes to coordinate efforts with Atlanta-based companies.
"We’re eager to partner and support the wonderful work of Atlanta’s theater community and are already working on collaborative projects," he said. "The Aurora Theatre has done remarkable work in Lawrenceville and we look forward to being a good neighbor in Gwinnett County. Great theater breeds great theater."
Asked how he would explain the huge interest in theater in Northeast Georgia, Hammond wasn’t shy about crediting Gainesville State and Brenau University.
"These two institutions have a long history of an extraordinary commitment to the arts," he said. "Neither school has a football team, and they support this nationally-acclaimed theater program the way most universities support their athletic programs."
The miracle of the 1979 decision of the two colleges to create one theater program serves as a proud symbol of our community’s ability to work together for extraordinary results. GTA has also benefitted by the growth of outstanding high school theater programs throughout Northeast Georgia."