HERE WE ARE in 2017: a mid-sized city filled with an abundance of culture. But what is the current state of non-profit theatre in Savannah? How has it changed in the last decade and where will it be in the next?
Let’s break this down.
Many years ago, theatre in Savannah was fairly vibrant. Then the 2008 recession hit and some theatre companies were forced to close their doors. (Asbury Memorial Theatre Company and Savannah Children’s Theatre both remained strong.) Soon after 2008, the desire to create theatre in Savannah strengthened and new companies began to form.
In 2009, The Collective Face Theatre Ensemble was born. Then came The Bay Street Theatre company, Muse Arts Warehouse, Odd Lot Improv Comedy Troupe, SCAD’s newly structured Performing Arts department, Armstrong State University’s renovated theatre and new faculty members, Savannah Stage Company, Savannah Shakes, and, most recently, Savannah Repertory Theatre.
There are many more in the city’s surrounding areas. All of these groups perform throughout the year, each creating their own season.
Many of the theatre companies in town, such as The Collective Face, Odd Lot, and Savannah Shakes, performed at Muse Arts Warehouse, which is now closed. Within a year, four companies had to find other spaces to continue producing shows.
The Collective Face moved across town to Savannah State University. Odd Lot has moved into The Loft on Liberty above Savannah Coffee Roasters. Savannah Shakes recently used The Bay Street Theatre in Club One, which was originally built for drag shows.
Savannah Stage Company performed their second, third, and fourth seasons at Ampersand’s upstairs event space. Guess what? That’s gone, too.
Savannah Stage Company scrambled to find a makeshift location for the last two shows of their fourth season. At the beginning of their fifth season, they moved into The Space Station, a small event space attached to Starlandia Creative Supply.
The newest company in town, Savannah Rep, is leasing the building best known as Dollhouse Productions; they’ve agreed to share the space with other artists in town.
A new Cultural Arts Center is currently being built, but will it provide small, nonprofit theatres an adequate space in which to perform? Sure, but at a pretty hefty price. Lack of spaces is an issue, and it needs to be solved soon.
Theatre can build a sense of community—not only within the organization, but also within the very city in which it’s being produced. Lives can literally be changed through the power of storytelling.
How can an audience member or theatre company share, support, and sustain theatre in Savannah for many years to come?
Create and provide accessible spaces. Collaborate.
To continue theatre in Savannah, companies must intentionally reach out to one another and engage in conversations and share resources, personnel, and ideas. In addition to collaborating with other theatres, companies should also utilize other organizations, people, and businesses in town, including fine artists, scenic designers, graphic designers, seamstresses, etc.
Cast diverse actors to reflect and engage the different residents of Savannah.
More diverse casting can affect and empower many people to empathize and sympathize with the stories being told in theatrical form. Theatre is not reserved for a specific type of person, and our productions should inspire and engage various ages and demographics. Savannah is filled with all shapes, sizes, colors, and creeds. Let the power of theatre mirror that.
Create higher standards.
The definition of a professional is when someone is engaged in a specified activity as a paid occupation rather than as a pastime. Without standards, companies fail to provide and produce a level of professionalism. Professionalism doesn’t mean better—it just means you treat the process differently.
Bryan Pridgen, a founding member of Savannah Stage Company, says: “Paychecks are there to set a standard and to start a movement towards paying artists what they’re worth.”
Let’s do that! The wonderful actors, designers, and stage managers are worth it. Not all companies can afford to pay, and that’s okay: value artists’ time and commitment in other ways. When artists are treated with respect, audiences will be engaged on a different level.
Let’s also start a standard of unbiased reviews of all organizations. An honest assessment of what works and what doesn’t raises the level of expertise and creates a dialogue that encourages growth in the organization.
Invest in the organizations so the organizations can invest in you.
Donate, buy a ticket, bring a friend, join the “Theatre in Savannah” Facebook page, and engage. Without your support, theatre companies will close their doors. They depend on the excitement and dedication of the community they serve to survive.
When they see your beautiful faces at the performances, galas, and improv shows, they notice. After you invest in the companies, it’s up to the companies to invest in you.
To the companies: make theatre accessible and engage the community and share your stories, both on stage and off. Listen to the words on the page come to life and spread through the squares of Savannah.
Theatre has the responsibility and privilege to change the landscape in the Hostess City of the South. Let’s take on that challenge and fulfill its mission.