Horizon Theatre tweaks mission to focus on community
Little Five Points ensemble announces a top-notch season and commissions three new plays by Atlanta writers
Like most businesses and arts groups, Horizon Theatre in Little Five Points has been reckoning with the effects of a withered economy. After a couple years of soul-searching, belt-tightening and aggressive fund-raising, the 27-year-old ensemble has decided to go back to the basics: Connecting with the community and producing stellar new plays by local and national writers.
Housed in the old yellow-brick school house at the corner of Austin and Euclid avenues and managed by the husband-and-wife team of Jeff and Lisa Adler, Horizon has commissioned new plays by Atlanta playwrights Suehyla El-Attar, Thomas W. Jones II and the comedy team of Larry Larson and Eddie Levi Lee.
El-Attar, author of 2006’s “A Perfect Prayer,” is creating a script inspired by Warren St. John’s national best-seller, “Outcasts United,” which chronicles Clarkston’s community of soccer-playing refugee kids. Jones, a nationally known playwright and co-founder of Atlanta’s now-defunct Jomandi Productions, will pen “Sheddin’ ” — a story about the African-American male tradition of practicing jazz in a backyard shed. And the venerated Larson and Lee (“Charm School”) will serve up “The Waffle Chronicles,” based on a popular eggs-and-hash browns joint you may have heard about.
While those world premieres are in development, Horizon has announced a 2011 season that includes the first locally produced staging of the zany puppet musical “Avenue Q,” Lynn Nottage’s “Ruined” (winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for drama) and “Superior Donuts” (the latest play by “August: Osage County” author Tracy Letts). Also on the calendar are “Legacy of Light,” a time-traveling comedy by Karen Zacarias, and the return of “Three Sistahs,” Jones’ blues/pop music riff on the Chekhov classic that was a Horizon hit back in 2006.
These are the kinds of prestigious titles you might expect to get scooped up by a larger playhouse like the Woodruff Arts Center’s Alliance Theatre. “To get the rights to ‘Avenue Q’ and ‘Ruined’ was a really big deal for us,” Lisa Adler says.
“Superior Donuts,” which opens Horizon’s season Feb. 25, will precede the Alliance’s high-profile staging of Letts’ Pulitzer Prize winner, “August: Osage County” (April 13-May 8). Atlanta favorite Chris Kayer, known for his 13 seasons of playing Scrooge at the Alliance, will be featured in both Letts plays.
Since the economic collapse of 2008, Horizon has been tweaking its mission and its financial operations. A midsize theater with an annual budget of about $1 million, Horizon has never carried an accumulated deficit, Adler says, but it has struggled. To shore up the gap, it has trimmed expenses, scrapped its costly annual gala and sought out individual donations. The strategy seems to be working: the theater has grown its bank of individual donors from about 400 in 2007 to about 900 today.
In 2009 and 2010, Horizon received $75,000 in grants from the Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund. That funding allowed the theater “to continue business as usual" and avoid drastic cuts, Adler says.
“We have sort of gone back to the basics of trying to be the best we can be at what we do and look for ways to please our customer and make better relationships with those customers,” Adler says.
Part of that strategy has meant targeting new audiences. Traditionally known for producing smart contemporary adult fare, the theater recently added a children’s component. It plans to make “Madeline’s Christmas” a holiday staple (alongside the long-running David Sedaris hit “The Santaland Diaries) and stage a summer show for families.
“We are all struggling to figure out what the income models are that might support us for the future,” Adler says, “and looking and trying to reinvent patronage.”
For complete details about Horizon’s 2011 season, go to horizontheatre.com.