Even as our economy sinks deeper into recession, theater arts in and around Gwinnett County appear to be weathering the storm. Theater groups are maintaining their audiences, which is perhaps telling of the quality of shows presented on Gwinnett's stages. In celebration of the county's theater arts, these are the groups that bring incredible stories to life before audiences through the hard work of talented people both in front of and behind the stage curtains.
From a converted hardware store in Duluth to a beautifully renovated 100-year-old church in Lawrenceville, the Aurora Theatre has come a long way since it was established in 1996 as a for-profit subsidiary of Stage Right Entertainment, owned by Philip and Sharon Albert and John and Barbara Scott.
Stage Right Entertainment was dissolved in 1998. In January 1999, the Aurora Theatre became a nonprofit organization and opened its current home in Lawrenceville in May 2007.
The Aurora Theatre produces a six-show subscription series yearly. In its first year in Lawrenceville, 30,000 patrons attended that season's series. Today, the theater boasts 3,000 season ticket holders, and audiences are drawn from 221 different cities in 107 different counties.
Upcoming shows: "Corpse!" runs through Feb. 8 and "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams from March 5 to April 5.
· 128 Pike St., Lawrenceville
· Anthony Rodriguez, producing artistic director
Mary Carolyn Conti was carpooling to a theater performance in Atlanta with a friend when the idea for Button Theatre was born.
"Sitting in traffic on I-285 one day, we decided there needed to be more professional theater in Gwinnett County," Conti said, adding that the more the two friends discussed the idea, the more they thought it could be them who started something.
Button Theatre's first production, "Godspell," opened in July 2006.
"From there, it just sort of took off," Conti said.
Button Theatre has grown from one show to four planned productions for 2009.
Upcoming show: "Nunsense" by Dan Goggin from April 9 to 26.
· Performances are given at the Hudgens Center for the Arts Black Box Theatre, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Building 300, Duluth
· Mailing address: 5384 Sugar Ridge Drive, Sugar Hill, GA 30518
· Mary Carolyn Conti, artistic director
ART Station is one of the oldest theater organizations operating in the area today. The nonprofit was founded in 1986 by David Thomas, who serves as artistic director, along with five of his college friends.
ART Station's first production - "From My Grandmother's Grandmother Unto Me" - was directed by Thomas and written and performed by Clarinda Ross. The play was performed in a rented theater in Atlanta.
ART Station made its permanent home in a 1913 trolley car barn in Stone Mountain Village, and its name is derived from a photograph caption "Atlanta Rapid Transit," which was shortened to the acronym ART in ART Station.
Upcoming show: "Tea at Five" by Matthew Lombardo from Feb. 20 to March 8.
· 5384 Manor Drive, Stone Mountain
· David Thomas, artistic director
County Seat Players
County Seat Players, based in Lawrenceville, was founded in 1993, producing several plays and musicals each year.
Artistic Director Linda Place said County Seat Players hopes to make the Aurora Theatre Discovery Point Stage its permanent home and is looking for business sponsorships to meet that end.
"Our goal is to be there," Place said of the Aurora. "It's a fabulous site."
Attendance for County Seat Players' performances averages 300 to 350 people during the single-weekend runs. The group hopes to expand its offerings to shows that run three weekends.
Upcoming show: "Harvey" from March 12 to 15.
· Performances are given at the Aurora Theatre, 128 Pike St., Lawrenceville
· Linda Place, artistic director
and board president
New London Theatre
An all-volunteer community theater that produces eight shows a year and two talent competitions, New London got its start in 1999 after founder Kirk Buis and his family were involved in a production with Snellville United Methodist Church.
"I decided Snellville needed something like that (production) more often," Buis said. So the South Gwinnett High School drama teacher - Buis taught drama there for 15 years - started the Snellville-based theater group, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary this summer with performances of its first production, "Charlotte's Web."
"The major thing that we've been able to accomplish is getting our own place," Buis said. "That's a major step for any community theatre."
Upcoming show: "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," a
musical written by Rupert Holmes, from Feb. 13 to March 1.
· 2485 E. Main St., Snellville
· Kirk Buis, executive director and founder
New Dawn Theater
When the Gwinnett theater organization Pelican Players disbanded, a small group of performers formed a new theater company.
"We decided we wanted to keep theater going and put together New Dawn," said Sherry Ingbritsen, board president for New Dawn Theater Company and one of the original founding members.
New Dawn was formed in 2002 and Ingbritsen and another founding member have remained with the theater group, which is all-volunteer and produces five shows each year. New Dawn recently renovated its home at Duluth's Second Stage Theater, which will be renamed New Dawn Theater.
"We can't wait for the patrons to come in and see what we've done with it since people were here last," Ingbritsen said.
The group plans to renovate its backstage area and directing rooms following its next show.
Upcoming show: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" by Dale Waserman from Feb. 19 to March 8.
· 3087 Main St., Duluth
· Sherry Ingbritsen, board president
Lionheart Theatre Company
Lionheart Theatre Company's roots stem from the drama ministry of Norcross Presbyterian Church, under the direction of Tanya Carroll. In 2000, the actors, designers and stage technicians branched off and became Lionheart Theatre Company.
In 2003, the theater company was introduced to entrepreneurs Terry and Sherry Robinson and moved to the Royal Arts Gallery in Norcross, where sold-out performances forced Lionheart to seek larger spaces. In 2006, the city of Norcross offered the company the chapel of the Praise Fellowship Church. Lionheart signed a lease in January with the city, giving the theater company complete control over what is now the College Street Playhouse. The nonprofit, all-volunteer theater puts on five main stage shows per year.
Upcoming show: "The Love List" by Norm Foster from Feb. 13 to 22.
· Performances are given at the College Street Playhouse, 10 College St., Norcross
· Tanya Carroll, producing artistic director