After 18 years in its current location, Dad’s Garage Theatre Company is saying goodbye to its home in Inman Park. It’s not by choice; the entire property at 280 Elizabeth Street is changing owners and will be redeveloped.
The news has left Dad’s staff disappointed but not surprised. Lara Smith, the theater’s managing director, says that when she came aboard a year ago, there was talk of the redevelopment coming. “Some people had tried before and failed, but this seems like it will happen,” Smith says. Although she says the sale is not yet final, she and the staff expect it to happen this time.
The plan now is to finish the season in Dad’s current space — at least through July 31 — and then perform at 7 Stages Theatre until it can find a permanent home. The good news for Dad’s is that 7 Stages is almost literally around the corner, in nearby Little Five Points.
Heidi S. Howard, 7 Stages’ artistic director, is excited that Dad’s will be performing there. “We are planning for at least a season with them, but we’ll give them as much time as they need,” she says. “We love working with other organizations and keeping 7 Stages as busy as we can. It’s a perfect fit for us. We have such different programming that it actually complements each other.” A likely first production by Dad’s at 7 Stages will be in August.
Finding the right fit for a new permanent home will be the challenge. Staying in Inman Park does not seem to be a possibility. The Dad’s team has looked, and nothing is available that fits their parameters, either spacewise or costwise. But they are optimistic.
Smith wants to use this opportunity to find a bigger home, with a rehearsal hall and the ability to do more internally. An ideal location would be a 15,000-square-foot venue with ample parking.
Smith doesn’t know when a new location will be found, but the Dad’s team knows it has to be a thorough search. “We are looking to be smart and strategic,” she says. “We are not an organization that can move into any building. We want Dad’s to stay Dad’s.”
The theater would like to begin a capital campaign soon to raise money for the move, but it needs to first determine the feasibility of that, says Linnea Frye, Dad’s marketing manager. In the interim, the theater is asking audiences to fill out surveys about what part of Atlanta they would like to see the company in next.
Started in 1995, Dad’s caught on quickly with brash productions and world premieres such as Graham Chapman’s “O Happy Day,” and well as its improvisational comedy. The atmosphere at a Dad’s production has always been authentically its own. Matt Young and Matt Stanton were the first two artistic directors, in 1995 and 1996 respectively, before Sean Daniels took over for eight years in 1997. When he left, Kate Warner assumed leadership in 2005. The current artistic director is Kevin Gillese, who’s been aboard since 2009.
Dad’s is known for its year-round programming, including weekly improv, but Smith says programming for fall and beyond won’t be made public until a new home is found. The scripted show “Apnea” and “Improv With Colin Mochrie,” on tap this spring and summer, will go on.
South City Partners and JPX Works, the tandem behind the redevelopment, plan to turn 280 Elizabeth Street into a mixed-use development, with apartments, retail businesses and a 576-space parking deck. Jarel Portman of JPX Works expects the project to start later this year, although he declines to be more specific.
The location at 280 Elizabeth Street has been an opportune one for theaters. The space was once home to Actor’s Express, and it’s been the only location for Dad’s Garage. While Dad’s was there, Smith says, Inman Park transformed. “Before, there was some industrial wasteland,” she says. “I like to think we had a hand in transforming the neighborhood. We grew up in Inman Park and Inman Park grew up with us.”