Theatre In The Square

Marietta’s Theatre in the Square is something of a singular sensation, to borrow a phrase – one of the largest professional theaters in the state, and housed in the suburbs, says managing director Raye Varney. “People who think of us as a sleepy theater on the Marietta Square don’t realize we do 12 productions a year, totaling 445 performances,” she says. “We’re in production year-round. We bring 65,000 people a year to the square.”

In fact, this artistic economic engine celebrated its 25th anniversary this season with two world premieres: Last fall, Turned Funny, a stage adaptation of the late AJC columnist Celestine Sibley’s memoir, kicked off the season. This spring, Mount Pleasant Homecoming, the third musical play in a series to follow the Sanders family, will close the season April 29-June 10. The theater has a long association with the Sanders family series: It premiered the first play, Smoke on the Mountain in 1991 and has performed the second, A Sanders Family Christmas, for nine years. “The audiences who love the these shows are legion and loyal,” Varney says. “We already had sold a third of our tickets in February.”

The theater has about 4,000 subscribers, Varney says, evidence that the community “feels it’s their theater.” To get to that point, the theater weathered a serious storm in the early ’90s when its production of Lips Together, Teeth Apart, which included a discussion of homosexuality, prompted a member of the Cobb County Commission to slash all arts funding for the county in 1993. The theater lost 1,000 subscribers and struggled through a significant deficit before rebounding a few years later thanks to popular programming and a refusal to give up.

Now, Varney says, the theater “does everything from the classics to new and challenging plays. Our vision is really to serve the audiences here in our community. They may not like every play we do, but they like most of them.” The credit, she says, goes to producing director and cofounder Palmer Wells, who “has really been able to walk the tight-rope between artistic integrity and commercial appeal.”

Theatre in the Square has hosted 24 world premieres over the years, 11 of them developed or commissioned by the theater (as was Turned Funny), and shows no signs of slowing down. For Turned Funny, Varney says, audiences came “from all over – from Rex and Newnan and Big Canoe. It’s exciting to be that kind of regional resource. And to open and close our season with world premieres is a rush.”

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