Back in the summer of 1974 a group of enthusiastic young people were sitting around an apartment clubhouse pool in Smyrna. During the course of the afternoon, they discovered they had many things in common—the most unique was the fact they had all either studied or been involved in drama in high school or college. That got more discussion going about the fact that there was no community theatre in Cobb County. Being the industrious, idealistic folks they were, they decided to form a group of thespians to perform in the area.
Of course, this meant finding a suitable "theatre" and finding suitable funding to pay for royalties, scenery, props, costumes, and everything else necessary to stage a production. They decided to contact the Smyrna Parks & Recreation Department and see what happened. Well, what happened was the powers that be, Mr. Leroy C. Silver, III, said "yes!". "Yes" to funding and to allowing the group which had named itself"Smyrna Community Theatre," to perform in Griffin Middle School.
The first production this illustrious group staged was the classic comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace. They opened on December 5, 1974, and staged three shows drawing a total of 416 people who gave the troupe standing ovations for all three performances! The next show was Summer and Smoke (February ’75) which drew a total audience of 480 over three performances. Once Upon a Mattress was presented in May 1975 and this show was staged at the Civic Center Theatre after approval was given by Cobb County Parks & Recreation Department Director, Jim Miller. The Civic Center was the new home to the group for several years, during which time memorable productions such as My Three Angels, Harvey, Come Back Little Sheba, Mame, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof, Fiddler on the Roof, Come Blow Your Horn, Anything Goes, Plaza Suite and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown were presented.
Late in the 1970s, the Smyrna Parks & Recreation Department realized it could no longer fun the fledgling arts group and SCT was told it had to make it on its own. By late 1981, Smyrna Community Theatre had become Centerstage Smyrna hoping to prove it wasn’t just a "community" theatre was running the red. However, the current members decided to stage one more show in hopes of making money and making a name. Smyrna newcomer and Florida native, Patty Barry, was given the task of directing this momentous show. She chose the Ken Kesey drama, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Auditions were held in the Smyrna Police Department’s meeting room and the cast was chosen. Jim Paulis played "MacMurphy" and Audray McCroskey played Nurse Ratched. Another cast member was Mike Horne who, along with Palmer Wells, went on to form Theatre In The Square a few years later.
Cuckoo’s Nestwas the saving grace for the theatre. Playing to sold out houses, we raised enough money to pay all the past bills and have enough left over to plan for the future. Our Town was presented in June of 1982 and after another name change (for the third and final time), Whose Life is it Anyway? was staged in September 1983.
Centerstage North became the official name of the troupe because we didn’t need to be "limited" to a city (Smyrna) and we were "north" of Atlanta. (This made perfect sense at the time—especially after a few glasses of wine!) With a new board of directors in place, all the paperwork was completed to become an official non-profit organization. Of course, we had always been non-profit, literally and figuratively, we wanted to IRS to recognize us as such so we could approach individuals and companies for donations. In August 1984, this dream became a reality with the issuance of our Employer Identification Number 58-1482344 and the receipt of the official letter of non-profit status from the IRS.
Although we could now approach businesses for donations, we had to prove that were good enough to warrant support from the community. We also felt the need to give something back to the community so we started doing one-act plays for nursing and retirement homes. We were part of the Marietta Mas-Square-rade Halloween event which was co-sponsored by WQXI (now STAR94) radio. We operated a haunted house, which we called "Shop of Horrors" in a vacant building on North Park Square. CSN members appeared in the Pit & Pendulum room, the Mummy room, as Lizzie Borden, and as ghouls and vampires rising from the graveyard. The next year recreated Frankenstein’s operating room, invited you to dine in Café Chez Rat, staged a Psycho shower scene and even had a beheading scene. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time! Unfortunately, the Halloween event on the square was only staged for two years because it just got too big and the crowds too unruly.
We also raised money by having Rock-A-Thons (soliciting pledges for the number of hours we rocked in rocking chairs). We held garage sales and bake sales, operated face-painting booths and performed one-acts at the Jubilee Fine Arts Festival, wrapped Christmas presents at Barnes & Noble--anything that would bring in a few dollars to help by a piece of scenery or rent a costume.
Other shows produced at the Civic Center included Play It Again, Sam, Design for Murder, Return of the Maniac, Rehearsal for Murder, OKLAHOMA!, Grease, Dracula: The Musical?, Steel Magnolias, Ten Little Indians, Night Watch, Annie Get Your Gun, Hound of the Baskervilles, You Can’t Take it with You, The Foreigner, Murder by Natural Causes and The Children’s Hour to name a few.
We competed in the Georgia Theatre Conference one-act competition in November 1986. This event was held in Athens at UGA. Our one-act was The Groves of Academe which was directed by Terry Kozlowski and starred Greg Smith and John Lackey (who is currently an on-air personality with WSB B-98.5FM radio). The play came in second place behind Onstage Atlanta who won with Graceland. However, we did get some individual awards. Terry won for Best Director and John won the Best Actor award!
Upon completion of The Art Place—Mountain View in 1992, we decided to start having a real season, announcing all our shows in advance, and actually selling season tickets. We had never done this before because we never knew exactly when the Civic Center would be available or if we’d have the money or the interest to plan very far in advance. But with a new board of directors in place and some very enthusiastic new members, we made a plan: announce a season, sell season subscriptions and dream about having a place our own once we had a following which would support us.
We offered season tickets for the first time in 1994 and attracted a small, but dedicated group of subscribers that first year. Our subscriber base has increased each year and in 1999 we had 203 season ticket holders. Needless to say, we appreciate the support and hope this number continues to grow into the new millennium.
Considering that The Art Place (TAP) is only a black-box theatre with no back stage, no fly space, no wings, and limited seating capacity, we have staged some incredible shows. The show list includes: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Taming of the Shrew, Chapter Two, Steel Magnolias, The Glass Menagerie, Our Town, Five Women Wearing the Same Dress, The Uninvited Guest, Dearly Departed, The Boys Next Door, Murder in the Magnolias, Don’t Dress for Dinner, First Night, Wait Until Dark, The Nerd, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Crackers, A Man for All Seasons, The Shadow Box, Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (for six holiday seasons) which gives you an idea of our diversity.