For the first time in its 24-year history, Jomandi Productions, Atlanta's oldest African-American theater company, will have a permanent theater to call its own. On Oct. 7, Jomandi inaugurates the Black Diamond, a 99-seat "black box" performing space at its offices at City Hall East.
It's the most exciting and positive move in Jomandi's recent history, given that for the past three years, each season seemed like it could be Jomandi's last. Co-founders Tom Jones and Marsha Jackson-Randolph moved on to other ventures, while Jomandi's debt problems caused the past two seasons to end prematurely with canceled shows.
The announcement of the Black Diamond's opening, along with Jomandi's 24th season, suggests that the bleeding may have stopped. Bryon C. Saunders, Jomandi's executive director and interim artistic director, acknowledges that much of the 2002-03 lineup relies on tried-and-true plays. "It's a little bit safe for us, but we've had some bad years and we want to win back the confidence of our audience and Atlanta's community of artists." Three of the four shows are works the company has already staged: Jackson-Randolph's light audience-pleaser Sisters, the perennial holiday show Black Nativity and the historical drama Do Lord Remember Me, featuring original cast member Thomas Byrd.
The jewel in the crown, however, will be May 21's world premiere of Lavender Lizards and Lilac Landmines by Ntozake Shange, a poetic piece comparable to her classic for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf.
Jomandi's upcoming plays will be staged at the 14th Street Playhouse, its usual venue in the past years, except for Nativity, which will be held at Tri-Cities High School auditorium. The company's new theater, a significantly smaller space, is so far being earmarked for other projects, such as the Black Diamond Series, which includes readings of plays and movie scripts, possibly book-signings and other events, to be held every Monday through June (except when Jomandi's full productions open). Nov. 18 will see a staged reading of Unfinished Business, a new play by Atlantans Faye McDonald Smith and Janis Coombs Reed. Jomandi will give the play a workshop production in the spring in anticipation of having it open the company's next season in fall 2003.
Audiences may have trouble getting used to the idea of seeing theater on the eighth floor of the old Sears building on Ponce de Leon Avenue. But the Black Diamond Series seems like a viable way for Jomandi to put down roots and re-define itself for the 21st century.
Encores: Jomandi isn't the only Atlanta theater to bring back tested shows for the upcoming season. In addition to the usual reruns at Christmastime, some of the revived shows reflect a kind of consolidation, of theater companies sharing audiences and making full use of their existing resources.
The most conspicuous example is the Alliance Theatre's "City Series" to be held March 27-June 15. Artistic director Susan Booth is "loaning" the theater's Hertz Stage to five Atlanta theaters, each of which offers a two-week run of a favorite, representative production: Actor's Express presents the edgy docu-drama The Laramie Project, 7 Stages offers the stylistically challenging HUSH: Composing Blind Tom Wiggins and Theatrical Outfit stages the fluffy Southern musical The People vs. Mona. Dad's Garage provides a kind of preview of its June production, Bat Boy: The Musical, while Horizon Theatre's clever comedy Wonder of the World follows on the heels of its upcoming production this winter.
Also next March, Theatrical Outfit will make a similar move by remounting PushPush Theater's all-African-American production of The Glass Menagerie, although the show can be expected to have an entirely different feel in the stately Rialto space compared to PushPush's intimate environs.
Some shows give audiences another chance to see the work of Atlanta writers. In March, ART Station is bringing back David Thomas' adaptation of Ferroll Sams Harmony Ain't Easy, which premiered during the 1996 Cultural Olympiad, while in October Atlanta Classical Theatre gives a full production of Topher Payne's Beached Wails, which it staged on off-nights last winter.
The Georgia Shakespeare Festival's "Singular Voices Festival" Sept. 18-22 provides a showcase of two of its artistic associates' one-man shows: John Ammerman's analysis of the Booth family in Booth, Brother Booth and Brad Sherrill's unabridged, impassioned performance of The Gospel of John. While revivals often reflect conservative decisions, most of the above shows have unusual circumstances that should bring them fresh energy.
Entrances: Actor's Express has named Kristin Hathaway managing director, filling a position left vacant for almost a year.
Exits: WABE-FM 90.1 is no longer producing its half-hour arts program "ArtVoice," which included stories about theater and even short excerpts of plays. Atlanta actress and host Jennifer Deer explains that funding for the program ran out.
Off Script is a biweekly column on the Atlanta theater scene.
Little harsh, in'it?
Oh that's right...I DID say enjoy yourself.
Go to hell Kombo!
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