Solidarity eases belt-tightening 

So far, the 21st century has not been generous to local theaters, which continue to weather difficult economic times by taking a "United We Stand" attitude.

For instance, when Kenny Leon's African-American theater company debuted in September with August Wilson's Fences, it coincided with the Alliance Hertz Stage production of Wilson's King Hedley II. The move suggested not so much competition as good sportsmanship and opportunities for cross-promotion.

Last spring Alliance Artistic Director Susan V. Booth launched the annual City Series, in which the Hertz Stage hosted plays from five Atlanta theaters (7 Stages, Horizon, Actor's Express, Theatrical Outfit and Dad's Garage) to showcase the talents of the city's smaller playhouses.

Jasson Minadakis, the new artistic director of Actor's Express, recommends other theater's plays at his curtain speeches. The founder of the Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival, Minadakis replaced former Artistic Director Weir Harman last March and announced a bold season of six plays, mostly local premieres such as Bel Canto and Spain, none of which are likely cash cows.

But frugality forced some theaters to scale back their ambitions. Horizon replaced Javon Johnson's Runaway Home with the less costly one-man show The Fula From America. The Alliance's new season features one less show on the main stage than usual. The New Jomandi continues to struggle, having canceled all four plays of its 25th anniversary season as well as seeing the departure of Byron Saunders, its executive director and acting artistic director. Atlanta's oldest African-American theater continues to cling to life, however, and named Carol Mitchell-Leon, one of the city's finest actors, as its artistic director.

The cost-conscious atmosphere did not keep some playhouses from presenting ambitious work. The Shakespeare Tavern celebrated its 15th anniversary with an enormous lineup of plays, including 10 shows between August and November. Some of Atlanta's youngest theater companies presented their biggest and most exciting work yet, most memorably Out of Hand Theater's Big Love, VisionQuest's repertory of Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Jack-in-the-Black-Box's wildly theatrical Wilhelm Reich in Hell.

The perennial exception to tough times remains Peachtree Playhouse, which on Dec. 8 celebrated the 400th performance of its comedy Peachtree Battle, the longest-running play in Atlanta history.

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