Academy Theatre Names New Leadership Team

ATLANTA -- Atlanta's oldest theatre, the 50-year-old Academy, is planning its first mainstage season in 12 years and has named a team of leaders to succeed its late founding artistic director, Frank Wittow.

Wittow formed the Southeastern Academy of Theatre and Music, later known as the Academy Theatre, in 1956. He died on April 10 of natural causes in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he had moved with his longtime partner, playwright Barbara Lebow, to start a California wing of the Academy, which stresses ensemble work, education, and community outreach. He was 75.

Wittow never met Bulgarian-born actor-director Prodan Dimov, but handpicked him to direct the mainstage season, said Lorenne Fey, the Academy's longtime managing director. Dimov saw Wittow act in productions at Atlanta's 7 Stages and Jewish Theatre of the South; Wittow knew Dimov's aesthetic and directorial style from a 2003 production of Eugene Ionesco's The Chairs at 7 Stages, which later ran in the Shanghai International Arts Festival. Dimov has more than 25 years of experience in acting, teaching, and directing in Bulgaria, Russia, China, and the United States.

Dimov is the only member of the new four-person team who is not an Academy alumnus; all, however, are actors. The others are Brenda Porter, human services program; Kathleen McManus, School of Performing Arts; and Tim Stoltenberg, Theatre for Youth Artists-in-Schools Tour.

If it can secure enough grant money, Dimov said, the Academy Theatre will launch a three- to five-show mainstage season this September. In addition, he said, the theatre, now based in suburban Avondale Estates, is looking for space in Smyrna, a city of about 41,000 northwest of Atlanta, and in Sandy Springs, in north Atlanta, which officially became its own city of 85,000 last Dec. 1.

Smyrna and Sandy Springs are underserved communities culturally, Dimov said, and neither has a resident theatre group. Opening a show in Avondale and touring it to Smyrna and Sandy Springs would give more people a chance to see live theatre in their own communities and help sustain the Academy financially. The company is also likely to partner with Metropolis Theater, which Dimov founded in 2005.

The season opener will likely be Ionesco's The Bald Soprano, which Metropolis took to Russia for 10 days last spring. Dimov said he expects the Academy lineup to emphasize "comedies of classical content by big writers" and pieces that are "avant-garde, interesting, and well-done."

The Academy was the first professional theatre in the Southeast to integrate, nurturing the careers of artists such as Broadway director Kenny Leon, actors Dana Ivey and Bill Nunn, and playwrights Larry Larson and Eddie Levi Lee. No fewer than six artistic directors in Atlanta worked there: Leon, who runs True Colors Theatre Company; Jeff and Lisa Adler of Horizon Theatre Company; Adam Fristoe of Out of Hand Theater; Mira Hirsch of Jewish Theatre of the South; John Stephens of Theatre Gael; and Adriana Warner, formerly of Stage Door Players. Alliance Children's Theatre director Rosemary Newcott is also an alumna.