Exploring Atlanta's Arts and Entertainment Scene
by Kevin Forest Moreau
As befits the crown jewel of the Southeast, Atlanta is a thrivinghub of art, entertainment and culture. Whether you're in the mood for a toe-tapping musical, a soul-stirring theatrical production or an enjoyable museum outing, the metro area is filled with options. Here's a breakdown of the biggest players on Atlanta's cultural landscape.
SEE A SHOW
Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
This Northeast Atlanta facility, opened in 2007, boasts a 2,750-seat theater that serves as home to both the Atlanta Ballet and the Atlanta Opera. It also hosts touring shows like Young Frankenstein and presents concerts and comedy shows as well.
Ferst Center for the Arts
Located on the Georgia Tech campus, this 1,159-seat space has been presenting theater, dance and comedy performances for 20 years. Upcoming shows include Indecision 2012: The Daily Show Live! (Sept. 28) and jazz pianist Keiko Matsui (Oct. 5).
Constructed in the late 1920s, this 4,678-seat auditorium, with an interior resembling an Arabian courtyard looking up at a star-filled sky, hosts popular touring productions such as Jersey Boys and Peter Pan (courtesy of Broadway in Atlanta and Theater of the Stars, respectively), as well as concerts, dance performances and plays. Each summer, the Coca-Cola Summer 29Film Festival screens classic movies and recent blockbusters.
Rialto Center for the Arts
Georgia State University’s 833-seat venue in downtown Atlanta is known for showcasing leading national and international jazz and world music artists. The Center’s annual Rialto Series also presents dance and comedy shows as well as performances by the Georgia State School of Music.
Since 1991, this intimate, 400-seat space on the Clayton State University campus has established itself as one of the area’s leading venues for jazz and classical music. Spivey Hall is especially renowned for its acoustics, and has been hailed as one of the best performance venues in the nation.
TAKE IN A PLAY
This Tony Award-winning institution is known for staging new and celebrated works. It also enjoys a reputation for launching Broadway shows and touring productions including The Color Purple and Sister Act. Earlier this year, it staged the world premiere of the musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a collaboration between Stephen King, John Mellencamp and Grammy Award-winning producer T-Bone Burnett.
Atlanta Shakespeare Company
Based in the New American Shakespeare Tavern in Midtown Atlanta, this troupe distinguishes itself with its quest for authenticity, presenting each play with an eye toward the creator’s original intent. Actors wear handmade period costumes, and all sound effects and music are created live, on period instruments.
From its home in the Conant Performing Arts Center on the campus of Oglethorpe University, this 27-year-old company presents a mixture of favorite and lesser-known works by the Bard in addition to thought-provoking plays by other artists. The company’s “Shakespeare in the Park” production, newly relocated to the Legacy Fountain in Piedmont Park, is a highlight of the season.
Founded in 1976, Theatrical Outfit produces classic and contemporary works that stimulate discussion and often address themes and ideas relevant to life in the American South. Recent works include C.S. Lewis On Stage, A Wrinkle in Time, Red and Freud’s Last Session. The company’s home, the Balzer Theater at Herren’s, is also the site of Herren’s, the first Atlanta restaurant to desegregate during the civil rights movement.
EXPLORE THE PERFORMING ARTS
The nation’s oldest professional dance company, the Atlanta Ballet strives to stage exciting, boundary-pushing works. The company’s 83rd season kicks off later this year with its signature performance, Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker, a holiday tradition. Other highlights include Dracula, Carmina Burana and Love Stories, which explores the concept of love through inventive choreography.
For more than 30 years, this renowned company has drawn audiences from across the Southeast with memorable performances and some of the finest singers, conductors and designers in the nation and the world. Its 2012-2013 season includes Carmen, La Traviata and The Italian Girl in Algiers.
The Atlanta Symphony is hailed as one of America’s leading orchestras, known for its impresssive performances and Grammy Award-winning recordings. Led by music director Robert Spano, the ASO logs more than 200 concerts each year at Symphony Hall in the Woodruff Arts Center as well as other stages locally and across the globe.The symphony’s productions range from classic and contemporary works to concerts with pop and rock entertainers. Upcoming highlights include the music of ABBA (Aug. 4) and the kickoff of the symphony’s 68th season with acclaimed violinist Midori (Oct. 4-7).
DISCOVER NEW WORLDS
Atlanta History Center
Located on a sprawling 33-acre complex in Buckhead, the Atlanta History Center aims to preserve the city’s rich past. Attractions include the elegant Swan House mansion, the Smith Family Farm, museums devoted to Atlanta history and the 1996 Olympics, and six lush gardens. The Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown, where the author wrote Gone With the Wind, is also part of the History Center.
Booth Western Art Museum
The second-largest art museum in the state, this Cartersville attraction houses the nation’s largest permanent exhibition space for Western art. Guests can explore historic and contemporary works as well as artwork from the Civil War, Western movie posters, presidential portraits and much more.
Gone with the Wind Museum
This fascinating museum on the historic Marietta Square is dedicated to both the world-famous novel and its classic movie adaptation. Highlights include several of Margaret Mitchell’s personal volumes of the book, as well as movie posters, programs, conceptual art and other movie memorabilia, including the original honeymoon gown worn by Vivien Leigh.
High Museum of Art
Part of the Woodruff Arts Center, which also includes the Alliance Theatre and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the High has long enjoyed a reputation as the Southeast’s leading art museum. Current exhibits include Picturing New York/Picturing the South and Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals from Talladega College.
Michael C. Carlos Museum
This museum on the Emory University campus houses the largest collection of ancient art in the Southeast, with objects from ancient Egypt, Nubia, Rome, Greece, Africa, Asia, the ancient Americas and other places, as well as works on paper from the Renaissance to today. The Carlos is also devoted to lectures, workshops, festivals and other educational programming.
BRING THE FAMILY
Center for Puppetry Arts
For more than 30 years, this Midtown attraction has delighted kids of all ages with puppet workshops, puppet shows for different age groups, and a museum dedicated to this ancient and enduring art form—including special exhibits on the work of Jim Henson.
Fernbank Museum of Natural History
Established in 1992, the Fernbank Museum provides an entertaining and educational look at natural history. Permanent exhibits include A Walk Through Time in Georgia and Giants of the Mesozoic, which spotlights some of the world’s largest dinosaurs. There’s also an IMAX theatre, with an ever-changing lineup of fascinating documentary films. Weekly Martinis and IMAX events offer live music, food and cocktails in this one-of-a-kind setting.
Fernbank Science Center
Not affiliated with the Fernbank Museum, the Science Center is a part of the DeKalb County school system. Highlights include the 65-acre Fernbank Forest, a rose garden, a planetarium and observatory, a large solar panel, a library, a meteorology and seismology lab, an aerospace education lab and a two-story exhibit hall filled with educational displays.
Imagine It! The Children's Museum of Atlanta
This downtown museum encourages creativity and learning with interactive attractions that allow toddlers and young children to explore a fun crawl space, play in a magical forest, work on a farm and steer a crane, among other adventures.
Tellus Science Museum
At this 120,000 square-foot museum, budding scientists can stare into the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, pan for gems and explore 100 years of transportation technology. The museum also features a 120-seat planetarium and an observatory.
HAVE A LAUGH
For almost 20 years, this theater company in the Inman Park neighborhood has staged original productions and improvisational comedy shows and workshops.
Laughing Skull Lounge
This small space, connected to the Vortex Bar and Grill on Peachtree Street in Midtown, enjoys the distinction of being the smallest comedy club in the nation. The intimate space attracts nationally recognized stand-up comedians, including Margaret Cho, Emo Philips and Paul F. Tompkins.
Billed as Atlanta’s premier comedy club, this Sandy Springs mainstay has hosted such names as Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Larry the Cable Guy. Upcoming events include Colin Quinn (Aug. 3-4) and Kevin Nealon (Sept. 28-29).
A relative newcomer to Atlanta’s comedy scene, the Village Theatre has quickly become a favorite destination for improv and stand-up comedy since 2008. It also offers comedy workshops from its new performance space near downtown.
Whole World Improv Theatre
This award-winning Midtown institution is Atlanta’s best-known improv comedy troupe. Whole World offers classes and workshops for adults and children, including a summer improv camp.
These four arts attractions outside the metro Atlanta are worth the drive.
AVERITT CENTER FOR THE ARTS
Statesboro’s cultural heart includes a theater and an exhibit area, and hosts youth programs and special events throughout the year.
FOXFIRE MUSEUM AND HERITAGE CENTER
This Mountain City museum preserves and documents the different aspects of southern Appalachian culture.
MORRIS MUSEUM OF ART
This impressive Augusta museum is dedicated to the art and artists of the American South.
THE TELFAIR MUSEUMS
The three museums that make up this Savannah institution display works from the 17th century through the present.
Just a half-hour north of Atlanta sits a one-of-a-kind public art project worth exploring. The 2012 Suwanee SculpTour is a walkable outdoor exhibit in and around downtown Suwanee, featuring 15 original sculptures made from steel, wood, bronze and aluminum and weighing in excess of a cumulative 4,600 pounds. This award-winning interactive exhibit allows viewers to vote for their favorite piece to be added to the city’s permanent collection. An audio tour is available via podcast on iTunes. For more information, visit www.suwanee.com.