March 12th, 2020, began like any other day for Tyrone’s Legacy Theatre. Rehearsals were nearing the finish line for their production of High School Musical 2, which would ultimately see over 160 kids from all across South Atlanta on stage for twelve productions. Rehearsals had yet to begin, but casts were in place for two of their mainstage productions: Almost Heaven, which was sure to be an audience favorite and financial success; and Junie B. Jones the Musical, their spring production geared towards field trips and area youth.
“It was a typical March for Legacy,” recalls Bethany Smith, the theater’s co-owner with her husband, Mark, and the Legacy’s Executive Producer. “Spring roars in like a lion for us, and it’s the season that carries us into our big summer season.”
Not only did the Legacy have three upcoming productions in the pipeline, they also were in the midst of classes that would culminate in just a few weeks with a Spring Spectacular.
“Our kids were in the middle of a fantastic semester,” says Mark Smith, the Legacy’s Artistic Director. “Enthusiasm was high and things were running like clockwork.”
Twenty-four hours later, as the nation began shutting down all social gatherings, Broadway itself went dark, and professional sports leagues canceled seasons due to the onset of a world-wide pandemic, all of these plans and goals abruptly stopped.
Mark recalls, “We plan for small hiccups along the way during any production, like an actor getting sick or the power going off in the building during a rehearsal, but this was unprecedented, and we knew we had to act fast if we were going to still have a business in three months’ time.”
Within hours, Bethany had moved all their performing arts classes online. Parents had already been using a Legacy app for the past year, and they were able to provide secure Zoom classes without a hitch by the following Monday.
“Bethany has always been an innovator and a quick thinker. She’s intuitive in that she saw where this was going immediately,” says Mark. “Without her quick thinking and our incredible group of teacher’s ability to adapt and get on board, we would have been in trouble.”
Now moving into week nine of virtual classes, parents and students have had uninterrupted access to all of their acting, dancing, and singing instruction. Several parents have set their kids up in unfinished basements with makeshift tap floors. Many comment on how they love hearing their child singing full-out from their bedrooms, knowing that they can still offer their children the outlet they desperately need right now.
Legacy is committed to continuing virtual opportunities through the summer months. New and innovative camps and classes will also begin this summer that are open to area youth. Tony Award-winning Broadway artists, many of whom are quarantined at home during the Broadway shutdown, have already committed to personal, online lessons with Legacy students. A Trolls and Frozen 2 camp will keep the smaller ones entertained, and many classes will be able to meet once a week in person, following the current physical distancing guidelines, on the large green lawn adjacent to the Legacy building. The Smiths realize the importance of safety but also the importance of being connected.
“These kids need to see their teachers and their friends, even if it’s from six feet away. It’s important for their mental and emotional health. We can help them be safe but connected.”
“Safe and connected” is the Smith’s mantra as they enter an unprecedented season for their lives and their business. Homeschooling their six and seven-year-old boys during the mornings and taking turns during the afternoons to answer e-mail, make phone calls and brainstorm has turned into the routine, but it has yet to feel normal. As theaters across Atlanta and the world have shut their doors, they realized that theaters had to innovate if they were going to survive.
“The toughest part of this for a small business and a theater especially is the inability to plan,” said Smith. “It’s like you’re reinventing the wheel every single day because there’s another new projection, timetable, or discovery.”
After pursuing the idea of live streaming shows from the theater for their patrons, they were halted by licensing restrictions and the daunting task of creating an in-house TV studio. These plans just did not feel like the future for Legacy.
“I think Joseph Haj, Artistic Director of the Guthrie Theater, has expressed it best for me. For twenty-five hundred years, people have gathered together to hear stories that reflected their loves, their dreams, their fears, and it has thrived because it is one of society’s proven necessities,” says Mark. “Streaming shows and replaying archival videos of older shows have helped theaters weather the storm, but, in the end, that is film or TV, not theater.”
Hoping to innovate and bring people together safely, the Smiths brainstormed Legacy on the Lawn. They are building a stage, running electrics, hanging lights, and designing sound so that families and all generations have a place where they can remain physically distant but commune for a live theater experience.
“The town of Tyrone has been so helpful and accommodating and so many of our friends and supporters have graciously come on board to help bring this to fruition,” says Bethany. “Even Ted Davis, who built our theater fifteen years ago, built our beautiful outdoor stage. It’s been a family affair for sure. We’re also happy that we have a way to employ our team and several Atlanta actors in need of work.”
The Legacy will open Legacy on the Lawn with You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown on June 5. They will follow that show in July with the bluegrass and gospel favorite, Smoke on the Mountain. Their hope is that a successful run of these shows will keep Legacy’s doors open for the foreseeable future and possibly even help other theaters think outside the box until they can welcome guests into their lobbies.
“Bethany and I met performing outdoor theater. I would like to think we discovered magic under the stars,” says Mark with a smile. “Our hope is that this summer, Legacy can provide some magic to families that need a little hope, love and laughter during this tragic and unprecedented time.”
To support Legacy, register for a summer camp, or bring your family to Legacy on the Lawn, call the box office at (404) 895-1473 or go online at www.thelegacytheatre.org.