The Magic of Community Theater

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Michael Boylan of Fayetteville, a volunteer with the Southside Theatre Guild, sits in front of hundreds of signatures of former cast members on the theatre's dressing room walls. Photo/Michael Boylan.

By Michael Boylan


I have been a member of Southside Theatre Guild in Fairburn, off and on, for 19 years. My debut on their stage was May 29, 2003 as Rev. David Marshall Lee in “The Foreigner.”

It was the first of many bad guy roles I’ve played there. Since then, I’ve played Scrooge, the nasty asylum owner in “Beauty and the Beast,” a redneck uncle, a mental patient, a rapping Santa, and a teenager (it was very Beverly Hills 90210 to be playing a teen when I was 29), among many other roles.

If you ever get the chance to go backstage at Southside Theatre Guild, every cast member has signed the walls somewhere in the dressing room. It’s a closing night tradition and it never fails to give me a bit of a thrill and bring a bit of a tear to my eye.

When you sign your name, it is like putting the punctuation at the end of a sentence, but I also think it is like sealing a memory in time. When I sit on one of the very worn couches and gaze up at the ceiling where I signed my name for the first few shows I did, I am transported back in time.

The first one that catches my eye is when I played George Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It was my first lead at the theater and it was a whirlwind. George only leaves the stage long enough for a quick costume change. There were several people waiting in the wings ready to pull things off of me and push other things on.

I had so many lines to memorize with that show and I remember, as opening night drew closer, I started to worry about what would happen if I forgot something. Another memory that jumps out is being dressed as George and pacing the empty stage, listening to “Lose Yourself” by Eminem and getting pumped up for the show. I can’t imagine Jimmy Stewart doing the same.

The other big memory is playing Jesus (pronounced Hay-zoos) in “The Female Odd Couple.” My co-star, Russ Ivey, and I played our characters kind of like two wild and crazy guys. We had a blast every single night of rehearsal and at almost every single performance.

There was one evening though where food poisoning threatened to keep me home, or at least make the audience very uncomfortable. My wife drove me to the theater with our son, a baby at the time. I looked like death warmed over and hadn’t been able to keep anything down all day. The director strategically placed buckets offstage, just in case, but thanks to willpower and (she swears to this day it works) blackberry Manischewitz, I made it through the show without getting sick.

Southside Theatre Guild is about to wrap up its 49th season with a production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s “Mary Poppins.” It hasn’t been the easiest show to put up, but many friendships have been formed and lots of fun has been had as people learned how to tap dance and correctly spell “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

A few weeks after “Mary Poppins” closes, the theater launches its 50th season. It is a big year for the little theater and we are going to celebrate properly with a party on Aug. 20, opening night galas for every show, community outreach throughout the season, and lots of special treats and surprises along the way.

Southside Theatre Guild is the longest-running, all-volunteer, community theater in metro Atlanta. Located right behind Oz Pizza in downtown Fairburn, the building can seat around 200 people. Thanks to some generous grants, there have been some outstanding upgrades made to the infrastructure, including a new roof, a new HVAC system, and new lights and sound, among other additions.

If you have ever been involved in community theater, or even thought it might be something you’d like to try, now is the time to join us. It is a great way for families to spend time together (all four members of my family have been involved with “Mary Poppins”) and it is an even better way to meet people and make friends.

When I tell people about Southside Theatre Guild, and where it’s located, people often tell me, “Oh, I drive by there all the time. I had no idea.” I believe it is one of the hidden gems of the Southern Crescent.

It is a place where people develop talents, find their passions, and create lasting memories. There have been countless couples who met each other in the theater and babies who took their first steps on stage. It is a special place and it has been made special by everyone who has ever signed their name on the ceilings and walls.

Please come see “Mary Poppins,” which opens this Friday and runs through July 31, or any of the shows in the 50th season, but please also consider joining us, whether onstage or backstage. I promise there is a way for everyone to get involved and be a part of the magic of theater.

Theater doesn’t just change the lives of the people in the seats, it changes the lives of the cast and crew as well. My life is much more full thanks to my friends and family at Southside Theatre Guild. There’s room on the walls for you as well.

For more information about Southside Theatre Guild, and to buy lots of tickets to our shows, visit stgplays.com.

Michael Boylan of Fayetteville, a volunteer with the Southside Theatre Guild, sits in front of hundreds of signatures of former cast members on the theatre's dressing room walls. Photo/Michael Boylan.
Michael Boylan of Fayetteville, a volunteer with the Southside Theatre Guild, sits in front of hundreds of signatures of former cast members on the theatre’s dressing room walls. Photo/Michael Boylan.
The cast of "Mary Poppins" rehearses for the season's final production at Southside Theatre Guild in Fairburn.
The cast of “Mary Poppins” rehearses for the season’s final production at Southside Theatre Guild in Fairburn.