BWW Interview: Shuler Hensley Expands Atlanta's Booming Theatre Industry with City Springs Theatre Company
In the fall, a new professional theatre company will treat Atlanta audiences to a season of timeless musicals. For Shuler Hensley, joining the City Springs Theatre Company creative team alongside Brandt Blocker and Natalie Barrow is the fulfillment of a longtime desire. With a passion for connecting theatre artists from both New York and Atlanta, Hensley says he has always wanted a chance to start a local theatre from the ground up. Below, the Tony Award-winning Georgia native shares his excitement for this season, his vision for bringing Broadway to Atlanta, and more.
We're so excited about City Springs Theatre!
I'm so excited that not only is it a new venue there, but I actually get to help create a theatre program from the ground up from Brandt [Blocker] and Natalie [Barrow], which is something I've always wanted to do. The Georgia talent is just extraordinary. It's as good as anywhere.
Can you give us a picture of what your role will look like in this process?
I'm really about helping them create the actual Broadway season and the shows, that's what I do. Brandt was very particular that he wanted to provide multiple Tony Award-winning Best Musicals in the first season. It really is, I think, important to hit the ground running and get people super excited about the company and the quality of the performances that are going to be there. I believe Natalie and Brandt are going to come up here to New York and meet some friends of mine and try to get some of the Broadway talent to go down south for our productions and be a part of that. That's what I'm most excited about.
For your production of SOUTH PACIFIC at least, y'all have lined up a great director/choreographer.
Yes! [Tony Award-winner] Baayork Lee is the best, especially when it comes to that show. I've never worked with her, but everyone that I've talked to who has worked with her just cannot stop praising her. I think that's another huge responsibility, just to get the creative people who are doing these shows to be the kind of people that others will want to work with again and again. It's going to be a short rehearsal period, so you need that instant click with cast and creatives. I think that's one of Brandt's big talents is to find who can work well with whom. So I'm excited.
So it's going to be a professional company, and are you looking at a variety of ages performing?
I think so. For sure, the shows like BILLY ELLIOT and HAIRSPRAY. It's a really great lineup of shows that Brandt picked, because there is a cross-section of ages. 42ND STREET will be a tapping and dancing extravaganza- there'll be young and old in that I'm sure- then BILLY ELLIOT is all about kids, HAIRSPRAY is about kids dancing on the TV, and ELF- the Christmas show! You can't get more fun in terms of using kids and different ages. It just makes me smile every time I say ELF. It makes me laugh!
At what point did you get involved in the City Springs Theatre process?
I got involved, probably about once they decided they were building this and that the theatre company was going to be a part of the whole performing arts center. That's when they contacted me, because I had worked with Natalie at CPAC, and over the years we'd talked about the idea of having a theatre company that focused on, not only musical theatre, but the classics. There's a lot of push for the "new style," which is great, like the HAMILTONs, DEAR EVAN HANSENs, and that's really extraordinary stuff, and I really enjoy it. But there's also a desire in me to really reintroduce younger audiences to classics like SOUTH PACIFIC- even HAIRSPRAY's a classic now- and to show them that classic musical theatre is really timeless. You think, "Oh, SOUTH PACIFIC was 70 years ago," but the fact is, the issues that were raised in that like race and societal problems, when the kids see that in a play of that age, they say, "Wow, that's something I can relate to. That's super powerful."
So what are you looking forward to most about City Springs this year?
I don't know... I'm looking forward to the whole season of getting to meet the local talent, the auditions, and just being a part of the whole arc of the season, show-to-show. I'm hoping to be actively involved, either performing or directing a couple of them. But for sure, I'll be involved in some aspect with all of them. And I love to see how really good theatre tends to bring people, not only out of the woodwork, but it brings people together who would not normally maybe attend the same kind of functions, and that's just awesome.
That's so true. I love it. So what can we expect or look forward to for the future of this theatre?
Well, what we'd like is for it to continue to grow and be sort of a pipeline for local Atlanta talent to and from Broadway and beyond. I've been up in New York for a few days, and I've run into people and said, "I'm involved in this new theatre company in Atlanta," and everyone's eyes sort of get wide, because Atlanta has grown in terms of just the arts industry, with film and television exploding. There is going to be just that kind of quality of people who are going to be there locally, whether they're filming something or want to do more theatre. It's just over a two-hour flight from New York, someone was telling me that today, and that's like nothing. So I want to create a venue in Atlanta where these people come and want to be a part of a venue that the locals can embrace and really hold their own. I've worked couple of times at The Muny in St. Louis, and it's a real community spirit behind that theatre, and that would be ideal for City Springs, to have a real community of local Atlanta people that are proud of it and support it.
It sounds like a very logical addition to our theatre scene at this point, because professional theatre here is so good. Of course we get the tours at the Fox Theatre, but our local work is really awesome.
Yes they are! And they're going to continue to be better and better, I think in quality, because artists are moving to Atlanta because of the job opportunities opened up because of the film industry, and theatre is going to be right there with them.
City Springs Theatre Company was formed by Sandy Springs residents and is dedicated to entertaining, educating, and enriching the community while contributing to its cultural and economic development by creating world-class theatre experiences at the new Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center. Through Broadway-style musical theatre featuring regional and national artists, creating a broad range of arts education programs for the enrichment of the community, and providing entertaining and inspiring productions for diverse audiences, City Springs Theatre Company establishes Sandy Springs as a growing cultural center. City Springs Theatre Company is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural organization.
For more information, season tickets, and to find out how you can get involved, visit its website: CitySpringsTheatre.com.