Even as Marietta settles into the demise of gay landmark Theatre in the Square, former staff and board members who declined a Marietta City Council grant to save it want another one to open a new theater without gay founder Palmer Wells.
“I feel betrayed by the board and some of the employees,” Wells tells ArtsATL. “At first, I was in disbelief and disappointed. [Learning about this] seems like an act of betrayal. It’s a repulsive turn of events.”
In the magazine’s painstakingly detailed attempt to get the full truth out of the players in the unfolding drama, Wells says that he was the only board member who fought to keep the financially struggling theater afloat when times turned tough last year.
The theatre had a long history of gay-inclusive seasons including its longest, most successful run with the gay-themed “Take Me Out.” It became a touchstone for gay Atlanta when it was at the epicenter of Cobb County’s anti-gay ordinance in 1993. In response, local activists successfully got the “Olympics Out of Cobb” when Games officials yanked an Olympic torch run through the county.
Wells says he was also alone in his insistence that Theatre in the Square could survive its financial crisis with as much as $400,000 raised in donations to save it and a grant declined by the theater’s board.
Every member of a proposed new Trackside Theatre Company, which has already had talks with the landlord to take over the old Theatre in the Square space, is a former employee or board member of the company founded in 1982 by Wells and his now-deceased partner Michael Horne. None of them, including former Theatre in the Square Board Chair Mike Russell, mentioned the idea of a new “family oriented” startup to Wells.
After the company struggled financially in 2011, Russell announced on March 19 that Theatre in the Square was closing, saying that after “board deliberations and financial analysis,” it wasn’t feasible to keep the doors open. Marietta City Council had approved $30,000 to keep the theater afloat, but the board turned it down, saying it would be unfair to take the money when the board knew it couldn’t stay open much longer.
On April 25, Russell submitted a detailed, 14-page grant request to the same council asking for $50,000 for Trackside. The theater’s tentative schedule would raise the curtains in October.
Wells remembers that final board meeting. It was a teleconference in which he was the lone voice for saving Theatre in the Square.
“There was little discussion,” Wells tells ArtsATL. “A lot of preparatory work had been done. The board secretary had been shredding documents the week of the meeting. I didn’t inquire what was going on, and I wish now I had.”
Photo via ArtsATL