Kevin Gillese will transition out of his role as artistic director at Dad’s Garage after serving through ten years of growth and change for the Atlanta-based company. The administrator, actor, comedian, writer, and filmmaker will continue to work with Dad’s, but will focus on artistic projects. He will remain a performing ensemble member of the popular comedy troupe, also heading up development and production at Dad’s Garage Television.
“When I started out, I thought maybe I’ll do five years,” says Gillese. “I blinked, and I was at ten. The job has grown so much because the company has grown so much. What that means as one of the leaders is more admin, more management, more sitting behind a desk. It meant fewer shows as a performer, less work as a writer and as a director. And that’s really where my passion is.”
Dad’s Garage was originally founded in 1995 as a volunteer-led organization created by a group of students from Florida State University’s theatre program called the “Whammo Players.” The original venue for their comedy improv in Atlanta was an old auto shop in Inman Park. Dad’s Garage was a surprise success, gradually widening its reach with more performances, corporate workshops, a kids’ camp and year-round programs.
Gillese stepped on as artistic director in 2009, taking over the role from founding member Sean Daniels. Gillese had been a director at Rapid Fire Theatre, an improvisational theatre company based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
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In 2011, Gillese helped create Dad’s Garage Television, which started as a YouTube channel but has developed into a full production company for sketch comedy, commercials, industrials, corporate training pieces, music videos, web series, and short films. In 2012, he married company member Amber Nash, who famously provides the voice for Pam Poovey in the popular animated TV series “Archer.”
During his time as artistic director, Gillese successfully led the company through one of its rockiest periods. In 2013, after 18 years at the location, the company lost its rented home at 20 Elizabeth St. to redevelopment in Inman Park. While the company looked for a new home, the troupe performed at 7 Stages in Little Five Points. “There were people who thought Dad’s Garage wasn’t going to survive,” says Gillese. “The very existence of the company was at risk. We survived, but not because of one person but because of an entire community.”
In 2015, with individual and corporate donations and community support from a Kickstarter campaign, Dad’s Garage was able to close on an Old Fourth Ward property at 569 Ezzard St. that has been dubbed the company’s “forever home.”
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Gillese says he’s especially proud to have helped bring more diversity to the company during his tenure. “We’ve got a lot of different voices in our company now at all different levels,” he says. “That was an important change, as well, just to make Dad’s more connected and more relevant to the entire community.”
Ensemble member Jon Carr has been named as the interim artistic director while the board of directors conducts a search for a new artistic director. “I know he’s going to slay,” Gillese says. “It lets me sit back and relax a little bit.”
Carr has been an ensemble member for seven years, served as the marketing director for Dad’s Garage from 2014-2019, and currently works as the audience development manager at the Alliance Theatre. “I’m coming to a unique situation since Kevin has left the company in such great shape,” Carr says. “There’s a lot of opportunity for us to double down on the investment Kevin made and the people we have and continue to push that further.”
Gillese says that once he’s stepped out of an administrative role, he can focus on the company’s growth into new artistic territory: producing feature films and television series.
“There’s an authenticity at Dad’s Garage,” Gillese says of the company’s longevity and survival through change. “People are here because they love it. That’s contagious. We’ve got people who have been committed for years. I’m super proud of how far we’ve come.”