Saturday Avondale Estates hosts what city leaders hope is the first annual “Shakespeare in Avondale Estates” festival. Given the city’s origins it’s a pairing so natural it practically rhymes like one of the Bard’s sonnets.
“Frankly,” said Fisher Paty, chairman of the city’s business association, “I’m shocked nobody’s ever thought of this before.”
In 1924 a charismatic patent-medicine salesman named George Willis bought the farm community of Ingleside just east of Decatur. Eighty-five years after his death, Willis remains something of an elusive figure. But it’s a known fact that after making a pilgrimage to Shakespeare’s birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon, he determined to saturate his hamlet, so to speak, in the Tudor-revival style.
For generations the downtown centerpiece has been a 27,000-square foot building called the Tudor Village Building. At the western end is a 300-seat theater that sat vacant for nine years until reopened in August 2015, by veteran rock band roadie and jack-of-all-trades Tony Longvall.
Much of Shakespeare in Avondale Estates takes place behind the Tudor Village Building. Though hardly the city’s first-ever festival, Shakespeare in Avondale Estates has the feel of a coming-out party.
After a two-year dormancy the Avondale Estates Business Association was revived in October and now has 25 members or about 20 percent of the city’s 129 businesses (not counting home businesses). The idea for for the festival was born almost immediately.
“We have seven festivals but we need more,” said Paty, whose company Oakhurst Realty Partners, purchased the Tudor Village Building in 2012. “Eventually we’d like to have some kind of event every two or three weeks. We don’t have enough people (population of 3600) to support the city commercially. We need to draw people from well outside the city.”
Longtime theater professional Klaus van den Berg, who’s only lived in Avondale Estates 16 months, knows what he’d like to see. A career drama and theater history professor, he now consults with communities on building theater and performance spaces in urban areas.
“The festivals are a good start,” van den Berg said. “But we need something to anchor the economy. My proposal to the city is to use those four acres and integrate an arts center with a park. I’m thinking of a multi-performance space, well designed, acoustically superb.
“For me,” he added, “an arts center would boost development and allow the town to keep its historic character.”
For now the Avondale Estates Business Association is planning two more new festivals after the Shakespeare festival. Elvis Fest is scheduled for Aug. 19, three days after the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death. The King is reputed to have given two impromptu performances at the Towne Cinema in 1956 and 1971.
Additionally the AEBA recently received a $2500 check from Waffle House to partly fund a September festival celebrating the restaurant chain founded here in 1955.
“There are millions of arts festivals and farmers markets,” Paty said. “For us the trick is not just putting on an event, but putting on an event that’s relevant. We want to capitalize on our history, but we also want to put on something that resonates with people who live outside our city, something that gets them to drive past Decatur.”
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