Lara Smith leaving role at head of Dad’s Garage Theatre

Became managing director while still in her 20s

Lara Smith, the managing director who has guided Dad’s Garage Theatre through a season of dramatic growth, will be stepping down, the group announced Wednesday.

She made the decision to leave last October, she said, but postponed the announcement while the improvisational theater company dealt with the crushing blow of the pandemic shutdown.

Smith said she wanted to give the theater a chance to find a replacement, rather than give two weeks notice and disappear, and has committed to staying through late 2021.

“I wanted to make sure I left the organization as strong as possible,” she said. “I wouldn’t announce my departure if I didn’t feel like Dad’s could come out of this strong as ever,

Smith, 35, grew up in St. Louis, Mo., and studied stage management at Webster University’s Theatre Conservatory. After an internship at the Alliance Theater during college, she moved to Atlanta in 2007 to become development director at Dad’s Garage.

In 2010 she became managing director at Actor’s Express, then came back to Dad’s Garage to become managing director in 2012.

Her tenure has seen the theater group through at least two crises.

The first was in 2014 when Dad’s lost its home in rental space in Inman Park, a transition that resulted in the group buying a former church in the Old Fourth Ward, and expanding its footprint, programming and customer base.

The second took place last year, when the coronavirus shut down theaters all over the world, and Dad’s made a decisive leap to online audiences, creating a channel on the Twitch network.

Over this period Smith has almost doubled the company’s budget, from $1 million to nearly $2 million.

Smith’s announcement comes at a difficult time for the theater. The artistic director Jon Carr announced he was leaving his post last November to become executive director at Second City. Carr had been leading Dad’s Garage for only a year.

Currently the group is headed by interim artistic director Tim Stoltenberg. “The board is confident in the decision to keep Tim in his role for the foreseeable future while prioritizing the search for a new managing director,” said board chair Derin Dickerson, in a statement.

Smith took an active role dealing with the impact of the pandemic on Atlanta theater, helping coordinate a group of arts leaders who met regularly to discuss ways to cope. She also became part of the mayor’s council appointed to help plan for reopening the city.

Atlanta still lacks arts leadership she said, and needs a cohesive voice for the sector. That might be a role she’s interested in, but Smith said she also is fascinated by prison and police reform.

After helping Dad’s Garage find a new leader, she said she’s not sure where she will end up.

“The thing that inspires me about the arts is the transformative impact it has on people,” she said.