Dad’s Garage fêtes 25 years with 25 hours of live improv

Dad's Garage Theatre celebrates a quarter century with virtual improv shows, a silent auction and surprise guests. AJC File
Dad's Garage Theatre celebrates a quarter century with virtual improv shows, a silent auction and surprise guests. AJC File

Twenty-five years ago, a cohort of freshly minted graduates from Florida State University’s School of Theatre moved to Atlanta and started a theater company. It wasn’t just any theater company though. It was a gonzo, punk rock kind of theater company run by a group of subversive, irreverent bootstrappers who loved improv and called themselves Dad’s Garage Theatre.

Beginning at 8 p.m. Aug. 7, Dad’s Garage started to celebrate a quarter-century of entertaining metro Atlantans with 25 continuous hours of live virtual entertainment on Twitch. Formatted like a telethon parody, the production will feature improv shows; a silent auction; a preview of “Dad’s Garage: The First 25 Years,” a 150-page, full-color book on the theater’s history; and special appearances by founders, performers and contributors from the theater’s colorful past.

“We have about 40 improvisers who will be doing different shows throughout the 25 hours,” said Artistic Director Jon Carr. “We’ll have some performers who will be part of the stream for the whole 25 hours, so it will be fun to see how funny they can be 25 hours into a show.”

It promises to be a fitting way to honor the history of a scrappy troupe that managed to carve a place for itself in the pantheon of Atlanta theater despite a reputation for thumbing its nose at convention.

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Under the leadership of cofounding Artistic Director Sean Daniels, the theater launched with nine actors in June 1995. Early on, it established a winning formula producing outrageous, pop culture-infused scripted comedies like “Cannibal: The Musical,” followed by late-night improv shows, such as the soap opera-themed “Scandal!”

Local theater critics didn’t get it at first. An Atlanta Journal-Constitution review described it as “not what most adults would call theater,” a quote the theater proudly printed on their promotional brochures for years. But Dad’s Garage quickly cultivated a large and loyal following of young adults at a time when audiences at other local theaters were skewing considerably older.

During the 25-hour live stream, viewers are likely to hear stories about highlights from the past 25 years, including celebrity visits from Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, playwright Eric Bogosian, comedian Thomas Middleditch and the time actor Kevin Bacon attended the theater’s annual BaconFest fundraiser in 2012.

Kevin Bacon (left) and Dad's Garage regular Lucky Yates at BaconFest 2012, a fundraiser for the theater. Courtesy of Dad's Garage Theatre
Kevin Bacon (left) and Dad's Garage regular Lucky Yates at BaconFest 2012, a fundraiser for the theater. Courtesy of Dad's Garage Theatre

The digital celebration is a natural progression of Dad’s Twitch channel twitch.tv/dadsgarageatl, which was launched in late March after the theater had to shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve been doing up to 30 hours weekly of online improv shows,” said Communications Director Matthew Terrell. “While it’s been a bummer not to have people in our audience, we’ve had 10,000 viewers on the Twitch channel.” Virtual programming has been so successful, they will continue it in some capacity after the theater reopens,” Terrell said.

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While the stage has remained dark during the pandemic, the staff has been busy taking advantage of the empty house by tackling a to-do list of maintenance projects.

“I told our Managing Director Lara Smith that every day we are closed down is an opportunity to do something we couldn’t do when we had people in our facility,” said Terrell.

Over the past several months they have installed a new roof, repainted the interior, pressure washed the exterior, cleaned out storage closets, cataloged all the props and restriped the parking lot. With a nod towards the pandemic, they also installed a cold plasma generator that attaches to the air-conditioning unit to filter out bacteria from the air, and bought three electrostatic foggers for disinfecting surfaces.

Co-founding Artist Director Sean Daniels (left) with former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter at Dad's Garage Theatre. Courtesy of Dad's Garage Theatre
Co-founding Artist Director Sean Daniels (left) with former President Jimmy Carter and Rosalyn Carter at Dad's Garage Theatre. Courtesy of Dad's Garage Theatre

Despite the loss of ticket sales, Terrell said the theater managed to break even when the fiscal year ended July 31.

“A lot of that has to do with grants we got from funders like Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Fulton County Arts & Culture and Warner Media,” he said. “We normally get funding from them, but they opened up extra money for COVID relief, and we got it.”

The pandemic forced the theater to cancel its annual Big Stupid Parking Lot Carnival fundraiser in late March, but they were able to move the silent auction online and raised $15,000.

“It ended up being the most successful silent auction in our history,” said Terrell.

Looking towards the future, Dad’s Garage would like to expand its digital presence by investing in a stage camera system.

“Currently when we record a show, one of our staff members sits in the back with a Handycam,” said Terrell. “We believe the future of the theater is going to involve professional camera equipment on stage that ... feeds to a television production room and can be cut into online or virtual programming. We want to modernize our offerings and have professional recorded shows that anybody can watch from anywhere in the world at any time.”

That’s a pretty lofty goal for a theater started by a bunch of impertinent college kids just wanting to stage some improv shows. And if history is any indication, they’ll most likely achieve it.

EVENT PREVIEW

Dad’s Garage 25-hour live stream. 8 p.m. Aug. 7-9 p.m. Aug. 8. Free, donations accepted. twitch.tv/dadsgarageatl

More virtual theater

‘We’re Still Here: A Virtual Cabaret.’ Alliance Theatre presents a variety show with music, stories and surprise guests. Broadway stars Terry Burrell and Courtenay Collins host. Free. 7 p.m. Aug. 7 and 13. facebook.com/AllianceTheatre, www.youtube.com/alliancetheatre, alliancetheatre.org/virtual-cabaret

Bill Goats Gruff. Presented by Center for Puppetry Arts on Zoom. $11. 11 a.m. daily through Aug. 9. puppet.org.