Atlanta’s class clowns just became valedictorians.
Dad’s Garage has received a prestigious Georgia Governor’s Award for Arts and Humanities, a sure sign of maturity for the irreverent troupe, but do not expect the mischief to stop.
“I think it recognizes something very vital to the arts community that we’ve dedicated ourselves to since our founding,” says artistic director Tim Stoltenberg, “which is to give young creatives the opportunity to create new and innovative work, and give them continued support as their careers progress.”
The original company — a gaggle of puckish Gen-Xers, most of whom had just graduated from Florida State University — came to Atlanta in 1995. They called themselves “Dad’s Garage,” partly in homage to a Little Rascals sketch, and as a “salute to our fathers who had given us the startup funding,” says Sean Daniels, co-founder and artistic director for 10 years. “Our core business plan was just to do theater until we ran out of money.”
Their mission? “To push boundaries,” Daniels says. “We were tired of doing ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’ over and over, and we wanted to write our own plays and make them joyful, slightly scandalous and rebellious.”
Silliness for the sake of silliness, in other words, for these avant-garde vaudevillians. They found a lair in a crumbling Inman Park warehouse. “We had a tin roof, so we had to pause shows if it rained,” Daniels recalls.
Their productions — heavy on wrestling, unpredictable improv and other goofy, Monty Python-inflected bits — did not always pack the pews at first, but soon enough word got around. Marquee names such as Kevin Bacon, Eric Bogosian and Richard Linklater dropped in on this curious collective.
“Atlanta is key to our story,” Daniels says. “We could’ve gone to Chicago or New York, but we would’ve just been one in a million. In Atlanta we hit a chord at just the right time, in a very supportive community. From the beginning, the critics took us as seriously as they did other, more established companies.”
Since its inception, Dad’s has functioned as a talent incubator, staging roughly 7,500 performances over the years with mostly up-and-comers treading the boards, and then moving on to other challenges. Daniels is now creative director for the Arizona Theatre Company. Lauren Gunderson is known as the “most produced playwright in America,” and Eve Krueger and Jon Carr went on to The Second City in Chicago. Meanwhile, the Atlanta company rolls on, now with the pedigree of being a Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities winner (find out about other honorees at the end of this story).
ArtsATL caught up with Dad’s troupers past and present to ask: What are your fondest, funniest memories of Dad’s Garage? In their own words . . .
Sean Daniels, Dad’s Garage co-founder
- One night we only had one person in the audience, but we played our hearts out for that one audience member, who gave us a standing ovation. Another night, we only had three people, and one of them had an iron lung that would ping every time he laughed. We were worried he would suffer if we got too funny.
Eve Krueger, performer and administrator
- We ran a show called “Samurai Davis Jr. and Dim Sum’s Mega Super Happy Fun Time Improv Show” for a while. The hosts spoke only in gibberish, there were props that improvisers were forced to incorporate into their scenes and scenes in which the “bad” were punished, usually by making the improvisers in those scenes eat something really gross or endure some mild physical torture. On the very last night of this run, the final punishment was a spanking by an actual, for-real dominatrix. One of my jobs was to hang out with the dominatrix and keep her hidden from everyone else until it was time for her to punish in the last scene. I’m generally a very prudish person compared to the vast majority of my Dad’s Garage pals, but that night, I wasn’t completely uncomfortable talking to this dom. She was super-nice, very professional, and she spanked the hell out of our improvisers.
Credit: Dad's Garage
Credit: Dad's Garage
Tim Stoltenberg, artistic director
- When the power went out during a storm, we lost all the lights. The audience pulled out their phones and used their flashlights to shine enough light for the show to continue.
- We had our largest group invasion ever in “Invasion, Christmas Carol,” this past year. We had 12 Harlem Globetrotters in the show. It was a show within a show.
- I enjoy working with children. In our improv for kids, kids share their own jokes they’ve made up. For example, “What time is it when an elephant sits on your face? Time to buy a fence!” Comedy gold.
Lauren Gunderson, former perfomer and playwright
- Dad’s Garage was one of the first theaters to give me a shot as a playwright. They commissioned me to write 10-minute plays and even a full-length play, “Class” (2008) that I still crack up thinking about. It was about a high school class presidential election, and the audience voted on the ending every night. I can’t tell you how special it was to be treated not just as a writer, but as a funny one when I didn’t see a lot of support for young women and comedy at that time.
- I remember standing in line to watch an improv show after having done one of their 10-minute plays, and someone turned around, and said, “Hey, you’re that playwright girl, right?” That was the first time anyone has ever called me a playwright. I’m so grateful for that community of brave and silly and adventurous and supportive artists that make people laugh and give people a chance to know their true power as storytellers.
Credit: Jenni Girtman
Credit: Jenni Girtman
Jon Carr, former artistic director
- Before moving to new digs in the Old Fourth Ward, the original Dad’s Garage Theatre was torn down in 2013 for condo development. On the day that it was scheduled to be torn down a few of us decided to watch the demolition. We ended up chatting with some of the construction workers, and our own Megan Dahl was able to talk her way into guiding the wrecking ball and taking down a part of the building.
- We had been running an improv and wrestling show for years. For the final performance, we decided to construct a real wrestling ring and have a show in the parking lot. The one thing we did not count on was that when someone was slammed onto the wrestling mat, the sound resembled gunshots. About halfway through the show, the police showed up because they had reports of gunfire in the area. When they finally saw what was happening they loved it so much so that they ended up hanging out with us and watching the show.
- We ran an event called BaconFest for a number of years. We knew Kevin Bacon was in town shooting a television show so we all sent him tweets in hopes that he would show up. To our surprise, he actually came! He was escorted through the events to see some of our booths. The final one was our compliment and insult booths. Despite our better judgment, he decided to try both. There are still questions around what was said at the insult booth but what we do know is that he has never worked with us since.
(Editor’s note: Kevin Bacon must not have been too insulted, because he worked on a 2014 video promoting that year’s BaconFest with Kevin Gillese, then Dad’s Garage artistic director and now director of Dad’s Garage TV.)
Other Atlanta winners of 2021 Governor’s Awards for the Arts and Humanities are Synchronicity Theatre, Out of Hand Theater, Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale and the Georgia Council on Economic Education. Full list here.
Candice Dyer’s work has appeared in Atlanta magazine, Garden and Gun, Georgia Trend and other publications. She is the author of Street Singers, Soul Shakers, Rebels with a Cause: Music from Macon.
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