Exclusive: City Springs names Shuler Hensley new artistic director

The Tony Award winner has been with the company since its founding.
Tony Award-winning actor and Marietta native Shuler Hensley (left) has been named the new artistic director of City Springs Theatre, alongside the company's executive director Natalie DeLancey. Photo courtesy of Patrick Marcigliano.

Credit: Courtesy of Patrick Marcigliano

Credit: Courtesy of Patrick Marcigliano

Tony Award-winning actor and Marietta native Shuler Hensley (left) has been named the new artistic director of City Springs Theatre, alongside the company's executive director Natalie DeLancey. Photo courtesy of Patrick Marcigliano.

Tony Award-winning Marietta native Shuler Hensley’s upcoming appearance in the Broadway revival of “The Music Man” isn’t the only new role on his horizon. This week, he has also been named artistic director of City Springs Theatre, where he has served as its associate artistic director since the company’s founding in 2017.

Original artistic director Brandt Blocker stepped down in June after four years, which prompted another promotion of sorts back in July for Natalie DeLancey, who has also been with City Springs from the very beginning, first as managing director and now as executive director.

As the Sandy Springs theater emerges from the 18-month shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hensley and DeLancey recently spoke about their future plans for the company.

Q: How did this changing of the guard at City Springs Theatre fall into place?

DeLANCEY: When the three of us first started, Brandt had always said he wouldn’t be around for long. He originally had a three- to five-year timeframe. That was the company’s succession plan from the very beginning, that I’d eventually take on more responsibility from a business standpoint. Fortunately, Shuler was also very interested in stepping up to play a bigger role on the artistic side, which will really help to elevate our presence in the New York theater community.

Q: Why is it important for an Atlanta theater company to have a presence in New York?

HENSLEY: I was born and raised here, and I grew up around the arts in Atlanta, so one of my goals has always been to keep roots here. My ultimate goal with City Springs is to celebrate local artists. We want to do a lot of our casting locally, but it’s also helpful to provide a sort of networking environment through my years of experience in New York. It’s partly about encouraging artists from New York to come here and work at City Springs, where, at the same time, local artists can learn from wonderful creative talents from New York.

Terry Burrell (far right) heads the cast of the fairy-tale musical "Into the Woods," continuing through July 18 at City Springs Theatre.

Courtesy of Ben Rose Photography

Credit: Ben Rose/BenRosePhotography.com

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Credit: Ben Rose/BenRosePhotography.com

Q: Did “The Sound of Music” go well? (Last month’s City Springs production marked Hensley’s first full-fledged undertaking as a director.)

HENSLEY: I’d directed some script readings before, and I did one of City Springs’ streaming concert revues during the shutdown, but “Sound of Music” was a way of branching out, keeping myself active and creative. It was an amazing experience, and such a great show for this particular time, given what we’re all going through (during COVID-19), because everyone knows the film and had a real familiarity with the music.

DeLANCEY: The show did really well. We followed strict COVID protocols, and we still sold roughly 7,000 out of 9,000 tickets during the run. Audiences were quite willing to comply with those policies, which was also very refreshing … Of all the directors we’ve had on other City Springs shows, I’ve never seen one who spent as much time and energy as Shuler did, helping the actors create their characters, given his own extensive acting career.

HENSLEY: Having been an actor for so long, I’ve worked with some of the greatest (directors), like Trevor Nunn and Hal Prince. And it’s true what most of them say about how 90 percent of a director’s job is casting the right actors in a show.

Shuler Hensley (right), Tony Award-winning actor and associate artistic director of the City Springs Theatre company, works with student 
Lukas DeLancey.

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Q: How has City Springs grown over its first four seasons, and what are its plans for the future?

DeLANCEY: We started out with 4,200 season subscriptions our first season, then 4,800 for the second. That went down last year, obviously, but post-COVID we’re back at around 4,000 season ticket holders so far this year. We’re here for the long haul, but the company’s still very young, continuing to grow, with a long way to go, artistically as well as educationally. Our conservatory program really took off during the pandemic, too, where it was a lot easier to focus on virtual programming. We’ve taught about 48,000 conservatory students, and the idea of training the next generation of theater artists is very important to us as a company.

Q: Shuler, what challenges do you foresee in balancing your responsibilities as City Springs’ artistic director and maintaining your acting career with shows like the upcoming “Music Man” (opening in February 2022)?

HENSLEY: For the last 10 or 12 years, I’ve basically lived in Georgia, but regularly worked in New York and other places. That’s exactly how I like it. I’m not interested in retiring from the stage, but my wife and son live here, so I’ll be coming back and forth every month or so. It’s like the best of both worlds.