Atlanta’s theater scene is a source local pride for good reason: large and small, the city’s theater companies earn abundant local, regional and national acclaim thanks to exceptional talent and forward-thinking creative leadership.
These local theaters stand alongside giants like The Fox Theatre, Broadway in Atlanta and big-name touring productions to make Atlanta a heavy-hitter in the nation’s theatrical arena. Here, we bring you Atlanta’s essential theater groups that captivate audiences with must-watch, can’t-miss, gotta-see-it performances.
The Company: Serenbe Playhouse may technically be based 30 minutes south of Downtown Atlanta, but its bold, immersive productions more than earn its place on our list. Director Brian Clowdus founded the company at the idyllic Serenbe community in 2009 and has managed to lead his group into the national spotlight in that short time thanks to innovative shows set amongst the rolling hills, dense forests and open fields of Serenbe. Each season seems to outdo its predecessor with productions featuring fully-operational fairgrounds, helicopter landings, audience interaction and live animals from the Serenbe stables and farm. Tickets rarely exceed $35, so this is a must-see for all lovers of spectacle.
The Shows: Past productions include “Carousel,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Evita” and “The Secret Garden.” Annual productions include “The Sleepy Hollow Experience” and “Snow Queen.”
The Fine Print: Locations vary, 770.463.1110
The Company: Beloved Horizon Theatre is a staple for local theater lovers. The mostly native Atlantan casts are energetic, talented and oftentimes riotously funny. Six to seven shows are performed in each season, and run the gamut from dramas to comedies to musicals and children’s productions. The group is no stranger to awards season; in fact, it’s has racked up seven Suzi Bass Awards and three Atlanta Theater Fan Awards since 2006. Tickets to these productions are usually $35 or less.
The Shows: The company has previously produced “Toxic Avenger,” “Avenue Q,” “The City of Conversation,” and “Informed Consent.” Annual shows include “The Waffle Palace,” “The Santaland Diaries” and “Madeline’s Christmas.”
The Fine Print: 1083 Austin Ave., 404.584.7450
The Company: Alliance Theatre is by far Atlanta’s best-known and most acclaimed company. A long history of star-studded and impressively varied seasons have earned the Alliance not just an exceptional reputation, but also a regional Tony Award and a jaw-dropping 43 Suzi Bass Awards (and 167 nominations) since 2006. The theater is located at the sprawling Woodruff Arts Center and includes the main Alliance Stage and more intimate Hertz Stage, which features superb smaller works, many of them written by local talent. Works specifically for families, children and babies are incorporated into each season, making this one of the most comprehensive companies in the city.
The Shows: The group’s repertoire includes “Steel Magnolias,” “The Color Purple,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Zorro” and “The Whipping Man.” Each year, the group produces “A Christmas Carol” during the holiday season. Attending this legacy show has become a tradition in Atlanta.
The Fine Print: 1280 Peachtree St. NE, 404.733.5000
Dad's Garage Theatre Company
The Company: Dad’s Garage Theatre Company is a rare breed in Atlanta’s theater scene. Not only is this one of the city’s go-to improvisational theater companies, but it is also a source for humorous scripted productions, like the bold and riotous “Merry %#!*ing Christmas.” This group draws big-name comedians like bees to honey; in fact, the opening performances in its new location (a former church in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward) featured Colin Mochrie of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” fame. Aside from its celebrity guest appearances (like Aisha Tyler of “Archer” and Scott Adsit of “30 Rock”), the group’s regular cast members are a talented bunch, displaying flexibility as both quick-witted improvisers and skilled scripted actors.
The Shows: Weekly improv shows include Improv Revolution (Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m.), Extreme Elimination Improv Challenge (Thursdays at 10:30 p.m.), CageMatch (Fridays at 8 p.m.), TheatreSports (Saturdays at 10:30 p.m.). Past scripted productions include “Merry %#!*ing Christmas,” “Two Gentlemen of Lebowski” and “Thankskilling The Musical!”
The Fine Print: 569 Ezzard St., 404.523.3141
The Company: In 1996, a hardware store in the Atlanta suburb of Lawrenceville was transformed into Aurora Theatre. This small group is the only professional theater company in Gwinnett, which makes it a local treasure. Perhaps more than any other company in Atlanta, Aurora features productions that are diverse in terms of culture, content, and format. The 2015/16 season, for instance, was comprised of a Stephen Sondheim musical (“Into the Woods”), a Spanish-language play (“Divorciadas, Evangélicas y Vegetarianas”) and local play co-produced with Horizon Theatre (“Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike”). Lest we forget about local recognition, Aurora has amassed 25 Suzi Bass Awards since its inception.
The Shows: Past performances include “Memphis,” “Real Women Have Curves,” “Les Misérables,” “El Insólito Caso de Miss Piña Colada” and “Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde.” The group produces its high-energy, Christmas-themed variety show, “Aurora’s Christmas Canteen,” every year.
The Fine Print: 128 East Pike St., 678.226.6222
The Company: Earning its keep as the place to experience contemporary, often-experimental theatrical productions, 7 Stages is one of Atlanta’s best-kept secrets. This is where you go to find shows brimming with social and political commentary while employing new methods and techniques. Since its founding in 1979, the company has produced an astounding close to 90 international premieres and over 25 national premieres.
The Shows: The 2016/17 season includes “The Threepenny Opera,” “Cowboy,” “No(se)onenowhere” and “White Woman in Progress.” The company performs its graphic and over-the-top “anti-holiday tradition,” “Krampus X-mas,” every year; this show is a must-see for those who appreciate dark humor.
The Fine Print: 1105 Euclid Ave. NE, 404.523.7647
The Company: Theatrical Outfit is Atlanta's second-oldest continually operating professional theater company, and that’s not the only way this local group is deeply rooted in the city’s history. The group’s home is the Balzer Theater at Herren’s, which holds the honor of being the nation’s first theater to achieve LEED certification and is on land that once belonged to Herren’s, the first restaurant to voluntarily desegregate in Atlanta. Expect to catch nationally-acclaimed shows that haven’t yet hit the mainstream and productions by up-and-coming local playwrights.
The Shows: The group’s repertoire includes “The Light in the Piazza,” “A Little Princess,” “Storefront Church,” “My Children! My Africa!” and “A Christmas Memory.”
The Fine Print: 84 Luckie St., 678.528.1500
New American Shakespeare Theatre
The Company: We’d be remiss not to include Atlanta’s spectacular (and only) Shakespeare theater, the aptly named New American Shakespeare Tavern. The playhouse is constructed to resemble Shakespeare’s legendary Globe Theatre, including a period-appropriate Peachtree Street facade. Inside, actors dress in period costumes while performances are accompanied by Victorian-era instruments for all musical pieces and sound effects. And if that’s not enough to pique your interest, then perhaps the full dinner menu is. The kitchen opens seventy-five minutes before each production, serving up black-bean chili, Shepherd’s Pie, spinach enchiladas and desserts like tres leches, soda float, and cream cheese chocolate brownies.
The Shows: The company’s repertoire focuses mainly on the Bard’s works—including “The Merchant of Venice,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Macbeth” and “Twelfth Night”—but also features non-Shakespearean works, including Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” and Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” The group’s annual, period-appropriate rendition of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is locally beloved.
The Fine Print: 499 Peachtree St. NE, 404.874.5299