Any artistic director can tell you that getting a nonprofit arts organization through a single year is a challenge, which makes Atlanta’s Actor’s Express pretty remarkable. The theater company is getting ready to begin their 30th season.
Actor's Express was founded in 1988 by Chris Coleman and Harold M. Leaver. Originally located in a church basement on Clairmont Road, the company moved to Inman Park and finally to its current home at the King Plow Arts Center in 1994.
“We were one of the first tenants of King Plow,” Freddie Ashley tells City Lights host Lois Reitzes. Ashley has been Express’ artistic director since 2007. “When Chris [Coleman] decided to move the company out there, a lot of people told him he was nuts because the west side wasn’t the bustling neighborhood it is today. So the Express was really a pioneer of sorts, moving out to that part of town.”
“We’ve been able to survive our share of tough times because we know who we are and what we do,” Ashley says. “We have a niche in the cultural marketplace of Atlanta. We don’t shy away from content that might be provocative. We try to have a fearlessness in our work. Sometimes that means you have to push some pretty tough buttons.”
The theater company has a mission of bringing new, socially conscious work to the stage. Ashley says that he takes a particular interest in the work of early-career playwrights. Express has produced and championed the work of Steve Yockey, whose show “Wolves” received its world premier at Actor’s Express in 2012. American Theatre Magazine named Yockey in its list of the top 20 most-produced playwrights in America in the 2015-16 season.
The theater has also helped foster the talents of playwright Josh Harmon, whose shows “Bad Jews” and “Significant Other” (which is now debuting on Broadway) were both produced at Actor’s Express.
“Probably the deepest source of my pride in all the work we’ve done at the Express is to see playwright who have gotten their start at Actor’s Express, either through a residency or through a world premier and see them going on and having success in New York and television and elsewhere,” Ashley says.
The company has a big season planned for their third decade making theater, including a world premier by Atlanta playwright Daryl Lisa Fazio and a production of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Angels in America.”
“There is a sense of adventure to the work we do – a sense of daring. We do things a little outside of the mainstream, but there is always a really powerful experience to be found there.”
Actor’s Express’ next show, “Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3),” opens May 13. Their 30th season opens with a production of “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath on Sept. 16. You can see their full season calendar here.