Dad’s Garage—one of Atlanta’s longest-running improv theater companies — is moving out of their Inman Park home.
And it seems the comedians at Dad’s are doing what they do best in their ongoing search for a new theater…rolling with the punches.
Dad’s Garage Theater Company was founded in 1995. In that time they’ve grown from a volunteer-led organization to a theatrical force that puts improv comedy on its two stages 52 weeks out of the year and attracts some 30,000 people to the Elizabeth Street warehouse space. The backstage is crammed-to-bursting with costumes, props, sets, and almost two decades of memories papering the walls. One wall is lined with brightly colored and autographed posters of the number 5. Dad's Artistic Director explains that these are from the theater's World Domination Improv Tournaments.
"Any time a team gets all '5's, they get to sign one of the 5s and we put it up on the wall."
It's like their version of a trophy case. Gillese points to one 5 in particular, which bears his signature.
"My name’s up there. I was visiting from my company in Edmonton, and that was the first time I got to meet Dad’s Garage. And back then, this whole neighborhood was kind of barren around Dad’s Garage. I mean there was abandoned factories to one side, which now are full of condos. Y’know, I look up at this wall and I see the 5 from 2000 when I was just a young man visiting from Canada and I think about how much the neighborhood has changed in the last decade."
And Inman Park is about to undergo even more change...Dad's Garage is moving out.
“This company’s about 18 years old," explains Gillese, "and like any 18 year old, we’re getting booted out of the house."
In April, Dad’s released a statement saying their building, as well as the entire property at 280 Elizabeth Street, is changing ownership and will be redeveloped. South City Partners and JPX Works LLC, a partnership of Atlanta-based developers, have plans for a mixed-use development on the site.
Plans for the site call for rental apartments and retail space. No ground has been broken on the property yet, though Dad’s reports that all of the other tenants at 280 Elizabeth have moved out and their buildings are fenced off from the public. The very last performance in the space, a 10:30 pm show on Saturday the 27th, took place before a sold-out crowd.
Their search for a new home is ongoing, but until they find one, Dad’s will be crashing at 7 Stages Theater in Little 5 Points. Gillese says 7 Stages made the most sense.
"We’re friends with a lot of the guys that work there. We collaborate all the time anyways. We’ll go over there and say ‘do you guys have a fake gun we can borrow? Do you have this setpiece, do you have this prop?’ and vice versa.
The theaters' relationship is so close, in fact, that Dad's last show of the season, “Dementia Juice,” was a collaboration with 7 Stages' Associate Artistic Director Michael Haverty.
Haverty at 7 Stages believes their audiences will be intrigued with what’s going on at Dad’s.
"To have both of these audiences together," Haverty says, "we think is going to provoke a lot of interesting conversations in the lobby.”
And it’ll be interesting to see how these two companies get along under one roof—the innovative and experimental 7 Stages and the rambunctious comedians of Dad’s. Gillese says that in their search for a permanent home, they aren’t really ruling anything out just yet.
Unfortunately, according to Gillese, it looks like Dad's won’t be able to stay in Inman Park.
"There really isn’t a space for us to move into," he says, "which is sad. But we definitely want to stay as close-by as we can."
In their 18 years, Dad’s Garage has always been an Inman Park theater. And while the move may not have a drastic effect on what they do, it would be hard to argue that the departure of a long-established theater company won’t have some effect on Inman Park. Dad’s leaving the neighborhood may be indicative of the larger changes that have been taking place in Inman Park over the last decade. Gillese has seen the changes taking place since his first visit in 2000.
"And this is one of the last little plots of land that hasn’t been redeveloped and so…it’s time has come," he sighs.
7 Stages’ Michael Haverty sees that redevelopment as being due, at least in part, to the cultural cache that Dad’s Garage Theater brought to Inman Park.
"I think a lot of people want to be in these neighborhoods because there is so much going on." Haverty explains. "They want that street life, they want that cultural life that’s close to their door. It’s something 7 Stages provides to all the neighborhoods right around here—Candler Park, Inman Park, Kirkwood, Edgewood…and Dad’s does the same and I think that’s a huge reason for the development.”
The overall impact that an improv comedy theater can have on a community may be difficult to ascertain. But Inman Park has changed since Dad’s Garage moved in, and it’s fair to say that Dad’s estimated draw of thirty thousand patrons through their doors per year had something to do with invigorating the commerce of the neighborhood.
Dad’s Garage’s residency at 7 Stages is set to begin August 10th. In addition they’re using their transience as an opportunity to partner with other arts organizations around Atlanta. According to Kevin Gillese, like any 18 year old, they’re keeping their options open.