Three years ago this week, in these very pages, we reported on what seemed to be the death knell for community theater in Savannah. The story, headlined The Final Curtain?, chronicled the last gasps of City Lights, Cardinal Rep and the Little Theatre of Savannah, all of which crashed and burned from financial troubles, internal squabbling and - most importantly - too few butts in the seats.
Theater folk, however, have a passion that burns brighter than such things. Three years later, there are several groups that have sprung, phoenix-like, from those ashes.
Today, the theater community is bigger and better than it's ever been.
Without question, one of the most successful has been the Bay Street Theatre, which produces plays and musicals on the cabaret stage upstairs at Club One.
The 2009 Connect story, says Bay Street's Travis Coles, "was a turning point, because it lit a fire under people's asses that they needed to get something done. And they have."
Coles, Club One's manager, formed the Bay Street executive board along with Valerie Macaluso and Chris Stanley.
"That was the point where we were like, ‘OK, let's go with this. Let's make it happen,'" he says. "Chris and Val have really pushed that, and we've been able to cement it and create a real theater space and a real theater feeling."
Bay Street's greatest successes have been with mainstream - well, maybe a little left-of-mainstream - musicals like Rent, Cabaret, Avenue Q and that reliable annual outrage-a-thon, The Rocky Horror Show.
"It's the bigger shows, like Avenue Q and Rent, that allow us to have smaller, more serious shows," explains Coles. "I think our musicals are our strong points, as far as funding for the rest of the season."
All of this speaks directly to Bay Street's manifesto - which, in Coles' words, goes something like this: "To produce edgy theater that sometimes can't exist in other spaces."
In July, Club One celebrates its 25th anniversary as Savannah's premiere gay nightspot and drag queen cabaret bar. "It has notoriety," Coles explains. "People know the space for the various things that we have there, so there's an expectation to be a little bit outside of the traditional."
Part of Bay Street's triumph has been to entice audiences of all demographics into a space that some consider a bastion of the bizarre.
They do this with quality shows.
Last month, Coles and his board held an open "interest meeting" to discuss possibilities for the 2013 season. More than 50 people showed up and spoke up.
The shows have been selected, the directors tapped, and it's the biggest season thus far.
The upcoming season
The Eight: Reindeer Monologues. Just added as a sort of holiday bonus, Jeff Goode's comical tale of sexual shenanigans, Santa-style, goes up Dec. 20-23 of this year, with Coles directing.
Shel's Shorts (Jan. 24-27). The 2011 production of Shel Silverstein vignettes was so successful, they've tapped the great poet and pundit for another comic collection. Directed by Chris Stanley.
A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant & A Prayer (Feb. 15-17). Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues gets a rest this year, in favor of an Ensler-edited collection of shorts focusing on violence against women. This benefit for the Rape Crisis Center will (tentatively) feature direction from Val Macaluso, JinHi Soucy Rand and Sheila Bolda.
Reefer Madness (April 19-28). Yes, kids, it's now a wacky, weedy musical, directed by Tim Reynolds.
Speech & Debate (June 27-30). Macaluso directs Stephen Karam's deeply dark comedy (with music) about a sex scandal in Salem, Oregon. This one's been on Bay Street's radar for a couple of years.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Aug. 9-25). Jeff DeVincent has rightfully earned a reputation as Savannah's premier director of big, loud and kinda strange musicals. Here, he's painting with Sondheim's boldest strokes.
The Rocky Horror Show (Oct. 18-31). If Bay Street has a cash cow, this is it - garish and grotesque, and way too much fun, it's the Halloween musical for all time. Chris Blair swears he played Frank for the last time in the 2012 edition. We'll see, Chris. We'll see. DeVincent directs.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Nov. 21-24). A brief run of John Cameron Mitchell's brilliant transgendered rock ‘n' roll opera, directed by Stanley. Calling Chris Blair ...
The Santaland Diaries/Season's Greetings (Dec. 19-22). Humorous - well, outrageously funny - Christmas parables from the pen of David Sedaris. Coles directs.