As Metro Atlanta rides the Southern Hollywood wave, climbing ranks in the nation’s performing arts market, it is the goal of educators to cultivate local talent versatile enough to meet the demands of the burgeoning industry.
Gay H. Hammond is an Associate Professor of Theater at Brenau University and told an audience at the Buford Lanier Woman’s Club on May 8, 2019, that 84 percent of the University’s Theater graduates are currently working in the field of Theater, and a growing number of those jobs are local.
“There’s always been a healthy growth in the industry, but we’re definitely adjusting to include television and film to serve many who want to take advantage of the boom. We also include more technical training like costume design and lighting because there is more interest in that area,” Hammond said.
Hammond’s personal experience is more theatrical, although she has vast experience as a lifelong actor, a director, and playwright. Providing her insights into the performing arts world, Hammond said, “You need multiple skillsets. Everyone in this profession does things that are not necessarily in your job description, and you have to be flexible.”
Hammond considers the life of an actor or performing artist to be one of shifting challenges — each new project is accompanied by new problems and requires different skills. And regardless of what one’s niche skill is, one thing all performative artists rely on is an understanding of visual storytelling. As an actor, that often means meshing with other characters to convey the appropriate energy and tone. As a director, that means creating ensembles by choreographing people, props and ideas.
“Theater is intermingled . . . you have to get used to constant change pretty quickly. It makes us feel crazy sometimes, but most of us are addicted to that constant change up of people ideas and places. It’s what attracts us to the art,” Hammond said.
Niche skills are always a plus, according to this multi-skilled performer. Hammond has witnessed her own children work as professional actors, directors and costume designers, and most recently, the brother-sister duo started their own Stage Combat Choreography business called “Twin Fight”. The siblings were trained by the Society for American Fight Directors which has standardized safety and training for entertainment professionals all over the world in industries such as film, television, and theatre.
“It used to be that we would just fight and hope no one got hurt, but these days, the industry is more organized, and we have professionals come in and actually stage, so it works out better for everyone.”
At Brenau, Hammond’s specialty is teaching Period Style acting, although she has expanded her arsenal to accommodate her duties as a director and playwright.
Hammond was trained in classical theater at the University of Louisville, but in the early ‘90s, she accepted the position as director of WonderQuest, a theater program for young audiences with the Gainesville Theater Alliance.
As director of WonderQuest, a program that seeks to inspire wonder in young audiences, Hammond noticed a need for new material to stimulate young minds. She decided to pursue an M.F.A. in Playwriting from Spalding University and has written and directed close to 40 plays for both child and adult audiences.
“I started writing because of WonderQuest. When I started writing over 20 years ago, many plays for children talked down to kids, but I wanted to challenge them and instill a love of theater,” said Hammond. “And we needed plays that would fill the room. Pearce Auditorium, where WonderQuest does the TYA shows, seats over 700 people so we do plays that are for everyone. I have been happy to see, and take part in, the trend now for more challenging, more professional productions for young audiences!”
Hammond considers GTA one of the most unique programs she has encountered in her entire career. While its personnel and spaces are supported by the Universities, the majority of the production budget comes from ticket sales.
“The Gainesville Theater Alliance is one of the greatest blessings of this region. It’s a unique combination of two Universities – Brenau and the University of North Georgia. As far as I know, there is no other program like this,” Hammond said of the program.
The director encourages folks to support their local theater by coming to see at least one of their upcoming shows. The 2019 season includes hits like “Legally Blonde”, “Arabian Nights” and “The Bra and Panty Club”, a Southern comedy written and directed by Hammond.
“More folks should participate in seeing and supporting live theater! Nothing takes the place of face-to-face, human communication through connection,” Hammond said.
And while many students find jobs in the industry in prominent cities including New York City, Las Angeles, and Chicago, it is Hammond’s goal to see her students and collaborators contribute to Georgia’s growing performing arts industry.
“Being able to keep our artists in the state is something we hope to continue to do since a thriving arts community is essential to humanity. We offer degrees in Performance (both Acting and Musical Theatre), Light Design, Costume Design, Set Design, and Technical Direction,” Hammond said of Brenau’s opportunities for performing artists to expand their skillsets.
Before making her grand exit from the Buford Community Center where the ladies of Buford Lanier Woman’s Club met, Hammond asked if those in the audience had any questions and closed with a note of gratitude. “Theater reminds us what it is to be human. It brings us together to share breath in a single space. Thank you for sharing breath with me.”
With the combined support of the University of North Georgia, Brenau University, Theatre Wings and the Professional Company, Gainesville Theatre Alliance aims to provide its artists and audiences quality theatrical experiences that educate, inspire, enrich and unite. More background along with shows and ticket information can be found on the about the GTA’s website via http://www.gainesvilletheatrealliance.org.