In one of the biggest surprises of an Atlanta theater season that has had more than its share, Anthony Rodriguez is stepping down as Aurora Theatre’s producing artistic director to become the first executive director of the HUB404 Conservancy.
Rodriguez will lead a $270 million campaign to bring the nonprofit’s mega urban design project, HUB404 Atlanta GA, to fruition. The long-in-the-works project seeks to create a half-mile-long park that would be home to public art, arts programs and other events. It would cap GA 400 between Peachtree and Lenox roads.
Along with his life partner and fellow Aurora co-founder Ann-Carol Pence, Rodriguez opened the $40 million Lawrenceville Arts Center in the Gwinnett County seat’s downtown late last year.
Assuming the title of Aurora producing artistic director, Pence will run the theater with managing director Katie Pelkey, a longtime Aurora staffer.
“Aurora Theatre celebrates this exciting next chapter — both for Anthony, as he brings his vision and community leadership to a vibrant new project — and for our organization as we forge ahead under the dynamic direction of co-founder Ann-Carol Pence and managing director Katie Pelkey,” according to a statement from the 26-year-old troupe. “Anthony’s passion and guidance have helped Aurora Theatre establish its reputation as a preeminent arts destination, shaping the regional theater and its programming for continued success in the decades to come. We look forward to his continued involvement and inspiration on the board of directors.”
A 59,500-square-foot complex, Lawrenceville Arts Center boasts a 500-seat, state-of-the-art Grand Stage (with a fly loft and automated orchestra pit), a Cabaret Theater with a courtyard event space, public areas, rehearsal space, a green room and a costume shop.
The edifice is owned by the city of Lawrenceville but operated by Aurora. Aurora is continuing to run its longtime adjoining home, renamed the Bobby Sikes Fine Arts Center, as well.
After preview tours of the expansive Lawrenceville Arts Center for supporters and the public last October, Rodriguez told ArtsATL that he and Pence were both proud and a bit dazed that the project had finally come together, Covid-related delays and all.
“Overwhelming was an understatement. It was a culmination of so many things that probably should never happen,” he said. “Cities don’t partner with small professional theaters. They might build one theater but they don’t go out of their way to build two — and they don’t go out of their way to create a management agreement under which this operates.”
That very experience shepherding projects in partnership with business and political leaders made Rodriguez a prime candidate for the HUB404 Atlanta GA role.
“Bringing this park to life will depend on funding and partnership from a range of public and private sources,” interim board chair Court Thomas, of Atlanta Property Group, said in a press release. “Anthony’s experience makes him well-suited to secure the support needed for a project of this scale and turn it into a reality.”
After a transition period between the two organizations, Rodriguez is to start full-time with the HUB404 Conservancy on August 1.
Aurora, meanwhile, is amid the launch of a big project of its own. On May 19, it opens the farce Swindlers, with unabashed ambitions to help send it to the Great White Way. Aurora is partnering with Broadway Factor, whose partners claim a track record for hit musicals including Mrs. Doubtfire and Kinky Boots as well as the acclaimed revival of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune.
“With the opening of Lawrenceville Arts Center,” Pence said, “we can now commit to being future contributors to Broadway and commercial theater.”
Next Narrative Monologue Competition winners
Seeking to encourage both young acting talent and playwriting grounded in the Black aesthetic, Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company held the Next Narrative Monologue Competition’s first National Finals at New York’s historic Apollo Theater this week.
Jola Olojede, representing the Dallas region, won the inaugural competition, and Atlantan LaNiyah Simone K. Grovell finished in second place.
But True Colors Artistic Director Jamil Jude declared the entire competition, which replaces True Colors’ longtime August Wilson Monologue Competition, a winner.
“By just about any measure, our first Next Narrative Monologue Competition exceeded our expectations,” Jude said. “Our contestants were fantastic, and the support from playwrights was incredible. We received 41 monologues written by 20 playwrights representing the broad diversity of the African diaspora. We couldn’t have gotten a better start on our journey to inspire a love of theater in the next generation.”
Olojede received a $3,000 college scholarship. Grovell, who attends Dunwoody High School, received a $2,000 scholarship. Another Atlanta area student, Zaria Williams, who attends New Manchester High School in Douglasville, placed among the finalists.
Eighteen students participated in the finals, representing Next Narrative Monologue Competition and True Colors partner organizations across the country including Huntington Theatre Company, Boston; Southern Methodist University, Dallas; Michigan State University/Wharton Center, East Lansing, Michigan; Milwaukee Rep, Milwaukee; Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven, Connecticut; LEAP, New York; Bill Nunn Theatre Outreach Project, Pittsburgh; and Seattle Rep, Seattle.
The competitors received expense-paid trips to New York, participated in a theater workshop and attended the Broadway production of For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf.
Jude was joined as co-host by Joaquina Kalukango, who, 15 years ago, was the first August Wilson Monologue Competition winner. Kalukango is now starring on Broadway in Paradise Square.
Theatrical Rights Worldwide will publish a complete collection of the monologues that were commissioned for the inaugural competition.