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In the Spotlight
CRCA looks to broaden its horizons with new season

With new leadership at the top of the chain, the Conyers-Rockdale Council for the Arts has some innovative plans for the 2008-09 performance season, throwing much of its spotlight on stage plays, although there should be something for everyone to enjoy.

"We've gone about the process of broadening the scope and variety of performances we're bringing in," said CRCA executive director Malik Hardwick, who joined the venerable arts organization in late May. "We want to raise the profile of the organizations and types of performances we bring in and we want to broaden the horizons in which people look at fine arts."

"I think we've put together a pretty exciting schedule," added CRCA artistic director Ric Chiapetta, who like Hardwick signed on in May. "It's my vision that we create a real theatre season and not present things we're really not suited for. We're not limiting ourselves to plays, but we do want people to have a theatrical experience. I'm excited we're developing this theatre season, which will showcase the local talent we have and the groups we're bringing in."

Of the nine events currently on the CRCA's performance schedule, six feature stage presentations, including three productions by the New Depot Players, which have come on strong in recent years after a too-long period of inactivity.

The ensemble's first production - "The Diviners," directed by Jay Tryall - is scheduled for October in the black box theatre at Center Street Arts. A yet-to-be-announced spring comedy, to be directed by longtime NDP stalwart Cyndi Evans, is scheduled for March, and a summer musical is also on the CRCA's docket.

"The New Depot Players is a high-quality theatre group that's been entertaining this community for years," said Chiapetta, who also serves as artistic director of the Arts Association in Newton County. "They'll be presenting three productions this season and will be augmented by four or five professional companies coming in. It's something everybody can look forward to. You'll see something of high quality every month."

The season kicks off with the decidedly non-theatrical Chicago City Limits improvisation group, which will present the election-year show "One State, Two State, Red State, Blue State" on Saturday, Sept. 13 at the Rockdale High School Auditorium.

"This is really an awesome group," said Chiapetta. "Chicago is really the hotbed of improv in this country, and using the upcoming elections as source material is a perfect theme. Since the show isn't scripted and the actors feed off suggestions from the audience, this should be a fun night."

In keeping with its theatre theme, the CRCA will also present the award-winning Cashore Marionettes, which will stage two different shows on Saturday, Nov. 1, at Center Street Arts. The first show, "Simple Gifts," is a family show appropriate for children 6 and up. The second show, "Life in Motion," is designed for more mature audiences, although it is appropriate for children 12 and older.

The new year will arrive with the award-winning drama "ART," written by Yasmina Reza and directed by Ronn Smith. The Laurence Olivier Award-winning play, which will be presented Jan. 30-31 and Feb. 1, was written in 1994 and has been performed throughout the world.

"Ronn Smith is a fantastic actor who's been with the Alliance in Atlanta and the Georgia Shakespeare Festival," said Chiapetta. "This three-person play as a great script, and it ties in nicely with the art gallery opening that's being planned for Olde Town Conyers."

The CRCA season closes in high comedic fashion with the world-famous "Greater Tuna," which simultaneously offers a sentimental look at small-town living while giving it the satiric skewer such a lifestyle often deserves. "Greater Tuna," which is scheduled for April 24-25, will be directed by Ed Howard, one of the show's three writers and the man who directed the play on Broadway.

"We have the flexibility to add a matinee if this show sells well, and I believe it will," said Chiapetta. "This is really big to be able to bring this well-known show to town with its original director."

But theatrical performances don't comprise the entire CRCA schedule, not by a long shot.

Perhaps the highlight of the non-theatrical side of things will be a weeklong arts festival that will be held the week before Memorial Day. Hardwick said the festival will feature an artists' market on the Friday and Saturday before Memorial Day and will have musical and visual-arts events every night of the week.

"We're looking at different performers and a gallery event at our new gallery," said Hardwick, pointing out that Jeff and Greta Beech had purchased the Old Towne space formerly operated by D. Morgan and donated it to the CRCA for use as an art gallery. "It will be a more traditional arts festival with a variety of artists in a variety of categories.

"There will be artistic creations for sale and there will also be a juried competition where artists will vie for awards in several different categories. We'll have sculpture, paintings, photography, music - anything you can imagine. We're also looking at having about 75 to 100 artists in Olde Town Conyers that week."

Musical programming for the season includes the annual holiday show by Conyers Kids (Dec. 5), a holiday show by the Etowah Jazz Orchestra (Dec. 20 at Rockdale High School) and the east metro debut of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, led by pianist Oscar Hernandez.

Hernandez has performed with the icons of the salsa, Latin soul and jazz genre, including Ruben Blades, Earl Klugh and Mongo Santamaria, and he's also played with the last Kirsty MacColl, Paul Simon and James Taylor. And his piano has been heard around the world as he wrote and performed the theme song to the popular HBO show "Sex and the City."

"We didn't want to abandon our musical performances and I'd say we got a good group in the Grammy Award-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra," said Chiapetta. "It's a 12-piece ensemble that's probably the best salsa-Latin soul band anywhere. It's a world-class group."

The CRCA's summer 2009 offerings will include a visit from the Missoula Children's Theatre, "Music Under the Stars" concerts, the New Depot Players' seasonal musical and ARTSMART camp.

For more information on the CRCA's 2008-09 performance season, call 770-922-3143 or visit www.conyersarts.org. The organization also has a new ticket hotline that can be accessed by calling 770-922-3120.