Education

Springer Opera House, Columbus State establish 'America's professional teaching theater'

Video: Springer and CSU Theatre merge missions to create Georgia Repertory Theatre

The Springer Opera House and Columbus State University Department of Theatre jointly announced Thursday afternoon they have merged their missions, creating the Georgia Repertory Theatre with the goal of creating a professional theatre company focu
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The Springer Opera House and Columbus State University Department of Theatre jointly announced Thursday afternoon they have merged their missions, creating the Georgia Repertory Theatre with the goal of creating a professional theatre company focu

Combining resources that already produce more than 400 performances with an average total attendance of 160,000 annually, the Springer Opera House and Columbus State University announced Thursday the formation of the Georgia Repertory Theatre, billed as "America's professional teaching theater."

They called it a wedding of their missions. That's why the officials on stage at the CSU Riverside Theatre Complex wore tuxedos.

Paul Pierce, the Springer's producing artistic director, said the partnership's vision is "virtually unmatched anywhere else in the nation, with a focus on world-class training, service to children and unsurpassed artistic excellence. ... This alliance increases CSU's capacity to attract America's best students while providing graduates with opportunities to transfer directly into jobs in theater and film."

Just like Johns Hopkins University is known for establishing the first teaching hospital in the United States, CSU and the Springer want students to work with top professionals even before they graduate.

GRT will leverage the existing facilities in the Springer and CSU's Riverside Theatre Complex. They comprise approximately 250,000 square feet of theater space among five theaters and 11 studio classrooms -- plus one of three sites for the Georgia Film Academy, announced two months ago -- within two city blocks along 10th Street in downtown Columbus. That doesn't include the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts between them, where CSU's Schwob School of Music is housed and has access to three more venues.

CSU president Chris Markwood said GRT will provide "unparalleled opportunities for theater students to learn, to study and to perform in an environment that is among the best in this country. ... The caliber of our students and of our faculty inside these facilities matches the structural excellence that we have all around us."

Add the excellence of the Springer's staff, he said, "and that trend of recognition will only grow."

But more than accolades, Markwood said, this arrangement is about boosting the area's economic engine. The estimated annual impact of CSU's Riverpark campus in downtown Columbus is $21 million, and the estimated annual impact from the local arts community is $76 million and generates more than 1,700 jobs, he said.

"That is happening because of the way in which organizations in this town partner together to get things done," he said. "The public-private partnerships here in Columbus are just outstanding. And I will tell you, it's not normal. It's remarkable. We have something in this community that should be cherished, cultivated, embraced and celebrated."

GRT is designed to offer students the most comprehensive internship program in professional theater.

"The Georgia Repertory Theatre will put its training focus on workforce development in all areas of performance, production and management," Pierce said.

Eight of the Springer's 20-person, year-round staff and another six full-time seasonal employees are former CSU theater students, Pierce said.

CSU Department of Theatre chairman Larry Dooley figures GRT could increase the department's enrollment from 165 undergraduates and 16 graduate students to more than 200 students by next semester. Faculty and students at the 58-year-old institution informally have been collaborating with the 145-year-old Springer for years, and their relationship has intensified since the department moved downtown in the spring of 2007. Now, this formal agreement elevates the expectations to an unprecedented degree.

"Separately, we are better-than-average operations," Dooley said in a news release. "Together, we are among the best in the world. It's time to rally all of these resources together to make history."

So at the Springer, CSU faculty and students will be integrated into all aspects of the productions on the main stage, studio, children's theater and national touring shows, as well as the K-12 academy for theater and film.

And at CSU, artists and staff from the Springer will be integrated into all aspects of the productions on the main stage, studio, children's theater, summer stock and regional touring shows, as well as instruction in theater performance, design, technical skills, arts management and drama education.

GRT's goals include:

Recruit first-tier professional guest artists for performing and teaching.

Present world premieres of new plays by Georgia playwrights.

Fund a broad range of scholarships, internships and assistantships.

Establish formal paths to employment for students in theater and film.

Provide subsidized tickets for all students in every school and district, plus free performances for all Title I schools in Muscogee County.

Host a national audience development conference for theater managers.

Create student showcases for agents, producers and directors in Atlanta and New York.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272. Follow him on Twitter@MarkRiceLE.

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