Anything but Square

Stories and Reflections from the team behind Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square

On the Beginning

Fostering Love

A Millennial, a theatre company, and a big dream

By Shay Alexi Stewart

ON NOVEMBER 8TH, 2016, Emil Thomas cooked too much food for too many friends and watched with too little awe as the presidential election confirmed what he already knew; the United States was in an empathy crisis. The growing political divide had given way to a culture that grew fear and hatred in its bones. Regardless of one’s individual policies, too many American citizens were no longer were capable of seeing each other with complexity, of listening to and feeling for each other’s stories.

Just a year prior, Emil headed home to Georgia after completing his studies as a Theatrical Directing Major to embark on co-ownership of a historic Marietta theatre- Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square. Now a 22-year-old business owner, he struggled with the duality of creating an artistic home that pushed for innovation and also satisfied the community’s loyal theatre demographic.

But on election night, something shifted in Emil. If America’s culture grew hate in its bones, Emil was determined to foster love, to cultivate empathy, and to inspire friendship and understanding. Thus, the first full theatrical season of Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square was born, titled Full Hearts // Daring Art and ran by Emil’s artistic company, Actors Theatre of Georgia.

So what does fostering love look like? It looks like choosing a season that offers a show for every community, allowing everyone to feel at home and also to better understand their neighbors. First up was Smoke on the Mountain, a classic southern musical often performer in Marietta, but this time with a race-inclusive cast. Featuring actors from a variety of backgrounds, Smoke attracted loyal Marietta audiences, while immediately informing them that things were going to be different here at Marietta’s New Theatre in the Square.

Next up came Native Son by Nambi E. Kelley. An adaptation of the novel by Richard Wright, Native Son tells the story of a young black man navigating Chicago in the 1930’s, though many aspects of the story feel eerily familiar today. Not only did Native open to rave reviews from members of all communities, Emil took it a step further. He got the playwright herself to fly down to attend the show and speak with members of the community, reaching across cultural boundaries to inspire inclusivity and understanding.

Emil’s latest work? La Gringa, the story of a young Puerto Rican New Yorker who returns home to Puerto Rico to see her family and find her roots. A story of family and identity, La Gringa radiates love, and the audiences can feel it. The Latinx community has turned out in droves to see a play that feels a little bit like home, and returning audiences have fallen in love with the story too, gaining a better understanding of their neighbors’ stories.

The name Actors Theatre of Georgia (ATG) is quickly becoming synonymous with great theatre, and more than that, great theatre that’s for the people. ATG makes entertainment that provides an escape from daily life not only because it immerses you in another world, as all theatre does, but because it is built to cultivate heart and empathy. ATG is a place where you are rewarded for being yourself and for feeling deeply. You can laugh, cry, or talk to a stranger in the comfort of an artistic home that believes that you matter. Your story matters. Your community matters.

As Emil Thomas melted into the couch at midnight on November 8th, it was hard to believe that anything mattered. But in the land of the free, he knew that he was free to choose love. He was free to choose understanding. He was free to choose creation, to choose putting things back together even when they insisted on falling apart. And so he did, and so he does, as he pushes on. Emil is determined to continue topping his artistic achievements, to begin new projects in the cultivation of new works and education of young artists, and most of all, to devise new ways of bringing people together instead of pushing them apart.

Now, in 2017, Emil works too hard, loves too much, and watches with too much awe at his determination and brilliance bringing the world to life before his eyes.