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The Play’s the Thing



GAC Alum Georgia Thomas in the role of Anastasia in “Anastasia” Spring 2022.

Local schools provide professional-level entertainment.

When folks in the southwest Gwinnett area are looking for entertainment choices beyond the bar scene or movie theaters, they probably don’t think about the budding talent growing in the local schools. If they consider a high school musical or even a one-act play from middle school students, they’re likely to be pleasantly surprised.

For years, local young thespians have been delivering professional quality performances at bargain prices.

The Shulers

It’s no wonder that many schools find themselves listed among the best and brightest in the country. Locally, the ArtsBridge Foundation conducts a competition for schools as a precursor to the International Shuler Awards®, or The Shulers, named for the Marietta-born stage and screen star Shuler Hensley. The April 20 show at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre features a live performance and awards event.

Live broadcasts of the ceremony have earned ArtsBridge Foundation and partner Georgia Public Broadcasting/GPB-TV the Southeast Emmy® Award in 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 for special event coverage, indicative of the superb quality and high production value Georgia students bring at showtime.

Greater Atlanta Christian (GAC), a long-time participant in the event, will be competing in this cycle.

Left- Mrs. Thames and the cast of Anastasia doing their preshow warmups – Spring 2022. Middle- Sophomore Nick Nandlal-Smith in the role of Dmitry in Anastasia Spring 2022. Right- GAC High School’s production of Anastasia, which won the Shuler Spotlight Award. Additionally, Georgia Thomas’s performance in Anastasia won the Shuler Award for Leading Actress.

“While about half of the Shuler Awards competitors represent Metro Atlanta high schools, it’s exciting to see participating schools spanning all of Georgia, including five counties competing for the first time,” said Elizabeth Lenhart, director of arts education for ArtsBridge Foundation.

“While many aspects… uphold long-standing traditions, format updates implemented last year also enable schools, volunteer adjudicators and ArtsBridge Foundation’s team to share a fun and fair competition celebrating the state’s best in musical theater.”

In the 2022 competition, GAC won the Spotlight Award at The Shulers for the ensemble’s performance of “Stay I Pray You” from the musical “Anastasia.” Additionally, student Georgia Thomas won Best Performance by a Leading Actress for her portrayal of the title character.
Since 2009, the Shuler Awards has engaged over 60,000 students from 142 schools and 38 counties/school systems.

The main objectives of the Shuler Awards are to increase awareness, advocacy and support for Georgia’s arts education programs, to develop and foster growing talent by providing learning and performance opportunities and to cultivate and nurture productive relationships among Georgia’s promising thespians and educators, according to information provided by the nonprofit organization.

The Shuler Awards leading actress and actor winners will travel to New York City as Georgia’s entrants for the National High School Musical Theatre Awards program, named The Jimmy Awards. They will participate in the awards show at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway during summer 2023, with merit scholarships and professional opportunities up for grabs, organized by Broadway League.

Greater Atlanta Christian

With 17 years at GAC, Director of Fine Arts Regan Burnett knows first-hand all the sweat and tears that go into pulling off these award-winning productions. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was promoted to her current role.

“For the last two years, you could say that I have helped our performing and visual arts communities navigate the very unpredictable waters of and turbulent waters of COVID,” she said. “We were able to, with our facilities and resources, put on our performances, which was really important to our community. And that was not an easy thing to do.”

The school offered more performances and followed CDC guidelines of social distancing, masking and disinfecting surfaces. The audiences were much smaller — consisting mainly of other students, staff and family — but as the adage says, “The show must go on!”

“We were just very fortunate, and we were very grateful,” said Burnett. “As a performer, you have to be very flexible. You have to have a plan, have a lot of discipline, be very structured, but you also have to learn resilience and flexibility.”

The opportunity to keep as much normalcy as possible was a positive element for the school year. “It gave me hope and that’s what I needed personally. I got the support from our administration to spend my time and my energy and my resources into making sure that our students carry on as best we could, as faithfully as we could,” she said.

While a lot of people may not see the value in extracurricular education, Burnett said she’s grateful that the GAC administration believes that what she and her department do is important.

“Colleagues and people that I report to may not be performers and they may not be artists, but they have an appreciation for it, and they support it,” she said. “So, we’re very blessed to have that.”

Norcross High School

Gina Parrish, theater director at Norcross High School (NHS) has been in that position for 31 years. “We tried to participate in the Schulers, but they only allowed 25 schools in, and it was first come first served,” she explained. “We missed getting in [this time].”

But local theater lovers can still enjoy the NHS entry to the GHSA Region One-Act Play Competition, Laundry and Bourbon, a delightful comedy about three housewives in the 1970s in a small town in Texas.

In late February, NHS will be performing a hilarious farce called The Play That Goes Wrong, and in April, the school will be doing The Addams Family. For information, visit nhs-drama.com.

“We always have great costumes and wonderful high school actors,” said Parrish. “It should be a wonderful season of great shows with lots of color!”

Upcoming shows

Community members are encouraged to attend GAC and other local school productions. Here are a few to consider.

Pirates in Wonderland is the creative naming for two plays that are being presented as a combo ticket for two dates. One starts at 7 p.m. and the other at 8 p.m. on October 6 and October 19.

Alice in Wonderland is a one-act play performed by the school’s elite VISIONS ensemble. “How I Became a Pirate” is another one act play by the younger high school students. Both are going into competition.

Wesleyan Middle School Recent Play

The program has won 22 state championships (Georgia High School Association and Georgia Theatre Conferences) and GAC student actors have repeatedly won the highly respected Shuler Hensley Awards for High School Musical Theatre.

The Sara D. Williams Fine Arts Center holds the state-of-the art Clifton Jones Theatre, which seats an audience of 400. Tickets are at eventbrite.com/o/greater-atlanta-christian-school-6783130853.

The middle school theater will present the one-act play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s famous story of fairies and Athenian youth on Wednesday, Oct. 12. The fairies of the wood attempt to reconcile an argument between their king and queen, the working men of Athens rehearse a play of their own invention to be performed at the Duke’s wedding celebration, and the youth of Athens navigate the perils of falling under love’s spell.

The play will be performed at the Georgia Theatre Conference competition in Kingsland, Ga. on October 15.

Wesleyan’s High School will present The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on Friday, Oct. 21 and Saturday, Oct. 22. Two performances, at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. each day, will be held at Wesleyan School on the green next to Davidson Natatorium.

Wesleyan’s Middle School’s production of James and the Giant Peach.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is set in Tarrytown in 1790, and tells the tale of Ichabod Crane, the love-struck schoolteacher who must decide if he believes the story of the town’s Headless Horseman to be true or just a figment of his imagination.

As Ichabod faces his fears and superstitions, all manner of characters jump in to tell the story, share a few laughs and put the town newcomer, Ichabod himself, to the test. Ultimately, all of the characters are challenged to decide if fear will rule their lives or if faith in God’s promised providence will triumph.

In this adaptation of America’s first ghost story, the audience will be immersed in the experience in an outdoor setting on the Wesleyan Campus. For details and reservations, visit wesleyanschool.org.

Arlinda Smith Broady is part of the Boomerang Generation of Blacks that moved back to the South after their ancestors moved North. With approximately three decades of journalism experience (she doesn't look it), she's worked in tiny, minority-based newsrooms to major metropolitans. At every endeavor she brings professionalism, passion, pluck, and the desire to spread the news to the people.

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Arts & Literature

Wesleyan School Senior Selected for 2023 AP Art and Design Exhibit



Wesleyan School senior Elizabeth Tian is one of 50 students whose artwork was selected for inclusion in the 2023 AP Art and Design Exhibit. This is an online exhibit that shows exemplary AP art portfolios selected from over 74,000 entries.

This year’s exhibit features student artwork showcasing a diverse range of student ideas, styles of artmaking, materials used and conceptual as well as physical processes involved with making works of art.

“Inclusion in this exhibit is highly selective and proves Elizabeth’s brilliance in concept and technique,” said Meagan Brooker, assistant director of fine arts and art teacher.

The exhibit will feature Tian’s portfolio alongside a profile.

“Elizabeth is a tremendous student that works so hard and puts much thought into design. I am thankful for Ms. Brooker’s dedication, guidance, encouragement and critical thinking that allows her to equip her students to grow in their artistic ability,” shares Joe Koch, high school principal.

To learn more about the school, visit www.wesleyanschool.org.

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Arts & Literature

High Museum of Art Presents Exhibition of 19th-Century Black Potter from the American South



Coming this spring, from Feb. 16 – May 12, 2024, the High Museum of Art will be the only Southeast venue for “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina.” 

The exhibition features nearly 60 ceramic objects created by enslaved African Americans in Edgefield, South Carolina, in the decades before the Civil War. 

These 19th-century vessels demonstrate the lived experiences, artistic agency and material knowledge of those who created them.

The works include monumental storage jars by the literate potter and poet Dave (later recorded as David Drake, ca. 1800-1870) as well as examples of utilitarian wares and face vessels by unrecorded makers. 

“Hear Me Now” will also include work by contemporary Black artists who have responded to or whose practice connects with the Edgefield story, including Theaster Gates, Simone Leigh and Woody De Othello

The exhibition is organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.


“We are honored to present this exhibition, which recognizes the innovation of Edgefield potters—a practice all the more remarkable given that their work was created under the most inhumane conditions of enslavement,” said Rand Suffolk, director of the High.

“It’s an important story, one that not only dovetails with the High’s longstanding recognition and display of Edgefield pottery but one that should also resonate with our regional audiences.” 

In the early 1800s, white settlers established potteries in the Old Edgefield district, a rural area on the western edge of South Carolina, to take advantage of its natural clays. 

Hundreds of enslaved adults and children were forced to work in the potteries, bearing responsibility for the craft, from mining and preparing clay to throwing vast quantities of wares and decorating and glazing the vessels. 

By the 1840s, they were producing tens of thousands of vessels each year. The stoneware they made supported the region’s expanding population and was intrinsically linked to the lucrative plantation economy. 

The history of slavery is widely understood in terms of agriculture, but these wares tell the story of what historians call “industrial slavery,” where the knowledge, experience and skill of enslaved people were essential to the success of the enterprise.

White enslavers and factory owners often marked the wares with their names, therefore claiming the expertise of the enslaved as their own. Only some of the enslaved makers have been identified so far, and more than 100 of their names are highlighted in the exhibition. 

One identified maker included in the exhibition is Edgefield’s best-known artist, Dave, later recorded as David Drake, who boldly signed, dated and incised verses on many of his jars.

“Hear Me Now” features many of Dave’s monumental masterpieces, along with a video featuring Dave’s newly discovered descendants Pauline Baker, Priscilla Carolina, Daisy Whitner and John Williams, in which they reflect on his work and their family connections.

Among the other exhibition highlights are 19 face vessels or jugs, which served as powerful spiritual objects and were likely made by the Edgefield potters for their own use.

Their emergence in the region roughly coincides with the 1858 arrival in Georgia of the slave ship The Wanderer, which illegally transported more than 400 captive Africans to the United States.

More than 100 of those individuals were sent to Edgefield, where they were put to work in the potteries. Growing evidence suggests that their arrival brought African-inspired art traditions, religion and culture to the area. 

The face vessels resemble nkisi, ritual objects that were important in West-Central African religious practices to facilitate communication between the living and the dead.

“Hear Me Now” examines the continuing legacy of Edgefield with works that respond to and amplify Edgefield’s story.

“Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina” will be presented in the Special Exhibition Galleries on the Second Level of the High’s Stent Family Wing.

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Arts & Literature

Beatrix Potter Exhibition Coming to the High Museum This Fall



This October, the High Museum of Art will present “Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature.” The interactive exhibition encourages visitors of all ages to explore the places and animals that inspired Potter’s popular stories, such as “The Tale of Peter Rabbit.” 

More than 125 personal objects will be displayed, including sketches, watercolors, rarely seen letters, coded diaries, commercial merchandise, paintings and experimental books. The exhibition will also examine Potter’s life as a businessperson, natural scientist, farmer and conservationist. 

The exhibition is organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum and is the latest in the High’s series celebrating children’s book art and authors. 

“The High is committed to serving family audiences and connecting them to the power of children’s book art, which can inspire creativity, engender empathy and teach important life lessons,” said Rand Suffolk, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director. “We are delighted to share the wonderful illustrations and stories from Potter’s famous tales with our youngest visitors and explore the author’s life story, which was marked by a love of learning and dedication to preserving nature for future generations.” 

Beatrix Potter (British, 1866–1943), Appley Dapply going to the cupboard, 1891, watercolor on paper, Victoria and Albert Museum, given by the Linder Collection, LC.29.A.1. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd. and the Linder Collection.

Born in London, Helen Beatrix Potter was passionate about animals and the natural world from an early age. This passion sparked her career as a world famous author and illustrator. Her interest in nature also influenced other aspects of her life, leading to significant achievements in art and science.

“Drawn to Nature” connects elements of her creative practice, from building characters and observing nature to telling stories and conserving the environment. 

“Beatrix Potter’s singularly creative life offers insights for all ages. This exhibition, part of the High’s longstanding dedication to families and intergenerational learning, is designed to welcome everyone to ask what it means to see with imagination and care for our world, together,” said Andrew Westover, exhibition curator and the High’s Eleanor McDonald Storza director of education. 

The first section of the exhibition focuses on how Potter developed the characters that inspired her most famous stories, including “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” “The Tale of Benjamin Bunny” and “The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck.” 

Beatrix Potter (British, 1866–1943), Drawings of a bridge scene and hares at play, 1876, watercolor and pencil on paper in stitched book, Victoria and Albert Museum, Linder Bequest, BP.741. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

She modeled her characters on animals familiar to her, and her stories were informed by careful observations of nature. “Drawn to Nature” will include many of her original character sketches and more insight into how she built richly imagined worlds. 

The exhibit also explores Potter’s scientific observations and will feature a cabinet of curiosities alongside her realistic nature drawings.

“Drawn to Nature” will reveal Potter’s abilities as a storyteller, illustrator and entrepreneur. From her mid-20s, Potter translated her close observation of animals and nature into detailed pictorial storytelling. 

She also sold holiday cards featuring her drawings and designs. These letters and illustrations became the basis for her stories, and in 1902, she signed a publishing deal.

Another section of the exhibition features sketches and finished artworks from her books, including “The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin” and “The Tale of Benjamin Bunny.” This section will feature a dedicated reading space to sit and enjoy Potter’s children’s books. 

In the exhibition’s final section, watercolors, personal items and drawings will demonstrate Potter’s love for England’s Lake District and her work to conserve its landscape and local farming culture. 

Beatrix Potter (British, 1866–1943), Drawing of a walled garden, Ees Wyke (previously named Lakefield), Sawrey, ca. 1900, watercolor and pen and ink on paper, Victoria and Albert Museum, Linder Bequest, BP.238. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London, courtesy of Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

Following her permanent move there, she recognized how much locals and visitors treasured the region. When she saw modern development threatening what made it unique, she used her privilege and position to help protect the area. 

She built up flocks of Herdwick sheep, which were in danger of dying out, and ensured the landscape would be protected forever by England’s National Trust. Upon her death in 1943, she left the charity thousands of acres of her own land and 14 working farms. 

“Above and beyond the delight that Potter’s book characters and illustrations bring to our lives, her creativity as a businessperson, scientist and conservationist can inspire all audiences,” said Westover. “It’s a privilege to share her stories and invite everyone to rediscover a beloved author and her enduring legacy.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Alliance Theatre at The Woodruff Arts Center will present “Into the Burrow: A Peter Rabbit Tale,” a musical written by Mark Valdez and inspired by Potter’s stories. 

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