By Ellen Berman Fix
One recent Sunday night, six actors, a director and a playwright sat in the living room of Sondra Ilgenfritz’s River Shore Estates home. It was the first reading of two one-act plays based on African folk tales and written by Marian X.
Clutching the first script, each actor shaped his or her character through inflection, intonation and sometimes gesture. Spliced through the reading were occasional comments on stylistic interpretations, ideas on costumes, thoughts on staging – and laughter.
Atlanta Theatre-to-Go had just begun its new season.
Sondra Ilgenfritz, a Sandy Springs resident for the past 18 years, started the troupe three years ago to share the joys of live theater with the community – in particular, with those who are too ill or fragile to travel to conventional shows on their own.
Atlanta Theatre-to-Go takes the Shakespearean phrase “all the world’s a stage” to heart. The company’s venues have included Hammond Glen, Huntcliff Summit, Mt. Vernon Towers, Mt. Vernon Presbyterian Church and other senior centers, as well as churches, businesses and “anyone who will pay us to perform,” Ilgenfritz said.
Ilgenfritz sees live theater as a form of community service. She relates how, after performing at Arbor Terrace Assisted Living in Atlanta, a woman in a wheelchair reacted by gushing, “If I could stand, I’d give you a standing ovation.”
The accolade is deserved. Dedicated to their craft, Theatre-to-Go’s 33 actors, directors and playwrights rehearse nearly every day of the week. Ilgenfritz, who sold a successful marketing agency when she arrived in Atlanta from Houston, spends about six hours a day on the computer, promoting, organizing and administering Theatre-to-Go’s activities.
Working from home keeps overhead costs low, she said. Actors get a small stipend for their 40 or so performances each year. Rehearsals are held in various places, such as the Sandy Springs Library, Phoenix and Dragon Bookstore and participants’ homes.
The touch-and-go of rehearsal space is far from ideal, and high on Theatre-to-Go’s wish list is a permanent location where the dramatists can gather. “There is no art center per se in Sandy Springs,” Ilgenfritz said. “We’d like to have a place where artists of all kinds could exchange ideas and wed their talents. I think Sandy Springs has enough income to support such arts funding. It just needs an engine to drive it forward.”
Budget constraints prevent Theatre-to-Go from doing “a full production with lights and stuff,” says director Nancy Riggs, who is also a puppeteer and drama instructor.
But at the recent reading, she noted that some skirts she spotted at a thrift store would be ideal for the two female characters and she’s thinking of making fanciful vests for the men.
Theater-to-go audiences may not see the glitter and glamour of a Broadway production, but they do get to see an original play. And often, the playwright is on hand to talk with the audience after the show.
“It’s a collaboration that continues right into the audience,” said playwright Marian X.