By Lisa Nanette Allender
Live theatre in Atlanta continues to earn national accolades for its level of production and acting talent. The scene also offers a diversity of genres and interests, including the Celtic theatre company Aris.
Pronounced “Areesh,” the name translates to again, and is used in the same way as shouting “Encore!” after a good performance. Based at the Georgia Public Broadcasting building in Midtown, the company also performs in other venues, including this past year for the Irish Consulate Bureau of Cultural Affairs.
About to begin its third season, Aris is filing the void left by the heretofore oldest and largest Celtic theatre group in North America – the now defunct Theatre Gael.
Actor Kathleen McManus said that what Theatre Gael achieved is more than noteworthy, and in fact had “changed the landscape of local theatre.” McManus and fellow actors Winslow Thomas and Kyle Crew had all worked with Theatre Gael, and wanted to continue to bring the theatre of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales to audiences in Atlanta.
The 2016 season has focused on Irish plays to mark the centenary of the Easter Rising to end British rule in Ireland. Plays included “Philadelphia, Here We Come”, “The Plough and the Stars”, and “Stones in His Pocket,” which were all well-attended and very well-received. Next year, Aris plans to concentrate on the plays of Wales, including “The Weir” by Connor McPherson.
Aris’ beginnings were relatively simple: Writer-actor Bryan Davis asked Crew to direct him in the play “Faith Healer” for the Irish Consul General. When the show was over, Davis asked, “How can we do more of this?”
After connecting and re-connecting with one another, the trio of McManus, Thomas, and Crew, met up with several other members of the Atlanta theatre community, and formed a board of directors. McManus is on that board, and Crew is chairman. The dedication to Aris has meant juggling personal lives and jobs. McManus teaches theatre everyday, and creates theatre – both acting and directing – every night. Crew works multiple jobs while also acting and directing.
A dream-goal for the company is to produce what is known in the UK as a “Christmas panto,” usually a wacky take on a traditional fairy tale or holiday story with plenty of audience participation. Another goal is more spaces for performances that can be shared by multiple theatre and arts companies.
“I wish we had a variety of ‘alternative venues’ for all kinds of performing arts at reasonable rates,” McManus said. “I think the future of the arts is not everybody needing to maintain their own building – their own space – but sharing their space.”
Before Aris begins its new season in January, the company can be seen at IrishFest on Nov. 4-5 with a special take on on the old mythology of Ireland and in December at the annual Celtic Christmas Concert.
For more information about Aris, visit aristheatre.org.