Sunday, November 20, 2016

Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

Last weekend I went to Gibbs Gardens with my dear friend Katie who hadn't been since they opened a few years back. It's as stunning as ever!


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

Their Japanese Maple Tree Festival lasts three weekends, showcasing the various peaks of colors of their thousands of Japanese Maple Trees, representing 200 species! This is the second or third time I've been for this particular Festival, and it's been gorgeous every time!


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

Katie's favorites were the yellow fall leaves, which just happened to be at peak the weekend we went! While my favorite color is a deep red, I do love yellow, too.


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

We explored the Japanese Garden as soon as we arrived—right after I renewed my membership.

After our initial exploration of the 40-plus acres of their Japanese Garden, the largest in the United States, we stopped for lunch at the Arbor Cafe. We both enjoyed "Mary's Pimento Cheese Sandwich" on house-made Jalapeno Cheddar Bread. Delish! Katie had cold water and I treated myself to a glass of strawberry lemonade!

We enjoyed our lunch in a shaded area with lots of comfortable seating and paper Japanese lanterns hanging from the trees and there was also live music...an accordionist playing zydeco and other familiar tunes. The dichotomy of sight and sound was actually great fun! 

They make several kinds of fresh bread daily and you can purchase a loaf (or three) to take home later. Katie picked up a loaf for her grandmother. She's super sweet like that.


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

I've been to Gibbs Gardens a number of times, and every visit reveals new photo ops, or "traditional" photo ops featuring different colors and lighting. This is one of those places that you can go to again and again, year after year and always see something new!


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

For me, the Japanese Maple Tree Festival is about more than color. It's about photography, it's about relaxing, it's about discovering fascinating shapes and shadows (bonsai photo above), it's about having fun, and perhaps most importantly, it's about serenity.


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

When you visit Gibbs Gardens, know that there's 220 acres to explore! Of course you don't have to do all of it on a single visit, but if you do go this time of year, I recommend visiting the Japanese Garden first, then the rest of the Garden (or the parts that interest you), and then return to the Japanese Garden for another walk-through. 

By visiting the Japanese Garden twice in the same day, you're going to see sights you'd not seen the first time and see familiar sights in a whole other light...literally!

My friend Katie and I did indeed visit the Japanese Garden twice on our visit last week, but we finished our visit with a "We're-not-done-yet!" attitude and walked and talked our way to the Wild Flower Meadow. Their peak has of course since passed, but it was beautiful all the same.


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

There's a wonderful array of sculptures (many of Buddha on the upper side of the Garden), statuary, lanterns, structures and benches throughout the Japanese Garden. And there's a crooked bridge to cross—evidently it confuses evil spirits, because the can't travel in a straight line.


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

I don't know how often he does it, but Jim Gibbs himself was again in the Welcome Center greeting and talking with guests. We saw him on our way out for the day. He's more than happy to share information about the Garden and its happenings and he made it a point to thank me for renewing my membership. His passion for the Garden really shines through.


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016

There are flower and plant festivals at Gibbs Gardens throughout the year! I highly recommend the Japanese Maple Tree Festival and the Daffodil Festival, and I can hardly wait to see for myself the Azalea ColorFest and Hydrangea ColorFest!

They also host concerts, book signings and lectures, among many other things. I'm certain their programming will also continue to grow, as fruitfully as the Garden itself has.


Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Gibbs Gardens Japanese Maple Tree Festival 2016
Be sure to stop by the beautifully appointed gift shop on your way out. There's a lot to see, including gardening and decorative items, jewelry and (my favorite) books and stationery items. 

I hope to see you at Gibbs Gardens at one (or many) of their Festivals!

Monday, November 7, 2016

Walker Stalker Con 2016

I had a great time at this year's Walker Stalker Con at the Georgia World Congress Center, my second time at this particular convention! It is The Walking Dead heavy, but there's so much more!


Walker Stalker Con 2016
Walker Stalker Con 2016

My friend Nikki is so much fun and such a great sport! She posed here at the Walker Stalker Action Figure photo-op. I plasticized her to make it look a little more authentic, but you can see that no plastic is going to stop Zombie Nikki!

Yes, that's a Doctor Who beer ad t-shirt...several other conventioneers commented on it and shared their Doctor Who fanaticism. We were in good company! 


Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Stan the Zombie & Travis
Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Stan the Zombie & Travis

I got to see Stan the Zombie again this year, although my first photo with him was at a Zombie Night at an Atlanta Braves game! I've been following Stan the Zombie's adventures on social media and invite you to, too! Stan the Human is totally awesome, as well. 


Walker Stalker Con 2016
Walker Stalker Con 2016

There are tons of experiences and photo-ops throughout the Con, including several zombie vehicles, some of them displayed in a diorama-style setting, some of them with zombies!


Walker Stalker Con 2016
Walker Stalker Con 2016

I don't know who this guy is, but I've seen him at a number of conventions...he's always having a blast! If I find out and he has a public social channel, I'll come back and share it here. Again, Nikki was a total trooper!


Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cruella de Vil
Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cruella de Vil
There was a Cosplay Contest the day we went. It's a three-day convention, but our schedules would only allow us to go that Saturday...lucky for us, we got to see the contest!

Cruella de Vil—who was wearing bloody dalmatian fuzzy bedroom slippers—was a total riot! We talked with her for a few minutes at the end of the day and she shared that the Cruella cosplay was her daughter's idea, and that she had had great fun doing it. Shhhh...don't tell the ASPCA, please.


Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cosplay Contest
Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cosplay Contest

The most adorable team cosplayers was this group of The Walking Dead miniatures. There's a superstar or two in this group...they barely gave the mic back for the rest of the contest! Totally adorable!


Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cosplay Contest
Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cosplay Contest

Most of the costumes in the contest were themed on The Walking Dead, segmented into "Walkers", "Stalkers" and "Other". As with most committed cosplayers, the costumes at this Con were brilliant! 


Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cosplay Contest
Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cosplay Contest

There were a LOT of costumes fashioned after a new villain on The Walking Dead, Negan and his freakin' scary sidekick Lucille. The cosplayers served up some incredibly creative renditions of the duo. 


Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cosplay Contest
Walker Stalker Con 2016 | Cosplay Contest

There were so many Negan & Lucille cosplayers, in fact, including one of the judges—VAMPTRESS LeeAnna Vamp—that they were all called to the stage for a group photo! I'd share with you who the winners of the contest were, but that'd create a spoiler situation, and I know better than to do that!


Walker Stalker Con 2016 | With Freddy Kreuger
Walker Stalker Con 2016 | With Freddy Kreuger

Oh, the precarious situations we find ourselves in during a convention...most of them fun, some of them more adrenaline-rising than others. Freddy Kreuger was awesome! Nikki and I both made photos with him, but hers turned out the best. Of course. 

I didn't notice until I was editing photos that Freddy was wearing a necklace featuring the head of Pennywise the Dancing Clown...creepy! 

In addition to the tiny little bits that I've shared here, Walker Stalker Con also features panels, loads of vendors (I got a book from author J.H. Glaze!), you can have your fortune told and you can get a tattoo—from a working tattoo artist! There are plenty of food and drink vendors, too—we had Jim'N Nick's Bar-B-Q for lunch! 

There were parties, too, including a Halloween party hosted by Tom Payne! AND Atalanta Movie Tours was doing special tours that departed from the convention site! Got to see my AMT friends Carrie and Cindy!

Practically any and every actor who has been on The Walking Dead was there doing panels, autographs and high-end photo sessions, including Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus! I finished my Walker Stalker Con experience this year by meeting and getting an autograph from Ross Marquand, who is Aaron on The Walking Dead. Super, super nice person!

If you haven't been to Walker Stalker Con before, keep an eye on their website for when tickets go on sale for next year's event. See you then!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Don't Lose Your Head at The Sleepy Hollow Experience

When I was telling a friend about The Sleepy Hollow Experience at Serenbe Playhouse and I said that they have a real "headless horseman" in the show, she stopped me and with a quizzical expression asked, "Wait...What?!

It's true...they do in fact have a headless horseman on a GIANT horse in the play, but more on that in just a moment.


The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

I've never experienced outdoor theatre like this. Well, I have at other Serenbe Playhouse shows, but this one moves around...rather, the audience moves around. 

After the short 40-minute drive from downtown Atlanta, you drive down a dirt road, purportedly to a small town having trouble with people losing their heads. Believe me, it's not as bad as people in traffic losing their minds! 

You're promptly greeted and directed to the "gathering area"—and you can grab a cocktail on your way, being tended by characters in the play. You get to return here during intermission, a great time for another cocktail, to meet fellow theatre-goers and there are a number of games to play!


The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

This is the fourth year that Serenbe Playhouse has presented The Sleepy Hollow Experience, but this year's The Sleep Hollow Experience has been re-imaged by Brian Clowdus, Founder & Executive Artistic Director of Serenbe Playhouse. 

Returning as Ichabod Crane, for the fourth consecutive year, is Chris Mayers. Also returning is Blake Burgess (who I saw in Of Mice and Men) as Brom Bones, and Brandon Patrick as Male Storyteller. New to the show this year are Jennifer Alice Acker (Director of Education at Serenbe Playhouse and recently seen in 'Da Kink in My Hair) as Female Storyteller, and Erin Burnett as Katrina. 

The entire cast is phenomenal!


The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

If you've not read Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, don't worry. I'd not read it (we moved around a lot, so I missed a few of the classics) and thoroughly enjoyed the performance! I was quite surprised to learn that the story was first published in 1820, yet many elements within the story continue to be relevant to the "human condition" today.


The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

There's new dialogue and new songs! While Brian was in New England launching yet another unique version of The Sleepy Hollow Experience, Ryan Olivetti, also of Serenbe Playhouse, served as Director of this year's local show. 

Everyone I've encountered at Serenbe Playhouse has been remarkable. I'm grateful for how kind they've treated me, and how kindly I see them treat others.


The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
The Sleepy Hollow Experience | Serenbe Playhouse | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

I was serious about there being a "live" headless horseman searching for his lost head in the show. Actually, the headless horseman is a woman. Anna Lanier. And the horse, Thunder, is treated as a full fledged cast member! Thunder is HUGE! Quite the impressive steed...and a beautiful one at that. [ArtsATL article

This is a truly remarkable experience. One that's not to be missed!



If you did miss this year's The Sleep Hollow Experience, don't loose your head over it, just be sure to get your tickets now to the season finale, "The Snow Queen", which opens December 1 (tickets).

Serenbe Playhouse will soon be hosting their second annual "Friendraiser", which is part silent auction, part performance, part indulgence (food and drink) and it's when they'll announce the lineup of the next season, "Season 8: Rebellion"! I can hardly wait!

The Friendraiser event will be on Thursday, November 17 at 7:00pm at 2300 Defoor Hills, across the street from Red Brick Brewing! Get you tickets and join me for the fun! 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Scarecrows in the Garden 2016

One of my favorite annual events is "Scarecrows in the Garden" at the Atlanta Botanical Garden...and it keeps getting better year after year!


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden 

The alien duo above is part of a trio (see all of the at the bottom of this post). They appear to be human size...until you look at the female of the three who is towering over a tiny, tiny human being. This is "Pumpkinvasion!" You'll find this one in the Children's Garden.


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden

Atlanta has a lot of Gone With the Wind fans, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book authored right here in Atlanta! Did you know that super fans of Gone With the Wind are called "Windies"? You'll find this one on the Promenade.


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden

This faerie is tiny...absolutely tiny! This diorama fascinated me...mostly for the incredible amount of work that went into it...there are a lot more faeries here! You'll find this one in Alston Overlook.


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden

Day of the Dead has been represented in this exhibition for as long as I can remember, and it's always done well. You can find this one on the Promenade. 


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden

How could anyone not love E.T. The Extraterrestrial. He's adorable and introduced me to Reese's Pieces! I lived in Pinedale, Wyoming, when the movie came out in 1982. We didn't have a movie theater, so we had to drive 37 miles to the next town to see the movie...an experience I'll never forget. This one is in the Children's Garden.


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden

Would it be Halloween without a vampire? Don't think so. This one is on the Promenade.


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden

There are so many clever scarecrows...every year! This one is "Now you see me, now you don't." This one is on the Promenade just as your approaching the Canopy Walk.


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden

"Revenge"...need I say more? This one is on the Promenade near the new Linton's restaurant.


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden

Scarecrow builders are consistently clever and love a play on words. Scarecrow...get it? ScareCROW. LOL This one is on the path heading to the Children't Garden.


Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden
Scarecrows in the Garden, 2016 | Atlanta Botanical Garden

Make your way to see Scarecrows in the Garden by October 30, and while you're there, be sure to check out the 19 installations in the Chihuly in the Garden exhibition, also closing on October 30.

Have fun!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Interview: Actor Jonathan Horne

The first time I met Jonathan Horne we played horseshoes. But that was another time and another place.

When I learned that there might be a possibility of interviewing one of the actors in Freed Spirits, the now-showing world-premiere at Horizon Theatre, I immediately thought of Jonathan. I'd seen him act before and and was genuinely impressed. And he's also brilliant in Freed Spirits

Jonathan graciously agreed to an interview and I found myself blown away by his insightful answers to my questions. He's humble, articulate, and totally loves his craft. There's a considerably interesting and complex human being underneath his meek demeanor...

Jonathan Horne (Photo courtesy Jonathan Horne)
Jonathan Horne (Photo courtesy Jonathan Horne)

wanderlust ATLANTAWhere are you from? Where did you grow up? Where do you live now?

Jonathan: I'm originally from Asheville, North Carolina, but my family moved to Atlanta when I was eight; I'm a transplant, but consider myself a "naturalized" Atlantaen. I live in Smyrna with my wife, Laura!

wanderlust ATLANTA: When did you first begin acting? Was it purposefully or accidentally?

Jonathan: I was forced into it, actually. I had to participate in a school system-wide "oratorical recital" in sixth grade. My fear of being in front of people was bested by my fear of getting a bad grade. 

My dad suggested doing the "St. Crispin's Day" speech from Shakespeare's Henry V—the argument that students can't understand Shakespeare is bunk, by the way—and my mom directed me. 

I had a real "Aha!" moment while doing the speech. Henry's bravery became mine and I felt the awkward sixth grader with a wooden sword and homemade tunic fade away. I went to a small Christian high school, so I always kept getting thrown into productions when kids dropped out due to grades or sports, and it wasn't until I played Hamlet my senior year that I knew this was what I had to do with my life. 

wanderlust ATLANTA: What was the catalyst that led you to a career on stage?

Jonathan: I had been teaching English and theatre for three years after college in the hopes that I could still be tangentially connected to acting while making "real people money". I was completely miserable. I finally just reached a point where my desire to act trumped any desire to "stick it out." I saved up money for a year to help subsidize my year long apprenticeship with the Shakespeare Tavern and have been incredibly fortunate to be working fairly steadily ever since!

wanderlust ATLANTA: What's been the biggest "Wow!" moment of your acting career?

Jonathan: By far it has to be playing Joseph (John) Merrick in 'The Elephant Man' at Georgia Ensemble Theatre. It was the most physically, spiritually, and emotionally demanding, as well as transformative, experience of my career and will be incredibly difficult to top—though I can assure you it won't stop me from trying! 

There are so many things that can go wrong with a show, so when everything just gels in a transcendent way, you can't help but go "Wow!" The show really helped me break into the larger Atlanta theatre community, for which I will always be thankful! 

wanderlust ATLANTA: What have you enjoyed most about working on your current project, "Freed Spirits" at Horizon Theatre?

Jonathan: The ensemble! This cast became close knit stupidly fast. They are such an amazingly giving group of actors and we all mesh with each other so organically! Sometimes the fun you see on stage is pure acting, this show is mostly real fun crafted into a story!

wanderlust ATLANTA: "Freed Spirits" is your Horizon Theatre debut. What have you enjoyed most about the experience so far?

Jonathan: I was brought on to read my character—Byron—for a twenty-minute presentation at the Decatur Book Festival three years ago. Lisa Adler kept bringing me back for more workshops and readings, so I was fortunate enough to see and be a part of the show and character's evolution over the past three years! 

Lisa has also been incredibly gracious and kind to me, especially bringing me on when she had never worked with me before! I also have tried to make it a point this year to branch out and work at new—for me—theatres; so I'm thrilled to get to work with new people, directors, designers, etc.! 

wanderlust ATLANTA: Are there any similarities between you and Byron White, your "Freed Spirits" character?

Jonathan: As Daryl kept tweaking the script, Byron and I became closer to the same person. I had the opportunity to keep jumping into this world over the period of three years as the play was developing, and each new draft felt eerily closer to reality—early in the process, I was dating my future wife who I had mercilessly pestered to go out with me ala Byron.

I have two amazing parents and an amazing wife, but that's about where the differences end. I may or may not have just pulled clothes out of my car for the promotional photoshoot...

wanderlust ATLANTAHorizon Theatre has a long tradition of inviting theatre-goers to meet and speak with actors after the show. What's your personal philosophy for the most rewarding actor/theatre enthusiast interaction?

Jonathan: Oh man, as an introvert this is always difficult. Honestly, I think the adage "they're more scared of you than you are of them" applies to a lot of us! Whenever I see a show, I always try to say something specific I enjoyed—a particular scene that was emotionally impactful, the way the actor dealt with a difficult scene, etc.—something that shows I was engaged and appreciative of the work that went into that evening. 

wanderlust ATLANTA: What's a show or project that you're working on that we'll see in the near future?

Jonathan: I'm getting the chance to live out one of my longest running theatrical dreams by playing John Proctor in 'The Crucible' at Actor's Express. I also recently got to work with Dan Bush (of Atlanta classic 'The Signal' fame) as the lead in an upcoming episode of 'Your Worst Nightmare' which will air sometime in November! 

wanderlust ATLANTA: Where do you hope your acting career will eventually lead?

Jonathan: I really want to stay in Atlanta. I'd definitely love to work in Los Angeles or New York, but I really hope to be a part of helping make Atlanta a world-class artistic city. Honestly, If I can continue to make a living acting; I'll be content. 

wanderlust ATLANTA: What advice would you give to aspiring actors, young or well-seasoned, wanting to act for the first time? 

Jonathan: There's no reason not to go for it! As far as theatre is concerned, there are several really great community theatres in Atlanta, as well as a vibrant independent film market here with tons of opportunities for aspiring actors! 

You don't have to be a "professional" to be professional though. Whether your goal is to act for the fun of it, or as a career, take it seriously. Also, always challenge yourself; you won't grow if you're comfortable.

wanderlust ATLANTA: What do you see as the greatest challenge AND the greatest success for the Atlanta acting community?

Jonathan: I think Atlanta is still finding its voice. We have so much opportunity and talent as an artistic community as well as a lot of national attention on us because of all the film and television being produced here. I want to see Atlanta actors/writers/directors become as well-known as our city.

Our biggest obstacle to that is that we have to fight the perception, sometimes earned, that we're unprepared and untrained, and a lot of people are helping to combat that. Drama Inc. in particular is a real force for training and community building.

Theatrically speaking, it's fantastic seeing, and now being a part of, all these newly produced plays that really speak to our unique culture. Our local playwrights are killing it! 

wanderlust ATLANTA: If you could act with any three actors, local or international, living or not, who would they be and why? 

Jonathan: I'm going to choose young Orson Welles, Gary Oldman, and Liv Ullmann. I have absolutely no idea what the show would be about, but I don't think it would matter. 

Welles because he was a visionary of startling proportions and his acting always feels so thoroughly ahead of its time. Oldman because I think he is the greatest living actor. Ullmann because her face contains universes of experience in the simplest of expressions...plus she could probably get Ingmar Bergman to direct us.  

wanderlust ATLANTA: I see "Soli Deo Gloria!" on your website and in playbill bios. Why is this important to you?

Jonathan: It's a constant reminder of why I do this, and whom I'm doing it for. Not every acting opportunity is going to be "missional," but when you get those opportunities to be a vessel for a larger truth, you pray that your work transcends the theatre. 

Tom Waits (and Jimmy Stewart in Harvey) said, "no one ever brings anything small into a bar." I think it's also true for theatre...you never know what the pain, doubt, or fears of someone might be when they come to see a show. 

It's casting a wide net, but sometimes you can touch someone's life in a spiritual way and help them on "the search", as Walker Percy called it. Also, it keeps me from believing both extreme ditches of "you're the greatest" and "you're rubbish." 

wanderlust ATLANTA: Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers/your fans?

Jonathan: Support Atlanta theatre! You can also visit my website for new and upcoming projects! 


Thank you, Jonathan, for the interview!

In case you were wondering about the horseshoes, Jonathan was in the Serenbe Playhouse production "Of Mice and Men". The contrast of Jonathan against the character he played was alone enough to convince me that he's a brilliant and wonderfully talented actor, and I look forward to following his career. I encourage you to, as well.

Readers, you can see Johnathan now in Freed Spirits at Horizon Theatre (on stage through Sunday, October 30, 2016) and follow his website and social media for other upcoming projects!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Freed Spirits...Unearthed at Oakland Cemetery

From the very first moment I heard about "Freed Spirits" coming to Horizon Theatre—squirming in my seat—I knew that I had to see this mystery-comedy set in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery!

Later, I learned more of its significance: that it was commissioned by Horizon Theatre for its annual New South Play Festival, that it's been in the works for three years, that it's a world-premiere, and that it's directed by Lisa Adler and written by Playwright Daryl Lisa Fazio.

There are four principal characters, a tour guide, a steampunk sleuth, a photographer and a retired pathologist-turned-master gardener...and a couple of "ghosts". 


MJ, Byron, Netta, Susan | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler
MJ, Byron, Netta, Susan | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler


The only thing scary about Freed Spirits would be missing it! 

This play is delightful, it's thought-provoking, has some pretty awesome special effects, the set is absolutely spectacular and the acting is brilliantly superb! 


Suehyla El-Attar as Susan | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
Suehyla El-Attar as Susan | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

The show begins in Oakland Cemetery with Keisha (Jimmica Collins), a super energetic entrepreneurial videographer, interviewing Susan Dickey (Suehyla El-Attar), an Oakland Cemetery tour guide, for a documentary. 

Like Susan, I too have been a tour guide (four years at the Atlanta Botanical Garden), but I do not have an eidetic memory like Susan or Sheldon Cooper. If I did, I would hope that I'd use it as hilariously as the two of them do! 

The opening sounds pretty simple, right? It's not. The mystery begins as soon as the lights come up and the first word is uttered. 

As they're talking and filming, the wind picks up. It really picks up. And there's lightening. Lots of lightening. There's a storm. No...there's a tornado! And it tears right through Oakland Cemetery!


M.J. and Susan | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler
M.J. and Susan | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler

I was living in Washington, DC when the 2008 tornado hit Atlanta. I was so incredibly scared for my friends. I can't imagine how scared they were. 

Actually, I can image...I don't have to imagine, actually. I was in a tornado when I was in 5th grade. I remember quite vividly how scary it was. It hit just as we were getting off the school bus and my mother was grabbing as many kids as she could an harboring them in our house until the dangerous winds passed. 

The special effects in this show totally engage you!


M.J. Bell (Bryn Striepe) | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
M.J. Bell (Bryn Striepe) | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

The play resumes with the introduction of M.J. Bell (Bryn Striepe), a sleuthing steampunker, who iterates time and again that her attire is not a fashion statement but a "way of life". 

I'm not going to give away too much, but suffice it to say that there are many, many layers of stories in this play...within the plot and the players. 

M.J. is one of my favorite. I love her independence, her brilliant talent for deducing—she'd be awesome on any of the CSI television shows—and that her character introduces a reference to my personal favorite event of the year...Dragon Con

M.J. gets nicknamed "Corset" somewhere along the performance. I believe most of the characters get a nickname, and they're brilliant.


Cast | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler
Cast | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler

As you can imagine, a tornado unearths more than we sometimes expect, and human nature demands that we investigate, right? 

Mid-initial post-tornado investigation enters Byron White (Jonathan Horne), a photographer and wanna-be hipster. He's immediately infatuated with M.J. and everyone sees it. Not that he's trying to hide it, but he's painfully shy. And...he does an awesome Yoda impersonation.


Byron White (Jonathan Horne) | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
Byron White (Jonathan Horne) | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

Byron is another of the characters that I related to. He's a photographer, he's shy, he's helpful and he's innocent. Okay, okay...I used to be innocent. Really. Anyway, this character too has many layers below his meek demeanor. 

Jonathan Horne, the actor, I'd met at another play earlier this year. When I found out that there were interview opportunities for this play, I immediately asked if I could connect with Jonathan. He graciously granted me an interview and that will be my next post. Look for it...I think you too will be highly impressed with his talent and aspiration!


Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler
Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler

"I ain't afraid of no ghost," says no one in this play! 

Netta and Susan are, in my opinion, the funniest characters in the play, and not just through punchlines. We're talking gestures, looks, actions, twitching, running...it goes on and on, and you don't want it to stop! The whole cast is hilarious...there's as much comedy as there is mystery in this show!

On one of my visits to see Freed Spirits my guest was Margaret Mitchell. She looks amazing for 115 and to be interned at Oakland Cemetery

Actually, my friend Sally portrays "Margaret Mitchell" occasionally for special Oakland Cemetery tours. She also "is" Margaret Mitchell for Atlanta Movie Tours' "Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind Tour". Sally, like Netta and Susan, has a wonderful sense of humor. And she loved the play, too!


Dr. Netta Finch (Marguerite Hannah) | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
Dr. Netta Finch (Marguerite Hannah) | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

Marguerite Hannah, who plays Dr. Netta Finch—a Grady Hospital retired pathologist turned Master Gardener at Oakland Cemetery—is an actress whose every word you hang on...she commands attention and you're so glad you give it to her because she's going to make you laugh, again and again. 

I saw Marguerite in "Waffle Palace" at Horizon Theatre a few years ago...she was absolutely delightful. I'm thrilled to see her again! My best friend Barry went with me to see that show and also to see Freed Spirits...he loved both! 


Cast of Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler
Cast of Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: Lisa Adler

I'm in love with the four main characters, but would be totally remiss if I didn't note the wonderfully performed ghosts.  

This play is set in a cemetery and the show's run is leading up to Halloween, so it's no surprise that there are ghosts on the playbill...well, ghost characters, that is. There's a young slave girl portrayed by Jimmica Collins—was is also the documentarian I mentioned earlier—and Spencer Miller who portrays a Civil War soldier. Both are excellent and quite fun...especially as ghosts.

As I've shared, there are lots of layers, twists and surprises in this show. Keep your eyes open...and ready yourselves for an evening of laugh-out-loud good times! 


Daryl Lisa Fasio | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
Daryl Lisa Fasio | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

Playwright, and graphic designer, Daryl Lisa Fasio said in an AJC.com interview:

"Oakland is the most interesting reflection of Atlanta," Fazio said. She chose to set her latest play there because she’s been fascinated with Oakland ever since she moved to town six years ago. "I can't imagine anything more perfect. It's got everything. It's got community involvement, it's got this long history, and it's got the juiciest stories to dig into.”

I had the opportunity to briefly meet and talk with Daryl at the Opening Night reception after the show. She's delightful and super excited about her first Atlanta production. I hope there will be more. I can share that the audiences I've sat in on are loving it! I think you will, too.


Cast | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus
Cast | Freed Spirits | Horizon Theatre | Photo: BreeAnne Clowdus

The very first announcement for Freed Spirits alone was enough for me to want to see it. But seeing it commanded seeing it again, and even once more...and, truth be told, I may go see it again.

You too can see Freed Spirits at Horizon Theatre, now through Sunday, October 30. Don't dare miss this one!