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  • Cathy H. Burroughs

Lisa and Jeff Adler’s "Horizon Theatre Company" Explores Sex, the Paranormal and Politics

Horizon's Theatre enters the realm of the paranormal with Atlanta based Playwright Daryl Lisa Fazio's eerie and current ghost story, "Freed Spirits." Based in Atlanta's own historic landmark Oakland Cemetary, this spooky mystery comedy specially commissioned by Horizon Theatre where past and present become blurred makes its world premiere, running September 23rd through October 30th.

Lisa Adler, Horizon's co-artistic/producing director calls "Freed Spirits" a terrific new mystery comedy and a fun adventure about a band of urban misfits who find themselves in the midst of a ghost story and murder mystery." Put this one on your calendar together with up next opening April 1st “Sex with Strangers” a sexy and intriguing show which explores cyber identity, ambition and fame by Laura Easton which continues through April 24th.

Adler describes this show, as "a very smart, funny and provocative two person show – that also is not what it seems. Yes, there are two very opposite kind of people in a B&B together, and yes the script says “sex is imminent” at the end of most scenes. But is also very much about two very different people trying to connect – and the challenge and danger of getting what you wish for in life." The Hollywood Reportersdescribes it as "sexually and intellectually provocative......A hell of a lot of fun!" For the full season, including Mainstage Season, Family Series, Holiday Shows, New South Play Festival and more, check out

Here Horizon Theatre Company's co-aritistic/producing director Lisa Adler tells us about Atlanta's well-loved contemporary theater noted for its world class area and world premieres as well as its noted New South Play Festival and winner of Creative Loafing's "Critic's Choice for Best Theatre Company" and love child of herself and husband Jeff Adler, co-artistic/technical director, located in the heart of Atlanta's 70's flavored Little Five Points and how it came to be.

Many may not know that Lisa and Jeff met by serendipity at a monologue contest in Chicago during the heady early days of Steppenwolf Theatre, St. Nicholas and Wisdom Bridge John Malkovich, Laurie Metcalf, Joan Allen, David Mamet and William H. Macy (among others), all of whom were in their 20s and working in these 200 seat theatres (very similar to Horizon). As it turns outs, Lisa won the contest, the money and it would seem, ultimately the guy. The duo connected and then picked Atlanta out of a phone book, pre internet. The story of how they came together and began one of Atlanta's most salient and seminal contemporary repertory theaters is a fascinating one.

Are you surprised you are still directing a theater?

Yes. I thought we would be in Atlanta a year or two. Well you never know. Day by day, you build a life. I was challenged by the idea of figuring out everything about how to run a theatre. Some people move on to the next job, I changed the job to suit what I wanted to learn and explore.

How do you choose your season and what should we look forward to at Horizon this coming season?

Our mission is to connect people, inspire hope and promote positive change through the stories of our times. We do all contemporary plays – and they are always new to Atlanta (unless we are producing a remount of one of our own works or doing the local premiere of a musical came through Atlanta only on national tour.) So, I look for plays that serve that mission – and plays that serve our diverse audience. People want to see themselves onstage – so I look for plays that offer “windows in” to people of different genders, races, and ages. You will see this in both the plays themselves and across the season. I program a mixture of types of work. Every season has “entry level” plays, usually comedies or musical, that are funny, entertaining and appeal to a wide audience, including non-regular theatre-goers. And every season has plays about contemporary issues that are more serious in nature and appeal to our core audience.

How do you find time to direct? Do you still hope to act? What parts of your job do you like the best?

It is hard to find time to direct – no question. Directing takes all of me, so I really count on our excellent staff when I carve out time to do it. I sometimes miss acting, but no longer want to be out 5-6 nights a week – I have a 15 year old and she became the priority once I had her. I only have a few years left with her now and there is not enough time as it is without adding acting to my plate! When she goes away to college, I suspect I will return to my pre-child life of spending 24/7 devoted to theatre - and more time both directing and acting.

What I like best? Creating a new play that has the potential to really make an impact in our community with a playwright who has a shared vision for that work, and seeing that work through from conception to production. And working on that play as a dramaturg, director and producer (“Third Country” or “The Waffle Palace”). Or working with excellent, top of their game actors on a contemporary play by one of our modern masters (“Time Stands Still” or “The Clean House”).

How do you choose the plays that you plan on directing and how do you approach a show that you direct?

I look for a play that I can take on with one or all of these: 1) a writer I love; 2) a play I love; 3) one or more actors I love ;4) a subject matter that feel significant to Atlanta or truly celebrates and builds community.

A new play is a very different approach than an existing one. With a new work, you are asking the questions that shape the play – and also suggesting ideas for the playwright to consider. You are workshopping and reading the play over a 1-3 year period with multiple steps along the way. With an existing play, the preparation job is around fully understanding the play, the author’s intent and the spine of the play and then crafting your intent as a director – why are you directing this, what do you want the audience to think/feel/do at the end.

How do you choose an actor?

I look for actors who can think specifically, be in-the-moment, make strong choices, be positive, are willing to try anything within reason and not question too much and with whom I have a chemistry. Actors who enjoy risk-taking and who like to use their whole body and mind in performance. I look for actors with either strong training (BFA or MFA from an established training program/school) or who have deep experience in professional theatre.

How do you choose a director?

Right now, we have long and deep relationships with a core of directors who are locally based and mostly Horizon Associate Artists. Tom Jones directs annually in the summer. Heidi McKerley has been directing with us for over 2 decades. I direct, as does Jeff. Spring Mason with Atlanta Children’s Theatre directs our family show. We test new directors by utilizing them as assistants or directing our Apprentice Company. We are looking at other means to expand our opportunities for directors. It’s tough to get a directing gig at Horizon since we are placing $100,000 or more in your hands.

What do you think Horizon brings to the Atlanta Theater scene?

Like restaurants, every theatre has its own unique character crafted by its “chef”, the artistic director. Led by that chef, his or her team creates a unique experience. At Horizon, we pride ourselves on always having top notch locally-based professional talent, plays that you will not have seen in Atlanta before (unless we produced them already ourselves). Plays that connect people across divides of race, class and gender. Plays that celebrate community or explore issues that matter to our audiences. Plays that offer hope and encourage positive change. Plays that connect people to each other, their communities and the world. And all in an intimate setting in which you are up close and personal with the actors. Sophisticated and funky. Entertaining and smart. Professional and warm.

What are your dreams and visions for Horizon into the future?

Our next dreams are about making a space that is as professional and interesting as the work that we put onstage. And about building a body of new work that we commission that allows us to bring our mission to the world.

What advice do you have for actors when auditioning?

Be responsive to email audition invitations – do get back with us, even if you are unavailable. First contact and casting solicitations are made by the theatre via email. Come to Horizon to see productions (you can always usher and see them for free) and look at our website to get a feel for the type of work we do. If you have new resume credits or updated head shots or if you are new in town, submit your resume and head shot via email. Good to also send a hard copy to Casting for our files. Feel free to send the artistic director and casting assistant occasional email updates on your work.

Volunteer, see readings, go to plays, make your face know at the theatre you want to work at. Be seen as a theatre-maker, not just an actor looking for a job.

Cathy H. Burroughs covers the SE for Backstage Magazine and writes about arts, culture, food, travel, the metaphysics and more for a variety of publications including The Aquarius Magazine, Atlanta Intown, Bold Favor Magazine, www.journeypod and others. Stay tuned as she currently has a television series on the arts and more in the works. For more about Cathy check out or call/text: (404) 543-1080.


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