Lisa Adler, a Chicago native, felt the call of the stage when she was in her teens, and she longed to live out her life in the theater since then. In 1983, she and her husband, Jeff, founded Atlanta’s Horizon Theatre Company. Now, more than 30 years later, she’s more enthusiastic than ever about the future of the local artistic movement.
How did you make your way here?
After college, I moved back to the burgeoning theater scene in Chicago, along with 80 percent of the theater students in the Midwest. As I started to audition and work in the city, I felt like I knew everyone, and opportunities seemed limited. (What I couldn’t know is that the Chicago non-Equity theater scene was going to absolutely explode in the next few years!) My then-boyfriend, now-husband Jeff and I were up for an adventure. We went to the Chicago Public Library and pulled out phone books from major American cities to research theater companies — no Internet then! We established that we wanted to be East or South, and Atlanta showed multiple theater listings. We drove down here, bringing our tent and staying in a campground. We called every theater and made appointments to meet with the artistic directors — amazingly, everyone took time to meet with us! Later that year, Jeff auditioned for the Academy Theatre’s precompany program and was accepted, so we made the move. Shortly after I arrived, I was cast in a major role at the Alliance and then began working on projects with the Academy. It was through the Academy and the Alliance Theatre’s professional intern company that we met all of the young actors who would become part of our core group at Horizon over the next decade.
When did you identify your passion for theater?
I went to a fairly progressive Catholic school in Chicago, and while I was in junior high, my class read Shirley Jackson’s play The Lottery aloud, and I loved it! Soon afterward, a nun played all of Jesus Christ Superstar out loud in class as we sat quietly listening. By the summer after eighth grade, I was in a production at a kids’ theater group called the Pitt Players. I was hooked! I convinced my best friend to join, too, and I never left the theater again. My life completely revolved around that theater and roles in productions at my school on Chicago’s South Side. It was truly a magical time, and in some ways I’ve been trying to recreate it my whole life.
What is it about the live theater experience that most captivates you?
Theater is an actor’s most challenging medium, a full two-hour-or-more experience created live every night. There is nothing like watching actors at the top of their game live onstage — no faking it, no edits, no hiding. For better or for worse, it will only happen exactly that way that one time … like sports. Theater also excels at language, movement and spectacle. I’m most interested in plays and performance pieces that incorporate all of those elements and reach the audience in exciting new ways.
Budget cuts keep limiting arts education in our schools. How do you see drama as an integral part of a curriculum?
Drama engages students in a way that is hands-on, multifaceted and fun. Developing plays, either from scratch or from existing texts, teaches discipline, creativity and teamwork. By learning how to interpret the motivations of others, drama teaches new perspectives, showing how to understand views of those who are different from ourselves — by age, race, geography, class, sexual orientation, religion and on and on. In a rapidly shrinking world, as we live side-by-side with people from widely varying cultures, drama helps us relate to our peers, our community and the world. Modern educational theories emphasize the importance of project-based learning, and drama provides an excellent method to do just that!
Tell us a bit about the Atlanta Intown Theatre Partnership.
We’re a group of five in-town professional theaters (Horizon, Theatrical Outfit, Actor’s Express, Atlanta Shakespeare Company and 7Stages) banding together to use our collective strength to expand resources – donors, audiences, talent and volunteers. Our internal BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) is to make Atlanta the best place in America to live and work as a theater artist. The first way to do that is to make our theaters financially sustainable. Over the last few years, Atlanta’s lost three very large theaters – Georgia Shakespeare, Theatre in the Square and Theatre of the Stars, each sunk by debt. While it’s difficult for Atlanta Intown Theatre Partnership theaters to compete for major gift funds as individual theaters, as a collective, we offer potential donors a greater impact for every dollar, supporting five theaters and a whole community of artists, instead of just one theater.
What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I crocheted my own prom dress when I was a teenager!
When you’re not in the theater, where can we find you around Atlanta? Give us your favorites for dining, shopping or just hanging out.
When my daughter was younger, we’d have weekly outings to family-friendly spots like La Fonda, Fellini’s Pizza, Stone Soup or Dakota Blue. The Wrecking Bar Brewpub is only a block from Horizon, so that is our quick place for a drink. Inman Perk is my coffee shop … great vibe and owner; it’s my artistic thinking escape when I can manage it. Murphy’s is our family tradition for special occasions, and we love biking the BeltLine together, stopping at Parish for lunch and Yoforia for frozen yogurt treats. We’ve lived in Ormewood Park for over 25 years, and we can’t wait till the paved BeltLine gets down to our ‘hood.
Tell us what we might find on your bedside table right now.
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, a fabulous novel that follows a group of friends who meet at a teenage arts camp and how their paths diverge wildly as they grow into adulthood and middle age.
Name three things (or four) you just can’t live without, other than faith, family and friends.
- Theater and the arts. It has been part of my DNA since I was small.
- Learning. I am a committed and obsessive lifelong learner.
- Work. Whether paid, volunteer or hobby, I need to work and make things happen.
- Flexibility. I don’t live well within rigid rules, time frames or ways of thinking. I believe in trying to make the world I want to live in.
Lisa, thank you for your insight into our local theater scene. We’re so fortunate to have such a strong performing arts community that will hopefully continue to grow! For more information on supporting Horizon and other members of the Atlanta Intown Theatre Partnership, visit horizontheatre.com or theaitp.org.
These vibrant photographs were taken by the talented Catrina Maxwell of CatMax Photography. Thanks, Cat!