ASKED why he chose the Alliance Theatre Company as the first regional theater to stage his play "The Piano Lesson," Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson said: "Two reasons: their production of my play 'Joe Turner's Come and Gone,' and Kenny Leon," its artistic director.
The answer symbolizes why the Alliance is emerging as the Southeast's most exciting theatrical enterprise, combining critically acclaimed productions with creative leadership.
Two houses, an 800-seat main stage and a 200-seat Studio Theater, share facilities with other cultural institutions in the modern Woodruff Arts Center.
Equity productions have been presented here for the past 24 years, and the Alliance has attracted such highly regarded actors as Jane Alexander, Richard Dreyfuss, Morgan Freeman, Dana Ivey, Kim Hunter, Paul Winfield, and Mary Wickes.
But the road to its present status has not been direct, or easy. Reflecting the diverse cultural needs of its constituency, the Alliance has gradually expanded its choice of plays from a "white only" approach to a rich selection from many cultures, including the best in African-American works.
"The Piano Lesson," now in its first post-Broadway run, is the fourth of Wilson's plays to be performed here and runs through Feb. 16.
"It was an important transition for us to make," says development director Betty Blondeau-Russell, who has been with the theater since its inception in 1968. "Were there people who didn't like that transition? Of course. But all of us here believe we are much, much better for having made it."
Ms. Blondeau-Russell points out that the theater's financial balance sheet used to rely on individual and government grants, supplemented by ticket sales. When she realized that other arts institutions were chasing the same dollars, she shifted her approach, going after corporate sponsorship.