Dad’s Garage Theatre Faces Existential Crisis

The comedians over at Dad’s Garage are being a bit more serious.

This comes on the heels of the success of their annual fundraiser, Baconfest. The theater brought in around $85,000.

That is coming just four months after they settled into their new home in the Old Fourth Ward. The 21-year-old improv theater company lost their Inman Park space in 2013 and had taken up temporary residence at 7 Stages Theater in Little 5 Points.

With all of that change, one thing remained constant, and that was their commitment to comedy and improvisation. But Lois Reitzes paid them a visit at their new home, and found that even that is up for an overhaul.

We joined them as Dad’s Garage artistic director Kevin Gillese was rehearsing a scene with actors John Carr and Matt Horgan. The scene involved a farmer faced with slaughtering a chicken for his family to eat, and the chicken welcoming its fate.

If it doesn’t sound like their normal style of comedic improvisation, there’s a very good reason for that.

“We’re going to continue using our improv skills,” Gillese explains, “but the themes we’re going to be exploring are going to be loneliness, despair, the meaninglessness of existence …”

As the actors worked through the original scene, Gillese pulled them to ever-greater heights of emotion.

Speaking backstage after rehearsal, he quoted Jamie Masada, owner of the Laugh Factory, who told Slate in 2014, “Eighty percent of comedians come from a place of tragedy.”

Dad’s, it seems, has decided to go the extra 20 percent of the way there. With that, the theater is taking on a new name: Mom’s Garage.

“We’re switching to more of an existentialist type of content,” Gillese says, “and we wanted to change our name so that people understood the radical shift we were taking.”

According to him, the name change is not meant to imply that mothers are more serious than fathers.

“It has more to do with smashing the patriarchy,” Gillese says matter-of-factly. But where are these patriarchy-smashing changes coming from?

“We felt like we’re growing and evolving at a normal kind of rate,” Gillese continues, “and we wanted to really speed it up. So we thought ‘Where might we be in twenty years if we continue evolving? Why not just start that now?'”

These changes aren’t necessarily coming out of the blue. The theater formerly known as Dad’s Garage spent nearly three years sharing space with 7 Stages, arguably the biggest name in Atlanta experimental theater. Asked if he thinks their stay there had any effect on this new development, Gillese immediately responds “Absolutely.”

“The truth is that we literally stole a lot of ideas from these guys,” he admits. “We had access to the building, so we could go through their filing cabinets and we took ideas that we liked. And some might say that’s not fair, but the truth is this is a dog-eat-dog world.”

7 Stages co-artistic director Michael Haverty stated that he was disappointed to get this news from the media “instead of my good friend — I thought.”

“If they are now going to be moving into turf that 7 Stages has really called our own for our entire existence,” Haverty told WABE by phone, “I think our only response can be to move more toward their audience base. They’re going to be giving up a lot of audience.”

7 Stages was unable, at press time, to provide details on possible future programming.

Whatever the future holds for Mom’s Garage, Gillese seems confident that Atlanta audiences will take to their new programming.

“We hope to see you there,” Gillese solemnly intones, “and I hope that we absolutely ruin any happiness you have that day by showing you the horror that is human existence.”

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