As Theatrical Outfit celebrates its 40th anniversary, actor Clifton Guterman steps into his most important role yet.
He’s known throughout the area for his stage roles, but this summer Clifton Guterman starts the largest non acting gig of his professional career, taking on the title of associate artistic director at Theatrical Outfit.
It’s a new position for the company and for Guterman, who has been with the Downtown Atlanta theater four years as an executive associate and casting director. He will continue casting duties and add community engagement to his tool belt. An additional focus, however, will be locating plays and playwrights and producing The Unexpected Play Reading Festival in 2017, full of original or fairly new work.
After growing up in Iron City, Georgia—a small city of approximately 325 people without a single stop light, school or church—Guterman, 40, went to UGA and later picked up an MFA in performing arts from SCAD. A summer internship in casting at the Alliance Theatre turned into a four-year job as an assistant for Susan Booth, the theater’s artistic director, in 2001. During the day he handled administrative duties, and at night he acted across the city. Guterman’s favorite local role was his first, as a gay teenager in Actor’s Express’s 2002 “Beautiful Thing,” but he was also seen during that time in “Bat Boy: The Musical” at Dad’s Garage and in “The Goat” at Actor’s Express, among others.
An acting gig took him to California in 2005, and he moved to New York the next year. “It was a challenge,” Guterman recalls of living in the city. “I went there at 28. I think if I had gone out of college with college energy it would have been different. I had had success in Atlanta and done several shows, and living here was affordable. In New York, I worked, and I had agents, but I just didn’t like the city. It felt oppressive to me.”
In 2008, he met his future husband— Chad Gough, a senior vice president for an advertising firm— in New York, and by the next year they had decided to move to Atlanta. Gough was charmed with the city on his first visit. “He fell in love with it,” says Guterman. “He saw the life you could have here—being able to afford to have a home and a car and a dog.”
They briefly relocated to Chicago in 2014, but Guterman knew after just three days it was a mistake. The two had lived in Chicago temporarily when visiting for Gough’s work and liked the area’s theatre community and liberal environment. Wanting to give life in a big city one more crack before settling down, they moved to the Windy City in the spring, but they were back in Atlanta by the fall. “Immediately, there was a homesickness for my friends and theatre people, the comfort for the history I had built.” says Guterman “I also knew I would be rebuilding in a sense Culture HEADLINERS and having to reprove myself.” The Grant Park residence he and Gough share is now a permanent home.
Guterman has noticed a significant change in Atlanta of late. “The trend used to be to work all you could here, build up a resume and then move to Chicago or New York,” he says. “Because of all the great theatre here, and the TV and film industry exploding, people are staying to have families and work in both mediums. People are moving here, and everyone is friendly and wants others to succeed.” He has also been inspired that the Atlanta theatre community, which went through a recession that saw companies such as Georgia Shakespeare and Theatre in the Square close, is healthy again.
Theatrical Outfit celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. One of the reasons Guterman is happy at the company is its leader, artistic director Tom Key. “He is ageless and inspiring,” Guterman says of Key. “We have challenges, like every other non-profit, but because of Tom it’s positive, even in disappointing times. He has a way of keeping people positive. I work well under that model.”
Over the years, Guterman has branched out to film but for the most part is content with behind-the-scenes tasks these days. Yet the acting bug hasn’t altogether disappeared. “When I have a play that I am passionate about, I know who to email about it. I think I will be back on stage.”
The Theatrical Outfit
The Balzer Theater at Herren’s
84 Luckie St. NW
STORY: Jim Farmer