Out And Proud
Paul Conroy’s Out Front Theatre Company makes its splashy debut in West Midtown.
Out Front Theatre Company made its debut in late October in Atlanta with a bold and ambitious performance: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The wildly flamboyant musical premiered in Georgia with the theatrical company’s presentation.
“You only get to make one first impression, and we wanted to say, ‘We’re here in Atlanta,’” says Paul Conroy, the company’s founder and producing artistic director, who lives in Midtown.
It worked. The show oversold the first weekend, and every show the following weekend nearly sold out as well. Donations poured in from the community, with one donor even pledging to match another’s $20,000 gift.
Two years of planning led to Conroy’s inaugural three-show season for Out Front. His resume was already teeming with experience, working as the lead teaching artist at The Fox Theatre, the director and choreographer at Newnan Theatre Company, a playwright for Southampton Players and his most recent Master’s in Directing from Roosevelt University in Chicago in 2016. But he was ready to combine his writing, producing and directing into a bigger role. During his search for work in Chicago, Boston and San Francisco, Conroy noticed a number of theaters that catered to the lesbian, gay, bi and transgender (LGBT) audience. And they were succeeding.
Conroy had friends who lived in Atlanta who asked for suggestions on shows they should watch, but none of the traditional performances he offered were appealing. He realized, even in such an artistically saturated market like Atlanta, there wasn’t a theater marketed toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intergender and allied (LGBTQIA) audience.
The business model worked in other cities, and clearly there was a market in Atlanta, as his friends were among those that wanted to see LGBTQIA shows on a regular basis. So Conroy moved south to start Out Front as a 501(c)(3) non-profit.
“Out Front tries to be as inclusive as possible,” says Conroy. “At our core, we are just a company telling a universal story that just so happens to be connected to the gay community and that it can relate to.”
The three-show season touches on very different themes. Priscilla was a 17-person musical production. The February show, A Kid Like Jake, which tells the story of a preschooler’s struggles with a gender identity issue, has only four actors and is making its Southeast premiere. The final show, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, is a reworking of the Bible by two gay couples. Conroy boasts that this is the funniest show he’s ever written.
“Theatre is non-threatening, so for those not familiar with the issues that the LGBTQIA community faces, it’s a good introduction,” says Conroy. “I hope this company becomes a venue for younger people to be comfortable with themselves and explore theatre that they wouldn’t find in schools.”
Conroy works with teenagers and youth at a few Atlanta high schools, and he says to his students, “Who you are and how you identify is normal. We want you to be a part of productions that aren’t always about a boy who meets a girl and falls in love.” He plans to kick off an educational component in mid-2017 that will include workshops and possibly a summer program for kids.
“I’ve been working in theatre for 20 years,” says Conroy, who has worked in many mediums, including community theatre, theatre clubs and middle and high school theatre groups, since 2007. “My goal has always been to challenge and entertain the audience. I want to spark conversation, so that people are talking about the performance long after the show is over.”
Out Front Theatre Company
999 Brady Ave., 30318
STORY: Alexa Lampasona