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Bard for Life

Richard Garner goes from heading Georgia Shakespeare to directing Shakespeare in Love for a new stage.

A scene from 1998’s Shakespeare in Love 

Shortly after he was selected to direct a monthlong run of Shakespeare in Love for the Alliance Theatre (Aug. 30-Sept. 24), Richard Garner set about constructing his vision—with spreadsheets. The muse, the inspiration, would have to wait a bit.

“I have 21 actors playing 50-some characters in 28 scenes,” Garner said this summer, a few weeks before rehearsals started. “There’s props, music, design, logistics, costumes. If this actor has to change costumes here, he can’t be involved in a set change. I have to make sure the trains move on time and don’t collide. So, yeah—spreadsheets.”

After that came the sexier, creative stuff: teasing out his own interpretation, rehearsals, blocking, working with a fight choreographer on sword duels and a big climactic onstage rumble, developing musical performances, and finding and training a dog to run up and knock an actor down on cue.

Hard as it may be to fathom, the Shakespeare in Love directing gig is considerably less stressful than the job Garner held until fall 2014: He was the founder/artistic director of the much-beloved Georgia Shakespeare for 29 years. That company was forced to close because it couldn’t pay off more than $300,000 in long-standing debt. “I don’t miss the administrative work, the fundraising, the constant issue of the debt hanging over us,” Garner said. “But what I loved as an artistic director was the idea of, ‘OK, what do we want to do now?’ I do miss the ability to generate my own projects.”

Now a theater freelancer, Garner directs, acts and takes adjunct professor jobs. And he’s glad to be back in the Shakespearean milieu—sort of. The play, based on the hit movie, is a romantic comedy depicting a wealthy woman who becomes the Bard’s muse and inspires him to pen Romeo and Juliet.

“The play has a lot of the hallmarks of a Shakespeare comedy,” Garner said. “It’s a well-written story. I see it as a celebration of what I worked on for 29 years. I get to finally meet the guy who I never got to meet... outside of his words.” Tickets $10-$60, 1280 Peachtree St. NE, 404.733.4650