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GTA celebrates 40 years in action

What started out as a theatrical experiment with a community theater group, a private university and a public college grew into a magical collaboration that has yet to be replicated with any lasting success. This season, the nationally acclaimed Gainesville Theatre Alliance celebrated 40 years.

For 40 years, the nationally acclaimed Gainesville Theatre Alliance (GTA) has entertained audiences with its construction-savvy and technically gifted crews, professional directors and choreographers, innovative costume designers, and talented casts of students from the University of North Georgia (UNG) and Brenau University.

What started out as a theatrical experiment with a community theater group, a private university and a public college grew into a magical collaboration that has yet to be replicated with any lasting success.

"Some universities have tried collaborating as we do with Brenau, but they haven't been successful," said Jim Hammond, head of the UNG Department of Theatre and GTA's artistic and managing director. "I think egos may get in the way with one school wanting to be in charge. GTA is a remarkably balanced collaboration with tremendous support from UNG, Brenau and the northeast Georgia community."


The teamwork between the two universities has produced an ever-increasing number of GTA alumni, and many return to offer their expertise in productions and master classes. In 1990, 27 theater majors were enrolled with GTA. In fall 2019, the number was 225.

"Our graduates have created an impressive professional network, communicating opportunities to each other in cities from New York to L.A.," said Gay Hammond, associate professor of theater at Brenau. "We have a cadre of graduates like Harvard and Stanford do with law school graduates. GTA on your resume opens doors."

The creation of GTA in 1979 required innovation to solve a couple of problems. Fortunately, two individuals and their institutions, Ed Cabell at UNG and Mary Jean Simmons at Brenau, collaborated and led faculty and their colleges in the development of an ingenious plan that allowed both programs to grow and prosper.

After 10 successful years, GTA competed against 695 universities in the American College Theater Festival, the pinnacle of collegiate theater. Its production of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" was one of the top five picked to perform in the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

After the win, Cabell retired. Jim Hammond, who studied with Cabell during his senior year, was offered and accepted the job in 1990. In the past 30 years, he has built on the successful formula Cabell created.

In 2002, WonderQuest officially joined the collaboration and became GTA's Theatre for Young Audiences. Six years later, WonderQuest won the Sara Spencer Award for Excellence in Child Drama, a regional award given by the Southeastern Theatre Conference.

GTA also has garnered national and regional awards for its work.

  • In 2000, the American Council on Education (ACE) recognized GTA for its academic excellence and cost management. Only five programs in the country received the ACE award.
  • In 2004, GTA received an award for its excellence from the Georgia Council of the Arts following its production of "Ragtime."

Other accolades and notable development have followed.

  • In 2007, GTA reached new heights on the technical side with a production of "Metamorphoses" utilizing an 8,000-gallon pool with underwater tunnels constructed in the Ed Cabell Theatre.
  • In 2010, GTA added the Bachelor of Fine Arts in design and technology for theater at UNG to increase offerings for students.

During its 40th season, GTA presented Broadway shows "Legally Blonde" and "Pippin" as well as the world premiere of "The Bra and Panty Club." WonderQuest entertained its young audiences with "The Ugly Duckling" while the Discovery Series produced "The Wilson Project." The final two productions of "The Arabian Nights" and "The Laramie Project" have been postponed. New dates will be publicized at a future date.

As the 40th season comes to a close, GTA will say goodbye to Jim Hammond, who recently announced his retirement.

"I told my students 'I didn't become a teacher just to teach, but to continue as a student at your side striving to learn and grow.' After 30 years, it is time for this student to graduate and move to the next chapter of my life," Hammond said.

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