Local Documentary to Support the Rebuilding of the Georgia TheatrePosted: March 18, 2010
The swanky room was full of hipsters, townies, and Athens’ traditional music lovers sipping on Terrapin beer while waiting for the first showing of the trailer for “Athens Burning,” a documentary on the history and future of the Georgia Theatre and importance of the Athens music scene..
The main idea behind “Athens Burning” is to continue to spread awareness of the Georgia Theatre devastation while raising funds for the rebuilding of the Theatre.
“Despite all the talk, the rebuilding of the Georgia Theatre is not a done deal,” said Eric Krasle, executive producer of Athens Burning and local attorney. “Wilmot Greene, the owner of the Theatre, is struggling day to day to get the money needed to rebuild.”
Money is a major concern and plays a vast part in the question of when the Theatre will reopen, if it ever does. The Georgia Theatre website marks New Years Eve 2010 as the long awaited day when “the marquis will be lit again,” but Greene has hit a few unexpected speed bumps along the way that might slow down the rebuilding process.
“I know they have had some trouble getting their new building plans approved,” said Meredith McBee, senior public relations major at the University of Georgia and former employee of the Georgia Theatre. “Last I heard they were hoping to reopen by February 2011.”
According to Georgia law, Greene must rebuild the Theatre to meet the current building codes. In order to meet these standards, the Theatre needs about $3 million, which is double the amount insurance awarded the Theatre for replacement costs. The Theatre is working with The Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to restore historically and culturally important buildings. With their help, the Theatre hopes to create a functional building that satisfies current building ordinances while reconstructing the same look and feel of the 1930’s historic theatre.
“We have held at least 20 fundraisers and benefits and only raised around $5,000,” said Wilmot Greene, owner of the Georgia Theatre. “It’s a lot harder than it seems.”
Krasle believes that a place like the Theatre is essential to the viability of Athens and its music scene.
“In a bad economy, the savior of Athens is going to be music tourism,” said Krasle. “ A midsize venue, somewhere between the Classic Center and small clubs and bars, is critical.”
Kathleen Curley, a senior real estate major from Dallas, TX agrees. “When the Theatre was still there, I would go to concerts all the time, at least one every month,” Curley said. “Now I rarely ever go to concerts because I never know who is playing or where they’re playing, or if I’ll enjoy the venue.”
The Theatre has received donations from previous owners and established musicians, like the Dead Confederates who are taking donations for the Georgia Theatre in exchange for their Dirty Ammo EP. But Krasle feels that the average Joe is capable of doing the most good for the Theatre.
“If every person who has ever been to a show at the Georgia Theatre donated the price of one ticket, that would help tremendously,” said Krasle. “It’s the average local who is going to keep the spirit and tradition of the Theatre alive once we’re all gone.”
When talking to Krasle about the Theatre, there is a clear spark in his eye and passion in his voice that is not uncommon amongst the streets of Athens. The Georgia Theatre has its way of leaving its mark and inspiring people with its unexplainable presence. Dating back to 1889, the Georgia Theatre is a historic landmark that symbolizes a vital element of Athens culture and music.
“If Disney World burned down, Orlando would die,” said Krasle. “The music scene, specifically the Theatre, is our Disney World. Music tourism is our niche to survive.”
A large portion of the money raised from “Athens Burning” will go towards the rebuilding of the Theatre.
“Ideally, I would like the outcome of Athens Burning to be the long-term viability of the Georgia Theatre and Athens,” said Krasle.