Lisa Cesnik Ferguson founded Rose of Athens Theatre with a heart full of great intentions and a spirit of community. It has paid off in a big way. The group enters their sixth season with more than 20 full productions under their belts.
Patch: When did you start your business?
Lisa: I started the preparations for the business in January 2006. I had moved back here in 2004, after going to grad school at UGA 1998-2001. So...because I wanted to start a nonprofit organization and nonprofits exist to serve the community, I went around to community leaders - the mayor, commissioners, business leaders, church leaders, arts leaders - and asked them questions about that. It ended up being an informal feasibility study. I kept all my notes from all of my meetings and used these notes while shaping the Mission, Vision and Goals of the nonprofit company. So, because of this, the community of both Oconee County and Clarke County figured largely into the shaping of the organization. I couldn't and wouldn't have done it any other way. And thus, "Professional Theatre, Community Spirit" and "Teaching Life Skills Through Stage Skills" was born and incorporated at ROSE OF ATHENS THEATRE, INC. in August 2006. Our first production was December 2006.
Patch: Why a theatre company?
Lisa: Well, now that I have been doing this for 5 years and entering our 6th season...what a great question to ask, Melissa. The simple answer is that it is the only business that I have ever been in, so it is what I know. The deeper answer is this: I believe in the transformative power of the performing arts. It makes us better and it makes us better people. Theatre integrates script, music, design, dance, directing, technical precision and in the best of all worlds (we often achieve it at Rose of Athens Theatre) multi-generational communities. A community without a strong grasp/integration of the craft of theater is not healthy. Rose of Athens Theatre champions the idea of a non-snobby, passionate theater community, and inclusiveness is at the core of those values.
Patch: What is your favorite thing about your business?
Lisa: My favorite thing about the business... hmm.... Well there are too many things to name, so...OUR PRODUCTIONS! This season we are producing "Huckleberry Finn," "A Christmas Carol," "James and the Giant Peach," and Shakespeare's "A Comedy of Errors." Compelling literature, classics brought to life on stage. We are also doing Living Theatre representations of history from our area and many other current exciting productions.
Our productions are for the general public, and we also serve thousands and thousands of students every year. And personally, I get a feeling of renewal when I listen to the reactions of our audiences during the shows. Listening to how well Rose of Athens Theatre enchants and transports, that is an excellent bonus. Especially if I have been wrestling with Quickbooks that day or doing any number of unglamorous things that day.
Our RoA Academy students make it worth the hard work, too, and that is an understatement. I have the highest respect for the hard working youth who take our classes. I love our board and sponsors, too. They are committed and I am always grateful to them for their ongoing support of the mission of the company.
Patch: What is the most challenging thing about running a theatre group?
Lisa: There are challenges. The work load is tough to negotiate for a small and growing business. I struggle to be sure that our volunteers and artists are not overloaded. I also have a dedicated administrative staff and I work hard to ensure that they are aware of how much they are appreciated and what strategies we can use to keep ourselves vibrant, current and serving in every way that we are can.The economy is tough now, yes. But it has always been tough for artists, so I refuse to give that my worry/focus. After all, we have work to do! Onward!
Patch: What are your long-term goals for your business?
Lisa: Rose of Athens Theatre's goals are to become an economic anchor in Oconee County, Clarke County and beyond. We are a service organization, a nonprofit 501c3. We will continue to create vibrant professional theatre that inspires audiences and transforms communities. We will integrate more of our students, generate more jobs, thrill more tourists, and grow our Shakefest (Shakespeare on the Lawn) at Ashford Manor, into a nationwide program. We love our partnership with Mario and Dave at Ashford Manor Bed and Breakfast, which has survived both rainstorms and an economic collapse with flying colors and keeps growing!
Patch: What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a new business in Oconee County?
Lisa: Starting a new business in Oconee County? I would say this. Discover why you want to do so and why you want to do so right now. And start making friends who like your idea immediately. That is what makes a business successful -commitment from good people to the service that you provide. And if someone else is already doing it....don't do it, too. That's boring! Choose something that is needed and start that business.
For more information about upcoming shows, the academy, sponsorships, or volunteer opportunities, visit http://roseofathens.wordpress.com/. Check out Rose of Athens Theatre on Facebook, too.