Things didn’t turn out so well for Romeo and Juliet, but a Coweta couple are determined to prove that at least one theatre-inspired love story can have a happy ending.
Right now, though, after a two- year sprint to open The Legacy Theatre in Tyrone, Mark and Bethany Smith are just hoping for a day off.
“We really need to catch our breath,” Bethany says.
For a while it didn’t look like they’d even catch each other.
Bethany grew up in Indiana, but after a brief taste of college, followed her heart to New York and found work as a singer, dancer and choreographer, both off-Broadway and with several large cruise lines.
After high school Mark left Bristol, Va., to study theatre at Abilene Christian University. Work then took him from coast to coast.
The pair met by chance in 2001 when they played opposite each other in a summer production in Kentucky. After they split for the summer Mark found his attention wandering, mostly back to Bethany in New York. “I was interested, that’s for sure,” he says.
In 2002, he went to the Big Apple. “I was just going long enough to get her to leave,” he says.
As talk turned to marriage they both felt New York wasn’t the place to raise a family and looked for other options and locations.
Bethany told a friend about her long-held dream of operating a professional theatre. She mentioned Lexington, Ky. as a possible site, but her friend told Bethany that a recent study said the prime spot for a new theatre venue was south metro Atlanta.
Bethany tucked the information away, but she and Mark continued to visit other potential locations, including Lexington and Asheville, N.C. Nothing clicked. Then, with a wedding in the wings, Mark came across a job opening for a film and drama teacher at Landmark Christian School in Fairburn.
It didn’t take them long to realize they had found their new home.
“The people were great, and we saw the local theatre opportunities at once,” Mark says. “We knew this was it.”
They were married in the spring of 2004. After completing summer theatre obligations, the couple moved to Coweta County, Mark jumped into his new job at Landmark, and Bethany soon found work as a teacher and choreographer at Doris Russell School of the Performing Arts in Tyrone.
Starting a new life in a new place was hard, but Bethany’s dream never dimmed.
In the summer of 2005, they were performing again in Kentucky. One evening, Bethany went to Mark and said, “I know you’re busy, but do I have your permission to pursue my dream?”
Mark was swamped as he prepared to direct a production of “King David Oratorio” scheduled to open in Coweta County in November 2005. It was a massive task, but Mark told Bethany he’d join her effort as soon as “King David” closed.
Bethany got busy. Soon, she had a head full of ideas and a fist full of business plans and blue prints. With help and advice from family and friends, Bethany and Mark spent 2005 looking for partners, financing and the perfect site. They finally settled on a piece of land on Highway 74 in Tyrone.
Over the next year, the couple spent every spare minute choosing plays, calling potential cast members, lining up sponsors and patrons, and overseeing construction of the 180-seat theatre.
“Sometimes we’d just wave at each other as we headed in different directions,” Bethany says.
Their first production, “A Christmas Survival Guide,” was scheduled to open on Nov. 24, 2006, but construction delays and other holdups put the project further and further behind schedule.
“We just didn’t know what all could go wrong,” Bethany says.
A week before opening night the theatre still had not been approved for occupancy. The show was sold out, family and friends were flying in for the occasion, and Bethany was frantic. “We went through every passion, anxiety, up and down you could script,” she says.
But with 48 hours to spare The Legacy Theatre was approved, and Bethany and Mark stood anxiously backstage as the curtain rose for the first time.
The audience greeted them with a standing ovation, a tribute to both the jewel box of a theatre and the tireless efforts of the pair who made it possible.
“We both had tears in our eyes,” Bethany says. “That’s when we knew we’d made it.”
Sales are good, the theatre’s family-oriented shows are drawing big crowds, and support continues to build, but Mark and Bethany know keeping the theatre running may be harder than getting it open.
“We think we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mark says. “We just hope this story has a happy ending.” Newman-Cowetta Magazine