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Southern Theaters

Alabama Shakespeare Festival

Montgomery, Alabama

Montgomery’s Alabama Shakespeare Festival, or “Alabama Shakes,” as it is more popularly known, breaks the mold of the typical summer Shakespeare festival with a full-year season of 10 productions that also include new productions from the 21-year-old Southern Writers Project and musicals such as this season’s “Disney’s the Little Mermaid.”

Originally a summer Shakespeare festival, the company moved to a custom-built 250-acre park in Montgomery in 1985 as part of the largest single donation in the history of American theater.

Based on the architectural precepts of Italian villa architect Andrea Palladio, the nearly 800-seat festival stage, Octagon Theater, and surrounding parklands look more like a modern take on a villa outside Venice than a Southern theater festival, and its outdoor Shakespeare garden, as well as other interior areas in the theater complex, are available for private rentals for group receptions.

Before performances, groups have a variety of options for delving into the show they are about to watch, from private backstage tours to talks on Shakespearean history, and the cast can also be available for post-show talks and reception visits. Theater staff can also arrange full packages including shows, dining and hotel nights for groups.


Nashville Repertory Theatre

Nashville, Tennessee

On the surface, Nashville Repertory Theatre looks like an extremely new company, founded in 2014. But its history is much deeper because the “new” Nashville Repertory is a rebranding of the earlier Tennessee Repertory Theatre to focus on its Nashville actors and serving the local community. The company is celebrating its 30th anniversary with the current 2014-2015 season.

Each season, the company mounts five full productions — a holiday show, a musical and three plays — and a New Works Festival in May. In recent years, it has mixed the best new works coming off Broadway, including Pulitzer Prize- and Tony award-winning “Clybourne Park” and Tony award-winning “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” with classic but edgy musicals such as “Cabaret,” “Company” and this season’s “Sweeney Todd.”

As the company plays in a relatively small space, the 264-seat black box Andrew Johnson Theater at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, intimate productions are its hallmark.

“We love transforming the space to transport our audiences into the world of the production,” said marketing director Hollis Sienkiewicz. “The intimate space allows us to bring audiences right into the story and the action and [to] walk away from something they experienced rather than something they saw.”

Staff can arrange private post-show talk-backs for groups with the cast and director, or preshow mixes at locations near the theater.

Asolo Repertory Theatre

Sarasota, Florida

The largest professional theater not only in Florida, but also in the entire southeastern United States, Asolo is notable for its size alone. But as one of the only rotating repertory companies in the country and one of the top-rated theater conservatories in the nation, it’s about quality more than quantity.

At a glance, Asolo’s schedule can look dizzying: It opens a new show every Friday in January — and they all keep running together in a feat of scheduling and set design calculus — and then another in mid-March and yet another in mid-April before the summer season starts.

A musical takes over the stage from mid-November through the end of December. Though the show is not usually Christmas focused, instead gravitating more toward big-budget productions like the recent “South Pacific,” it is a big deal in the area.

“It’s one of the more popular cultural events in Florida at that time of year,” said group sales manager Alex Suczewski.

Asolo’s size means it has its pick of the best shows coming right off Broadway such as recent hits “Clybourne Park” and “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” but it also workshops and opens shows that later transfer to Broadway, such as the musical “Bonnie and Clyde,” which premiered at Asolo.

Groups can schedule private events such as talk-backs, tour the entire backstage workings of the theater or take part in public events such as live-music free-for-all hootenannies on the mezzanine.