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#ATLStrong Small Business Stories - Comedy Theater Dad’s Garage Finds Creative Ways to Survive Pandemic

Housed in a former church in Atlanta’s historic Old Fourth Ward is Dad’s Garage, the award-winning nonprofit theater company, now in its 25th year. All of the performers have one goal for the 450 shows they annually produce: “To transform people, communities, and perspectives using laughter.” 

Managing Director Lara Smith explained that, since they cannot hold live shows, Dad’s Garage has taken its content to Twitch, an online streaming platform. Dad’s Garage currently streams between thirty and forty hours of content a week. Smith says they’ve received over 10 thousand viewers - much more than the number of people they would usually reach with only live performances. 

In addition to the improv shows Dad’s Garage produces, the company also provides classes for the general public, year-round youth programming including a summer-camp component, and training for corporations. Even during the pandemic, Dad’s Garage has successfully moved their classes, youth program and summer-camp to a digital format.

Smith says one added benefit of moving online is that, “in all of these areas people can now participate from father away. We have people from all over the Southeast who are aware of Dad’s Garage and now they can participate.” While the theater remains closed for the foreseeable future, Dad’s Garage has created three distinct ways for people to support the company via Twitch - through a donation, a micro donation or with a subscription. 

Additionally, Dad’s Garage produces some original scripted comedic works, many of which have a social justice angle - while still offering laughs. Some of these archived shows are available to rent and watch, with all proceeds going to support those on the frontlines of the respective causes.  

While Twitch is helping tremendously and paying for itself, Dad’s Garage still has operating costs to maintain and employees on staff. As they began to think about reopening, Smith explained that the funding from the Business Continuity Loan Fund (BCLF) provided them with flexibility.  “It’s allowed us to think longer term and bigger picture. For us, it’s given us the space to think long term and we can look strictly at the data as to when it’s safe to reopen. We want to make sure our audience feels safe.”  Additionally, the funds will help pay for necessary renovations, in accordance with the Center for Disease Control’s safety requirements for businesses to reopen.

Smith feels that the company was uniquely positioned to be able to pivot gracefully from live shows to Twitch. After losing their longtime rental home in Inman Park in 2013, Dad’s Garage spent two years being “homeless.” It was during that challenging time that Smith says that they were able to reaffirm their mission. The team recognized that stage shows were not the sole way to fulfill their goal. They created other programming which they are now relying upon during the pandemic. Remarked Smith, “You can always pivot, if you get to the heart of what you’re trying to do.” 

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