For over two decades Tanya Caldwell has been an integral part of the Norcross community. She moved to the city with a theatre degree from Georgia Southern University and has shaped the face of local theatre in Gwinnett.
In 1993, Tanya Caldwell found herself as a new resident of Norcross. She quickly found a welcoming community at Norcross Presbyterian Church. Soon, word got out that she held a degree in theatre and she was recruited to direct the annual Christmas pageant. The church loved her work and from there she directed all sorts of religious plays for the congregation.
She focused on these church plays for a few years before deciding to expand her scope by diving headfirst into local theatre. With her troupe from the church, Tanya founded the Norcross Presbyterian Players, and together they would perform at various churches and at Berkeley Lake. In 2000, a Player, who happened to also be a lawyer, helped the company incorporate and become the nonprofit Lionheart Theatre. But even as the head of Lionheart, Tanya never forgot what community theatre should be all about—making sure it stays an enjoyable hobby and not a chore.
Tanya says the most important aspect of Lionheart is its family feel. Her goal for the theatre is to make sure everyone feels welcome. During plays, rehearsals are only three nights a week so everyone involved can still spend time with their family and focus on their jobs. But the “family” aspect is also very literal.
What sets this theatre apart from others?
Tanya Caldwell: We are a dessert theatre. From the beginning we have served homemade desserts and a beverage at our intermission. Our tickets are also very affordable with a variety of discounts that can be provided. I also feel we offer a sense of family and inclusiveness than some groups forget is important. As we grow we see a lot of new folks. They come to us for their first show and then try other groups but always seem to come back. We boast to have been match makers for several couples, one couple met on our stage, got engaged on the front steps, married and just had their first child. Recently an audience member asked if he and his fiancé could marry on our stage. They had their first date at one of our shows and felt so strongly about the theatre that they wanted to marry here. There is a strong feeling of family and everyone feels welcome.
What’s on the horizon for Lionheart?
TC: This year saw our very first collaboration with a local restaurant to produce a Dinner Theatre. Moonlight and Magnolias was a huge success at The Crossing and it is our hope to continue offering this type of exceptional entertainment with them. Also, we plan to continue to host the Lawless Spirits Tour the weekend of Halloween. This walking tour will lead guests throughout Historic Norcross to witness reenactments of shoot outs and murders that happened right where they stand.
Tell us more about your classes and camps.
TC: For 10 years Lionheart has run summer and holiday drama camps. The camps teach theatre basics and emphasize creative expression. Our goal is to produce a love for performance and self expression, rather than produce working actors.
As a community theatre, Lionheart camps never turn a child away if the family can’t afford it. This year Lionheart started an outreach program to the Latino community. We raised funds for scholarships, translated flyers and had a Spanish-speaking volunteer take phone calls and register
Our camps are multi- generational and we saw 260 folks over three weeks this year. In 2017, we were happy to offer 35 students scholarships to come to camp.
Lionheart wants everyone to have the chance to shine if they really want to and at the end of each camp week is a free talent show any donations collected on that night go to charity.
Why do the arts matter for the residents of Norcross?
The City of Norcross has adopted the motto “A Place to Imagine” and it truly is. Founded in 1868, this historic city has worked very hard to keep the feel of the past while embracing the changes that progress affords. The beautiful parks, historic homes and old depot take you back in time when you visit. There is music, art and murals, as well as the art of creating wonderful food from the restaurants that are on our square. Norcross has made available to Lionheart a beautiful and affordable place to play. With our intimate 80-seat theatre you are able to see exceptional theatre productions, visiting artists such as improv groups, musicians, magicians and dancers. All of the arts groups work well together and promote each other. Lionheart is open to all locals who want to act, paint, or just enjoy a show.