No laughing matter, Relapse Theatre closes

Fundraising effort underway to save six-year Midtown comedy playhouse that enjoyed acclaimed praise, but was saddled with mounting bills, too.

Escalating financial burdens have helped shut down the good times at the Relapse Theatre comedy playhouse off 14th Street in the Home Park neighborhood.

But friends and supporters are hoping that Relapse can respond to the fiscal emergency mountain and save founder and artistic director Bob Wood’s comedy club that does a bit of everything, but mostly “brings people together in a place where they can be whoever they want to be.”

Known as “Atlanta’s Home for Improv,” Relapse was situated in a former church at 380 14th Street near Mecaslin Street. Three years ago to stop foreclosure on the building and save the club, Wood reportedly purchased the building for more than $2.8 million.

During its six years, the theatre has been positively recognized by numerous outlets and was the home to dozens of local independent comedy groups. Thursday night open mics were very popular and a few months ago, Creative Loafing tapped Relapse as one of the “ATL’s top four comedy clubs.

CL wrote at the time that the Saturday night secret shows “are quickly growing a reputation as some of the best underground/word-of-mouth performances in the country.”

Earlier this year, the Midtown playhouse also staged shows for a period of time in the former Geisha House restaurant at Atlantic Station. But now the curtain has been dropped on shows at the theater that Wood says in this video, which note does contain explicit language, he formed in part as an alternative to suicide.

“I was going to kill myself because I thought everybody was an asshole and that to succeed in life you had to screw people over,’’ he narrates in the Jordan Barclay-produced video. “I want no part of that at all. My mom said, “God told me to call you and He has a message for you, ‘It’s either do or die.’ At which point I broke down and decided to do.”

The announcement of the theater's closing came on Friday, Dec. 7, but there had been hints as to what was looming. The 1AM Secret Show was shifted to the Village Theatre after all Relapse shows for the weekend of Nov. 30-Dec. 1 were suddenly canceled. Then before this past weekend, the Relapse Theater website read, “Relapse Theatre is now closed. Thank you for all the years of love, support, and laughs. Keep an eye out, Atlanta. The spirit lives on.…”

So what happened? Messages to the theatre have not been returned, but a recently started fundraising effort, “Relapse Back In The Saddle - Get Relapse Theatre back open so it can continue to have a positive influence on everyone who steps foot inside,” offers some insight here:

From the details I know of why Relapse was shut down, it was because of a perfect storm of circumstances. All at once, an outstanding water bill that we were unaware of, an increased building tax bill, the building insurance bill, and the bill for our necessary renewal of all of our permits, including the liquor license, slammed into Relapse unexpectedly.  

Yes, poor planning was a factor, but the irony is that some of the confusion was caused by some really exciting behind the scenes steps that were being put into place to catapult Relapse to new levels that would prevent this very thing from happening.   

Our target goal is $80,000.  

Yes, 80K is what the group is attempting raise. The first $50,000 is to cover the bills described above, with the remainder as a buffer while theatre wide strategies are implemented to bring forth steady cash flow to help the comedy playhouse thrive with long term stability.

Will you miss Relapse Theater? Will you make a financial contribution to help save it?


More from the fundraising effort:

Ok, now that you have wiped the tears away, let's talk about what is going on. This message is going to be directed specifically to the friends and family of Relapse Theatre as well as their friends and family. Anyone else who is inspired to donate, you will then be considered part of the family. We are directing it at you because we want to rally those of us that have been to battle together, that know the importance of this theatre, and that refuse to allow an emptiness take over where greatness should stand.

Friends And Family Of Relapse, We Need You, More Than We Ever Have Before.

Most of you already know that as of now, our beloved theatre that is like a home to all of us, has been shut down. Unless we unite to do something about it, it will stay that way....forever. Here is the thing about when you lose something important.  It sucks. It sucks really bad. But it isn't until much later when you look back, and remember that amazing thing that you once had and took for granted, that you truly feel the impact of what you really lost.

Our loss is fresh, and it is sad. But if you think it is sad now, wait until a year from now, five years from now, even ten years from now, when that old, dirty church that you once occupied for the purposes of improving the lives of others through laughter, still sits empty.  It is then, when it is too late, that the impact of what you really lost will hit you like a ton of bricks.   

There is a reason that we all come together at Relapse. It is unlike any other place in the world. It is a comedy community like no other. It is revolutionary, and it is ground breaking. And in order to accomplish something that changes the world for the better, you are going to face massive obstacles. That is why revolutions aren't easy. But we have something that most people who attempt revolutions don't have. We have Bob Wood. If Bob Wood were alive during the American Revolution, he would be the face we all see on our dollar bills. And when you have a man like that on YOUR side, you pick him up when he is down. God knows he has picked every single one of us up a million times over. In fact, in keeping Relapse open the past 8 or so years, Bob has thrown us all on his back and carried us over obstacles more difficult than any of us could really imagine. And what has Bob asked for in return?  Only one thing.....that we continue chasing our dream. That we NEVER let those outside forces that do nothing but tell us that we can never succeed as performers, break our spirit and cause us to quit.  

Since the day I met Bob, he has been been absolutely determined to change the entire world for the better through comedy. And some, who are not in this industry, who have a "safe" regular job, might smirk and call that dream silly. Well, to anyone who has ever thought that, I challenge you. I challenge you to provide evidence, hard evidence, not an opinion you formed based on a misconception, that proves to us that laughter is bad for you, that laughter does not bring people together, that laughter does not make us feel better in our darkest hour. Prove that to me, and I'll quit. But that is not going to happen, because in this world that we live in, we have to laugh, we have to love, we have to see light through the darkness. If we don't...What else is there?  

Bob Wood is a rare person who not only understands the importance of this, but also has the ability to use this to affect a positive influence across a nation. Imagine if all of us helped Bob just a little bit.

Imagine if we removed some of that burden that Bob so often faces, and we shouldered some of those difficulties ourselves, allowing him to focus on using his amazing talents to move us forward, beyond limits any of us could ever imagine. Imagine if this theatre that, despite it's struggles, has already created a ripple affect across the country, were able to reach it's true potential. For me, that is a much more desirable thing to imagine, than an old, broke down building, filled with nothing but squandered dreams.

We must not allow all of ours and Bob's effort to be rendered moot.  If we can accomplish this, then we will have proven that when we really work together, we can do anything, especially live our dreams. The organizational structure to push Relapse to the next level was set in motion before this all happened. We aren't far away, but in order to get over this mountain, it is going to have to be us who lifts Bob, the man who has carried us all for so long, up onto our shoulders, and carries him. I don't know about you, but I'm honored to do it.  

Bob did not ask us to do this. He refuses to accept handouts. The only way we were able to get him to not stop us from doing this was by convincing him that not one cent of this is a handout, because it isn't. Bob has given us all enough free classes, free rehearsal space, free stage use, and a million other things that everyone else in the world would charge us money for. This is not a handout. This is simply us paying him back for everything he has ever done.  

Any donation, no matter how large or small will be greatly appreciated. And it will give you the ability to smile, and look back years from now, when Relapse is a household name all over the world, and say, "I played a part in the Relapse Comedy Revolution."


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