Robert Reid Goodson came to Tifton from New York with a fire not in his belly but in his heart. He drove down Main Street burning with a love of theatre and all things related to the arts. Robert Reid—like Trampus in my novel, Dogwood Blues, a man who swore to restore a decaying house—walked into the historic Art Deco-styled building and said he would resurrect the place with the arts.
And he did.
It wasn’t easy. A stranger in Tifton, Robert Reid spent a great deal of time getting to know the people of the community and creating business relationships and partnerships. Tricia McCann of Classic Art and Frame offered time, resources, and friendship. Robert Reid said, “These relationships were vital to the theatre’s survival. Bistro. Classic Art and Frame. There are too many to list. Just know that many businesses and volunteers helped support the theatre.”
Robert Reid introduced Risen Voices, an event that celebrated and honored Black History Month. He reached into the community and pulled into the theatre a diverse group of talent that included song, dance, and spoken word. Determined to celebrate diversity, he collaborated with Arts in Black. And he made a point to bring in new talent.
“I met Julie Smith when I first got here, and I asked her if she had ever acted,” he said. “She hadn’t. But when Steel Magnolias opened—my first play production at the Tift Theatre— I had cast Julie as M’Lynn. And she owned that role.”
Under Goodson’s accomplishments he includes: the implementation of a high school internship program; the creation of a volunteer database; his establishment of a summer youth theatre; his work in developing a program that offered honor hours for students; the implementation of Directions, a Tift County Youth Company for grades K-12; his introduction of the Penny Awards, an award ceremony honoring the best actors, musical numbers, and performances. Under Robert Reid’s direction, the stage was booked nonstop, week after week. Rushing to handle last minute preparations before the opening of his final production, 9 to 5, he told me he couldn’t concentrate long enough to remember all his achievements. His mind whirled with thoughts of props and costumes. And he was in a rush; his opening-night volunteer for the box office had canceled, and he needed to find a replacement soon. Robert Reid smiled. “Good thing I created that volunteer database.”
After making a few phone calls, he paused, and said, “Back to my accomplishments. I’m proud that I got the buses to unload the kids in front of the theatre instead of in the alley like a bunch of second-rate citizens.”
Smiling, he told about ghostly experiences involving him and others in the theatre. His first encounter happened a few days after Hometown Holidays. He walked downstairs and, near the bathroom, the undeniable scent of Old Spice wafted in the air. “The scent was overwhelming,” he said. Later, he discovered that several years earlier another person had smelled Old Spice in the same location when the building was empty. “It wasn’t just me. Several of my actors were spooked by shadows, footprints, and orbs.”
In December 2013, Robert Reid Goodson drove into Tifton and walked into Tift Theatre for Performing Arts determined to bring her back to life. In his position as managing director, he did just that. Now, he will soon be driving away. To a new job. To new challenges. But a part of him will always remain in Tifton. Using the word theatre several times, as though the word was sacred, he said, “I hope Tifton will continue to support downtown revitalization and this jewel of a theatre. I hope they will continue to have programs for the youth. The theatre pulls in people from all walks of life. The theatre—it’s the heart of it all. I believe without an active theatre, downtown suffers. I want to look back and see the theatre continuing to thrive and pulse with life.”
Good luck, Robert Reid Goodson. And thank you for breathing life into Tift Theatre for the Performing Arts.
His final production, 9 to 5, runs tonight, July 24, and Saturday night, July 25, at 7 PM. I will be there Saturday night. I wouldn’t miss it!
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