Two days later – and I still find it hard to find the words to express how I feel at the news that Bob Farley died in his sleep. He was a man of seemingly boundless energy. He was a man who lived and breathed the theater.
More importantly, he breathed the theater into this community and made it an inseparable part of the North Fulton life – or at least that part of life that makes the rest of the humdrum worthwhile.
Most people know Robert J. Farley as the man who, along with his wife Anita Allen-Farley, started the Georgia Ensemble Theatre in Roswell. That was in 1992. I arrived on the scene in North Fulton in January 1993. I was pleased to hear the news a new theater was opening.
Their first season would begin that spring.
In my days with the Marietta Daily Journal, part of my duties had been that of theater critic. That is to say, I was willing to drive into Atlanta to write about the theater scene there, and the Journal was willing to publish my articles.
I received no extra pay for this, but I felt well compensated nevertheless. I had the opportunity to see a number of great plays, talk to actors, playwrights (Athol Fugard and August Wilson among them) and the artistic director of the Alliance Theater Bob Farley.
He made the Alliance a theater that gave new playwrights an opportunity. And he brought challenging plays to the stage. In short, Bob was an artist. Artists live mostly along the edge of human perception and dare you to come peek over the edge with them and learn something about yourself.
Bob did it gently. He liked for you to think it was your idea.
I envied Bob on many levels. Not the least of which was his fearlessness to live the life of an artist. While the Walter Mittys of the world (myself included) dream of such a life in those quiet moments of reverie, while artists like Bob and Anita laid it on the line.
You would get better odds in Vegas than betting on someone starting a theater from scratch in Roswell, Georgia. But Roswell was really a perfect spot when you looked closely. It already had an artist colony of painters and art festivals.
Under its Parks and Recreation Department, classes for the arts from dance to the visual arts abound.
Roswell has always been keen to listen to a different drummer. But Bob was more Pied Piper. He could paint a picture in your mind of what could be. And then he would take you there.
He and Anita made Georgia Ensemble Theatre happen. He drew other artists like moths to his flame. But his was the flame of living, breathing theater. Theater touches the soul like no other experience. It is in the moment.
And Bob could put an audience in that moment and make the audience reach a place in the mind they had not been before. It might be one of deep introspection such as in “Elephant Man” or “To kill a Mockingbird.”
It might just be something for the pure joy of a “Pump Boys and Dinettes.”
Because his light burned so bright, he was able to attract other talented artists to people his stage and who indeed did become his ensemble players – and directors, musicians, playwrights, costumers and others.
Bob’s gifts to this community are enormous. He lit the flame in so many other artists and then gave them their chance to live the artist’s dream. For the rest of us, he gave us that connection that completes the live theater experience.
We as the audience give or withhold our approval. It must be earned always.
In return, we the audience receive something much more special. What we receive is the magic.
And now our magician is gone.
No flame burns forever. But for those who knew Bob, the glow will never dim.