GAINESVILLE - A fixture in the regional theatre community for two decades, the Georgia Mountain Players has announced this season will be its last.
Mike Martin, one of the orginal members of the community theatre troupe, said Friday the decision to end performances was, as he put it, heart-wrenching. He said the actors have been discussing the future of the troupe for awhile now.
"It was just an accumulation of things," said Martin. "There were many things that went into it, but the overriding reason was our age and the health of some of our players."
As outlined in a letter to season ticket holders, two of the actors currently are battling cancer and another has developed lupus. And, Martin noted, the Players lost long-time member Charlie Robocker to cancer just before Thanksgiving.
"The health is the main reason...we're getting tired," said Martin.
The Georgia Mountain Players stage all of their productions at what was once the Georgia Mountains Center, a facility now being renovated by Brenau University for the school's new health occupations programs.
Martin said that the Players had signed a contract with Brenau to use the theatre in the facility for the current year, so the change in ownership for the building played only a small role in the decision.
"Of course, that has a small part to do with it, not knowing our future with Brenau. There are a lot of unknowns."
While the Georgia Mountain Players have staged dozens of shows over the last 20 years, the group is perhaps best known for its annual production of "Smoke on the Mountain," the story of the gospel-singing Sanders family and their appearance at a small town church.
Martin said the show has been a sellout every year, and without having a calculator to do the math, he couldn't say exactly how many people have seen "Smoke," but he estimated it was in the tens of thousands.
"It's possible [over the last 15 years in Gainesville] for 3,600 people a year to see it," said Martin.
He said the Players have also taken the show on the road, even performing in Canada at one point.
Martin said the Players are family, so they'll still get together and spend time with one another, just not on stage.
He remembered that at one point they received some advice to remove a reference to God in their mission statement. He said the Players did not take that advice.
"We have always in our whole 20 years have believed, and still believe, that God guides us...that's part of the reason now we're thinking He's telling us now we've done a good job and it's time to move on."