One of Marietta’s significant historical landmarks and a thriving cultural hub of the arts and entertainment scene is The Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theater.
Chase Swanson and our Marketing Coordinator, Isabelle Geller, had the opportunity to sit down and talk with the Executive Director of The Strand, Andy Gains. They delved into its rich history and uncovered many aspects about the venue and Andy himself that you might not be aware of!
The Strand first began as a major motion picture house on September 24th, 1935, with its first showing ‘Top Hat’, starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; a golden age Hollywood musical with timeless entertainment and comedic romance.
The Strand continued to play many classics over the years and served as an iconic date night spot and weekend activity for many in Marietta.
Despite the popularity, its early successes slowed due to the growth of television and drive-in theaters. In 1947 it passed ownership to the Martin Theatre Chain, and again in 1976 to Herbert Goldstein, where it ceased movie showings shortly after. From then on into the late 90s, The Strand served Marietta for numerous reasons, but most notably as a live music venue.
Eventually, in 2002, the Strand had closed its doors and was left vacant. This is when Earl and Rachel, each with their own motives, were brought together to drive the efforts to restore The Strand. For Rachel, it was being a huge believer in the arts, seeing The Strand be a huge opportunity for creative innovation. On the other side, there was Earl, the county chair at the time, who believed The Strand would be an economic cornerstone for the community.
In 2004 the “Bring Back The Strand” campaign began. This campaign successfully led to the restoration efforts that raised 5 million dollars for the theater’s reconstruction.
Finally, in 2009, The Strand, as we know it today, had its official grand opening. Several years later, in 2017, Earl made a heartfelt offering; he generously donated $500,000 in honor of his late wife, thereby dedicating the contribution. Subsequently, the venue was renamed “The Earl and Rachel Smith Strand Theater” in tribute to their legacy.
Today, The Earl and Rachel Smith Strand is run by Executive Director Andy Gaines, whose undying passion for the theater does not go unnoticed.
Tell us about yourself, who are you?
“My name is Andy Gaines, I am the Executive Director of The Strand. I live in Marietta with my wife Casey and my three sons, William, Teddy, and Jack. I went to UGA, where I got my theater degree.”
Andy continued to talk about how his grandmother was the main reason he had switched from the Terry College of Business and took a gap year until he got into his theater degree. If that hadn’t happened, he wouldn’t be on the path he is today.
“My professor originally took me under his wing and led me to India to study ancient Sanskrit and study at one of the oldest Indian theaters in the world. All I ever wanted to do as a kid was work in entertainment, I did not think it would be a possibility if it were not for him either.”
“Soon graduation time came. I graduated on a Saturday and by Monday I was on a box truck to West Virginia where I spent two and a half years doing all sorts of crazy things such as large-scale concerts and events. Our team got very lucky and even won the Grand Ex award, one of the biggest awards you could earn in marketing!”
“Eventually, everyone told me, ‘Andy, you did everything… you won the Grand Ex… why don’t you come work in the office?’ So I went, ‘You know what? I’ve been on the road for a long time.’ So I went to the office, and guess what? The second I got there they were bought out and I was promptly fired!”
“During that time as well, I was doing work at a lot of HBCUs, and at that exact moment when the office was bought out, Tyler Perry was opening his studio in Atlanta. 250 people were hired to help set up the place. Once we were done with the grand opening, something weird happened. His team asked one other person and I to stay and move furniture from the sound stages! Every day, for weeks. “
“Eventually, we asked ‘Why are we here? What are we doing?’ to which they said out of everyone here, they wanted to make sure that we had jobs in his studio.”
“Later on, Tyler Perry was able to get me a job at Cartoon Network, which was very kind of him. That happened to be where I worked on my very first movie ‘Ben 10: Alien Swarm’ with Alex Winter. That launched me into movies and television, which was the ‘Wild Wild West’ when the film incentive was in Atlanta at the time.”
“I got very lucky when one of the pilots I was working on, Detroit 1-8-7, got a call that the show got picked up in L.A. and they wanted to start filming in Detroit. I immediately went downstairs, in the leasing office where I was living at the time, with a blank check and broke my lease with the company; within 72 hours I was in L.A.”
“My wife followed a couple of weeks later and we lived there, where I got to work on a bunch of fun stuff. I even got lucky again and got to work on some movies in L.A. like Neighbors and The Wedding Ringer.”
How did you get to The Strand?
“I grew up in Cobb County. I used to, as a kid, go up to The Strand in the square.”
“I was raised in South Cobb, and Marietta Square was where the ‘rich people live’ and I knew this when I saw the historic district when I drove to the mall. However, the first time I went into The Strand was in third grade when I won ‘Student of the Year’ at Russel Elementary School. “
“When I was in high school, The Strand was where all of my friends took the stage for the first time. I am not a performer, but even I sang my first song in public on that stage with my friends in a band. So, it has a very special place in my heart.”
“Later on, when I was still in L.A. with my wife, I was working on ‘The Wedding Ringer‘, which was a very difficult movie, three very important things happened at once. A good friend of mine that played in a band at The Strand, died unexpectedly. I flew out back to Cobb, to go to his funeral. Then, after I had left my friend’s house, my wife Casey called me and told me we were pregnant! Then, within 48 hours of those two things happening, I got offered a job at The Strand! So I went, ‘Okay, this is the same way I went out to L.A. it’s the same way I’m coming back.’ It just felt right.”
“So, I started at The Strand in 2014, August 21st. I started as the Facilities and Events Director. Then in January 2018, I took over as General Manager, and in January of this year, they changed my title to Executive Director since everyone kept asking me ‘What does a General Manager do?’ and my favorite joke I’d say was ‘Well generally I manage.’ But realistically as a non-profit and as the last historical theater in Cobb County, it made things a lot easier to understand.”
How do you feel about the community in Marietta?
“I think it is a wonderful community, it is a giving community, and I don’t mean that monetarily. I mean that this community is supportive, everyone seems to row in the same direction. I’m one nail in a very large ship.”
“I think we have a full and complete community. We have sports and festivals, we have arts, we have folks that care about one another here.”
Andy and Isabelle were able to talk about some of their favorite members of this community, including K. Mike Whittle. One of whom is just a prime example of the care and compassion that you see every day in Marietta. Andy said “He is just one of those people you feel like you could pick up the phone and he would drop whatever he’s been doing to listen. He’s been such a huge supporter in a myriad of different ways and there’s a lot of different stories just like that of the people here.”
What do you love the most about running The Strand?
“It is very rewarding. Whenever someone asks me what my job is, it’s basically this. I get to be a creative place, for creative people, to be creative. And that’s really special.”
“For example, here’s our Strand Ole Opry. We have a full professional band that we self-produce. All of the singers are community people, and we have those who would’ve never sung on a stage before. This isn’t necessarily what people want to do for a living, but it gives them an opportunity to express themselves.”
“We also have our ‘Home-Grown Georgia Singer Songwriter series’. Which, I’m a big believer in this, it is important for Georgia artists to have a Georgia stage to tell Georgia stories to a Georgia audience, and I can provide that here.”
“It’s not just shows, we used to think of ourselves as a theater, but when we really started diving into who’s coming and why they’re coming, you can see it’s anything but. We’re a community center, we tell stories, but we are also there for people to write their stories. We have baby showers, birthdays, weddings, rehearsals, and memorials, and host many people’s first kisses. There are a number of people who share milestones here.”
“We live in a community where so many people stay, so there’s folks who have lifelong stories at The Strand. For instance, we have this woman who had passed recently, and her daughter wanted us to have her diary. She was 92, and she used to come to The Strand every week and write out journal entries of everything that happened there.”
“We played this moment in her life that happened again and again, and it was breathtaking being able to read about that and know that you’re a part of them as they’re a part of us.”
What’s one of your favorite showings at The Strand?
“A lot. However, I think my favorite was when we had done Movie Palace Radio Hour. We did old-timey radio dramas live on stage. So, I got to bring the head of the GBI, Vic Reynolds, (now County Judge) to play Lone Ranger. I got to have 11 actors on stage, a foley artist, and a complete orchestra to play all the transitions and music.”
“Where in the world can you go to see that? Where can you even see silent films with live orchestra accompaniment? People come from all over just to see this show!”
Are there any notable events upcoming?
“We have shows every weekend, even during the week, from now until eternity. If there is something that you like, it’s probably happening on The Strand stage.”