Go-getter helped make local theaters’ lights burn a little brighter

I had planned that this month’s column would be all about the boundless volunteer opportunities with local theater companies. It was half finished — well, in my head, anyway. And then news came down the Facebook pipeline that Georgia Neu passed away.

If you don’t recognize the name, it’s only because you may not have been living here before 2001. Or, maybe you were but didn’t stay abreast of events.

Georgia received her degree in musical theater at the University of Cincinnati, worked as an actress and dancer in New York, and then came here. She burst onto the scene in the early 1980s doing a show-stealing performance as Elizabeth Proctor (to my John) in “The Crucible.” I say show stealing because her scenes happened to be the only thing about the production the critics liked. During ensuing seasons, critics praised any performance when she graced the boards. Hers was an incredible talent. She had a glorious voice and, when taking on any role, there was no detail too minute to excavate.

Over the years, she’d been honored with awards by Women of Achievement, Women of Distinction, Women of Diversity, and listed in 100 Women Who Shaped Las Vegas. No surprise there.

She’d been acting for the various companies, in shows such as “Talking With” and “The Lion In Winter.” But, in 1986 she approached Las Vegas Little Theatre with the idea they sponsor a production of “Guys and Dolls” at Spring Mountain Ranch to launch Actor’s Repertory Theatre (ART).

Georgia Neu, the founder-artistic director-actress-director-production manager, rattled a lot of cages in her quest to maintain ART as the only professional theater company (at that time) in Southern Nevada. She helped convince the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District to build two performance spaces for community use, and ART became the resident company at the Summerlin venue.

Her penchant for quality unequaled, she defended her cub with a fierceness you’d expect of a mama bear. She made one hell of a stab at it with many successful productions until Actor’s Rep, as it came to be known, closed down under insurmountable debt in 2001.

However, the go-getter and firm supporter of the arts wasn’t nearly finished. With a knowledge and expertise in production management, the Nevada Humanities brought her on as program director and promoted her 18 months later to program manager, where she encouraged theaters to apply for grants. In 2010, the Anti-Defamation League came calling, naming her regional director of their No Place for Hate program.

She garnered her share of detractors. I’d dare say she had her share of haters. She was accused of many things within the theater community: nepotism in an effort to promote her daughter’s acting career; locking up rights to the latest, hottest plays simply because, as an Equity company, she could; running her company with an iron fist, at times hiring and firing with staccato rapidity. In his column, my predecessor, Anthony Del Valle, questioned many of her choices and received some thorough tongue-lashings.

Say what you will. Whether you loved her or hated her, Georgia Neu helped lay much of the pavement on the road to the theater community we all enjoy today. It took a lot of hard work and dedication, and she had a remarkable talent for both.

Paul Atreides is one of the theater critics at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His Offstage column appears on the first Thursday of the month.

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