Artistic director Robert J. Farley and managing director Anita Allen-Farley onstage at Georgia Ensemble Theatre. Photo: Cloud8photos

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(Update: A celebration of Bob Farley’s life is scheduled for 11 a.m. Dec. 18 at Georgia Ensemble Theatre in the Roswell Cultural Arts Center, 950 Forrest St. in Roswell. The celebration will include Farley’s family and theater family, music by many of Farley’s favorite singers and instrumentalists, and remembrances from family and a few friends. In lieu of flowers, the family would be grateful for donations to the theater’s Robert J. Farley Memorial Fund. A reception will follow the celebration.)

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ROBERT J. FARLEY, artistic director and co-founder of Georgia Ensemble Theatre planned to retire at the end of the season, after directing Buddy — The Buddy Holly Story in April. He won’t have that chance.

Farley, 69, died suddenly and surprisingly Thursday morning.

At the 2017 Suzi Bass awards: Robert J. Farley, daughter Laurel Farley Crowe and wife Anita Allen-Farley, his co-conspirator in life and art.

In a Facebook statement, daughter Laurel Farley Crowe wrote: “Dearest Friends and Family. It is with profound sadness that I share the news of the passing of my father. His death was sudden and unexpected. He was a beacon of light and positivity in a world that can use a little more of both. Above his extraordinary contributions as an artist, his greatest joy in life was found as a husband, father, grandfather and friend. I know how much he adored and was regarded by this community, and we will have news regarding the celebration of his life and work as those plans are made. Thank you for your thoughts and love at this time. We are all grieving today.”

Reaction to his death was swift, with some 150 friends and colleagues leaving comments within an hour of hearing the news.

Actor/director Steve Coulter: “A giant of a man in our business has died. Bob Farley was one of the kindest men I’ve ever met in the theater. He brought me to Atlanta. His compassion and intelligence and big heart made so many people better for knowing him.”

Playwright Topher Payne: “I am heartbroken. I don’t have words to offer, except that I loved him very much, he made me better, and I know he knew that.”

Actor Galen York: “Heartbroken, devastated and shocked. I did not expect we’d be saying goodbye to Bob Farley anytime soon. He and his love, Anita, built a warm, generous artistic community in Roswell, and he loaned his expertise to our entire city. I was in And Then They Came for Me in 2013. On the first day of rehearsal, Bob told us that it’s the most important work that Georgia Ensemble Theatre does. Over 20 years, thousands of students have seen it and numerous artists have stepped into the roles and been changed by them. I’ve never felt so humbled to be part of a production. Many theaters wouldn’t put that level of importance on a touring children’s show, but it was central to Bob’s vision.”

And Then They Came for Me, subtitled Remembering the World of Anne Frank, is a multimedia performance that tells the story of the hidden children of the Holocaust. GET stages and tours it every season.

On the mainstage at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center, Farley and his company have produced several world premieres by Payne, including Swell Party, The Only Light in Reno, Greetings Friend Your Kind Assistance Is Required and this season’s Morningside.

Farley co-founded GET in Roswell in 1992 with wife Anita Allen-Farley. He was a professional theater artist for 50 years, more than 40 of those as an artistic director — at Alaska Repertory Theatre, at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre and at GET. 

Photo: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

While at the Alliance in the 1980s, he directed the regional premiere of Driving Miss Daisy, which became the longest-running production in the theater’s history. At GET, he directed Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide ClubThe Man Who Came to DinnerInherit the WindArsenic and Old Lace and Ring of Fire, the Johnny Cash Musical Show, among many others.

He also has directed at downtown’s Theatrical Outfit, Marietta’s Theatre in the Square and Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota. He directed John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath for Gainesville Theatre Alliance and a revival of Driving Miss Daisy in Hilton Head, S.C. At the 2017 Suzi Bass awards, he and Allen-Farley were given a lifetime achievement award.

His other honors include a lifetime achievement award for significant contributions to the American theater from the Pasadena Playhouse in California) and a Flourish Award from Kennesaw State University. With Allen-Farley, he was named a Public Broadcasting Atlanta Lexus Leader of the Arts and a Leitalift Foundation Visionary Leader.

When Farley’s retirement was announced, Allen-Farley planned to stay on as GET’s managing director and lead the company with Alan Kilpatrick, who joined the company as associate artistic director in 2016 and was to become artistic director on May 1, 2018. That timetable likely will move up.

No funeral plans have been announced yet, and the Atlanta theater community will undoubtedly find its own ways to honor Bob Farley’s life and work.

As Galen York said in her Facebook note, “Thank you, Bob, for changing so many lives through art.”

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About Kathy Janich

Kathy Janich, Encore Atlanta’s editor, is a longtime arts journalist who has been seeing, working in or writing about the performing arts for most of her life. She's a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas, Americans for the Arts and the National Arts Marketing Project.

View all posts by Kathy Janich