Meeting on an elevator is the ultimate meet cute. But meeting on an elevator in January of 1968 at the Pasadena Playhouse makes this regional love tale that much cuter. Bob and Anita Farley are our couple. This is how they met.
“Bob ruined my spring break by assigning me to his mainstage show Hey You, Light Man!,” Anita recalls. That meant that instead of having a vacation she got to work on Oliver Hailey’s absurdist comedy, which starring Loretta Leversee and Morgan Sterne. Anita quickly forgave Bob, and the two were married eight years later.
“We just naturally gravitated toward working together and looked for projects that we could do together,” says Bob. These early projects included touring Hair for three years and helping to get Alaska Repertory Theatre off the ground. Bob was artistic director and Anita flexed her administrative muscles as the assistant to cofounder and producing director Paul Brown.
Eleven seasons and two daughters later (Laurel and Heather), the Farleys moved to Atlanta, where Bob had been appointed artistic director of the Alliance Theatre. Then, in 1992 the couple decided to have a third child of sorts, and Georgia Ensemble Theatre (GET) and Conservatory was born.
“We’ve been happily running it ever since,” says Anita, who points out that in 2018 she and her husband will be celebrating their 50th anniversary—not of their marriage but of their joint careers in the nonprofit regional theatre movement. Even after 23 seasons, the duo say that it feels to them like they just filed the application to incorporate and opened their first GET show (You Can’t Take It With You).
The recipe for success has a few strong ingredients. For one, the couple strives to be equal partners in everything they do.
“At GET we work hard to achieve a consensus and present a unified front to the board, staff, and our constituents at all times,” says Anita. “The ensemble mission is everything to us,” Bob adds.
Equal partnership also extends to the couple’s home life.
“The best advice I’d give to couples raising kids in the shadow of a professional theatre is to pick a partner that shares equally the burdens, the joys, and the challenges of raising a family,” Anita says. For the Farleys that meant always shutting work off at home—or at least trying to. They each admit that this rule has been the one most consistently broken.
It also meant that the family gathered for dinner at 6 p.m. every night, even if it someone had to return to the theatre later for tech or a show. The Farley daughters are now adults, and one has joined the family business: Laurel, who has a degree in theatre and was GET’s first conservatory student, now works as GET’s education director. Heather, meanwhile, has a Ph.D. in environmental policy.
Reflecting on the challenges and joys of running a theatre with a spouse, Bob is philosophical: “Theatre is a gift. Every day you get to entertain, provoke, educate, and explore the experience of being human. To share that gift with someone you love is amazing.”
“Our advice to others would be to go for it,” Anita chimes in. “Jump in with both feet.” And while she cautions that a balanced life is essential to strive for, she adds, “It’s not rocket science. You won’t get rich; there will be many unexpected and surprising outcomes. But OMG, the journey is spectacular.”