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Ambassador Report: Tennessee – Knoxville
Puppet-maker Leah Chance and actor Kenneth Herring rehearse for Light Years: a Journey with Alzheimer’s
Puppet-maker Leah Chance and actor Kenneth Herring rehearse for Light Years: a Journey with Alzheimer’s

Knoxville, Tennessee—also known as Scruffy City! We’re home to the Sunsphere, the University of Tennessee, and cool writing opportunities. If you want to see scripts evolve from a “scruff draft,” here’s what’s good around here.

     Let’s start with DG Footlights™ making its Tennessee debut at Oak Ridge’s Historic Grove Theater. We featured table readings for DG members Caitlin Myers’ multi-layered Margaret and the Wampus Cat and John Holleman’s snappy The McKenzie Experiment. DG Tennessee Representative Arabelle Pollick then moderated their in-depth feedback sessions. For 2020, we’re partnering with DG Seattle Representative Kate Danley to exchange dramatists, so our writers get more cross-country development.

     The Clarence Brown Theatre on UT campus commissioned three plays that were produced in the past four years. Their most recent example was an ensemble play called People Where They Are by Anthony Clarvoe. This imagined the origins of the Highlander Research and Education Center, a real place to train locally for social justice and multi-racial leadership. However, six months before it was produced, the Highlander Center was burnt down and spray painted with graffiti that will not be described here. CBT’s production responded by collecting donations after each performance, and by the end of the show’s run their audiences donated more than $16,000 to the Highlander Center.

     Speaking of UT, Terry Weber is a retired Professor of Theatre who is also the Artistic Director for the WordPlayers. During Black History Month, they toured the premiere of the biographical Jackie Robinson Steals Home by Peter Manos. In addition, this organization has committed to three stage readings for new works in 2021.

     The Tennessee Stage Company celebrated their New Play Festival’s twenty-fifth anniversary by selecting seven plays, including works from four DG members: John D. Babcock III alongside co-writer Ted Westby developed the suicidal comedy Goodbye Cruel World as a table reading; yours truly alongside co-writer Carolyn Thomas premiered the absurd Raft; Lea McMahan premiered the familial Amazing Graces; and Paul Leeper had a sexy play called A Graveyard in Madrid scheduled for a stage reading, but unfortunately it was cancelled due to the Coronavirus.

     TSC was unique in how their festival featured two world premieres in one festival. When asked why go for two premieres, TSC Artistic Director Tom Parkhill said “We have presented a world premiere play every season since 1998, and from time to time when we are able, we have presented two as a part of our New Play Festival. We like to present new plays, so we do.”

     A new playwriting program called Next Rung Productions provides playwrights a mentor as they create their next play. The first person selected in this program was DG member Jeannette Brown, a novelist who just reached an ending for her first full-length play: the unnerving Mutation.

     Brown is also joining fellow DG member Linda Parsons since they have been commissioned by Flying Anvil Theatre. They have co-written a live-streaming show celebrating the 19th Amendment’s 100th anniversary, called SuffRAGE: To Give Voice. Before this, Parsons also co-wrote alongside John Ferguson as part of FAT’s previous Hammer Ensemble series; they focused on society’s difficulties like Alzheimer’s, sex trafficking, and gun control.

     There are more movers and shakers in our area, too. For dramatists looking for new opera in our city, Marble City Opera premiered the gorgeous Shadowlight by Larry Delinger and Emily Anderson. You can also look forward to the Carpetbag Theatre returning to tell more original local stories—they just celebrated their fiftieth anniversary. 

     Check out www.facebook.com/TNDramatists to hear updates for all of these and more across the Volunteer State!

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