Strolling down Broadway and honky-tonkin’ may be the thing to do in Nashville, but it is certainly not the only thing. Catching a hockey game with the Predators, visiting the Country Music Hall of Fame, or writing a play with the Tennessee Playwrights Studio. Yes, write a play. Nashville has become a city for artists to thrive, and not just in music. It’s no surprise that it has been ranked #4 for “Most Vibrant Arts Community.” Like any large city in America, Nashville’s population is diverse: a meeting point of various races, nationalities, and orientations, from this country and beyond. A developmental lab for writers, Tennessee Playwrights Studio, or TPS, is a distinctive group that focuses on the work of those who have a deeply rooted connection with this state. Although centrally located in Nashville, this group is unique in that it is open to playwrights state-wide. In 2018, the studio wrapped up its inaugural season, which was comprised of members hailing from the suburbs of Nashville, to rural Tullahoma, and all the way to the rolling hills of Chattanooga.
Led by Artistic Director Kenley Smith, and Program Coordinator Molly Breen, the duo has set out to feature the Southern voice in an inclusive environment, making room for the stories of Tennesseans. When asking Smith about the origins and intent of TPS, his answer was quick, “[to] represent the voices in Tennessee,” and more specifically, “fresh voices and new interpretations” of our current political climate. As per the Tennessee Playwrights Studio website, “No one can deny that we live in a pivotal moment in this country’s history. When historians look back at the early 21st century, they’ll examine our art, our music, our STORIES.”
As Smith and I chatted on the phone, discussing the importance of the South, he remarked “every region’s voice is important,” he continued, “[but] let’s not forget what is in our back yard.”
The Studio accepts five Fellows and two Associate Artists each year. TPS Fellows develop their play proposal and deepen their perspective in the lab, while Associate artists actively participate in the feedback. TPS Associates are invited to work with Kenley Smith in one-on-one sessions; their participation in the lab sessions guarantees Fellowship for the following season. In the room where it happens, the process consists of the area’s finest actors reading the Fellows’ fresh pages, followed by feedback from participants, modeling the Liz Lerman Critical Response process. This year, TPS has partnered with long-time local professional theatre company Actors Bridge Ensemble, a Nashville staple. The cohort will meet at ABE’s studio space at the Darkhorse Chapel. Applications open in December and labs begin in February, meeting monthly throughout the year and culminating in a presentation of the Fellows’ first drafts.