October 4, 2012

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Talk to an artist about Chattanooga’s developing arts scene, and it doesn’t take long for the topic of money to come up. Finding, seeking or needing funding is epidemic. But that seemingly universal dynamic takes a twist in a conversation with the three producing partners of Ensemble Theater of Chattanooga (ETC). They’d rather talk about paying money out... to artists.

“Someone asked me what my greatest pleasure is in doing this work,” said Garry Posey ETC’s artistic director and an instructor at Chattanooga State’s Professional Actor Training Program. “I like signing 30 checks at end of a show and knowing that we’re the only theater in Chattanooga that’s doing it consistently. If ETC makes money, the people who help us make money as well.”

ETC has grown quickly. Posey began the company in 2007 by co-producing a summer theater festival with Chattanooga State. He did that again in 2008, then presented a small number of shows in 2009. The same year Christy Gallo and John Thomas Cecil, who had been Posey’s students at Chat State, joined ETC as producing partners, and all three planned the 2010 season. ETC is now in its third full season of 10-13 shows. Cecil and Gallo both also act in many of ETC’s productions.

“When I started this in 2007 I wanted to start a theater that paid actors. At that time we were a ‘whenever I have money we’ll produce a show’ outfit,” said Posey. Now ETC pays all its artists – actors, designers, directors, and stage managers – a percentage of box office receipts. But the company’s ambitions for creating professional theater go beyond just paying actors.

“Quality is something I’ve always harped on, the quality of the performances and the acting. We want to guarantee that quality time and time again for and with the community,” said Cecil, who serves as producing director.

“I think we’d like the experience an actor has with the company to be similar to any have other professional company somewhere else in the country,” adds Gallo, who is ETC’s public relations director.

ETC has worked to cultivate what Posey called a “symbiotic relationship” between the actors and the audience. “Both groups have to be engaged and artistically satisfied, in my opinion, for a performance to be successful,” said Posey.

Productions are characterized by minimalist staging and emotional engagement, where the “aesthetic distance” that separates audience and actors is small. Presenting Macbeth, for example, in a 45-seat theater means that no audience member is more than ten feet from the action, including combat.

“I want the audience to be a part of what they’re experiencing. It has taken patience to develop that with the community because it’s so different. We’ve lost people who say ‘I like my distance from the actors. I don’t like to be right up on top of them.’ And that’s okay. This may not be for everyone,” said Posey.

“What we’ve seen over time is that we are developing a very specific patronage who enjoy the experience they have, the material that we do and our approach to that material,” he said.

Some of those attempts at engagement fail to connect, he admits. The show scheduled for mid-October was Sweet Nothing in My Ear, a drama centered on the child of deaf and hearing parents that was to be cast with both deaf and hearing actors. It was to be performed in both English and American Sign Language, with both languages translated on stage. The production had to be put on permanent hold because ETC was not able to cast enough deaf actors in supporting roles, but Posey promises it will be staged in a later season.


October 4, 2012

Comments (3)

Comment Feed

E.T.C.'s Heart of Empowerment

Thank you so much Rich for writing this article about ETC's commitment and investment in live theater. This article invites everyone to participate in helping this community find a voice in the performing arts. A professional is someone who gets paid for their services and that's exactly what ETC embraces and supports...professional actors that can take your breath away! In a community that does not support the arts in their public education system, it is crucial that students who have dedicated themselves emotional, mentally, physically and financially to their art form have an environment that supports professionalism. I have been at ETC performances when there has been only three other audience members but also in sold-out houses. At each and every performance, I received the pleasure of watching young artists perfecting their art form. Here's hoping that articles like this one will help build audiences who will invest in groups such as ETC!

Ann Law more than 1 years ago

Why do I need a subject? I'm commenting on a subject already! MY COMMENT DOESN'T NEED A SUBJECT!

I like money and I like feeling things and I like other people feeling how I feel sometimes and I like feeling connected to people and I like Garrys and I like Christys and I like John Thomas-s. It's very convenient then that ETC provides access to all of these things for me.

Jamie Goodnight more than 1 years ago

ETC Actor

I know how hard it can be to hold a job and keep up your passion. ETC gives me the opportunity to do what I love while helping out with the financial demands that love causes. Not only that, but working with the producing partners and the talented actors cast in their shows have helped me grow as an actress. Every time I see a show there I find myself proud to be envolved with such an amazing group of people.

Morgan Robbins more than 1 years ago

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