A disturbingly dark drama about a child’s imagination and its connection to a series of murders (“The Pillowman). A stripped-down, modern-dress version of “Romeo and Juliet.” Ingmar Bergman’s re-envisionment of Ibsen’s classic theatre piece “A Doll’s House” as “Nora.”
All of these are onstage now or in rehearsal here in Chattanooga, evidence of a developing theatre scene in a city long dominated by one major player, the Chattanooga Theatre Centre. The 80-year-old CTC, still and justly a community favorite, now has what is not so much competition as comrades in the art, as new companies form and flourish. Just like in other cities, you have to be willing to take a chance when you venture out to see new work in new places. Seriously, though—that’s half the fun.
The little ETC that could
Even Garry Lee Posey, founder and now artistic director and producing partner of the Ensemble Theatre of Chattanooga, admits he did not foresee the tremendous expansion of the company he created in 2008. “I had just been able to buy a home with an ArtsMove grant,” he says, “and I felt an obligation to contribute to the arts landscape.”
Posey, who is also a theatre arts instructor at Chattanooga State, worked with Professional Actors Training Program principals Rex Knowles and Sherry Lansing on a 2008 summer theatre season. “We paid actors that first summer and I decided to move forward,” he says.
As serendipity would have it, a space became available to the fledging ETC at the former Methodist church that had become the St. Andrews Center. “It was a place where a bunch of friends and students could have fun creating theatre,” Posey says. And for four years, they did, doing show after show, slowly building a community and their audience.
“I can remember sitting at a performance with two people in the house,” Posey says, contrasting that with the recent “Avenue Q” sold-out shows.
The “Ensemble” in the company’s name is an integral part of what Posey and producing partners John Thomas Cecil and Christy Gallo emphasize about it. “We all do everything,” Posey says, noting that Chatt State students get a chance to find out what their skills are beyond performing. When the company moved into its new space in the Eastgate Town Center, it also reorganized and created a “Senior Ensemble,” in which members have specific company responsibilities beyond being onstage, such as acting as technical director or writing grants. ETC then shares part of its monthly income with ensemble members, a model that Posey feels may be the first step in developing a true professional theatre.
Challenges to this include expanding the theatre-going audience and finding the “right” number of shows to present, keeping income up without burning out ETC’s company. “You don’t always hit a home run,” says Posey. “But we’re committed to making sure our audiences have a positive experience from the minute they get out of their cars.”
At ETC now: “The Pillowman” 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22-23; 2:30 p.m. Feb. 24. Eastgate Town Center, 5600 Brainerd Road, (423) 987-5141, ensembletheatreofchattanooga.com
Worthy of consideration
After graduating from Chatt State’s PATP, and then spending the summer of 2012 working at the professional Utah Shakespeare Festival, Daniel Pound returned to Chattanooga wanting to create a place “for people who love theatre, or any of the arts. If you have a talent, we’ll find a place for it.” Out of this came the brand-new Nine Worthies’ Theatre, which Pound has envisioned from the first as a community theatre. He is the company’s artistic director, while his wife, Kristin, serves as production manager.
“Historically, the Nine Worthies were great adventurers,” Pound says. “And we plan to have adventures in theatre.”