Community Theatre at the Memorial renewed and ready.
Upon moving to Chattanooga many moons ago, I was struck most by the arts culture here and knew that I wanted to be a part of it. Fortunately for me, I quickly auditioned for and was cast in a local production. I was soon immersed in a world of beautifully unique, passionate, creative and wildly talented people. The theatre community became my first home in this town and for that, I will always be deeply grateful.
As the years have gone by, I’ve watched this theatre community that I so love grow by leaps and bounds, not only in size and scope, but creatively, as new companies with fresh perspectives and broader goals have stepped into the Chattanooga arena. This growth has offered our city a great diversity in its live theatre options and a great richness to its artistic culture.
But with growth and depth come the growing pains of seeking out spaces to offer these exciting new projects, as the passion and dedication behind them often expands beyond theatre companies’ humble homes.
Fortunately, there have been some great new spaces rising up to meet these needs, including the recently renovated Robert Kirk Walker Community Theatre in the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Auditorium.
After falling into disrepair over the years, and being the only part of the Memorial building left without renovation in the 1980s, funding from the city council and a grant from former mayor, the late Robert Kirk Walker, gave new life to this beautiful 700-seat theatre.
“This was [Walker’s] dream, to finish up this piece and really have a strong community theatre presence, where schools and arts groups and civic meetings, you name it, could meet,” says Melissa Turner, civic facilities and marketing coordinator.
Among the major renovations completed in the space are new carpeting, seating, plasterwork, paint, curtains and a new orchestra pit beneath the proscenium stage. Also added were new restrooms, an elevator and chair lift, making the theatre totally self-contained and ADA compliant. The space also offers a generous lobby area with a functional concession area (great for receptions). Despite needing another two-to-three phases of renovation to get the theatre more technologically updated with new lighting and sound, the venue is ready for local groups to take advantage of a space Turner calls, “very affordable and accessible. It is truly a ‘community’ theatre.”
As of now, the space has been used by a variety of arts groups in Chattanooga, including Jazzanooga, which hosted events and classes in the space, and Closed Door Entertainment, which will utilize the theatre again September 19-20 for its production of “Chicago”. Turner says the space has been very well received by groups who have taken advantage of the theatre so far. “We want to reach out to people who need an affordable space,” she says, not only for performances, but also to host recitals, rehearsals, classes, special events and civic meetings. She hopes to see the space utilized as much as possible and to have this true community theatre become a home to many groups, enriching the experience of community-based arts events.
Turner hopes to offer a tour of the space for arts groups within the next two months to showcase the space, but in the meantime, more information on technical specs, rental rates and booking can be found at chattanoogaonstage.com/venues/robert-kirk-walker-community-theatre/.