June 7, 2012

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The birth of a new science is notoriously difficult to pinpoint. When did natural history—amateurs collecting specimens in the countryside—become biology? No one knows a date, but at some point in the 18th or 19th century the dilettante with a butterfly net gave way to the professional in a lab coat.

It’s possible, just possible, that the much-beloved pastime of tracking transplants to and from Chattanooga may be undergoing just such a transformation from hobby to science. Who among us has not dabbled in collecting quasi-genealogies of newcomers to the Scenic City or of Chattanooga expatriates in the big world outside? With no thought of transcending such amateurish pursuits, I recently stumbled into a line of inquiry that may give unexpected insight into the seemingly random comings and goings from our fair city.

After moving from Chattanooga to New York City in 2010, and then moving back in 2011, I began to suspect the existence of a new hybrid, neither Chattanoogan nor New Yorker. Indeed, I suspected myself to be one, having left my wife and daughter in New York and now going back and forth frequently. So in the same spirit as the amateur botanist of the 19th century whose carefully gathered plant and animal specimens eventually formed the basis for the systematic science of biology, I humbly—and with tongue only partially in cheek—offer the following field reports on a potential new species ... the NoogaYorker.

Two New York Actors in Chattanooga

During my first year in New York City, I visited Chattanooga several times to meet with clients and see family. It occurred to me that I might be considered a NoogaYorker, but that limited back and forth hardly seemed to justify the idea of a location-based hybrid identity. When we needed a new apartment at the beginning of year two, idle fancy grew into a wild surmise. The apartment we found and sub-let was owned by a family that had moved from Manhattan to Chattanooga within two weeks of our migration in the opposite direction. We didn’t know each other until becoming landlord and tenant.

Kate Forbes and Stevie Ray Dallimore were accomplished professional actors in New York City. Kate grew up in Chattanooga, but had not lived here since leaving for college. In 2010, they founded the Muse of Fire project in Chattanooga, which teaches playwriting to middle school students and produces the resulting one-act plays with adult actors. They also teach acting classes at UTC, a new venture for Stevie Ray but familiar territory for Kate, who has taught acting at New York University, Fordham University, Lincoln Center and The Public Theater.

More interestingly for my NoogaYorker hypothesis, both continue to act in New York City and elsewhere using Chattanooga as a home base. Stevie Ray has had recent movie roles in “Joyful Noise” and “American Reunion” and has filmed scenes with Harrison Ford in the science-fiction film “Ender’s Game,” slated for a 2013 release. Kate played a major role in a regional theater production of “The Crucible” at the Hartford Stage. She actually had to turn down roles in two plays because of obligations in Chattanooga, including finishing up an audio book of Appalachian folktales that she has produced using a MakeWork grant. Kate has recorded over 150 audio books and has won national awards for her work.

The couple relishes their ability to bring their New York energy and ideas to Chattanooga and said they hope to be part of creating more professional theater opportunities here.

“This feels like a place that’s ripe for creation, for making things happen,” said Stevie Ray. “We’ve been able to come and make things happen here. People are very excited about what we’re doing.”


June 7, 2012

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