The Invisible Theater, May Festivals, and Shared Experience
What theater has been here for thirty-eight years and is still unknown to almost everyone? It’s on Rosa L Parks Boulevard, across from Watkins College of Art, Design, and Film. It’s the home of Tennessee Women’s Theater Project. Many groups have done plays here, including Circle Players just before they moved to the Andrew Johnson Theater in 1980.
The Z. Alexander Looby Theater was the venue for the first Nashville production of “The Normal Heart” in 1986, the year after its New York City run. Chambers Stevens, first director of Nashville Shakespeare Festival, worked what some called a miracle to get this done. In October 1992, the Looby was the site of the Middle Tennessee Theatre Festival when forty groups in this area did a show either at the Looby or at their own location or at both locations.
Still, most people know nothing about this theater, which is only three miles from the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Sadly, the same is true of many other theaters. A new space has an excuse, but I am disappointed when I ask someone sitting close to me at the Center for the Arts if they know about Murfreesboro Little Theatre and they say they never heard of it. It is only ten blocks from where they are sitting.
Forever, it seems, the question has been: how to get more audience for plays. The only sure answer appears to be: cast more children and young people because the families will come to see them, often more than once.
I often remark that you have to get the person in the actual physical space the first time. That applies to myself who finally saw The Giver by Lois Lowry at the 400-seat-plus Springhouse Theatre in Smyrna the last Sunday of April. I had heard of this company for several years but just never drove those twenty-six miles, a shorter distance than to several other theaters I regularly attend. The play takes place in a world that eliminates both bad and good choices. The character of Jonas, twelve years old, is selected as the receiver of memories, the one who will suffer knowing all the good and all the bad the ‘community’ has turned away from.
This May there are a lot of opportunities to visit the Looby when Tennessee Women’s Theater Project’s Women’s Work 2015 Festival begins on Friday, May 8, with a reading of The Ladies Who Swim by Susan West Richardson. This event ends with a reading of the play Ptomaine Poison, by Janice Liddell. A different show will occur on nine other days, including the ninth annual Mother’s Day Poetry Show on May 10.
Another hidden gem location is Studio A of Nashville Public Television. Here for the last few years one could attend the staged readings of the Ingram New Works Festival of Nashville Repertory Theatre. This month you can be among the first to hear new plays by the four fellows and the visiting playwright Donald Margulies.
- The Ice Treatment by Nate Eppler, May 6 and 16
- Showing by Gabrielle Sinclair, May 7 and 11
- Simply Bess by Bianca Sams, May 8 and 12
- Air Space by Tori Keenan-Zelt, May 9 and 15
- A new play by Donald Margulies, May 13 and 14
Also in Studio A May 1-3, the 2014-2015 Nashville Repertory Theatre Professional Interns present Downsizing: A Play in One Act by Nick Mecikalski. I was at a reading of this play earlier this year and it is a fascinating idea.
Nowadays there is a trend toward an invisible audience, where most are checking their electronic gadgets rather than ‘becoming’ part of the audience for the play they are about to see. Vanya’s rant from Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike speaks to this new age where shared experiences hardly exist. In Lowry’s The Giver we see a complete opposite world where everything is shared.
Sometimes invisibility is good. When you don’t think about what might have been better, then the director has done a good job. When you see an actor whom you know very well, who is so caught up in the character being portrayed that you forget your long acquaintance, the magic of theater is burning bright.