Nashville’s status as Music City has been cemented for more than a century, ever since the Fisk Jubilee Singers began touring the world in the late 1800s.
The Grand Ole Opry radio show began in 1925, and our downtown honky-tonks have never been more popular. We should know by now that the Music City designation includes recognition not only for country, gospel, Christian, bluegrass and Americana music, but also rock, pop, hip-hop, R&B, blues, jazz and classical, the latter thanks to our multiple Grammy Award-winning Nashville Symphony.
In the past several years, we’ve also become a world-class dining destination. Every day we edge closer to being known for our art galleries, our fashion, and our craft breweries and distilleries, as well. Then there’s the network TV show “Nashville,” which has garnered the city even more worldwide recognition while at the same time making it nearly impossible to secure a seat at The Bluebird Cafe.
I now propose that it’s time we acknowledge our position as a center for the theatrical arts.
Every month, in my job as director of community initiatives for The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee and editor of the nonprofit-run NowPlayingNashville.com, I see dozens of professional and community theater productions make their way through our online arts and events calendar.
I also attend many of them. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve seen top-notch productions by Nashville Repertory Theatre (“Good Monsters”), Studio Tenn (“The Glass Menagerie”), Tennessee Women’s Theater Project (“Emilie”), Nashville Children’s Theatre (“Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Boycott”), Blackbird Theatre Company (“The Crucible”) and The Theatre Bug (“7 Ways to Sunday”).
Each of these companies, along with other stalwarts such as the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Actors Bridge and the Street Theatre Company, are as good, if not better, than any professional theater company in any comparable city in America.
Our community theater companies, such as the Circle Players, ACT 1, and productions staged by the Larry Keeton Theatre, Lakewood Theatre and Arts at Center Street, also shine. Some of America’s finest playwrights are choosing to work in-residence in Nashville. They also are allowing for regional, and in some cases world premieres, of their productions.
Our actors are among the finest in the country, many dividing their time between stage productions and TV and film, while also working on set and costume design.
Our theater community, having absorbed the spirit of Music City’s signature co-writing and studio session model, is also highly collaborative. Nashville Shakespeare Festival has partnered with the Nashville Ballet. Studio Tenn has worked with the Nashville Symphony and the Theater Bug.
Nashville’s Theater Community is Supportive
The theater community is also supportive. Actors, production professionals and theater fans from across Middle Tennessee collectively mourned and offered support after the recent and sudden death of beloved long-time Nashville Children’s Theatre artistic director Scot Copeland.
When renowned local actor David Compton was diagnosed with cancer, fellow actors not only filled in for him on short notice in the various productions to which he was committed, they also joined forces to raise thousands of dollars for his treatment and care through a GoFundMe campaign, then dedicated both nights of the biannual Ten-Minute Playground as a fundraiser.
It’s heartening to watch, but not surprising.
Remember when Nashville was a big city with a small-town feel? In Nashville’s theater community, it still is. We’re getting big-city productions on nonprofit budgets, presented with the ethos of a small town. And we’re all the better for it.
Many of our theater companies have wrapped up, or are on the final production, of their 2015-16 seasons. I recommend getting out and supporting these productions in the future.
When the national media come calling, and tourist groups start packing our theaters, you’ll take pride in knowing you were a local insider all along.
Joe Pagetta is director of community initiatives and editor of NowPlayingNashville.com at The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.