a theater story

the Tennessee Theatre

Aladdin’s lamp

At the Taproot Summit, Alison Diggs said that being inside the Tennessee State Theatre was like being inside Aladdin’s Lamp. When we went to see a Broadway stage production of The Wizard of Oz earlier this yearI had to agree. The lush interior is adorned with gold and jewels, oriental carpets and drapery. It is like a palace that is transported through thin air to a different world, just as story has the power to transport us to a different world.

People have been using story to make sense of life for as long as we have existed. Theater as we know it dates to the 6th century BCE, when a priest of Dionysus called Thespis engaged in a dialogue with the chorus at a festival honoring the god of wine and fertility. He became, in effect, the first actor. Actors in the west, ever since, have been proud to call themselves Thespians.

the Tennessee

The Tennessee State Theatre opened in Knoxville in 1928 as a movie palace. The Mighty Wurlitzer organ installed that year is still played every week to launch the week on the right note for a free lunch-time concert, Mighty Musical Monday.

Sadly, many early films were not preserved, the reels simply disposed of when they finished their run. The Tennessee’s first movie, The Fleet’s In, no longer exists today.

When The Wizard of Oz was first screened at the Tennessee in 1946, Knoxville Journal critic Sam Adkin called it “probably the most ornate and beautiful film ever produced.”

historic chapter

At its opening, the Tennessee Theatre was a whites-only theater, like many other theaters in Knoxville and throughout the South. In early 1963, students from Knoxville College protested on Gay Street outside the Tennessee. After months of nonviolent demonstrations, theater management relented during a screening of the powerful film To Kill A Mockingbird starring Gregory Peck.


With the help of the community, the Tennessee Theatre reopened in 2005 after renovations to restore its status as a resplendent entertainment palace, permitting a new chapter in the stage and screen storytelling in the 16th state.

your story

I’d love to hear from you. What’s your favorite play? Do you have a special theater in your neighborhood?


a play
a play




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4 thoughts on “a theater story”

  1. That’s a tough question, favorite play. I think every one I’ve seen could be a favorite. The standout though is probably my first, Fiddler on the Roof. I saw in it in our local playhouse, which is a restored historic gristmill and has the bragging rights of being the oldest professional stock theater in Pennsylvania. Other highlights include seeing South Pacific in that same playhouse, Phantom of the Opera in Toronto, and Wicked on Broadway. (Hmm, wonder if I like musicals?) A dear friend introduced me to Shakespeare in the Park last summer, and I loved it.
    Thank you for another bright start to the week!

    1. I happen to know what your local playhouse is, and it certainly is a standout location. And a story in itself. Of all the things the gristmill could have been repurposed for when it was no longer used, they chose to turn it into a theater, and use it to tell stories.

  2. My favorite play is a toss up between Wicked and Chicago. I now see I must like musicals about wicked women! Though we have a few rather nice theaters in Baltimore, my favorite is The Charles Theater which is a cinema. They show revivals on Monday evenings and Saturday mornings. There is something thrilling to me about seeing Robert Mitchum and Gloria Graham on the big screen starring in films I watched on television when I was a little girl.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Kim! I love that the Charles Theater does revivals on Mondays, a worthy way indeed to start the week. And wow, I looked at the films showing and coming soon, if only I lived nearer.

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