Last week I talked about development as it edges its way north on Gay Street. I talked a bit about the recent purchase of the Regas Building and the surrounding blocks with various businesses and potential uses. This week marks what could be a turning point in connecting the north end of Gay Street all the way to Emory Place at Broadway. I offered several photographs in that recent post of the general area of the 500 block of North Gay. A beautification project is adding street parking and historic lighting along with landscaping. At the same time the block has its rough spots.
Recently I met Jayne Morgan and Anjana Dixon at 525 N. Gay Street. The building dates to the 1920’s and served for many years as an automotive show room. The entrance still includes a ramp over which cars used to drive. Just a couple doors down cars are still serviced in a similar space. The block also includes a furniture store and a building utilized by Knoxville Area Rescue Mission.
Jayne serves as artistic director for Flying Anvil Theater and Anjana is assistant director. The theater company, headed by Jayne and Staci Swedeen has been around for several years but has struggled to find a home. The challenge is finding a facility that is affordable to a start-up theater group, large enough to contain sets, a backstage area for performers, a large stage and seating for enough people in order for ticket sales to keep the project funded. They also need to locate in a place where their audience will attend. It’s not easy.
According to a great Metro Pulse article last summer, the group almost landed in West Knoxville, but ultimately this building in downtown caught their eye. Their vision for the types of productions they would like to mount include edgier fare than one might find in the Clarence Brown or at the Tennessee Theatre. As such, their audience might be a younger crowd looking for intellectually stimulating productions dealing with complex themes. Sounds serious, but the production currently being mounted has a generous supply of laughs.
The group has not, as of yet, secured the space for the long-term, though that is the goal. This production will be a single event unless funding continues to be provided. An Indiegogo campaign raised nearly $10,000 and other donations put them at about $20,000, so far. That’s enough to produce this first play in the space, but no enough to sign a lease. The campaign will continue through the end of the year and the company needs to reach the neighborhood of around $80,000 to make this address their permanent home. Up for grabs is the right to name the theater and the stage. A donation party will be held on the 4th of November and a donation box ready on Nov. 1st. Flying Anvil is a 501- 3, meaning donations are tax deductible and can currently be sent to Flying Anvil Theatre, 6030 Weems Road, Knoxville, TN 37918. (This paragraph updated at 10:00 AM)
The space itself seems to be perfectly suited for a theater. It meets all the requirements mentioned above, though it might have been hard to envision that a year ago when the roof had collapsed. Now the space is nearing ready and should be very comfortable for their first production. Anticipated seating will run somewhere north or south of 200 which places it between Theatre Knoxville Downtown, which is just a couple of blocks away, and larger venues like the Clarence Brown. A lobby bar is planned and the facility promises to be outstanding.
Parking is always mentioned as an obstacle for any new venture downtown and there is a very simple answer to parking for this venue: plenty of spaces sit at the end of the block under the I-40 overpass. It’s gated, paved and free. Plans are afoot for valet parking at future events. It is also walkable or accessible by bicycle from Old North/ Parkridge/ Fourth and Gill and downtown.
I mentioned the other day that there are many homeless people in the area due to the proximity with the mission and Volunteer Ministries. Jayne says she hopes to engage this portion of our community and, perhaps, tell some of their stories, as well. She points out that the history of theater is that they typically spring up in areas of town that are under-developed and therefore offer less expensive rents. She’s very comfortable in the area and believes that the audience for their types of productions will be comfortable as well.
The first production is “Venus in Fur” which has its opening night this week. There are actually several days of roll out with Wednesday night being a preview for whatever amount you wan to pay. I plan to attend that night. The next night, being Halloween, a discount will be offered for those wearing costumes. Friday night will be the big Gala opening with an after party. See the details at the link above or in yesterday’s post. The play itself has been produced on Broadway where it won an Obie award and produced an Emmy Award winning actress. Jane and Anjana described it as “very smart, provocative and intellectual.” With laughs throughout. So sexy, smart and funny sounds pretty good.
The support they get for this production and through the Indiegogo campaign will likely dictate their future and will have an impact on development as it spreads north on Gay. I plan to support this talented group as they attempt to execute a dream. I think it’s a good one and its one that, I hope, Knoxville is ready to embrace. I also really want to see us breach the Interstate dead zone around downtown. Here’s a good chance.