Theatrical Productions from Small Local and Traveling Companies take Center Stage Downtown

Characters from Taracco, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2016
Characters from Taracco, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2016

Some our larger companies take some time off in the summer. Clarence Brown Theatre goes silent while students are out of classes for the summer. They return with “Violet” in September. Theatre Knoxville Downtown returns a bit sooner with production of “Cabin Fever: A Texas Tragicomedy,” going into production July 29. Tickets for that are currently available here.

But it’s smaller and traveling companies that take center stage downtown and that starts this week. It seemed like a good time to explore some of those smaller troupes and what they are up to after talking about Modern Studio, yesterday, with their effort, among other things, to provide a rehearsal and performance spot for just such groups. You can still follow that link and show them some financial love if that’s an effort you support.

Shakespeare on the Square, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2015
Shakespeare on the Square, Market Square, Knoxville, July 2015

It starts this coming Thursday with the Tennessee Stage Company‘s annual Shakespeare on the Square. Each year, starting twenty-five years ago in 1991, the company produces two plays by the bard, spotlighting a comedy and a tragedy. You’ve likely seen the set being assembled on the Market Square Stage and you may find some practices underway before the 14th.

This year the light is very light and the dark is pretty serious fare. “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” featuring everyone’s favorite lover-buffoon, Sir John Falstaff will supply the fun. “King Lear,” that tired monarch simply trying to pass the Kingdom on and take it easy at Myrtle Beach in his old age, deals with familial treachery as only Shakespeare can deliver it. The plays alternate nights with the comedy starting July 14, followed by “King Lear” the next night. I’ve tried in past years to read each of them before seeing them, as I find it helps to have the basic plot in mind before the production so I can relax more and enjoy rather than trying to decipher too much on the spot.

The plays on the square are free, begin about 7:00 PM and conclude around 10:00 PM. The company needs your support, however, and will pass the hat. Suggested donation is $10 per person which is very modest for a solid presentation of Shakespeare. For $15 you can snag a VIP ticket which includes special seating, a bottle of water and other goodies. The run continues until August 14 and includes two matinee performances (one for each play) inside Scruffy City Hall for $15. Those performances are 7/24 for Wives and 7/31 for Lear with tickets sold at the door.

One week from tonight, and just a day after the Shakespeare run, local production company, the Word Players, who have been on the scene since the mid 1990’s. A Christian-based group, they attempt to “produce excellent theatre, telling culturally-relevant stories from a faith-based perspective.” The current production is “Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Performing at the Bijou Theatre, their run starts Friday night July 15 at 7:30 PM and runs through two shows on Saturday (2:30 PM, 7:30 PM) and a final show on Sunday (3:00 PM). Tickets are $15.50 to $21.50 and are on sale via the Bijou website.

You’ll find all the familiar characters presented in a fast-paced, energetic production with Tom, Huck and Jim taking center stage. It’s definitely a tale of its era, but there’s a lot between the lines as was always the case with Twain. The star of this particular rendition is probably the soundtrack, however. Written by the inimitable Roger Miller, the music soars. The original production ran on Broadway in the 1980s for over 1000 performances and it was revived in the 2000s. It won seven Tony awards in 1985 and was nominated for three more.

Finally, and also at the Bijou, Asheville’s Fox and Beggar Theater will join forces with Knoxville Aerial Arts on July 28 for an extravagant production of “Tarocco: A Soldier’s Tale,” a visually delightful, magical event which tells a story, but offers enough pleasure for the eyes that the precise storyline may become secondary. You may have seen the odd creatures in the top photograph walking around downtown last weekend. The promo describes it as, “a mesmerizing fusion of circus arts, dance, mask-and-puppet theater, original music, elaborate costumes, and animation.” Tickets are $28 or $68 for VIP and may be purchased here.

"I love you, man." Shakespeare on the Square, Julius Caesar, Knoxville, August 2012
“I love you, man.” Shakespeare on the Square, Julius Caesar, Knoxville, August 2012

I hope you’ll take a moment to consider the videos above and maybe take in one or more of these productions. They each have something to offer and represent a lot of hard work by people who make our community richer by sharing their art. That’s something worth supporting.