Know your nonprofits: Theatre Memphis

Noted as one of the oldest and most successful community theaters in the country, Theatre Memphis seen lots of change over the years. Even with ever growing outreach and education programs, their core mission of bringing quality volunteer theatre to the city has been persistent.
Theatre Memphis came to the stage 95 years ago with the formation of "The Little Theatre Players Association of Memphis, Tennessee." As a community theatre, its mission was and continues to be to provide top-notch theatrical experiences to the community, enriching the lives of audiences and participants.
Noted as one of the oldest and most successful community theaters in the country, Theatre Memphis was the result of an idea bantered about among a group of friends during the 1920 holiday season. Five months later, the very first performance took place on May 20, 1921 as a series of three one-act plays. By 1925, the theater had found its first permanent housing in the stables of the Woodruff-Fontaine House in Victorian Village. And four years later the theater began its procession eastward, moving into the Pink Palace Museum. There in the East Wing, a 272-seat theater was built on the sloping concrete of the never-used indoor swimming pool of the unfinished mansion.
 
“We opened our current East Memphis home on the corner of Southern and Perkins Extended on May 1, 1975, and changed our charter at that time to be called ‘Theatre Memphis,’” explained Debbie Litch, Executive Producer of Theatre Memphis. “Almost a century old, many people still do not realize that all of our casts and crews are volunteers. We benefit from the time and talents of up to 750 volunteers annually, with workers serving both the ‘front of house’ and the ‘back of house.’ Our volunteers do everything from ushering to construction of our sets, props and costumes.”

Debbie Litch
Theatre Memphis is actually comprised of two stages; The Lohrey Stage and the Next Stage. The Lohrey Stage is the main stage with seating for over 400 people. The Next Stage is a smaller theater that seats up to 100 people. A season runs from August through June and typically offers up to 12 scheduled performances between the two performance venues.
 
“Both spaces are enabled with state-of-the-art sound and lighting instruments and equipment,” explained Litch. “Our daily mantra is to have consistent artistic excellence in every endeavor that TM engages in, including our productions and outreach production program and events.”
 
One thing that sets Theatre Memphis apart from its counterparts is its Outreach and Education Department. This department helps the Theatre Memphis connect with the public through mentoring and residency programs that serve children who are typically underserved in the arts.
 
“In the last four years, we have re-envisioned our Outreach and Education Department to make it more relevant to Memphis’ community needs,” explained Litch. “We have a year-long program in which we partner with Arts Memphis in the Orange Mound community, and our partnership with the Grizzlies Foundation’s Team Up mentoring program. Additionally, we offer a 10-week residency in playwriting and poetry to middle and high school students in Shelby County Schools and charter schools.” 
 
And new this year, Theatre Memphis has expanded its outreach to include college students. With Rhodes College as a partner, the program is designed to give teaching experience to students interested in pursuing a career in theatrical arts. The college students are taught to plan and develop programs, then offer their instructions to theater students at Central High School.
 
Want to lend a hand? To learn more about being a volunteer for Theatre Memphis, visit Volunteer Memphis to see a list of available opportunities.  

Read more articles by Emily Adams Keplinger.

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