Community Theater Festival offers weekend of fun

From left, Barry Wallace, Robert Hutchens, Tom Ireland and Walker Harrison rehearse a scene from the comedic play, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Photo by Saul Young/Knoxville News Sentinel

From left, Barry Wallace, Robert Hutchens, Tom Ireland and Walker Harrison rehearse a scene from the comedic play, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

Robert Hutchens, executive director of the Clayton Center for the Arts, gives direction to cast members of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” on July 19 at the Clayton Center for the Arts. The Clayton Center will be hosting its first Community Theatre Festival Aug. 5 – 7.

Photo by Saul Young/Knoxville News Sentinel

Robert Hutchens, executive director of the Clayton Center for the Arts, gives direction to cast members of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” on July 19 at the Clayton Center for the Arts. The Clayton Center will be hosting its first Community Theatre Festival Aug. 5 – 7.

Five theater troupes from four East Tennessee counties will act, sing and dance in the Clayton Center for the Arts’ three theaters to show, as one participant says, “that community theater is alive and well.”

The Community Theater Festival, Aug. 5-7 at the Maryville center, includes performances by the Athens Area Arts Council, Theatre Knoxville Downtown, Foothills Community Players and the Theatre Guild of Morristown. In addition, the Clayton Center is performing its own production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”

The shows are a mixture of music, comedy, romance, character studies and family theater. Tickets for individual performances are $15; a pass to all five plays is $35.

The festival is the brainchild of Clayton Executive Director Robert Hutchens. He’s also directing the “Forum” production. After enjoying several plays by area community theaters last year, Hutchens wanted to host an event as a homage to community theater and its talented actors. So the center issued an invitation to area groups to come and put on a play. The goal is to make the festival an annual event.

“This is a celebration of community theater and all the talent that is in this area. And for us, as a new performing arts venue, we want people to think about the Clayton Center when they think about what to do on a weekend,” said Cheri Compton, Clayton’s marketing director and a longtime member of Theatre Knoxville.

The festival’s shows are:

• “Annie” by the Athens troupe in the center’s largest space, the 1,200-seat Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre;

• “Almost Maine” by Theatre Knoxville in the 200-seat Haslam Family Flex Theatre;

• “The Fantasticks” by the Theatre Guild of Morristown in the Haslam theater;

• Foothills Community Players’ musical revue “Broadway: A Life” in the 250-seat Harold and Jean Lambert Recital Hall; and

• Clayton’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” in the Nutt theater.

The festival begins at 5 p.m. Aug. 5 with music on the outdoor plaza before the evening performances. Area theater groups have been invited to set up tables to showcase their seasons or organizations. A roundtable discussion at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, will focus on community theater.

Both “Annie” and “Almost Maine” are shows their performing groups presented earlier this year. The two-act “Almost Maine” with 10 actors performing 19 characters within 11 vignettes was done by Theatre Knoxville in February.

For the actors, another chance to perform “Almost Maine” was welcome. “We had so much fun doing it, and we were really disappointed that it was only one weekend (in February),” says director Margy Ragsdale.

“Annie” played nine sold-out shows in Athens in February; stage director Melanie Carideo said the cast is “thrilled” to perform again and in a larger venue. The youngest actors, who play the show’s orphans, see an additional perk. “Our orphans are all hoping they get their own dressing room,” says Ellen Kimball of the Athens council.

The Morristown guild’s presentation of “The Fantasticks” will keep them on the road. The troupe premieres the musical at the Walters State Community College in Morristown the night of Aug. 5. They come to the Clayton Center for a 12:30 p.m. Aug. 6 show before returning to Morristown for the Aug. 6 evening show there.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to showcase community theater,” says “Fantasticks” director Mark Workman of the festival. “How could we not participate? I think we need to show people who might not know that community theater is alive and well over the state of Tennessee but especially in East Tennessee.”

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