Curtain going up: Clayton Center season will feature headliners, community theater festival

The Charlie Daniels Band with kick off the second full season for the Clayton Center For The Arts on Sept. 30.

Photo by Knoxville News Sentinel Archives

The Charlie Daniels Band with kick off the second full season for the Clayton Center For The Arts on Sept. 30.

Clayton Center for the Arts packed their first season as a venue with a lot of performances and a wide variety of types of entertainment, from chainsaw jugglers to spiritual music.

For their second season, they have fewer acts that they hope will have a big punch.

In addition, the venue will host a three-day community theater festival.

For Robert Hutchens, executive director of the Clayton Center for the Arts, the goal is to draw people to the facility’s multiple venues in droves. He may have found one solution in his opening group. The Charlie Daniels Band will perform Sept. 30 to open the 2011-12 season, and Hutchens is excited about the acts set to take the stage of the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theater. Other well known acts include Ronnie Milsap, “In the Heights” and the American Spiritual Ensemble.

“We have fewer performers this year but one thing is for sure, when the names Charlie Daniels and Ronnie Milsap are mentioned, there are a lot of people who seem excited and eager to see them, so that is good,” said Hutchens. “We want to draw big crowds, and we’re going to find who it is who will really bring people out in droves. Everyday I get sent names as big as Charlie Daniels. His agent said he was available, and the response was very, very good. It was the same with ‘In the Heights’ and Ronnie Milsap.”

The center director said Ronnie Milsap recently completed a Gospel album. “We’re going to ask that he do several of his Gospel songs,” he said. “We are hoping with Ronnie Milsap, we satisfy a lot of people who want to hear Christian music.”

The Clayton Center’s second season will consist of six main stage shows in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre and a smaller series of performances in the Haslam Family Flexible Theater.

“We are excited with the variety of performances from comedy, to music and theatre and family entertainment. Like last season, there will be something for everyone this season.” said Cheri Compton, director of Marketing for the Clayton Center for the Arts. Season tickets will go on sale July 8 and may be purchased by calling the Clayton Center for the Arts Box Office at 865-981-8590 or by visiting

The season line up in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre is as follows:

Charlie Daniels Band - >8 p.m., Sept. 30

Imago Theatre Zoo/Zoo - 7 p.m., Oct. 13

“Imago are these gigantic puppets, and they so funny. They have big frogs playing leap frog, and they have these gigantic anteaters whose tongues go out into the audience,” Hutchens said. “In a way, it is kind of like the Aluminum Show we had last year or like the Blue Man Group. You just don’t see anything else like it. As was the Aluminum Show, it is really hard to put into words what they are. It should be good for everybody. I love them, and I’m old, so I know kids will love them because there is so much humor.”

“In the Heights” - 8 p.m., Nov. 19

Winner of four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Hutchens said he is excited about “In the Heights” because it is one of the best musicals. “Anyone who knows Broadway will want to be here when ‘In the Heights’ comes. It has been to Nashville, but it hasn’t been to East Tennessee, so it is the first time to see an outstanding Broadway musical at prices people won’t find anywhere,” he said. “When people look at what we offer, they need to look at the price tag on our tickets. With the help of our sponsors, we really try to offer good stuff at a price that people can afford.”

American Spiritual Ensemble - 8 p.m., Jan. 14, 2012

Hutchens said the ensemble’s mission is to keep the American Negro spiritual alive. “They were here last year, and people raved about them. They’re all professional singers in their own right and get together a couple times a year. They go out on tour at different times. One of our Maryville College alumnus John Wesley Wright was here for the center’s grand opening, and he broke people’s hearts, he was so good. This show is part of the M.L. King Jr. Celebration because spirituals were such a part of the Civil Rights movement.”

Southern Fried Chicks - 8 p.m., Jan. 28, 2012

“They are the female equivalent of ‘The Blue Collar Comedy Tour,” Hutchens said. “They are very down home, so it should be a kind of humor that almost everybody will laugh at.”

Ronnie Milsap - 8 p.m., March 24, 2012

“Ronnie Milsap provided country music with one of its most important voices in both country and gospel music,” said Hutchens. Milsap has had 35 No. 1 singles in Billboard, and each of his releases between 1976 and 1991 reached the Top 10. In April, Milsap released “20-20 Vision/Night Things,” which features such hits as “20-20 Vision,” “Lovers, Friends and Strangers,” “Borrowed Angel” and “Legend in My Own Time.”

Haslam Family Flexible Theater Performances are as follows:

A World Kicked to Pieces: Mary Boykin Chestnut on Love & War by Kenneth Grahame - Sept. 17-18

Hutchens said this production is based on the Civil War diaries of Mary Chestnut, who was an eye-witness to the Civil War from its beginnings at Fort Sumter and throughout the war.

“It’s a one-woman show based on the diary of Mary Chestnut, who recorded her experiences from Charleston where they could watch the firing on Fort Sumter. It is from her diaries throughout the Civil War. She begins as vain and very charming, but pleased with herself and confident things will be all right,” Hutchens said. “Over the course of the show, she is transformed as her world is transformed.”

Hutchens said that since this year is the sesquicentennial of the start of the Civil War, he thought people would have a special interest in this show. “This play does a good job of taking you through the Civil War in a personal way,” he said.

Ben Bolt, Classic Guitarist - March 10, 2012

Ben Bolt studied with Andres Segovia, known as “The Father of Modern Classical Guitar.”

“Ben went to Spain as a young man and got an introduction to Segovia, the most famous classical guitarist in the world,” Hutchens said. Bolt plays acoustic guitar with classical music selections. “It is just beautiful, and if you like the sound of acoustic guitar, you would have to go very far to hear this kind of skill and artistry.”

Organ Recital, a rededication of the HoltzKamp Organ by Bryan Ashley - May 5, 2012

Hutchens said the organ being rededicated was brought over from the old Fine Arts Building. “It has a long history with the college and devotees who think it is one of most precious things about the college,” he said.

Hutchens said the plan was to have former student Byron Ashley perform at the dedication.

Community Theatre Festival makes debut

In addition to the professional season, the Clayton Center for the Arts is home for the inaugural Community Theatre Festival Aug. 5, 6 and 7. The Festival will kick off at 5 p.m. Aug. 5, with music and barbecue on the Plaza and performances in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre at 7 p.m. and the Haslam Family Flex Theatre at 9 p.m. Guests will enjoy performances by the Athens Area Arts Council, Foothills Community Players, Theatre Knoxville Downtown, The Theatre Guild of Morristown and a special group of community actors directed by Hutchens and sponsored by the Clayton Center for the Arts.

“The festival is going to show-off the center and how varied and wonderful each of the performance spaces are in their own way. We are going to do two big musicals in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theater,” Hutchens said.

The two musicals will be “Annie,” by the Athens Area Council for the Arts and, ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’ which will be performed by the Clayton Center group.

The Clayton group is coming together for this show only, said Hutchens. Hutchens said the festival needed another performance, so he put together a cast for this as a one-time performance.

“As hosts, we put a group together to do ‘Forum.’ I’m directing it, and it is cast. We have a really good cast of principles who are really strong.”

“Forum” is one of the funniest musicals ever written, said Hutchens. “It is true Roman comedy but has a script that gives you permission to do many funny things.”

For their part of the festival, the Morristown Theater Guild, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary and is the longest running community theater in the state, is putting on the longest running musical in the history of New York theater - “The Fantasticks.”

“They’ll do a show Friday in Morristown, come down and do a show at the Clayton Center on Saturday afternoon, pack up and do their show back in Morristown that evening. It is wonderful of them to take on that kind of work,” Hutchens said. “There is going to be something going on almost continuously at the festival. There are breaks and intermissions where people can walk downtown.”

Hutchens said the impetus for the festival is two-fold: to give merchants downtown more foot traffic and to make the facility more of a destination for groups.

“People who love theater will get as much as they can handle in one weekend,” Hutchens said. “We created a festival event to bring tourists to Maryville.”

Hutchens said he has become attuned to the idea that community theater is very much overlooked as something that enriches people’s lives. “I’m familiar with it because it has been part of my life since I was 16 and did theater at Maryville College,” he said. “It is a source of great joy to people. It is a wonderful source of satisfaction and fun to collaborate and create. By having a whole bunch of community theater groups from different counties, in a way, it will be a big reunion for a lot of the performers who know each other.”

Hutchens said there is a variety of performances available to appeal to a broad audience. “It is hoped that people will want to see more than one,” he said. “Performances have been planned so that it is possible to see all five over the weekend.”

On stage during the weekend will be:

“Annie,” presented by Athens Area Council for the Arts.

“Almost Maine,” presented by Theatre Knoxville Downtown.

“The Fantasticks,” presented by Theatre Guild of Morristown.

“Broadway: A Life,” presented by Foothills Community Players.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” presented by Clayton Center for the Arts.

For individual show times visit Tickets may be purchased by visiting or calling 865-981-8590. Individual performances are $15, but a ticket/pass to see all shows may be purchased for $35.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 2

jensenlee writes:

Those southern rockers from the early 70s were grittier and louder than the country rock groups that came before. The Charlie Daniels Band first hit in 1973 with “Uneasy Rider,” the tale of a long-haired Southern boy who gets a flat in front of the wrong bar in Jackson, Mississippi. On Rockaeology at Daniels says the incident was complete fiction, but the inspiration came when he was with the Grateful Dead and other 60s rockers in Dixie during a rock festival… and we learn about the real “Ol’ Green Teeth.”

tennessee7 writes:

wow..I'm not impressed