Bringing theater to everyone – News


About five years ago, the Clarence Brown Theater at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville embarked on an effort to scale up its community engagement activities with underserved communities and families, including veterans, youth, the deaf and hard of hearing, the homeless and individuals on the autism spectrum.

“Theater is about community,” said Tom Cervone, CEO of CBT. “Throughout our history, community has been our driving force and we continue to expand our thoughtful engagement with the greater Knoxville area each year. “

A recent performance of A Christmas Carol included Deaf Night at the Theater, a barrier-free experience for members of the hard of hearing and deaf community. The CBT offers an experience for select performances throughout the season, with performers at the box office, concession stand and opening positions, and up to four performers signing on during the show.

“We had 55 children and families present,” said Cervone. “It was a tremendous success.”

On December 18, it will provide a text display captioned with the words and sounds of the performance. Three years ago, the CBT became the first professional theater in Tennessee to offer in-house open captioning.

“A $ 10,000 grant from the Alliance of Women Philanthropists allowed us to buy the equipment and pay for the training to use it,” Cervone said, “so we could create the captioning. internally. Our goal is to break down barriers and make theater more accessible to everyone.

CBT initiatives flow naturally from its tradition of innovative thinking and design, discovery, problem solving, mentoring, collaboration and community development.

“It was the spirit of volunteerism that Clarence Brown (1910) brought to his career as a Hollywood director and ensured that it was instilled in the theater that bears his name,” said Cervone. “Mr. Brown wanted UT theater students to learn from the professionals who come to work and perform at CBT. Additionally, students learn valuable lessons by connecting with different parts of the community and even showcasing their craft. to middle and high school students.

The performers serve at the Night of the Deaf at the Theater.

The theater’s awareness initiatives are varied:

Military and veteran discount

As a member of Blue Star Theaters, the CBT welcomes U.S. military personnel and veterans, spouses and children with discounted tickets to all productions.

“Pay what you can” preview Wednesday

To help make theater accessible to everyone, at all income levels, CBT offers an evening for each production where people can attend for whatever price they choose.


In partnership with the Arts and Culture Alliance, CBT participates in the Penny4Arts program, providing every child in County Knox with a ticket to select shows for a dime when accompanied by an adult. The adult ticket is offered at a 10 percent discount. These performances help promote the creativity and artistic enrichment of children in the local community.

Night of faith, hope and love

During pre-pandemic periods of A Christmas Carol, the CBT partnered with the Helen Ross McNabb Center, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Valley of Tennessee, Agape Outreach Home and the Autism Society of East Tennessee to provide a free night of theater, complete with cookies and hot chocolate .

Family party

In an initiative currently awaiting a pandemic, the CBT has partnered with the Centro Hispano, the Knoxville Area Urban League and the YWCA to offer families the option to reunite for dinner before a dedicated CBT performance. “The idea was to bring back that feeling of a family meal,” said Amanda Middleton, CBT’s external relations and community development manager.

A $ 10 ticket included a buffet dinner and a few words from a designer or production staff member. “It was available to everyone who attended as a family unit, regardless of their definition family unit“, noted Cervone.

School and youth programs

The CBT offers reduced rates to school groups attending morning performances of age-appropriate plays, including A Christmas Carol. In spring 2022 The curious incident of the dog during the night, about an autistic boy, will be offered to high school students, and She kills monsters, about a woman who lost her parents and younger sister in a car crash, will be available to senior high school and middle school students.

As part of their student outreach, Middleton and CBT Director of Grants and Outreach Hana Sherman attends career fairs at local schools including Austin-East Magnet High School, Karns Middle School, Sarah Moore Greene Elementary and Vine Middle Magnet School. “We show the career paths you can take in theater,” Middleton said.

In a long-standing summer tradition, CBT offers high school students two weeks of intensive musical theater training from faculty and graduate students under the direction of distinguished musical theater lecturer Terry Alford.

Another summer program, Shakespeare in Shades, held at the Vine Middle Magnet School in partnership with Community Schools and Knox County Schools, was launched in 2016 and has been offered every year, with the exception of a pandemic break in 2020.

Undergraduate and MFA theater students serve as teachers in the program, which is designed to ease the transition to college by building confidence and increasing reading skills. Students mix theater games with adapted Shakespearean texts as they prepare and stage a performance. In 2020, participants interpreted shortened versions of The Storm, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer Night’s dream.

“By engaging and exposing young people to live theater,” said Middleton, “we hope to inspire and build the next generation of theatergoers, patrons and actors.”

Participants in Shakespeare in Shades experienced increased confidence and better reading fluency upon entering college.

Support for local school and community programs
CBT also supports local theater companies and performing arts programs in area schools. Led by Professor Kenton Yeager, director of the Department of Theater’s undergraduate program and its Masters of Fine Arts program in theater lighting, the lighting and set design students put their expertise to work to tackle business challenges. complex lighting.

They helped the dance department at Austin-East Magnet High School, the theater department at Bearden High School, the River & Rail Theater Company, the Flying Anvil Theater, the North Carolina Stage Company in Asheville, the Oak Ridge Playhouse, Pellissippi State Community College, and West High School.

A high school theater called and asked for effects they could use in Annie takes your gun“Yeager said,” and we helped him. Sometimes that includes accessing and upgrading outdated lighting systems.

The CBT also donates used sets to high school theater departments and local theater troupes. All of the Candid, which had many complex elements, was 90 percent recycled.

“Diversity and inclusion in all its forms is part of our mission statement,” said Sherman. “Whether we’re presenting performances to those who are often excluded, introducing children and youth to theater, or supporting local performing arts programs, the Clarence Brown Theater strives to bring theater to life. the widest possible community.


Brooks Clark (, 865-974-5471)


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