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Tennessee Shakespeare Company

As Memphis-based Theater Gets New Home,
It's Romeo & Juliet Project Expands Reach

Tennessee Shakespeare Company logoThese are heady days for the Memphis-based Tennessee Shakespeare Company. Even as it is settling into its new year-round home in Ballet Memphis's former property, the Tennessee Shakespeare Company (TSC) is getting set to host a Christmas Open House this Thursday to benefit the company's ground-breaking Romeo and Juliet Project violence resolution program for high schools.

The Romeo and Juliet Project is a residency program for high schools that uses Romeo and Juliet, its characters, and its many pivotal decision moments as tools for freshman students to imagine and rehearse life-saving choices in the face of armed violence, peer pressure, prejudice, and inadequate guidance. Working in concert with educators, TSC teaching-artists interweave these strategically placed sessions, creating a positive and enthusiastic first impression of William Shakespeare's works through students playing the play. During the Romeo and Juliet Project, every freshman class receives three visits from TSC teaching-artists. Over the course of these sessions, students develop language to articulate their feelings, gain greater empathy and compassion for one another, and explore life-saving methods of nonviolent conflict resolution. The project is currently serving nearly 5,000 Memphis-area 9th graders in 13 high schools.

During the benefit program at the Palladio Home and Garden Christmas Open House, 5–7:30 p.m., November 2, attendees will get to meet TSC's actors and experience firsthand the Romeo and Juliet Project. Guests will also be able to shop for the holidays in the Palladio store, sample fare from Bounty on Broad, Alchemy, and other eateries, enjoy wine by the glass from Tallulah Wine, and bid on a fun minisilent auction. A portion of the evening's Palladio sales will be donated to the Romeo and Juliet Project. The Palladio Home and Garden is at 2169 Central Avenue, Memphis TN 38104. For more information, click here.

At the end of August, TSC announced it had purchased the former facility and property of Ballet Memphis, located at 7950 Trinity Road in Memphis, as its first, permanent home. With this acquisition, TSC is preparing to create the first and only permanent, year-round home for professional Shakespeare performance, education, and training in the state of Tennessee.

TSC purchased the 18,484 square foot facility outright from Ballet Memphis for $1.9 million. There is no mortgage.

Now beginning its tenth anniversary season, TSC has begun interior renovation, which is expected to be completed in Spring 2018. The renovation will focus on modifying existing dance studios into a state-of-the-art, professional, flexible theater for seating up to 200 patrons, as well as a spacious Education Wing. The public lobby, restrooms, and support areas for the theater also will be modified.

Centrally located to all of Shelby County just north of Walnut Grove Road, between Germantown Road and the northeast corner of Shelby Farms Park, the glass-and-steel facility will house all of TSC’s operations under one roof: performances, training, education, administrative offices, storage, costume shop, scene shop, and commercial kitchen. The facility was constructed in 1998, and an addition was built in 2012. It has parking for nearly 70 cars.

TSC and Ballet Memphis, longtime arts colleagues whose artistic staffs have collaborated over the years, entered into a purchase and sale agreement in late June. The sale represents one Memphis not-for-profit arts organization selling to another for re-use of a special-purpose building. TSC’s agent was W. Cary Whitehead III of Boyle Investment Company.

For the past nine years, TSC has created site-specific/environmental Shakespeare and classical productions, both indoors and outside, throughout Shelby County, partnering with longtime friends Dixon Gallery & Gardens, the University of Memphis, St. George’s Church, Shelby Farms Park, Germantown City Hall, Poplar Pike Playhouse, Hutchison School, and Germantown Performing Arts Center.

“This is an important moment in Memphis performing arts,” Owen B. Tabor, the company’s board president for the past six years said in a company press release. “We have researched more than 50 sites in the last few years, and the former Ballet property is perfect for our needs and for what our audiences say they would like. The Ballet’s new home in Overton Square is so impressive, and they have been wonderful to work with during this transaction. We wish them tremendous success. We appreciate that this special building is the launch pad for exciting futures for two important arts groups in Memphis.

The TSC Board and I appreciate the many members of the Memphis area business community that recognize the value of having important cultural institutions in our community that can inform, educate, and entertain their employees and customers and that can help attract the best and brightest young business leaders and entrepreneurs to our city.”

Dan McCleary, the company’s founder and producing artistic director, launched the silent phase of TSC’s New Home Capital Campaign in June, and within seven weeks the full sale price for the property was raised from the company’s first Legacy Donors. These donors, many of whom will remain anonymous until the facility is officially opened in 2018, reserve naming rights to the new home. TSC intends to raise all the funds necessary for theater renovations and the establishment of a multimillion-dollar endowment that will service both replacement costs and annual operating expenses associated with new ownership. Those supporters interested in discussing Legacy Naming Opportunities in TSC’s new home should contact McCleary immediately at 901-759-0620.

“Memphis wins big today,” McCleary said in the press release.  “Our hometown just became the home for Shakespeare not only in the Midsouth, but in Tennessee.  And there aren’t but a handful of permanent, professional, year-round Shakespeare theaters in the southeastern United States.

“This is quite a legacy for our Board of Directors, our extraordinary President Dr. Owen Tabor, and his predecessors the Hon. Sheri Lipman and George Walters, our intrepid audiences who follow us everywhere, our modest but mighty staff including Frank Bluestein, and hundreds of big-hearted donors over the past 10 years. I am grateful to nine years of outstanding and supportive partner organizations that have allowed TSC to create unique theater experiences for our patrons. The Dixon Gallery and its Executive Director Kevin Sharp have been stalwart partners since the beginning. They helped give us life. Our outstanding educational partnership with the University of Memphis and Theater Chair Holly Lau happily will continue, likely in a modified form that focuses on the students’ professional training and experience.

“We now get to create a Southern center for creative collaboration, inquiry, inclusiveness, arts education, compassion, exalting language, for stories of healing, and for tremendous entertainment founded on Shakespeare’s and other classical works.  Memphis will soon have a permanent, professional theater that produces the world’s greatest plays with America’s finest classical actors. All of our hard-won academic and education partnerships will flourish in our new home. Our new Shakespeare home will be exciting, surprising, comfortable for adults, enthralling for children, and always alight.  Right now, right here, this is what we have been struggling for 10 years to identify and create, where it is most needed, where so many said it couldn’t be done, indeed where it never has been done, and where it will live as a legacy to these generous Midsouth donors, families, and businesses for generations to come.

“And we are not done building and dreaming,” McCleary added. “This is launch mode.  As we move Shakespeare and the arts closer to the center of every child’s formal education, we aspire to bring his plays into every classroom in Shelby County. We plan to produce Shakespeare’s entire canon. We will soon be able to produce more programming with the desire of supporting both increased audiences and casts. We will continue to introduce many other classical works, as well as modern and Southern work of social conscience.”

Dorothy Gunther Pugh, Ballet Memphis’ CEO and founding artistic director said, “Our former home on Trinity Road still has lots to give, and we're thrilled that Tennessee Shakespeare Company is able to make that space their new home. We look forward to seeing what TSC will launch and explore from this new venue."

Over its first nine seasons, TSC has produced 40 site-specific plays and events for more than 45,000 patrons. Its education program has reached 120 schools across seven states, totaling over 145,000 student interactions. The company now performs or teaches every week of the year, and plays to more than 10,000 patrons annually, tours to a half-dozen Southern states with its education shows, and is welcomed into at least 80 schools.  TSC’s education program, particularly its innovative Romeo and Juliet Project, has achieved a high regional and national profile. The program has been endorsed by Shelby County Schools, Germantown Municipal schools, Collierville Municipal schools, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

This has been an amazing and exhilarating ten-year journey,” said TSC’s Executive Director Frank Bluestein. “What began as a simple idea to offer professional, classical theater in the Memphis area morphed into a quality acting company with its own unique style and sense of purpose. How extremely fortunate we are to have a visionary like Dan McCleary, along with Education Director Stephanie Shine and the many talented TSC artists, in our midst. With this new permanent home and these resources, I have no doubt that Tennessee Shakespeare Company will uplift, enhance, and expand the cultural horizons for each and every one of our citizens and bring us together as a community in a way that only the arts can achieve.”

Tennessee Shakespeare Company, with an annual operating budget over $720,000, annually is supported by more than 300 individuals, corporations, foundations, and granting organizations in Memphis, and is supported by major gifts from the Tennessee Arts Commission, Arts Midwest, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous Memphis corporate Season Sponsors include FedEx, International Paper, and Independent Bank.

October 31, 2017

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