published Thursday, June 19th, 2014

The Bard comes to Brainerd Road

Shakespeare Chattanooga production opens renovated Ripple Theater

Steven Disbrow as Bottom and Brianne Michalski as Titania in Shakespeare Chattanooga/Ripple Productions’
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Steven Disbrow as Bottom and Brianne Michalski as Titania in Shakespeare Chattanooga/Ripple Productions’ “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
David Andrews Photography

After a four-year, $125,000 renovation, Ripple Theater on Brainerd Road will reopen with a modernized production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" presented by Shakespeare Chattanooga on Friday, June 20.

The two theatrical companies are partnering for this production, but they are not merging, says Janis Hashe, Shakespeare Chattanooga's producing director. Although collaborating on this show to open the updated theater, they remain two distinct entities.

"Ripple has a long, very fine tradition of presenting faith-based productions. It is a faith-based organization and we are not," she explains.

The Ripple Theater is housed in the former Backstage Playhouse on Brainerd Road, later known as Encore Theatre -- a decades-old venue with an established reputation for fine entertainment no matter what name it went by. Thomas Goddard, president of Ripple Theater Productions, says his organization bought the building in 2008 and presented a full season there in 2009. But the roof failed during a series of storms in early 2010, resulting in heavy interior flood damage.

IF YOU GO

What: "Midsummer Night's Dream" presented by Shakespeare Chattanooga.

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, June 20-21, 27-28; 2:30 p.m. Sundays, June 22 and 29.

Where: Ripple Theatre, 3264 Brainerd Road.

Admission: $15 adults, $10 students and senior adults.

Phone: 423-622-2862.

"We literally became the Ripple Theater with all the water inside," Goddard quips. "We took that opportunity to do lots of renovations."

Goddard says 85 percent of the building (everything except the shop area) was gutted, redesigned and redone.

"The entire auditorium was redone, bathrooms were relocated and renovated, we put a new roof on and the entire front of the building was rebuilt structurally. We had to break out 40 percent of the brick-and-block frontage because it was unstable," Goddard explains.

Ripple's president says 5,800 square feet of new walls were installed in the hallways, baths, auditorium, dressing rooms and backstage rooms. New flooring was laid throughout the building.

"We've been renovating since 2010 as we had time and funds," he says. And they have completed the work with no debt, paying for these renovations with private donations.

Longtime arts patrons who date to the Backstage days, as well as newcomers drawn by The Bard's comedy, will have the opportunity to view renovations during six productions of "Midsummer Night's Dream."

Shakespeare Chattanooga chose this work, says Hashe, because the group had recently done a staged reading of it so a core group was already familiar with the piece.

"Also, 'Midsummer' is a crowd favorite, even thought it's done constantly. We wanted to pick a comedy, something that would be family-friendly," she says.

Its cast includes Steven Disbrow, Stephanie Smith, Ericka Johnson, Brianne Michalski, Daniel Pound, Robbye Lewis, Ward Fleissner, Paula Berard, Ayana Winchester, Evan Johnson, Shellyta Chatman, Jonathan Goff, Jordan Guess, Trey Jackson, Elena Nikolaeva and Kashish Agnihotri.

Hashe says that Shakespeare often set his plays in far-flung places, but the settings didn't always resemble the places they were supposed to be. In the case of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," the playwright chose Athens.

Loren Howard has designed the play's sets, and Goddard will handle lighting. The modern-dress production will be set to music of bands that came out of Athens, Ga. Among them: R.E.M., the B-52s, Widespread Panic.

Stephanie Smith, who is serving as the play's musical director as well as playing Puck, got a band together and recorded versions of many of the chosen songs. The play will mix snippets of the originals with those recorded versions, says Hashe.

"Shakespeare Chattanooga's emphasis is on acting and the text," says Hashe. "We try very hard to make Shakespeare accessible to people. For people who are Shakespeare-phobic, 'Midsummer' is a very fun show. It's very physical. It's people with donkey ears -- what's not to love?"

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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