OAK STREET PLAYHOUSE
418 Oak Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Artistic Director: Suzanne Smartt
Phone: (423) 756-2428
Oak Street Playhouse is an intimate theatre in the Heart of downtown Chattanooga in First Centenary United Methodist Church.
In the 1970's, when people in Chattanooga were flocking to the suburbs, First-Centenary United Methodist Church took a giant leap forward with a decision to expand their facilities to become a more viable force in downtown Chattanooga .
In the plans were blueprints for a theater, suggested by Flo Summitt, a church member. Senior Minister Dr. Ralph Mohney envisioned a drama ministry and in 1978, with the completion of the new wing, the theater was a reality. Located on the second floor, the theater was really only a large room: a stage with just one entrance and no curtain, a long wall banked with stationary picture windows that extended up to the stage, and a limited number of stage lights. But it was a theater!
The first play presented in 1980 in the newly named Oak Street Playhouse was The Trial of Pontius Pilate, an interesting choice in which a jury, selected from the audience each night, decided the fate of Pilate. The director was Nancy Lane Wright, a member of First-Centenary and artistic director of the Dance Theatre Workshop in Chattanooga . Flo Summitt became the producer and Robert Smartt designed the lighting and sound. The play ran two nights and there was no admission charge. The following year, Fred Arnold came on board as set designer and as creator/director of the Oak Street Playhouse Puppet Theatre.
Now, twenty years since it's beginning, like an acorn, Oak Street Playhouse continues to grow with its mission of providing outstanding family-style entertainment and cultural enrichment.
Throughout ensuing years, helped by generous donations and efforts of the Playhouse volunteers, carpeted risers were built, windows were closed in, a stage curtain hung and new lights and light board installed. Suzanne Smartt became the Artistic Director in 1992. The Playhouse produces a variety of productions: dramas such as Ibsen's A Doll's House, classic comedies like Harvey, musicals such as My Fair Lady and 1998's season's run-away favorite, The Moving of Lilla Barton, winner of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Southern Writer's Competition.
The Playhouse today has become what June Hatcher, former Entertainment Editor of the Chattanooga Free Press, wrote, "A gem of a theater in downtown Chattanooga," which includes a spring play in May, performances of Fred Arnold's puppets in September/October along with twelve additional schoolday performances, and a popular December Dinner-Theatre that draws audiences from across Tennessee.
The Playhouse holds open auditions with casts of actors from both Tennessee and North Georgia . By invitation they performed Camelot before thousands at the 1989 International Methodist Men's Conference held on the Purdue University campus and their production of The Rainmaker competed at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in 1991.