In 1972, a group of Signal Mountain residents came together to start an outlet for youth with interests in the arts, and the Signal Mountain Playhouse raised its first curtain on a hillside behind St. Augustine's Catholic Church. This week, the community pillar celebrates its 50th anniversary with a party as big as its milestone.
Today, the Signal Mountain Playhouse is nestled in a forested amphitheater sitting on the corner of Rolling Way and James Boulevard. The stage there has welcomed big-name shows, including "The King and I," "Peter Pan," "The Wizard of Oz" and many more over the years, according to a news release.
"I've been a part of the playhouse for 23 years now, and what I love so much about it is how the playhouse serves as a launching pad for our youth that have an inclination to the arts," Tim Forsythe, vice president of the Signal Mountain Playhouse board and longtime actor in many of its shows, said in a phone call.
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Forsythe made his debut at the playhouse in 1999 in the group's production of "The Music Man."
"I've played King Arthur in 'Camelot,' Gaston in 'Beauty and the Beast;' I don't know what it is about baritones always getting the roles of the mean people," he joked, adding that he grew up spending much of his youth in sports. "My mother had me start voice lessons when I was 14, and as I've gotten older, I've realized that where sports were good for a time, the arts and theater are something that can last a lifetime. I'm 61 now, and I can still do a show."
Forsythe said during his curtain announcements he makes it a point to tell the audience how the Signal Mountain Playhouse and its team offer a unique opportunity to nurture the love of theater and performance to its younger performers in particular.
"The community of Signal Mountain has a great emphasis on the arts," he said. "I own a landscaping company, and when I meet new clients that have just moved here, more often than not, they tell me they chose the mountain because of its connection to the art community, including the playhouse."
From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, everyone who has been a part of the Signal Mountain Playhouse legacy is invited to celebrate at the playhouse amphitheater with food from King's Pig BBQ, drinks, dessert and birthday cake to ring in 50 years.
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"This includes past and present playhouse board members, cast and crew members, all volunteers, whether in the concession stand or ticket booths," Anne Rittenberry, foundation member of the playhouse board and historian, said by email. "I celebrate this wonderful milestone because the playhouse has meant so much in my life and our community for over 40 years."
Rittenberry went on to say that she is always amazed at seeing the first tentative read-through and bumbling dance routines develop into the beautiful creation that it becomes in just six weeks time.
Larry Scoggins, board member and sound technician for the playhouse, echoed Rittenberry's remarks, saying everyone always comes together in the right ways at the right times to make the shows a success.
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"I'm so excited about the anniversary," Scoggins said in a phone call. "The playhouse is something that's survived and thrived for so long, and it will continue for years to come."
Scoggins started with the playhouse in 1989 running sound for "Annie." He said he quickly found himself immersed in the organization and its efforts to bring entire family units into shows for the community.
"Our plays' classic songs and characters brighten my life and the lives of so many others, those participating on or off stage and those in the audiences," Rittenberry added. "My motto for the playhouse is 'No passion, no playhouse.'"
To attend the celebration, guests should register at bit.ly/playhouse50 to attend and so that the board can have an accurate headcount for food.
To learn more about the Signal Mountain Playhouse or the 50th anniversary details, visit smph.org.