The Tennessee Theatre is launching a new series of immersive arts events titled, “Pass the Mic: Creating a Stage for Change.” The series will provide a stage for artists from marginalized and underserved communities to share their art with a broader East Tennessee audience.
Tennessee Theatre leadership and a community advisory group are preparing the schedule of events and accompanying initiatives and plan to launch the “Pass the Mic” series by summer 2022.
“It is our hope to provide opportunities for new communities to experience the Tennessee Theatre, in addition to providing a stage for artists to share their craft,” Tennessee Theatre Executive Director Becky Hancock said. “As a southern venue that was segregated for the first 35 years of its existence, the Tennessee Theatre of today has a strong desire to partner with and feature artists of color and those from other marginalized communities, especially those that may experience systemic obstacles to greater commercial success, to demonstrate that it is truly a venue for all people.”
In addition to presenting regional talent through concerts, each event will incorporate other art forms through visual art galleries, spoken word performances, readings and other experiences featuring local artists. Each headlining artist also will be given the opportunity to discuss a social issue of importance to them and how it impacts the community.
“Pass the Mic has been a collaborative effort from the start: gathering members of underserved and marginalized communities around the Tennessee Theatre table to ensure they are part of the creation process of this program, rather than being served up a finished product in which they had no agency,” Hancock said.
“While conscious efforts have been made to not exclude certain people, that is not enough; the next step is making a conscious effort to include,” said Brandon Gibson, artist, managing director for Marble City Opera and one of the many community advisors for the project. “This initiative represents a conscious effort by the Tennessee Theatre as a flagship arts organization in our state to take that next step and truly fulfill its mission.”
In addition to the “Pass the Mic” events that will take place in person, a virtual product will be distributed via podcast and video to increase the accessibility of the theatre to more people and remove barriers to participation for the audience. As another facet of the initiative, community members will have opportunities to connect and interact through educational programs, such as master classes and workshops, and complementary partnerships with nonprofits.
“I have had the great honor of performing inside the majestic Tennessee Theatre on many occasions in various capacities,” Gibson said. “I look forward to seeing fellow artists who have never done so – and perhaps thought they never would – have that same opportunity. And I’m excited to see new faces in the audience, be it in person or virtually, connecting with the theatre and the arts.”
The new series was inspired in part by Black Opry. Created in 2021 as a response to Black artists and fans often being overlooked and disregarded by the country music industry, Black Opry serves as “a home for Black artists and Black fans of country, blues, folk, and Americana music.” Since then, the organization has launched the Black Opry Revue, which has featured artists such as Allison Russell, Jett Holden, Tylar Bryant, Autumn Nicholas, Roberta Lea and Frankie Staton, founder of the Black Country Music Association in the 1990s.
“Our theatre is the stage, backdrop and narrative for so many beloved memories of people in our community and beyond,” Hancock said. “But we cannot be satisfied by the enjoyment of some, nor complacent in our role to uplift the arts for all – meaning all artists and all audiences. While the Tennessee Theatre has a way to go, we are excited about the opportunities for growth, diversity and inclusion ‘Pass the Mic’ affords.”
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About the Tennessee Theatre
Located in the heart of downtown Knoxville, the Tennessee Theatre opened in 1928 as a movie palace. The Tennessee Theatre is the Official State Theatre of Tennessee and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The Tennessee Theatre is the region’s leading performing arts facility with advanced technology, staging and lighting that draws top entertainment to the Knoxville area. The Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation is a nonprofit organization tasked with maintaining and preserving the historic theatre and ensuring diverse arts and cultural entertainment remains in downtown Knoxville. For more information, visit www.tennesseetheatre.com.