FLYING ANVIL THEATRE is a non-profit organization formed in 2012 as a professional theatre in the community of Knoxville, TN, advancing and advocating for Theatre Arts in the state, region and nation. We aim to produce high-quality theatre employing professional actors, designers and directors and to offer a wide variety of plays and musicals in an intimate space that is fully tech capable.
In three years, Flying Anvil Theatre has built an impressive reputation for provocative and entertaining programming in Knoxville, TN. With seed money from our first major donor, founders Jayne Morgan and Staci Swedeen started slowly in 2011, working through the process of obtaining our 501(c)(3) status and launching a website and blog. This process included intensive research into the challenges and opportunities for theatre companies in Knoxville.
2012–WE LIGHT THE FUSE In 2012, we raised funds via house parties and a successful 24-hour Facebook fundraising blitz and presented Staci Swedeen’s moving one-woman play, Pardon Me for Living, to audience raves. The play was produced at the East Tennessee History Center, the Knoxville Museum of Art and Pellissippi State Community College. We received great press and amazing financial support from friends and local theatre lovers. By the end of that year, we assembled a full Board of Directors comprised of diverse representatives of a wide variety of communities and backgrounds. In December, we held our first our first board retreat, facilitated by trainers from Leadership Knoxville. We were poised to make 2013 a huge year for Flying Anvil.
2013–EXPLOSIVE GROWTH In 2013, Flying Anvil Theatre took a big step forward–producing several original works and offering professional level training to all ages.
March We produced a staged reading of an original play about the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in Science, The Feeblemindedness of Woman.
Over 300 people attended this fundraiser for the League of Women Voters, the most successful in League history!
April Artistic Director Jayne Morgan wrote and directed the fourth incarnation of the popular Forbidden Knoxville series.
We ran for three weekends of late-night performances at Big Fatty’s Restaurant in Knoxville’s Bearden district. Audiences loved this audacious original comedy spoofing all things Knoxville!
May–Flying Anvil was thrilled to be included in the prestigious Piccolo Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC. As the sister festival of the world-renowned Spoleto Festival, Piccolo Spoleto is a juried exhibition of the finest theatre offerings in the Southeast. Pardon Me for Living was chosen as a featured play. Flying Anvil Theatre is proud to be the first Knoxville theatre company to be so honored. We also co-produced a reading of Linda Parsons Marion’s new play Decoration Day with Lawson McGee Library. We were honored to be part of this beloved local poet and playwright’s process in bringing this wonderful play to life.
June/July–Board Members Dana Wham and Debbie Richman, assisted by Staci and Jayne, led our children’s camps, which focused on teaching professional level skills in a supportive atmosphere. In space rented from the Knoxville Jewish Day School, each weeklong camp culminated in public performances of scenes and TV commercials by our hard-working campers. In addition, we offered an Acting Camp for adults. Several of our adult acting students were signed by Talent Trek Agency and have since worked professionally.
October/November–We produced the recent Off-Broadway smash Venus in Fur by David Ives in a renovated car dealership at 525 N Gay Street. The show was directed by Jayne Morgan and was a huge hit with audiences, proving we could create a theatre space almost anywhere. We hosted a pre-opening event in the building for the community, welcoming Mayor Madeline Rogero and several City Council members, who were greeted by board members and taken on a tour of the art gallery, lobby bar and theatre space. We were profiled in Knoxville’s weekly Metro Pulse and received rave reviews and extensive coverage from all media outlets.
Also in November Co-founder Swedeen led an eight-week workshop in Playwriting in conjunction with the Knoxville Public Library, for which we were awarded a very competitive Arts Build Communities Grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission. This free workshop, Grand Entrances–Writing for the Stage, gave participants the chance to develop new work and be mentored by an award-winning playwright.
It was an exciting, and ultimately, exhausting year. The cost, both in money and energy, to continually create new performances spaces where none existed and market them to our audiences, was considerable. The board was divided on the plan, but because of the positive response from the community, a majority voted to go ahead with developing the space at 525 N Gay Street in downtown Knoxville as a permanent home. Unfortunately, the developer sold the building before we could negotiate a long-term lease, leaving us scrambling once again for a space.
2014–REVISION AND REFOCUS In the start of 2014, Flying Anvil Theatre faced a challenging set of circumstances. Co-founder Staci Swedeen, uncomfortable with the decision to move forward on a space, stepped aside as Executive Director. In addition, a beloved board member died unexpectedly and several other board members faced severe personal illness or job changes. These changes, plus the challenge of finding a space that would allow us to produce the kind of professional theatre that is our passion and our mission, led to a year-long hiatus as we regrouped and researched new solutions.
During this trying year, Artistic Director Jayne Morgan continued to broaden connections and build her profile in the community by appearing in shows at the University of Tennessee’s Clarence Brown Theatre and directing acclaimed productions at Maryville College (Macbeth Is the New Black, co-written with Linda Parsons Marion) and UT Theatres (“Master Harold”…and the Boys). We also started a community-building event called the Actors’ Happy Hour (now called Theatre Happy Hour). Monthly we invite anyone who creates theatre or simply loves going to the theatre to join us at a local restaurant on a Monday evening (the traditional dark night). These events have often been co-hosted by Linda Parris Bailey and Carpetbag Theatre. They have been exceedingly helpful in keeping our brand in the public eye, uniting the fractured theatre community in Knoxville and building bridges to other producing organizations.
An indication that Flying Anvil still has a high public profile despite our hiatus is our recent inclusion in a Knoxville Mercury (formerly Metro Pulse) crossword puzzle! The clue was “Flying Anvil Theatre’s recent production of Venus in _____.” We continue to get requests for summer camps and queries about future productions. Obviously, it is imperative that we return to producing as soon as possible. The Organization currently has a nine-member Board of Directors, all of whom are dedicated to solving the problems we face as a producing organization. We have inspected a large number of buildings in many areas around Knoxville–from industrial sites to suburban storefronts to empty nightclubs. Recently, we have identified the single best option yet–a space where Flying Anvil can create the kind of theatre Knoxville is missing–first-rate Off-Broadway style professional shows in an intimate but fully functional space that provides technical capabilities and audience comfort and allows us to determine our own future.