Its founding member is Dennis Parker. Also the show’s star, he’s a long-time actor on the Signal Mountain Playhouse stage. He recently starred as Harry MacAfee in the recent “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Parker says the intersection of COVID-19 and the newly renovated Mountain Arts Community Center made the new group possible. “The name, Mountain Arts Theatre, was motivated by the need to keep it simple and tie to the space in which it mostly resides, the Mountain Arts Community Center, which, as you know, has a fantastic theatre,” he said.
“My goal with the Mountain Arts Theatre is to fill a different niche than the playhouse and produce stories that the Playhouse would not normally do, like ‘Love Letters,’ which is a very intimate show.”
“I directed ‘Love Letters,’ by A.R. Gurney which starred Shandra Burnett as Melissa and Dennis Parker as Andy,” said newcomer director Mary Eliza Hendricks, daughter of Signal Mountain residents Snoda and Paul Hendricks.
She says the company picked the perfect production out of the gate. “It was the best show for us not only to focus on our storytelling, but also for its meaningful story of human connection and vulnerability,” Headricks said.
The story features the plight of two physically distant but emotionally close people corresponding through letters, not email or texts - just letters. They met on the playground and grew closer and closer throughout their lives, seeing each other only occasionally and marrying different people.
“It was one of the best, if not the best, productions of this play I have ever seen,” said Sharon Cound, Signal Mountain resident. “And I should know: I actually played the part of Melissa on the stage, and I think these two did a much better job.”
“Mary Eliza was a thoughtful director with an acute sense of the balance between the comedy and the very deep drama of the story,” said Dennis.
“We have received a great deal of positive feedback about the quality and impact of the production on our audiences. The show is simple in its production needs, meaning it doesn’t require a fancy set or complicated lights or sound,” said Mary Eliza.
Just the way Dennis wanted to start out - small. In fact, so small, the company is a company of one right now, consisting of, as Dennis says, “Myself, collaborating with the good folks at the MACC, especially Dick and Cheryl Graham. I wore many hats on this first production, including serving as production manager, casting, program design and also playing one of the two characters in ‘Love Letters.’ The goal is for me to wear less hats and bring in more partners as we grow.”
“Ultimately, I see the company as a collective of creative minds with ‘old souls,’ said Dennis. “And to serve as an incubator for new talent on the rise, like Mary Eliza Hendricks, our wonderful director of ‘Love Letters.’”
“While our audience sizes were not large, [because of] of COVID-19, they were very responsive and seemed very moved by the performance each night, and I heard several people remark that the characters felt genuinely authentic,” said Mary Eliza.
Dennis hopes to produce at least two or three shows per year, with one in the spring and one to two in the fall. He says slow deliberate growth is all he can handle with a full time job at UTC and a supportive family, Ann, Ryan and Olivia.
He says he looks forward to post pandemic theatre and a little more normalcy, where the drama stays on the stage. “Stay tuned!” he says.
If anyone is interested in contacting the new theatre to collaborate or volunteer for a production, email Dennis at email@example.com or through Facebook @MountainArtsTheatre.
by Michelle Michaud