Commentary: The Future of Nashville Theater is Bright

Boom 2A week has passed since I saw the excellent Sideshow Ensemble @ Actors Bridge production of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb’s dark comedy boom. It still has my imagination in its grasp.

Why? The troupe put on a very memorable show at the Belmont Black Box Theatre. It was a finely crafted production from Michael Redman’s museum-meets-Metropolis (as in Fritz Lang’s incredible 1927 film) set to Amanda Meador’s terrific characterization of the intensely-perky tour guide Barbara.

Meador, Redman and others who’ve been involved with Sideshow’s ten-month theatrical cross-training program – Erin Randolph, Hayley Rose, J.P. Schuffman, Julianne Snape, Kat Hanrahan, Ricardo Puerta, Jessika Malone, Jackie Johnson, and Mitch Massaro – worked wonderfully onstage and off to make the production a resounding success. That said, I think in the long run I’ll remember boom (lower case intentional) for something other than the thoroughly enjoyable presentation it was.

That’s because I’ll recall it was the moment that confirmed something I should have already acknowledged: The future of Nashville theater is bright. And that future is now.

To avoid misunderstanding, there are many artists somewhat older than members of the Sideshow ensemble who are doing incredible work now too. They will hopefully contribute their gifts to Music City stages for quite some time.

But as I look at a group like Sideshow – whose inaugural year included the first annual Sideshow Fringe Festival and its acclaimed regional premiere of Will Eno’s The Flu Season – I become very excited about the theater that will be created here for decades to come. If folks like Malone, Massaro and their colleagues are this good now, just think how much richer their work will become with the passage of time.

What’s behind the emergence of these brilliant young theater practitioners? My middle-aged brain certainly can’t come close to devising all the possible answers. I do figure the wonderful opportunities offered by local public and private secondary and post-secondary institutions play a role. And though summer camps and shows do more than train future theater folks, when I see the youth outreach of Actor’s Bridge’s Act Like a Grrrl! program, Nashville Children’s Theatre, The Theater Bug, Street Theatre Company, Nashville Shakespeare Festival, Amun Ra Theatre and Franklin’s Act Too Players (among others) I suspect such fine endeavors aid that development as well.

The complete answer to how we’re so fortunate to have such talented and committed emerging artists will remain a happy enigma to me. I may not completely understand how they do such a great job making us laugh, cry and consider while they entertain us, but ultimately that doesn’t matter. What does is the joyful realization that shows like boom (and the inter-arts connections of such events as the upcoming second edition of the Sideshow Fringe Festival running Aug. 2-5) will add luster to Nashville’s invigorating cultural scene well beyond this year or this decade.

For more about the Sideshow Fringe Festival please visit

Boom 1*All photos courtesy Sideshow@ActorsBridge.

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About Evans Donnell

Evans Donnell is the chief theater, film and opera critic as well as co-founder of ArtsNash. He wrote reviews and features about theater, opera and classical music for The Tennessean from 2002 to 2011. He was the theater, film and opera critic for from 2011 to 2012. Donnell has also contributed to The Sondheim Review, Back Stage, The City Paper (Nashville), the Nashville Banner, The (Bowling Green, Ky.) Daily News and several other publications since beginning his professional journalism career in 1985 with The Lebanon (Tenn.) Democrat. He was selected as a fellow for the 2004 National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, and for National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) arts journalism institutes for theater and musical theater at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism in 2006 and classical music and opera at the Columbia University School of Journalism in 2009. He has also been an actor (member of Actors Equity Association and SAG-AFTRA), founding and running AthensSouth Theatre from 1996 to 2001 and appearing in Milos Forman's "The People vs Larry Flynt" among other credits. Donnell is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (


  1. Evans, I think one of the answers to why theatre thrives so in Nashville is that, generationally, a community has emerged that is nurturing of young talent and talent new to town. Sure, directors have to know they can cast a show before they can choose it for a season, but I have found (through experience and word of mouth) EVERY company to be more open to new folks than in other cities in my experience. The litmus test for me – at auditions in Nashville, people DON’T try to psych each other out or sit around in the holding area tense and glaring (or just tense). We greet each other with respect, real affection, and do what we can to help each other do the best possible audition. Recently I went to callbacks for The Rep’s (Rene Copeland’s) Cabaret, just for the two older characters. It was a grand reunion of folks and there was a general agreement that we needed to find a show that could use all the people in that room. Relaxed, we all gave great auditions – and Rene got a real sense of what she needed for her ensemble. For the record, I was not cast – but I had one hell of a good time that afternoon, was satisfied with my audition, and came away knowing that I am still part of a unique theatre community. Keep well, you folks!

  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you Carol! There are so many organizations and artists who are taking the time to “pass it on” and make our whole community the better for it. Thanks for sharing your insight about this topic.


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