If ever there was a model for a successful theatre company, The Boiler Room Theatre in Franklin, Tennessee is it. From their very nifty venue, which I have always assumed occupies an authentic boiler room, to the setting in Franklin's brilliant mall, The Factory, to the fearless track record of ambitious shows and innovative programming that are their trademark, Jamey Green, Artistic Director, and the outstanding team who make The Boiler Room rock continuously, have really raised the theatrical bar here in what we like to call the "Middle Tennessee." And the whole artistic crew have mastered the art of producing large cast musicals like Annie Get Your Gun and Chicago, on what's a postage stamp-sized stage, as you might say. All just too, too amazing.
Personally, I'm looking forward to the Tennessee premiere of Parade by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy). My grandfather is a major character in this unusual musical about the trial and lynching of Leo Frank. If I could sing and dance, I might even audition for the role. That's at The Boiler Room in October, 2012.
Speaking of which, auditions at The Boiler Room are a big deal around here. Actors are anxious to work at there, no matter how far they have to drive!
Now Jamey and BRT are about to put a whole new rumble on the road, as they prepare for their new musical theatre competition and showcase. Over three days in March, 9 new musicals will have the opportunity to present 30 minutes of their show to a panel of judges. After that, the finalists will get another turn and then the winner a full Boiler Room production. The best way to follow this, of course, is on the website www.boilerroomtheatre.com
So, who is Jamey Green and exactly what is he up to? I asked him and this is what he has to say for himself:
What role did theatre and the arts play in your childhood and upbringing?
My family has always been musical and artistic. Mom and dad had a country music act, my Aunt Allene was a brilliant painter, photographer and poet and my grandfather played violin (actually built his own). An entire family musical. Actually, we moved to the Nashville area from Columbus, Ga in 1972, so that Mom could pursue a song writing career. That next year, at age 9 or 10, I started singing. I sang for benefits, appeared on local tv, recorded countless demos before the age of 12. Started taking piano when I was 11 and began accompanying myself in performances. My three brothers and I formed a band not too long after. There really wasn't much theatrical opportunity at school. I played a drunk in a junior high play (perhaps too well for my parents' liking). My main theatrical opportunities were provided by two things: my church, where we had a very strong drama department, and home.
In 1974, we moved to Leipers Fork, which was not exactly the hopping country chic place it is now. It was the middle of nowhere. We were an hour away from things to do so we wrote plays for our parents. When I say "wrote," I mean roughly sketched plots basically done in long form improv style. And God bless my parents, they always watched, or perhaps endured. Since we got one of those huge early satellite dishes somewhere when I was in high school, my brothers and I got to see AMC, when it still showed classic movies and Bravo when it showed great foreign and art house films, before it became a hub for reality tv. So I became obsessed as a teenager with the films of American directors like Ford, Capra, Hawks, Wyler, Ray, Lynch, as well as Foreign directors like Bergman, Truffaut, Fellini, Kurasawa, you name it. I became a film geek. Then, a little later, we got a video camera and I became something of an "auteur." Yes, me and my brothers made many a short film, again nothing scripted, I guess very Cassavetes. Anyway, once again, the parents sat through every premier of these.
It's funny, we were very in the middle of nowhere with all of these creative juices. I guess we cultivated something of an "artistic fungus," that's my brother Corbin's quote; I so wish I could take credit for it!
Tell us about your own evolution as an artist.
My evolution as an artist, I suppose, can best be summed up with the phrase: Quest for collaboration. As I said, my mom wrote, and still does write songs, we wrote dozens together as I was growing up. I was fortunate to get involved with Pull Tight Players in Franklin, a true jewel among community theatres in this area. I got to be involved as an actor, technician (grunt), musician and eventually, as a musical director there.
Once again Corbin was involved as well. In fact, my entire family was in a production of Dark of the Moon there. During that time I liked to observe how people on the respective creative teams interacted. Just the same with the films I saw- I loved seeing the full credits, not just director and actors, but cinematographer, editor, screenwriter, composer etc. For example, what was different about the John Ford/Greg Toland collaboration from the William Wyler/ Greg Toland collaboration. Fascinating to me! I was lucky to have studied music and theatre at Belmont (then College), music for obvious reasons; but theatre, particularly because it was such a small department. We students had to learn to do EVERYTHING, not just act, write and direct. It gave me a great appreciation for everything that goes into a production. Subsequently, work in outdoor drama, music director for a theatre in the Virgin Islands (a very different and more laid-back collaboration - I truly learned the meaning of the phrase "island time"), work as a church choir director, being a part of Theatrevolution, which evolved into the Nashville Shakespeare Festival, music director at Chaffin's Barn, accompanist, sometimes writer/composer for Avante Garage! improv shows. Then, a completely NEW kind of collaboration with the Avante Garage! theatre company, as a co-owner, writer, music director and actor with three other people, truly different in that, as owners learning to collaborate in arts AND business. Then came Euphoria! The Theatre, which has a special place in my heart, it specialized in obscure musicals here in Nashville. After some time, I returned to Franklin and opened The Boiler Room with Lewis Kempfer and the afforementioned, Corbin.
What is your personal history with new musicals in Nashville?
My personal history with this must begin with Steve Chambers (now known as Chambers Stevens). One of the lucky things about being at Belmont in the mid/late 80's, was the fact that Chambers was artist in residence there for a few semesters. Our small department had the opportunity to take part in Chambers apocalyptic/semi-musical version of The Count Of Monte Cristo, titled Kount of Monte Kristo. We, as students, were given some leeway to make contributions to this work. Nashville, at this time, was a very exciting place theatrically speaking: People like Chambers, Dennis Ewing, Ruth Sweet, Mac Pirkle were doing great things. Later, I contributed a couple of musical pieces for Chambers original performance piece, Desperate for Magic.
While in the Virgin Islands, I co-wrote a musical on the history of the races (never finished) and managed to incorporate some of those ideas into later Nashville produced works. In 1988, while at Chaffin's Barn, I met Michael Bouson, Joe Correll and Kathy Shepard. If memory serves, we produced our first original show, a Christmas revue called Seasoned Greetings at the World's End on Elliston. Attendance was erratic. One night no one showed up to see it, so we went to a movie, Scrooged I think. Anyway, I digress. Then Chaffins built the backstage theatre space and we started doing original revues, improv shows and full-scale musicals. My contributions, at first, were somewhat minimal, that is, mainly music arranger, director, piano player, sometime actor. We produced a musical version of Sheridan's The Rivals called Whispers, Wigs and Wenches, and the musical based on Shakespeare titled Almost A Midsummer Night's Dream. These were all performed under production aegis of Avante Garage! which Bouson had started many years earlier as an Improv troupe. When we left the Chaffin's situation, we performed an original, audience participation murder mystery piece The Fatal Follies of 1923, at the now defunct Crawdaddy's Restaurant.
In 1991, we and The Avante Garage folks got our own space at Church Street Center (now the Nashville Public Library). For some two-and-a-half years, we produced a show about every six weeks. All were original, written by the four of us. Most were full-scale musicals. It was also an a la carte dinner theatre, so we also cooked the food. Later we ended up at Actor's Playhouse (I think that's what it was called) on West End, and presented a couple of original musical/revue type things.
Later, we went to NYC and End of Cold War produced a few of our musicals, mainly cabaret-type, restaurant row shows. We also had staged readings, mainly at that space in back of Circle in the Square. New York, we found, was a tough nut! I loved the pace, the energy and the incredible amount of theatre. Original works ABOUNDED, but I missed middle Tennessee. It was my home. I came back to Nashville remembering that so much talent, some tapped, mostly not, existed here.
With The Boiler Room, along with producing classic musicals, premieres of relatively new, or seldom produced musicals, plays, classic and modern, I also wanted BRT to be a hub for original work. For the first 11 years of our existence, there was plenty of original work, but it was mostly mine, either further work-shopped versions of Avante Garage! musicals, or collaborations with then BRT managing director, Lewis Kempfer. I hope to remedy that...see next question .
What can we expect from The Boiler Room New Works Festival?
With the "Pressure Cooker," I hope to make amends for years of not really putting the great and varied talents local writers and composers on our stage. What strikes me about my personal history with original musicals in Nashville, is that while so many of us had all this creativity and energy to write new musicals, there weren't any opportunities to develop them in a way that they perhaps needed! Everything we wrote was quickly put in front of a paying audience, right out of the oven (sometimes microwave oven). With this new festival/contest, I hope we can expect to see creativity that can be honed, developed, nurtured and polished. Maybe we will see the birth of the next Guys and Dolls, or Next to Normal. You never know.
What are your thoughts on Franklin as a city for the arts?
Well, Franklin is certainly packed with brilliant and successful musicians, film and stage actors, writers. Goodness, who can possibly keep up with how many accomplished artists have made Williamson County their home! The schools here, unlike when I was growing up, are investing great sums of money and effort to provide the kids with a strong arts education. Also, the parents here in general seem to place a great deal of value in a well-rounded education for their children, which of course MUST ALWAYS include arts. This is evidenced by our own sister program, Act Too players.
They can't get enough programs going to keep up with the demand. Franklin, of course, is a town of rich history and has always shown that it values that history. It is second to none in historical preservation! What I take from this, is that Franklin values human experience, essential in the Arts. It's my hometown, it helped make me. I'm pretty Artistic :)
Come to Franklin and Go to the Theatre!