A Dramaturg on Printers' Alley — AAPEX

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Dramaturg on Printers' Alley

I came to Nashville in November, 1999 to visit my voice student, Katherine Kay. Katherine was, at that time, the house singer for Lonnie's Western Room, which is located on Printers' Alley in downtown Nashville.

As a result of my visit, I ended up moving to Nashville and living on Printers' Alley and working for Lonnie in his two kareoke bars. My "apartment" was actually a dressing room from days gone by, with 2 showers but no bathroom, across the hall from one of the bars.

Kareoke in Nashville is it's own kind of madness and the madness got even madder, especially weekend nights, as Lonnie's clubs are flanked by a New Orleans style jazz club (Bourbon Street) on the North end of the alley and one of Nashville's ubiquitous strip clubs (The Brass Rail) on the South end. Living on Printer's Alley is something that very few folks get to do, so my first 9 months in Nashville were kind of a honky tonk fairy tale.

A dramaturg on Printers' Alley. What's that about?

Printers Alley is so called because it began as the center of Nashville's printing and publishing business back in the 19th century. As the years went by, it evolved into an area of speakeasies, and I believe there are still tunnels running down to the river, which is how they got the liquor to the clubs. With it's weathered red brick and festive signs, it has more to do with New Orleans that it does with Nashville, kind of Music City's own piece of The French Quarter. My weird little room served more than once as refuge for young singers who really believed that Nashville careers could be started by singing Kareoke on Printers' Alley.

It also had all of the strange romance and sociological ambiance that are the inevitable character of such entertainment districts - a carnival soap opera of who's drinking what and who's screwing who. All very Tennessee Williams, and there I was at mid life crisis age. Where does one go from there?

Well, I went to TPAC. That's the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and it's where the Broadway tours come. RAGTIME came to town at TPAC and I went and fell in love with this brilliant musical. I had been living in NYC when it was first produced and a friend of mine knew some of the creative team, so I should have seen the show in New York, but I never did - however, the week it was at TPAC I saw RAGTIME five times BECAUSE - the show wasn't selling well, so they were offering 2 for one tickets and I took some of my Printers Alley buddies to see the show. Not one person I took had ever actually been to the theatre before in their lives.

A year later I made my Nashville acting debut at TPAC in Circle Players  production of GYPSY starring Ann Street as Mama Rose and directed by Jeffrey Eilis. Today Jeffery covers Nashville Theatre for broadwayworld.com. He is also responsible for Nashville's First Night events, including our local theatre awards.

As I walked down 5th Avenue to the theatre, I passed The Tennessee State Musem. As a dramaturg, my first mission in my new home town would be to immerse myself in the city's history, so the museum became a hang out for me.
In it's current location it's underground in the same building that houses TPAC - kind of "soviet block" architecture if you will, but that just adds to it's rabbit hole qualities, because once you enter the museum your mid reels from the rich vibrancy of the collections and displays. It was at the museum that I first met my two Nashville muses, Rachel Jackson and Adelicia Hays Franklin Acklen Cheetam. So far I have managed to persuade my friend and collaborator, Bernice Lee, to write a musical about Rachel - which we showcased back in '03 out at the Donelson Senior Center for the Arts - but Adelicia's tale has yet to be told onstage and that's on my short list of things to make sure gets done, whether by me or someone else. Playwrights, check Adelicia out and enter the Adelicia Monologue Competition. Contact me for details.

My first hang out was a bar on 8th Avenue North called The Gaslight. The bar was in the back The Smith House, the only remaining pre Civil War residence in downtown Nashville, actually a home which had a fascinating history, including a brief stint at the Nashville Jewish Men's Club in the 1890s. That was when it acquired the ballroom on the back of the building which eventually became The Gaslight, one of the craziest gay bars in the history of gay bars, with it's oak paneling, it's deer head trophy we all called "Reba" and it's Shakespearean thrust stage for drag shows. Needless to say, by 2002 I was producing plays on that stage - Checkov, Williams, Strindberg. The highlight of that chapter of the book was our country music version of MISS JULIE - which included a serious down home tent revival scene and closed with Miss Julie singing YOUR CHEATIN' HEART. One feature of The Gaslight was it's nice oaken balcony, so when a dozen lades from a Nashville Ladies Book Club showed up for MISS JULIE:THE MUSICAL, I raced them into the balcony and closed it off so they would be safe from the hustlers, drunks and drag queens.

Today what was once The Gaslight is The Standard Restaurant. The last time I stuck my head in the door, I saw a grand piano, so there might be some music going down these days. Dramturging doesn't pay very well, so I'm not getting out to clubs and stuff like I used to, but anyone paying a visit to Nashville needs to check out The Standard. www.smithhousenashville.com

And The Tennessee State Museum. www.tnmuseum.org

And TAPC - come for the premiere of the new Jerry Lewis musical, The Nutty Professor. www.tpac.org 

And PRINTERS' ALLEY. www.theprintersalley.com

Come to Nashville and Go to the Theatre. www.nowplayingnashville.com

Jaz Dorsey
AAPEX Dramaturg

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