On an icy and gloomy Wednesday in January, standing in the middle of the former Jamison Theater space in The Factory at Franklin, Tony McAlister couldn’t help but take a moment to reflect as he surveyed the roughshod walls, concrete floors and iron beams rising 50 feet to a peaked ceiling.

“It’s hard to believe that this space is going to be the home of the theater so many of us have dreamt about for more than a decade,” said the chairman of Studio Tenn’s board of directors. “It doesn’t seem real.”

But real it is.

In early February, Studio Tenn officially announced that the professional theater company’s permanent home was being built in The Factory, and will open in time for the start of its 2023-24 mainstage season in October. It will sit adjacent to the new Grand Hall, where a well-appointed bar stretches through an open concourse, surrounded by a dozen new restaurants, shops and open seating.

Turner Theater – named after Cal Turner, one of several benefactors who have jumpstarted Studio Tenn’s ‘Make.Believe’ capital campaign – will seat 329 people and have a storefront box office, a spacious and comfortable lobby (named after Marilyn and Calvin Lehew), dressing rooms, professional-grade lighting and a layout designed specifically for Studio Tenn’s needs.

“We’ve performed in every theater in Middle Tennessee over the last 14 years, so to have a permanent home that’s custom built to what we want and need is really hard to wrap my mind around,” said McAlister. “For our patrons and partners, it will provide a consistently excellent experience and many memorable evenings at the theater and in The Factory. It’s going to be a crown jewel of our community.”

The Turner Theater announcement comes as Studio Tenn emerges from a challenging pandemic and launches its largest-ever fundraising campaign, wraps up its first full season in nearly three years, and readies to announce a full slate of shows over the next year.

What’s Coming

There’s simply never a slow day at Studio Tenn. Interviews and auditions with talent from across the country are regular occurrences, and the list of Broadway-level performers who seek to take Studio Tenn’s stage is growing with each passing season. There’s constant work with other area arts organizations, including Christ Presbyterian Academy (CPA), which will host and help produce The Sound of Music with the Studio Tenn team in June and July. There’s the “New Works” series, which highlights local storytellers and directors at no charge to patrons. There’s constant work on set design and creation, not to mention costumes. And of course there’s the steady beat of ticket sales and promotions, which includes numerous events that Studio Tenn spends months planning and making unique and entertaining for its supporters.

In short, there’s always something going on, multiple things to plan and coordinate, and when a performance is in a different location each time, it presents an entirely different set of challenges. Turner Theater removes that factor from the equation.

“The venue – a great venue, I should say – becomes a part of the cast and central to the experience our guests receive,” said Patrick Cassidy, Studio Tenn’s artistic director. “That’s exactly what we’ll have here – a great venue. From the amenities for the performers and crew to the comfort, lighting and sound for our guests, Turner Theater will be a special place.

“To have this experience in the middle of a dynamic gathering place like the Grand Hall at The Factory is what you might expect in the famous arts districts of the world, and it will be just around the corner for our community. ‘Dinner and a show’ will now be a real option here in Franklin.”

There’s still plenty of work to be done before Turner Theater opens in October, and in typical Studio Tenn style, there are many events planned for the community during that time. The annual “must attend” One Night Only is on April 22 in The Factory, and will celebrate the work of famed choreographer and director Bob Fosse. Here You Come Again, a lively musical set to the sounds and humor of Dolly Parton, hits the stage from May 17-28 in the Franklin Theatre. The von Trapp family and The Sound of Music will run in CPA’s stunning Soli Deo Center from June 22 to July 16.

Studio Tenn will also announce the lineup for its 2023-24 season at One Night Only. Arts lovers and Studio Tenn supporters can expect a series of events celebrating the new season and the opening of Turner Theater before the curtain opens in October. The company seeks to sell 500 season tickets for the 2023-24 season, a goal that at one time seemed almost impossible, but as interest grows in Studio Tenn has become much more plausible.

“Just being able to say, ‘Yes, our theater is in The Factory’ will be a tremendous aid to our efforts of bringing the theater to the forefront in our community,” said McAlister. “I’d encourage people to buy season tickets, as the interest level in what we’re doing is at its highest-ever point. We couldn’t be more excited about it and what it means for the future of the arts in Franklin.”

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