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New theatre proposed for 'Tennessee's Oldest Town'

Published On: Mar 21 2014 03:36:52 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 21 2014 09:57:16 PM CDT

From doughnuts to drama, there's a lot cooking in Jonesborough these days.

JONESBOROUGH, Tenn. -

From doughnuts to drama, there's a lot cooking in Jonesborough these days.

On the front burner: buying the old Jackson Theatre building. It's something Town Administrator Bob Browning is excited about. "We've received approval from the Appalachian Regional Commission, ARC, on a grant of $270,000," Browning said. "That will help us purchase the building that once housed the Jackson Theatre."

The historic theatre had its heyday in Tennessee's oldest town from the 1920s to the 1960s. "I can remember the days we went to Jackson Theatre in Jonesborough," Washington County resident Thelma Crumley said. "It was so much fun, and it only cost nine or ten cents to get in."

Though some of the memories haven't faded, the weathered picket fence that still frames the old structure has. And it still shares a brick wall with its neighbor: the Jonesborough Reperatory Theatre. Soon, the two theatres will share a lot more than that.

First of all, space. "We right now have five shows in production," JRT Artistic Director Jennifer Schmidt said. "Our rehearsal space, as you can imagine, we're just constantly shuffling people around."

More space means more production power as the two theatres join forces to fill a void in downtown Jonesborough: the realization of a large, major theatre complex featuring more plays, independent films, concerts and of course, another larger venue for storytelling.

Town leaders say they've done their homework. Over 80 percent of tourist dollars are spent after 6 p.m.; that means an obvious box office boost for the proposed Jackson Theatre and the JRT, and they're sure not acting when they say they're excited. "It can't happen fast enough for us," Schmidt said. "We have 140 seating capacity in this theatre, and my understanding is they're going to jump to at least 350, so that's just incredible."

After the purchase is official, the town hopes to begin renovation work sometime this year with the opening curtain pull soon after.

"And I may be one of their first customers," Crumley said.