Where do you go when you’re bitten by the theater bug?

Hannah Swayze • Aug 4, 2018 at 10:34 PM

Where do you go when you’re bitten by the theater bug?

Maybe to the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre.

And don’t be surprised by a warm welcome: to its patrons and volunteers, the JRT is more than just a theater. It’s family.

The theater’s inaugural season was in 1970, and from the beginning it’s had a history of performing crowd-pleasing, family friendly shows and historical musicals and plays that occasionally focus on local events.

From Day 1 the theater and the community have been one and the same.

So what’s the secret to that? The one word heard over and over again describing the theater and the people in it is, “family.”

Catherine Squibb, an actress who frequents the JRT stage, has recently returned to theater after a break during college.

Squibb was bitten by the theater bug back in her middle school years then she dove headfirst into throughout high school. After college, a (blood-related) family member convinced her to return to theater at JRT.

“Here, if you’re weird, the people here are weird, too. They’re not going to judge,” Squibb said.

She spoke about how you can see a show and you can tell when a group of actors doesn’t like each other. However, at JRT, she believe that the comaraderie is what makes the shows so amazing. 

And this makes sense because the family does not stop inside the theater doors. It goes beyond, out into the town.

The theater does a fair amount of community outreach: a traveling troupe called the JRT Players; various children’s camps and workshops; and members of the theater can even be found in the senior center teaching acting and theater classes there.

“When you have the community supporting your theater it makes you want to give more,” said Pam Johnson, publicity coordinator and one of several directors involved at JRT.

She likens the mutual support between the community and the theater to actors on a stage, feeding off the audience’s energy during a live performance.

The theater participants try to give as much as they can, since the demand, especially lately, according to Johnson, has been great. The last few shows have completely sold out. Some, she said, have even required the theater to add additional performances to their usual run of 12 to 14.

The show also benefits the community in other ways, according to former mayor of Jonesborough, Kelly Wolfe.

Wolfe, who retired from his position as mayor earlier this year, can be found every few years on the Jonesborough stage. He most recently took part in JRT’s production of the musical “1776.”

Wolfe, who is very supportive of the theater, also says it can also be used as an economic development tool.

In a normal season, Jonesborough Repertory theater produces eight Main Stage shows a year, which would mean an average of 112 shows. The theater seats 140 people. All together, if every show sold out, that would mean the theater brings 15,600 theater-goers to to the downtown Jonesborough area. 

“Those people will more than likely eat or do a little shopping here,” said Wolfe. “It’s a huge, huge investment in our town and I’m very proud of our theater and very proud of these folks who are all volunteers, by the way. They give their time to be a part of this without receiving anything in compensation.”

So what is it that brings all of these people to a tiny proscenium theater in the small town of Jonesborough that, at 125 1/2 West Main St., doesn’t technically take up a full street address and keeps them coming back?

The answer can only be found inside its doors. There are a lot of reasons, making it hard for people to describe.

“Once you’re bit, you're bit,” Squibb said.

For more information on the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre, or to find out how to become a part of the ever-growing family, visit http://www.jonesboroughtheater.com/

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