Jayne Morgan and Flying Anvil Theatre have taken the long way home.
A favorite with Knoxville audiences, Flying Anvil has not had a permanent performance space since Morgan and a friend founded the not-for-profit theater company in 2012. This summer Flying Anvil Theatre opened its 2017 season at home at 1300 Rocky Hill Road, in west Knoxville, just behind the Rocky Hill Shopping Center. The building was most recently used as a church and was originally an audiovisual production studio.
Before finding the spot in Rocky Hill, Morgan and her board spent years scouring every space in downtown Knoxville for a home, but were priced out by the blossoming real estate market. Last fall, the theater company was in talks to be part of the renovation of a South Knoxville site, until that, too, fell through. Morgan says she and her board were almost ready to pull the plug on the company when the spot in Rocky Hill came open.
While she worked at putting together a show, her board and others physically transformed the space. She gives a special shout-out to John Ferguson, who created the very comfortable audience area from scratch.
“This is by far the best building we looked at [over the years],” Morgan says. “We had the fewest conversions to make. The landlord was very helpful, too, in getting us into the building.”
Morgan and her board got the keys to the spot in May and opened the first show, “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” for previews on July 19. It runs through Aug. 20. Flying Anvil pays its performers, so with 11 people on stage, including a live band, the piece was a stretch for the company’s tight budget.
“I wanted an attention getter” to inaugurate the spot, Morgan says, and this musical is certainly that. Politically incorrect in spots and raucously funny all over, it is fast and loud, with a disco ensemble that has been bringing the house down with every performance.
“I don’t think I’ve ever done a show where people keep coming back,” Morgan says. Some of the returning audience were regular Flying Anvil fans, but others have been members of the Rocky Hill, Bearden and West Hills communities, who were more eager for a local theater company than anyone had imagined.
“The community’s response could not be better,” Morgan says. Although there is still much work to be done, including outer signage and the actors’ green room areas, she keeps command of it all. “Jayne’s Office” says a sticky note tacked to the door of a room where you can find her when the theater is quiet, including on her “days off.”
Born in Loudon County, Morgan moved to Farragut with her family as a teenager. A Farragut High School graduate, she studied at the University of Tennessee, where her father was a much-loved administrator. After graduation, she performed in dinner theater in the south and Midwest, then worked steadily in New York and California. Today she makes her living as an actor, teacher and director.
In the audience at Rocky Hill, she says, “I’ve seen a number of people I went to high school with,” and she takes pleasure in reconnecting. She’s also becoming comfortable in her role as the fundraising “face” of the company. “People seem to understand how hard it is to keep a theater going.”
The company has started The Rocky Hill Theatre Guild to give her neighbors backstage tours and events in thanks for their patronage. A full season is planned, with rehearsals for the next show, the Victorian-era “Shipwrecked!” already underway. It opens Sept. 1 and runs through Oct. 1. After that is the spooky, Appalachian-set “Love Talker,” a play inspired by the tradition of the region’s murder ballads.
“I’m always going to program shows that make you feel something,” she promises. And the community can’t wait.