15 Years of Knoxville Children’s Theatre

Young actors at work. | Photography provided by Knoxville Children's Theatre.

The KCT celebrates its 15th season and the legacy of its founder Zack Allen

I remember my first class at the Knoxville Children’s Theatre. This was over a decade ago now, back when the Theatre still held classes in the downstairs of an old urban church because there wasn’t enough room in the actual theatre. I was in 7th grade, a veteran of an elementary school musical about pirates, and felt ready to tackle the works of Henrik Ibsen under the tutelage of a regular collaborator at the theatre, Dennis Perkins. I was not, in fact, ready, but those middle school days at the KCT cemented in me a love of acting and the creative process. I came back again and again, taking classes and doing shows under the direction of Perkins, the Theatre’s founder Zack Allen, and numerous other talented individuals, until I aged out of the program in late high school.

Zack Allen, founder of KCT. | Photography provided by Knoxville Children’s Theatre.

These days the Theatre is a much bigger organization, with a dedicated full-time staff and a new location just off Central Avenue. Zack Allen passed away 5 years ago in October of 2018, but Perkins – who is now the Theatre’s artistic director – and the rest of the KCT family are intent on keeping his vision for the organization alive for its 15th anniversary season.

“Zack had a vision of a training theater,” says Perkins. “We mentor them, we give them lots of tools for success, but ultimately the responsibility lies on them.” Allen wanted the theatre’s students to come out of the program with the skills to walk into any theatre with confidence. For that reason, KCT students don’t just play the parts onstage; they are also stagehands, costume designers, technical operators, and stage managers – under the watchful eyes of the grown-up director, of course.

“Arts funding is scarce,” says Perkins, “and one of the things we provide is an opportunity for anybody to come participate.” The theatre can provide an important place for community to come together and for children to learn life skills that go beyond just the stage. Punctuality, for instance, is one lesson Perkins emphasizes in all his productions (a lesson I’m sure my editor is glad he taught me).

KCT puts on 10 shows every year, with each show running for multiple weeks, meaning that usually there are three shows in the theatre at any one time – one holding auditions, one in production, and one on the stage. Rehearsals have begun for their August showing, Allen’s adaptation of the Mark Twain classic Huck Finn, which is directed by Jonathan Clark. Clark is a guest director (he is the artistic director at the Carpetbag Theatre), but already he is impressed by the students he’s working with. “These kids are teaching me things,” says Clark. “You can see the work that they’re doing that it takes to lead up to the stage, not just the work that’s going to shine on stage.”

Another classic Allen adaptation, Sleeping Beauty, will be going up in September, directed by Perkins. You can check out their upcoming shows and workshops online.

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