Carpetbag-Black Box

The Carpetbag lacks a prominent face in the city of Knoxville. Located downstairs in the historic Emporium in the Old City on S. Gay Street, the Carpetbag along with its Black Box Theatre is a hidden treasure in downtown. A truly integral part of the arts in Knoxville, Tn.

Carpetbag Theatre lacks a recognizable public face and place in the city.  It is located downstairs in the Emporium in the Old City, amidst the construction on S. Gay St., yet the company has many contributions to art in the city of Knoxville.  Carpetbag is known for its original productions and giving a voice the people who typically go without.

History & Vision:

The Carpetbag theatre is an ensemble company that began in 1969 as the resident theatre company at Knoxville College, and much like the name implies, it has no permanent home: no grand venue to perform its works in.  Five years ago, Carpetbag relocated to its current location in the Emporium.  The company is “nomadic;” traveling and moving from place to place, using other venues when needed, or simply discovering venues that aren’t typically thought of as places of performance, such as the atrium of the Emporium, or even outdoors like at this past year’s 40th Anniversary Celebration at the Botanical Gardens.  According to the company’s statement, “The Carpetbag Theatre’s mission is to give artistic voice to the underserved, particularly in the communities of place, tradition, and spirit which constitute our audience.  We address the issues and dreams of people who have historically been silenced by racism, classism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression.”  The Carpetbag Theatre exists to help the people. However, one problem is that many people aren’t even aware of the Carpetbag Theatre because of their size and location.  Carpetbag does not have a large performance space, huge sign, or famous productions, but that is part of the charm of the company.  It is located on the 100 block of S. Gay Street, which is under construction in the Old City.  It is, in many ways, hidden within the city, but the company is not invisible: the ways in which it affects the people of Knoxville are very apparent. The voice and empowerment that Carpetbag provides to many underprivileged artists throughout the city is very visible.  Whether it is the Open Mic Nights at the Black Box theatre or simply through the productions the ensemble puts on showcasing the struggles of these “historically silenced” people.


Carpetbag is located in the Emporium on S. Gay Street. The location has many benefits, but also a few drawbacks such as the construction and the location at the far end of the main thoroughfare that Gay Street has become.

The location of Carpetbag Theatre does have a few drawbacks such as the ongoing construction directly in front of the building which houses it, as well as the fact that there is no large sign with the company name on it.  This makes the Carpetbag Theatre difficult to spot for the mere passerby, but the downtown location and financial feasibility of it are ideal.  Whenever the construction is completed, the expected return of many patrons and wanderers to the downtown location should help increase the exposure of Carpetbag.

The Black box Theatre-where the works are pieced together, bit by bit. It also serves as a place where the people of the city can express their artistic talents.

The Black Box:

The Carpetbag Theatre does have its own small venue known as the Black Box Theatre, which I mentioned earlier.  This venue, although small, does provide a place for the company to practice their works, as well as host small showings and other productions that do not require a lot of space.  Although the small size can be seen as adrawback, it in many ways enhances the performances in the theatre.  It brings the audience closer to the actors, and they become more immersed in the setting and mood of the play.  This Black Box theatre is also the perfect place for hosting the monthly Open Mic Nights where Carpetbag gives the people of the city the chance to express themselves and display their own individual artistic talents.  However, the performances of Carpetbag are not limited to the Black box, but rather it is a starting point for their works.  The use of alternative venues is quite regular with the Carpetbag Theatre; using the atrium or the gallery of the Emporium, outdoor venues at festivals, and any other place the company sees fit to perform.  For the large productions the company puts on, the use of larger venues such as the Bijou is necessary to accommodate the crowds.  These productions are often the full length works the company produces, the most recent of which was “Between a Ballad and a Blues,” a play which was written by the Carpetbag Theatre’s primary Writer-in-Residence, Linda Parris-Bailey.  All of the works performed by the Carpetbag Theatre are either written by the company or specifically for Carpetbag, which is one of the unique aspects that make Carpetbag so influential and important in the artistic community.

Carpetbag performs for an audience in the open air at the 40th Anniversary Celebration, just one of the many times the company has performed outdoors and in alternative venues.

Page Edited by:

Eddie Doss Eatherly


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