Clarence Brown Theatre

The Clarence Brown Theatre and its place on the campus of the University of Tennessee located at 1714 Andy Holt Avenue Knoxville, TN 37916

Traditionally, a theater is a place of performance.  A habitat of duplicity where two realms collide: the real and the phantasmagorical, illusionary.  The Clarence Brown Theatre is unique in that it serves as a paradigm for the concept of theatrical duality.  It is a place of learning and of performing.  It connects the campus to the outside world, amateurs to professionals, and audience to performance.  This picture strikingly displays the dual nature of the Clarence Brown Theatre.  In front, the amphitheater represents a place of spectacle, speech, learning, and teaching.  On the right, the Andy Holt Pedestrian Walkway represents the people of the city walking day to day.

A Ghost Light on the stage works as a safety precaution and nod to theatrical tradition

Set design by Christopher Pickart

The outside view of the Clarence Brown Theatre

The back of the Clarence Brown Theatre as seen from the parking lot on Andy Holt

Like an uncut diamond, the Clarence Brown does not appear impressive on the outside, but inside a spectacular beauty emerges.  The stage is completely constructed from start to finish within the walls of the theatre.  The ghost light shines on the stage as a safety feature  and as a tribute to theatrical tradition.

An old-fashioned spiral staircase reaches more than one hundred steps into the hidden rafters above the stage

Behind the stage is an old-fashioned spiral staircase ascending startlingly high overhead to the ceiling of the building.  Along the flight of steps periodically appear rafters where the rigging and lighting is upheld.

The view from half-way up the staircase. The ground is slightly obscured by all the rigging spanning the area above the stage

Atop the stairwell, barely able to observe the floor, it is impossible not to feel a certain degree of wonder.  All of the rigging is clearly visible, showing yet another dichotomy of theatre; science and performance.  The engineering feat required to construct such a working theatre is extremely impressive.  The pieces of the stage upheld by the rigging weigh thousands of pounds and yet each piece can be moved by a single man in a matter of seconds.  A complex series of ropes and counterweights makes this possible.  It is not surprising that Clarence Brown himself graduated from the University of Tennessee with a double major in electrical and mechanical engineering.  Only later in life did he become fascinated with the theatrical arts and eventually have a theatre built carrying his namesake.

The lobby acts as a kind of social interface in which the campus is connected to the theatre and therefore the rest of knoxville

The lobby of the Clarence Brown Theatre is yet another important aspect of the performance venue.  It offers a unique social interface between the campus and the theatre.  The theatre successfully merges engineering and performance, academics and professionalism, even a college campus and a professional theatre.

A picture showing some of the great men in the University of Tennessee’s history. Clarence Brown is the third man from the left.

In a way the lobby presents a museum of the greatly historical past of the theatre.  Along the walls next to the entrance to the stage are memorabilia of Clarence’s life as well as the life of the University and the city of Knoxville.  One striking picture is of Clarence Brown standing and chatting with Andy Holt and Ted Boling. The picture bespeaks of the great things that these men achieved for the city of Knoxville.  Celebrating its forty year anniversary this fall, the Clarence Brown Theatre is an indispensible aspect of the idea that Knoxville is a performance city.

A view of the Clarence Brown Theatre rarely seen as a result of its proximity to the parking lot and street

Reexamining the exterior of the Clarence Brown Theatre reveals a more impressive view.  This view of the theatre is rare because it is hidden from the road and obscured by a hill.  Yet, in a way, the rarity of this view perfectly aligns with the perception of the theatre.  Many view it as simply a school theatre without realizing that it is the only professional theatre in Knoxville.  The plays performed within its walls are truly impressive, while the theatre itself is barely accessible for lack of nearby parking and visibility.  The Clarence Brown Theatre is truly a hidden treasure in Knoxville.

-Article written by Brett Lewis


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