Tom Parkhill, artistic director of the Tennessee Stage Company, can think of plenty of reasons to explain why the company's next big undertaking is a downtown celebration of the life and works of Tennessee Williams.
"We have been working on the idea of creating a Tennessee Williams Festival for a couple of years now," Parkhill writes in a recent e-mail. "It's actually an old idea of mine that started coming to life because I got asked about doing it by several people here in town.
"Tennessee Williams has a long history with Knoxville. His forebear, Col. Williams, was one of the founders of Knoxville along with James White. Much of his family always lived here. His father, grandparents, and several other relatives are buried in Old Grey Cemetery. The infamous but mysterious event that precipitated his sister Rose's mental breakdown happened here in Knoxville. So he is a prolific modern Southern playwright, one of the very greatest American playwrights, and the only one with specific Knoxville connections, so a Williams festival seems like it might be a fun thing to have here in Knoxville."
The Stage Company's Tennessee Williams Weekend kicks off on Friday, Nov. 11, with performances of three of Williams' one-act plays (The Lady of Larkspur Lotion, Lord Byron's Love Letter, and Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen) at Remedy Coffee Shop in the Old City. The plays start at 8 p.m.; admission is $12.
On Saturday, Nov. 12, members of the company will read Williams' classic account of sexual repression, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, at Lawson McGhee Library at 2 p.m. (Admission is free.) That's followed by the centerpiece of the weekend, an evening party at the Lunchbox in Cedar Bluff featuring a special performance of Williams' material, a silent auction, and dinner. Tickets for that are $30.
The weekend concludes with reading from Williams' non-dramatic writings, including fiction, criticism, poems, and letters. The readings take place at James White's Fort on Hill Avenue at 2 p.m. and at Old Gray Cemetery on Broadway at 4 p.m. Both events are free.
And Parkhill says that may just be the beginning.
"This Tennessee Williams Weekend is sort of a toe-in-the-water sort of thing, a teaser maybe for what we will be creating down the road and a way to introduce the idea of creating a festival to honor Tennessee Williams here in Knoxville," he says.
For more information, visit tennesseestage.com/tennessee_williams.