Q&A: Tom Cervone, new executive director for the Tennessee Theatre

Starting June 1 as the executive director for the Tennessee Theatre, Tom Cervone is retiring as managing director for the Clarence Brown Theatre.

Are you feeling intimidated about the new job?

Odd that you ask that, I have my Fear No Art T-shirt on today. I'm not intimidated, but I certainly am flattered, honored, and humbled by this awesome opportunity. The venue is jaw-dropping gorgeous. And I never in my life thought I'd be an executive director—it's really pretty cool.

What's your drama background?

I started in fourth grade as an altar boy—I had a costume, learned lines, all of which were in Latin those days, knew my blocking. That whole spectacle-ritual got in my blood, and followed me through grade school, high school, and all the way to my MFA in acting from this venerable university. I was lucky, it kind of came naturally. The first time I ever auditioned I was at an all-boys private Catholic high school, and this was with the all-girls Catholic high school; a group of us thought it would be a great way to meet girls. I got cast, they said "here's the script" and it turns out I'm the lead, with all these lines to learn.

What was the show?

The Late Christopher Bean, one of those old chestnuts no one ever does now.

When were you last on stage?

When we did The Who's Tommy rock opera in '09. I played the idiosyncratic Uncle Ernie, a show-stopping role.

Will you still keep a hand in at CBT?

I got my MFA in '89 and was lucky enough to be asked to stay on, been working here ever since. So it's been 23 years and change, and I can't imagine not keeping a hand in at CBT. Both performance venues are, to me, very iconic. A lot of people really don't know we have a professional theater on campus; that it's not just college. I see a lot of potential crossover and co-producing—I dream big, I want that to happen. In the fall, we'll co-produce Sweeney Todd, starring Dale Dickey.

What was your favorite CBT production?

I hope this qualifies as an answer: all four productions that have featured my friend and fellow alum Dale Dickey. Working with the artistic director, I have brought her here all four times, and we've been pals a long time.

I hold her in great esteem; like me, she made a choice to be in this business and does whatever it takes to stay. I really appreciate her talent, and her dedication to the art—I love her to death.

Will you sneak in and play the Mighty Wurlitzer organ?

I don't have a license to drive that machine, so unless Bill Snyder is sitting next to me on that bench, no. I'd like to ride it up into the air like he does.

Will you keep Bill on for Mighty Musical Mondays/

I can't imagine it any other way. On those Mondays, there ain't a seat in the house. They line up around the block to watch the Wurlitzer come up out of the ground. It's a little bit creepy, though, kind of like The Phantom of the Opera.

Do you have any big changes planned?

I say, "If it ain't broke..." I'm not the kind of guy who's going to go in and start making wholesale changes. And the relationship with Ashley Capps and AC Entertainment is very good, and I have a real strong commitment from the board. I think they like the energy and enthusiasm I'm bringing to the table. The objective of the entire team is clearly to make sure the theater is successful—populated with butts in the seats. It is bottom-line focused, and we'll always have to be, but I'd like to go in and see what we can do to open the lobby, have the lights on and the doors open, more often—not just for concerts and theater, but for other arts and cultures. We'll just have to figure out how to do it. As for me, I'm knocked out, flat out, man, that I've been offered this opportunity.