When Martha Rivers Ingram was appointed to the advisory board of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., she got the idea to propose a similar large-scale arts facility in Nashville. Her proposal involved a public-private partnership, and while initially met with resistance, after eight years of perseverance, the Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) opened as the state’s premier theater venue.
Located in downtown Nashville, in the James K. Polk Cultural Center, TPAC occupies the entire city block between 5th and 6th Avenues North and Deaderick and Union Streets. The cultural center also houses the Tennessee State Museum and adjoins the 18-story James K. Polk Office Building.
TPAC is home to three different performing arts organizations: Nashville Ballet, Nashville Opera, and Nashville Repertory Theatre. While these organizations present their work on the stages of TPAC, they are all independent of the center. Every year, more than 100,000 elementary, middle, and high school students visit Nashville for performances by these three resident organizations. Other companies also use the facility to put on plays, share dance performances, provide concerts, and host other cultural programs.
Within TPAC, there are three venues, all of which are named after U.S. presidents. The largest theater is Andrew Jackson Hall, which has a seating capacity of 2,472 seats. Up to 112 performers can be accommodated in the 14 dressing rooms, which include a star suite and two onstage quick change rooms. There are expansive wings, rigging, catwalks, and fly space to provide for various types of productions.
The James K. Polk Theater can accommodate up to 86 performers with its 10 dressing rooms. The seating capacity is 1,075 seats, which includes 44 pit seats. This venue also has spacious wings and expansive fly space, as well as two high-capacity choral spaces.
The Andrew Johnson Theater is the smallest theater, offering up to 256 configurable seats. The theater – designed for live theater and intimate performances – features a 22-foot catwalk. There are two dressing rooms that can accommodate up to 24 performers, and banks of theater seating surround the open floor performing space. A variety of acoustic concerts, lectures, and video shoots have taken place at Andrew Johnson Theater.
Full of songs, poems, and music, TPAC teaching artists have recorded an interactive CD for preschoolers, titled Give Yourself a High Five. Local artists like Rachel Sumner, Ginger Sands, and Dann Sherrill have all lent their talents to this CD. With story songs, dance songs, and participation songs, this disc is the winner of a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. It is also available through iTunes and CD Baby.
Through Wolf Trap Early Learning Through the Arts, teachers gain professional development that assists in their partnerships with budding artists. Nashville Wolf Trap provides seven-week programs where teachers have a planning session, 12 classroom sessions, and a mini-workshop. Teachers in this program must commit to active participation and observation during the sessions, as well as the implementation of new techniques in their classrooms. The teachers who participate are professional dancers, musicians, storytellers, and theater artists.
Located across from the 6th Avenue entrance to TPAC is the War Memorial Auditorium. Built in 1925, the historic building has a crescent-shaped stage where artists have recorded live albums. The facility serves as a multi-purpose space and has a maximum seating capacity of 1,661. There is no fly space, and the venue cannot support overhead onstage rigging. However, the facility has been used as a concert hall, graduation commencement venue, and film location.
With its outdoor marble plaza and column-enclosed courtyard, the War Memorial Auditorium is a great place to get married. The staff at the venue will assist engaged couples with logistics and creative concepts as they plan their big day. The building features elevated ceilings, intricate gilded borders, hardwood floors, and has a classic architectural design. The venue can provide space for live entertainment or a dance floor and offers an open floor configuration that can accommodate different seating options.
As part of the facility’s education programs, TPAC offers professional development courses every July and November. These courses allow classroom teachers, arts specialists, and teaching artists to prepare students for a field trip to TPAC, addressing ways to encourage student engagement with performances. Activities focus on action-oriented ways to handle multiple learning styles, and local educators can request classroom visits from teaching artists to complement their own curriculum.
Since 2011, TPAC Education has worked with the Disney Musicals in Schools program. Disney Theatrical Group selected TPAC Education and Metro Nashville Public Schools for the first pilot of the program outside of New York City. The program allows elementary and middle schools to receive a performance license for the Disney KIDS or Disney Jr. musical of their choice, at no cost to them. It also offers a comprehensive show kit and in-school support from TPAC Education staff. After two successful years in Nashville, the Disney Musicals program is now offered nationwide.