When you think of Nashville Metro Parks, you probably picture trees, statues, and a place to walk your dog. You might be surprised to learn that Metro Parks also champions the arts. Performing Arts Program Coordinator Mike Teaney talked with Nashville Arts for a profile on the Centennial Black Box Theater. The resulting article appears in the April print edition. Here is the full interview.

Why are the arts so vital to Metro Parks’ mission?

Of course my opinion is a little biased, but Nashville has an incredible parks department which greatly enhances the quality of life in Nashville. There are so many different activities, opportunities, and places to go all brought to you by Metro Parks. It’s an incredible return on your tax dollars! There really is something for everyone from a wide range athletic opportunities, community centers, historical places, natural wonders, and as you mention cultural arts. Providing cultural activities is mentioned specifically in the Parks’ mission statement. Balance is such an important aspect of any lifestyle and I think that is at the heart as to why it is vital to Metro Parks’ mission. You need to exercise your body, mind, and spirit. Nashville has an extremely diverse and creative culture. We here at Parks’ are happy and feel it is our duty to reflect and encourage that culture which is the heart and soul of our community.

How did the Centennial Black Box Theater come about?

Essentially we wanted to create and offer a space where smaller and more unique productions and activities could take place. The Z. Alexander Looby Theater is a more “traditional” Metro Parks theater. It seats approximately 193 people and has some of the amenities one would expect at a theater such as dressing rooms, curtains, and certain technical capabilities. We were finding that for some of the projects we were wanting to present that the Looby Theater space was too large and required many logistics to be worked through. That’s when the Centennial Black Box theater was conceived. The idea was originally Carolyn German’s, the supervisor of the Metro Parks Music and Theater Department. Quickly many of the cultural arts staff members got involved and a room at the Centennial Arts Activity Center was converted into the Centennial Black Box Theater. This space can seat 56 people and is much more accommodating to the smaller more unique projects that we were hoping to and are now currently programming.

Tell me about some of the CBB programs.

There is Free Form Friday which features artists whose projects are probably most easily described as avant- garde. There is a monthly play reading series that serves to help develop new theatrical works. A cabaret series has been introduced where the art of cabaret is on full display. We provide performing opportunities for the different performing arts classes we provide for children and young adults such as the jamBand program and the YoungPerformers Program. The Metro Parks Disabilities Program has produced a program with the Music and Theater Department called Music Through Sign which gives people with disabilities an opportunity to perform live in front of an audience. We are also working towards offering daytime rehearsal space for the theatrical community.

Are there any new programs or performances in the works?

One thing new is that our summer children’s series Tales At Twilight will be moving from Red Caboose Park to the Cumberland Park stage. This event is held on Friday evenings in July. We are always thinking of ideas for new programs and performances and that is generally the easy part. Working out the details and resource allocation can be the challenge. I would like to do more at Cumberland Park. There is a beautiful stage there and it has one of the best views of downtown Nashville as a backdrop.

What exactly is Free Form Friday?

That is a great question! The short answer is that it is anything we want it to be. The one stipulation is that it has to be something you won’t find many other places – anything goes as long as it is different. Improvised music of course lends itself very well to that theme, however we’ve had composers bring in their original works and read it off the page. I’m still trying to get a film/video presentation of interesting and perhaps bizarre shorts. There is a freshness that the event creates. You feel like you are part of something new and unique to that moment in time. Each presentation is a type of one time only event. It won’t happen that way ever again. Robert Bond stated at his Free Form Friday performance with Regi Wooten that “the feeling may be familiar” referring to the fact that it won’t happen like that again, but the feeling it creates most certainly will and what an exciting feeling that is! I’d also like to take this opportunity to mention that no man is an island.

Why should people be interested in “out of the box” and experimental work? How does such programming serve the community?

Metro Parks is here to serve the community. We try to include and serve as much of that community as we can. There is a part of our community out there that is creating and performing relevant and interesting art that is “out of the box” or experimental. We are happy to provide a platform for these creative groups. That was one of the purposes of creating the Centennial Black Box Theater. I personally also feel that it is important to encourage and promote creativity that challenges and breaks down conventional archetypes. It is on that edge where the foundation is laid for progress and forward momentum is created. There is a lot of redundancy out there and creative people know that the challenge and purpose is to create something new. These experimental and “out of the box” works are like the frontier. It is here where new ideas are explored and different approaches are taken. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but it is of extreme importance to challenge yourself and an audience to push forward and get “out of the box”.

Dig Deep Light show has provided visuals for all the Free Form Fridays so far. What makes them such an integral part of the series?

Simply put, synergy. When you have this experimental and different music going on and then you have a group of guys like the Dig Deep fellows listening and reacting to what they hear with their light show it becomes greater than the sum of it’s parts. Alone, either element is magnificent and when you put them together it’s out of this world! Their show is very much alive with the music. The series is all about a unique experience and Dig Deep Light Show helps make it just that and even more so. Also, the space and layout of the theater lends itself to work quite well with the Dig Deep set up and their light shows are beautiful in there. I am aware though that in the true spirit of Free Form Friday we may need to mix it up a little and we will.

Free Form Friday returns to the Black Box Theatre on May 16th at 8pm. This edition features Kentucky experimental art ensemble Camera Lucida and ambient/jazz/post dub-step band THE3AM. The event is free and open to the public.

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