The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Carousel Theatre is set to receive a historic replacement thanks to the generosity of supporters with a vision to enrich the arts in Knoxville.
The new theatre is made possible by a $5 million gift from Randy and Jenny Boyd, both 1979 alumni, and will be named after Jenny, who was surprised by her husband at an event to announce the new name on Monday, May 3. Boyd currently serves as president of the UT System. The UT Board of Trustees voted to officially approve the naming of the Jenny Boyd Carousel Theatre on Friday, May 7.
At the event, Jenny thanked her husband for the surprise and said that she can distinctly remember visiting the Carousel Theatre on a school trip in the 1960s to see the show Annie Get Your Gun.
“The first thing I remember was walking in and just loving the shape,” she said of the building’s theatre-in-the-round format. “I thought it was the coolest building I’d ever been in, and I wanted to be an actor just like Annie. For me to have my name on the building just means everything to me, and I can’t wait to see the looks on children’s faces when they wander through the doors for the first time once it has been remade. They can learn so much and are so impressionable, and so I’m very proud of that and will be there for opening night for sure.”
The new Jenny Boyd Carousel Theatre will provide state-of-the-art technology and infrastructure and be built in place of the existing theatre, which began its legacy during the 1950s as a temporary structure. The theatre has been used to train generations of actors, set designers, and other performing arts professionals who value its unique design.
“The department’s needs have been taken up by a number of people, including the Boyds,” said Calvin MacLean, head of the theatre department. “Jenny Boyd is familiar with the Carousel from her days as a student dancer, and she did shows with the Clarence Brown [Theatre] as well. She was really jazzed that we were thinking into the future, as is Randy, who is very forward thinking as president of the University of Tennessee System. We are profoundly grateful for their gift, which has been transformational and made the future of the building certain, and also for all of their moral support.”
MacLean went on to say that partnership between the theatre and community has always been a principal purpose of the Carousel, and the new theatre will have many uses while also maintaining its character.
“The new Carousel will keep its personality as a small, intimate space,” MacLean said.
That small space, however, has an opportunity to be packed with state-of-the-art technology. While the capital campaign for the building itself has nearly reached the $15 million needed to secure a new structure, an additional $1.5 million is sought to build out its interior and install technology.
Katherine Stepanek, a third-year master’s student in scenic design, said the much-needed upgrades will help future graduates prepare to work in a professional setting. When she designed the set for last year’s show Detroit ’67, challenges included an uneven floor, blind spots for the audience, and lighting and acoustic problems. Because the Carousel began its life as a tent and was constructed bit by bit over the years, it has numerous idiosyncrasies.
“It’s still my favorite space here, though,” Stepanek said. “I’m glad it exists, and it was the first space I designed in as a graduate student. Yes, it’s complicated to work in, but the flexibility of the theatre is amazing. During the show, audience members could literally reach out and touch the stage, that’s how immersive it is. We’re all very excited for a future where students learn in the special aspects of this space but with up-to-date construction and technology.”
That new construction and technology will be befitting of UT’s theatre programs, which enjoy top rankings. The university’s Master of Fine Arts in Acting program was ranked eighth in the United States and United Kingdom by Hollywood Reporter in 2019, marking its fourth year on the list.
For Liz Stowers, who co-chairs the Carousel Theatre Capital Campaign along with Lyle Irish (’88), one of the greatest successes of this new phase of UT theatre is the opportunity to enhance the performing arts at the university and in Knoxville. It will be done with great care for the legacy of the theatre, which has always served as an opportunity for UT and the community to come together, she said.
“When we, as a group, participated in a survey and held focus groups, community input was loud and clear that we should ‘preserve the magic of the space that has so many memories for so many through its 70-year legacy,’” Stowers said. “The architects we’ve worked with have said that they’ve never worked on a project like this with such strong emotional ties.”
Other members of the campaign committee include Jan Simek, Margie Nichols, and Christian Corts.
Gerhard Schneibel (865-974-9299; firstname.lastname@example.org)