On October 22, nearly 250 Memphis film fans got their first look at Crosstown Arts’ new 28,000-square-foot, 425-seat black box theater on the north side of Crosstown Concourse.
Director/writer Jordan Peele’s award-winning 2017 horror film, Get Out, screened in the theater in the first of four “mic check” events designed to both test the theater’s sound and lighting and to provide the public with a sneak peek inside.
The theater serves a multi-use function as a venue for Crosstown Arts’ original programming, as well as a venue for other community uses and wider Crosstown Concourse needs.
Designed by LRK, in collaboration with Theater Project Consultants, Akustiks and Spatial Affairs Bureau, under the direction of Crosstown Arts, the theater was designed to be a flexible space and an additive resource to Memphis’ creative community.
Original programming will include an ambitious schedule of musical performances by Memphis-based and touring musicians in various genres, regular screenings of independent and classic films, and performances by young participants in Crosstown Arts community theater program, which works with neighboring public school students.
“Memphis has larger-scale venues that host a roster of well-known performing arts events guaranteed to draw big crowds. At the other end of the spectrum, we have a number of beloved bars and edgy venues for music shows, which is essential for a thriving music scene. The Crosstown Arts theater will fill a gap in the middle for intimate performances in a highly designed acoustical space,” said Todd Richardson, co-leader of Crosstown Concourse and co-founder/co-director of Crosstown Arts.
A state-of-the-art Digital Cinema Package projection system, which has previously only been available in local movie theaters, has been included in the design to offer Memphis’ film community a new venue to experience international and nationally acclaimed art house films, as well as Memphis-based filmmakers who will be invited to screen their work in the new space.
“Memphis has a thriving film community, but until now, we haven’t had a dedicated ‘art house theater’ that regularly screens highly acclaimed, non-commercial films,” Richardson said.
Community uses include regular access for other Memphis-area performing arts/music/film organizations that have expressed a need in recent years for a performance space of this size and flexibility in programming. The theater will also provide an on-site, large-group assembly and meeting space for Concourse tenants such as Church Health, ALSAC/St. Jude, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and Memphis Teacher Residency program.
Crosstown High, a local public high school located inside Crosstown Concourse, will use the theater for their assemblies and performing arts productions in theater, music, and film.
With specific physical accommodations, such as a sprung wood floor stage, modular open floor and retractable seating, the performance space can transform completely from an open room with 5,000-square-feet of flat floor to proscenium, thrust, black-box, or theater-in-the-round, in a matter of hours.
“The theater has a unique flexibility that will accommodate music, film, dance, theater, private events, and more,” said Jazmin Miller, the new Theater Director. “One moment, you're surrounded by a sea of undulating sound panels, and the next, by black curtains that quiet the resonance of the space. With the push of a button and the tracking of curtains, transformation takes place, and the theatre takes on new uses and looks.”
A long-time Crosstown Arts employee, Miller previously served as the organization’s youth programming coordinator. Proudly “Memphis born and raised,” Miller graduated from Rhodes College with a liberal arts degree in theater and Spanish, attended New York Film Academy in LA for a summer, and received her MFA in theater direction at the University of Memphis.
Miller says Crosstown Arts plans to launch programming in the theater in February, but until then, she encourages the public to attend the two remaining mic check events in the new space. On Wednesday, Nov. 14, Crosstown Youth Theater — a group of students ages 10-17 from public schools across the city — performed an original play.
“It’s a show called Into the Hoods, which is an adaptation of Into the Woods. There are three parts — Boots, Little Red Riding’s Hood, and Beauty and the Beast of White Station High. They catered those stories to address issues we face in Memphis,” says Miller, who also directs the youth theater group.
On Friday, November 16 at noon, Crosstown Arts resident artist Darius Wallace will perform a one-man show called My Magical Manifesto. That performance is free and open to the public.
“He’s working on a show that’s a mix of public speaking and stand-up comedy. It should be 30- to 45- minutes during the lunch hour, so we’re hoping it will appeal to people working in the building,” Miller says. “They can come over during the lunch hour and bring their food. Food is allowed in the theater.”
The final mic check will be a holiday jazz concert organized by Strictly Jazz Entertainment, which hosts monthly Crosstown Jazz Series shows at Crosstown Arts. Tickets are $15, and a lineup and ticket sales will be announced soon.