Category Archives: KPAX

#Changemakers: Jill Bergeron & Free Spirit Theatre

Jill Stapleton Bergeron is no stranger to the theatre scene, and boasts over three decades of experience as an actor, director, playwright, and college instructor. Most recently she founded Free Spirit Theatre, a new company whose first production is fast approaching. A few weeks ago we sat down with Jill and the actors preparing for The Lesson to learn more about their upcoming show, and what makes them unique for Knoxville.

Why this play, now?
Well, my original play was Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang, whom I love, but it requires five actors. I didn’t have that many audition. I had three people who were interested and committed, so I went in search of a play to fit them. I looked at plays that I like, and I’ve always loved Eugene Ionesco and The Lesson. Ionesco is not only recognized all over the world of theatre as a master of the absurdist movement, he was also very anti-Nazi because of his experiences during the war. His ability to combine humor with tragedy and a marvelous fascination with language amazes me.

That’s sort of an atypical approach, right? Usually it starts with the play, and then you hold auditions, and you fill those roles.
Most theatre companies have an idea who is available and interested in their mission, so it is always a consideration in play choice. Unless you can pay people, you can’t pick a play without considering if you’ll have the cast. That was the position I was in since this is our first show. When I was the Director of Theatre at Maryville College, I knew which actors would be available, so I selected the plays with that in mind. Hopefully as we grow, and people get to know us, I’ll have a more dependable idea of who’s interested. Also, I underestimated how much goes on in October. Everybody’s doing a show right now. Tiger Lily just finished Fat Pig, Theatre Knoxville is doing Mousetrap, and Tennessee Stage is doing Philadelphia Story — there’s just so much going on. In the end, I have to say that I’m very happy with what I’ve got.

As an actress, having something picked that suited you guys, how did that compare with what you’re used to with the normal audition process?
Freddie Birdwell: Well it was a lot easier.
Emma Wright: I think it’s very interesting exploring the script as a group, because we didn’t get the script before the first rehearsal. We showed up and then found out what play we were doing. So that was a really different process.

What made you start Free Spirit Theatre?
I’ve been a director for a long time, but when I left Maryville I didn’t direct or do much theatre for a while. My kids were in middle and then high school, and my focus was mainly on them. I was the Artistic Director for The Trail of the Lonesome Pine Outdoor Drama up in Virginia for four years during the summer and my whole family was involved in that. When my son and daughter were in college and wanted to go to their first general audition in Atlanta, I went with them and got a job. I was shocked! I did about 10 years of shows during the summer when I wasn’t teaching, all across the eastern part of the country. I got to perform in professional theatres in Florida, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Michigan, and Missouri. I really enjoyed that, but I don’t really enjoy acting that much. It can be fun, but I’m always thinking how I would do it differently. There wasn’t a lot of directing opportunities here in Knoxville, and it was kind of driving me crazy because that’s what I really, really love to do, so I just said, “I’m going to start a theatre and see what happens!”

This is your first production. Can you tell me a little about what you hope will be the result of this first performance?
Well, first of all, I hope it introduces us to the Knoxville theatre community and theatre lovers. When I had auditions, very few people even knew who I was, so I think once they get to know us, we’ll be a much more integral part of the theatre scene.

Do you have any trepidation about competing, because there are so many, in starting a new one, do you ever worry about the fact that there are so many companies? Or do you say, let’s go forward and give it a shot?
At first, I was a little worried about getting a cast, because there’s so much going on. Not so much competing like I win, you lose, or anything like that, but just having enough resources. That’s why Modern Studio is such a blessing to those of us who want to do theatre. I’ve lived in this area for 25 years, and this is the first shared performance space that is reasonably priced and accessible. Actually, I think that because there’s so much more theatre than there was before, even five years ago, in Knoxville, is inspiring more theatre. I think all of us are developing an audience here in Knoxville that we didn’t have ten years ago. Tom Parkhill has done amazing things with Tennessee Stage and developed it into a natural part of summer in Knoxville. Theatre Knoxville Downtown, Carpetbag, and the Word Players are also well-established along with a few others. It’s gratifying these days to go see a play with a full house. That says something about theatre in Knoxville that we couldn’t say ten years ago, so I think it’s an opportunity rather than a downside. I look forward to maybe even collaborating with other groups.

You mentioned that you’re a writer as well. Playwright or novels?
I write everything pretty much. I have a novel that’s coming out in November (called Truth or Dare using my nom de plume, Anne Denmark), and I’m just now finishing up the proofing for that. I’ve written a lot of plays, some of them have been picked up by theaters, some haven’t.

Will you be producing any of your own work?
Probably not.

Why not?
Well, I want to stay with really good, tested literature. A lot of companies here use original scripts, which is wonderful because new playwrights need to get their work out there. But I think it’s best not to direct my own plays. A different director can show me where the holes are, and I would love to work in development with someone. One thing about theatre is that it’s the most collaborative art. Playwrights need directors and actors and vice versa. But my favorite thing is working on a really, really good play that I can sink my teeth into with a group of actors. We did script work for two weeks before we got on our feet with this one.

What do you do during that process? Walk me through what you guys did.
We did read-throughs first, just to get familiar with the script. We talked about the characters, there are a lot of terms in this play that I had to research to find out what they meant so we talked about that. We talked about Ionesco and the kind of writing he does, and what motivated him to write. He’s a French playwright from the Absurdist movement in the 1950s and early 60s. He endured WWII in Romania and he was very anti-Nazi, anti-Fascism, anti-indoctrination, which I think fits in with our current American situation just fine right now. The play was written in 1950, but it’s just a timely as if he wrote it yesterday.

You mentioned that you like doing plays that are “well tested” — from a directing and acting standpoint, what does it mean for a play to be “well tested” in your opinion?
A play that survives its own period for one thing. You know, there are thousands of plays from any period in history. Time passage is kind of sieve that keeps moving. A few works will fall through and last, and the rest will get tossed out because they weren’t that great or they were too topical, too dated. There were a lot of people writing plays during Shakespeare’s time, but how many can you name?

This particular play is about a professor and student — give me the premise of the play.
This student has come for private lessons with this professor, who has a big reputation in town because he used to teach at the university. She comes because in two weeks she wants to take her doctor’s orals, and all she has is a high school diploma. And of course, the absurdity part is that she’s here to prepare for her “super total doctorate” and they’re doing math that is 1 + 1 is 2. But she can’t do subtraction, which upsets him quite a bit. So they move on to comparative linguistics where he kind of loses himself and which she can’t do either. I won’t reveal the ending, but it’s very surprising. I love this play!

Are you already thinking about your next production, or are you waiting to get through this one first?
Yeah, I’m already starting to think about other plays. I really like Strindberg’s Miss Julie; I’m looking at a couple of other plays, one called Love, Loss, and What I Wore, it’s funny but poignant. I’m really drawn to Sara Ruhl’s plays. There are so many I want to do!

So you taught at Maryville College?
I was the Director of Theatre at Maryville College. We did one main stage show each semester. I was one of the founding members of the now extinct Knoxville Area Theatre Coalition. I loved getting to know other theatre artists in town—maybe we should revive it!

Comparing this to your time at Maryville College, in what ways have you had to be resourceful?
Finding rehearsal space is a big deal. Right now I’m footing the bill for everything, because it’s my dream so I need to pay for it. I’m hoping we at least make enough money to pay me back and get ready for the next one, that’s all I care about. If we get 100 people, we could cover the costs and have enough to rent the space again for January. It’s really just the financial stuff. I enjoy doing the program, set & costume design along with directing, but it would be nice to have more help.

So how else can people help you?
Right now, donations would be amazing! But just supporting us and coming to see what we do is great. I hope we can get more people involved on and off stage. This production is a long one-act, about an hour and a half. After Thursday’s performance, we’ll have a talk-back so the audience can ask questions, because it’s a play that you’re not going to see very often in this area. On Friday and Saturday evenings we will have an open coffeehouse with a dance floor for people to hang out after the show—drink coffee and eat desserts.

Why wouldn’t it be seen in Knoxville? Is it too topical, or not the personality of the local audience?
I think a lot of people just don’t know who Ionesco is, I mean, I know who he is because I had to read a lot of play in grad school. But a lot of people aren’t exposed to that, and if you don’t know it, how can you do it? That’s one of my goals—to introduce our community to a wide variety of good theatre without worrying about being overly commercial. Contemporary material is a little easier in terms of design, but I love good plays regardless of when they were written. I really liked what Amy Hubbard did with Actors Co-Op; she took a lot of risks with play choices and enjoyed success. I hope we can do something similar.

I like that the name of your company, indicates more of a free spirit obviously, but you’re more of a purist, which I like.
Yeah, I guess I’m a theatre purist, you could say that. But, although I am sort of a theatre purist I do not consider myself a traditionalist. I examine a script in depth and look for new and creative ways to present the material without regard to how it’s been done before.

Did you mean for there to be a dissonance between the company name and your style?
Actually, I thought of free spirit as not being bound by having to make a lot of money or cater to popular trends. I just don’t want to do anything predictable. If we do an old standard, it will have a spin on it. I want to do Pinter, Hellman, Moliere. . .

How would you like to see the theatre scene in Knoxville grow in the next five years?
I’d like to see more places like Modern Studio, where we can have a place to do what we want to do. I would just like to see this growth continue, and thrive, and audiences learn to expect good theatre here with a lot of variety. The theatre community here is alive and has a lot to offer.
What have each of you enjoyed most about the production?
Sam Waycaster: For me, the most enjoyable thing, is working with Jill again. When we worked together last, we said it wouldn’t be the last time. I’m very glad that she contacted me and asked if I’d come along for the ride.
Emma Wright: I think the best part is learning how to do absurdist theatre. I graduated from UT two years ago, and I’ve taken classes in New York and London about it, but this is my first time working on it. Most of my experience has been with Shakespeare, or modern classic plays. Earlier this year I did Grease, but this is my first time doing something like this which has been really fun.
Freddie Birdwell: I’ve never done absurdist theatre either, and it’s exciting to me to be doing something that is really making a statement about our social and civic life, and the same statement from 1950 can still be made today. That, and I haven’t known these two as long as Sam has, but we worked together a few years ago and it was fun. Jill said, “Do you want to?” And I said, “Okay!” We were at Modern Studio, and we didn’t know what we were doing yet, but we said okay.
Was it at Moving Theatre or Cindy & Ella?
It was at Cindy & Ella.
Which was not that long ago! Wow.
Yeah! (Laughter.)

The Lesson runs Thursday, November 9 through Saturday, November 11 at 7:30 pm at Modern Studio. Tickets can be purchased here.

Third Thursday Theatre #8: Witness our transformation!

The stage is almost set for Knoxville Theatre Club’s regional premiere of Cindy & Ella, opening TOMORROW NIGHT at Modern Studio! KTC has transformed our stage at Modern Studio into a Dust Bowl-era “broken home.” Madness & Magic! Courage & Darkness! Humor & Sacrifice! Don’t miss this original re-imagining of the classic fairytale!

SEPT 22-23 & 29-30 // ADMISSION: $25, $15, $10, or $5
Learn More and Reserve Tickets at

Stranded in the lifeless heart of Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma, and reeling from the traumatic death of her mother, young Cindy Wicket teeters on the brink of madness. When her scheming Aunt Eudora arrives claiming ownership of the home and authority over Cindy, a turbulent battle of wits and wills ensues. Meanwhile, Eudora’s daughter Ella must wrestle with her own mounting desperation as she watches her hopes for the future vanish beneath dust, dead crops, and her mother’s all-consuming greed. With the arrival of a handsome young man from Chicago offering to buy the land, the stage is set for a final conflict over control of the homestead and the destinies of all who live there.


Bonny Pendleton
as Momma Gourd
Raine Palmer
as Ella Gourd
Maria Kauffman
as Cindy Wicket
Chad Wood
as Mr. Price

Written and Directed by
Sara Gaddis &
JP Schuffman

Come say HI during Modern Studio’s OPEN HOUSE during Happy Hollerpalooza, THIS SATURDAY, 9/23 from 12n–5pm.

Next up:

September 24, 2 PM: Full Disclosure Long-Form Improv Workshop

September 24, 7 PM: BlueJazz featuring Katy Free, Wendel Werner & WestWend

September 25, 6-9 PM: Sewing 102 w/Modern Seamstress – Moving Past the Basics

September 26, 7 PM: “Purple Ego,” Latin art & music by the Domino Ensemble

September 27, 8 PM: Full Disclosure Comedy Long-Form Improv Comedy Show

October 1, 3-6 PM: The Trans Empowerment Project of Knoxville presents Trans 101: Standards of Care

Coming soon…

Tiger Lily Theatre presents Fat Big by Neil Labute.
Oct 13–14, 19–21 at 8pm
ct 15 & 22 at 2pm


Third Thursday Theatre #7: Prepare Thyself for a Sizzlin’ September 🌶🌶🌶

This Sunday is your last chance to catch Lovers & Madmen’s incredible production of Julius Caesar at Modern Studio.

Full Disclosure returns with their long-form improv comedy show on Wednesday, August 23rd at 8 PM, and Knoxville Theatre Club presents an incredible opportunity for Ageless Glory with their first Theatre SLAM! on Friday, August 25 at 8 PM. Full Disclosure returns that Sunday, August 28 to nurture new improv-ers with a long-form improv workshop from 7-9 PM. Watch their event page here!

All of which is in preparation for a fantastic lineup of shows and acts in September. We kick off on First Friday, September 1 with Moving Theatre’s The Office. This gallery exhibition runs from 6-10 PM and includes three performances of the titular (hee hee) short play at 6:30, 7:30 and 9 PM. Then, stick around for the Ooh Ooh Revue’s Desire at 10 PM! Attendees of The Office get 20% off this sexy, sizzlin’ show!

Then, beginning September 15, KPAX is proud to host the Women in Black as they present WALLS: A Play for Palestine.

And that’s just the first half of September! Stay tuned for even MOAR…


Third Thursday Theatre #6: Awesome August!

We’re still celebrating the success of Knoxtravaganza 2.0, our second quarterly talent showcase of Knoxville’s finest performing artists! Mark your calendars for the next one on November 18!

Believe it or not, there’s even MORE to get excited about heading into the dog days of summer!

First, this coming Saturday we host Mr. Kevin McDonald (yes, THAT Kevin McDonald) for a night of hybrid comedy and styles with some Knoxville comedy artists of various flavors plus comedic storytelling, a “live interview” segment, sketch comedy and wild improv with a few local improv talents. SURE to be a night to remember with LOTS of LAUGHS! Tickets and more info here!

Full disclosure: sometimes it gets a little weird…

Thennn, Full Disclosure Comedy returns on Sunday, July 23 at 6:30pm with the first in a series of long-form improv workshops, followed by performances on alternating Wednesdays in August. Watch their event page here!

As the temperatures climb into the 90s, Retro Rewind back to the 80s with Ooh Ooh Revue’s First Friday show on August 4th!

Finally, Security gives way to Conspiracy as Lovers & Madmen present their intensely intimate Julius Caesar, Sunday evenings from August 6-20. Purchase advance tickets here!

Coming in September…

Moving Theatre presents The Office
Women in Black presents WALLS: A Play for Palestine
Knoxville Theatre Club presents Cindy & Ella

Fourth Friday Theatre: Take two! 🎬🎬

This July, we’re all about second chances for our audiences to enjoy returning performers!

Full Disclosure Comedy returns Sunday, July 9 at 7pm for another long-form improv workshop, AND their crowd-pleasin’ comedy improv show on Wednesday, July 12 at 8pm.


Then, did you miss Waiting for Godot? Fear not! All Campus Theatre presents TWO encore performances:
Saturday, July 8 at 7:30pm
Sunday, July 9 at 2:00pm


And thennn… 🎉🎉🎉 announcing our second quarterly–

KPAX Variety Show!

Whoop!! On Saturday, July 15 at 7pm, come enjoy complimentary refreshments and check out performances by O.G. KPAX-ers and some new friends! The lineup includes… 🥁🥁🥁

Brandon Gibson

The 5th Woman

Full Disclosure Comedy

Katharine Slowburn

Knoxville Theatre Club

Ooh Ooh Revue

SomeAntics Comedy

Theatre Obsolete

Tiger Lily Theatre


Coming in August…

Lovers & Madmen presents Julius Caesar
Knoxville Theatre Club: Theatre Slam!

T3 #5: Jumping into June 🐸🎭🌼

We’ve had a marvelous May hosting Yellow Rose Productions, Circle Modern Dance and Tiger Lily Theatre performances at Modern Studio. There’s much more performing arts goodness to come…

Theatre Magic!

First up, we have 70/30 Creative’s take on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, edited to run approximately 75 minutes, at 8:00 PM on Saturday May 27th. FREE ADMISSION ($15 suggested donation) – they’ll make it worth your while, so what’s it worth to you?

BYOB, rated “PG-13” (parental discretion advised – the littles can catch a family-friendly version on Sunday at Ijams at 2pm)

On a Midsummer’s night, four young lovers find themselves tangled about an enchanted forest where sprites lurk and fairies rule. A feuding Fairy King and Queen cross paths with Bottom (Billy Kyle Roach), Quince (Caleb Burnham), and their gang of “rude mechanicals” presenting a play within the play. Chief mischief-maker Robin Goodfellow aka Puck (Raine Palmer) is on-hand to make sure the course of true love is anything but smooth. Games of mayhem, love and fantasy ensue in Shakespeare’s most magical comedy.

Yes, and…

Can’t get enough of Billy Kyle? Coming up in June, we’re very excited to announce that Full Disclosure Comedy is coming to Modern Studio, with their unique brand of intelligent, long-form improv comedy. The improv shows are still free and BYOB. Also, we will have food trucks on hand to make for a delicious dinner show.

Also, also? Their teaching workshops! The workshops are $15 per student, or $20 if you bring a friend to embarrass. More info coming soon!

June 4, @7pm: Long-form Improv Workshop
June 6, @8pm Full Disclosure Comedy Improv
June 18, @7pm: Long-form Improv Workshop
June 20, @8pm: Full Disclosure Comedy Improv

“The essential doesn’t change…”

Also, in June, we welcome director and UT student, Holly Montgomery, and All Campus Theatre as they present Beckett’s absurdly existential and/or existentially absurd Waiting for Godot. Performances are $15 general admission, $10 for students with ID.

Waiting for Godot tells the story of two men, Estragon and Vladimir, as they wait by a barren tree for the arrival of someone named Godot. While waiting, they quarrel, dance, contemplate suicide, eat, sleep, and discuss philosophy, religion, life, and death. As night draws near, they meet a Master and his Slave, and a young Boy claiming that he has been sent by Mr. Godot. When the same events take place the next day, the two men begin to question their existence and the inevitable futility of their wait for Godot, in what The NY World Telegram describes as “a portrait of the dogged resilience of a man’s spirit in the face of little hope.”

June 15, 16, & 17 @7:30pm
June 18 @2:00pm
Special encore performances: July 8 @7:30pm and July 9 @2:00pm


T3 #4: 🌷Spring~ing🌸 into Action!

Following up on our massively successful Grand Opening, we’re excited to announce this latest lovely lineup of performing arts shows this spring:

April 24 & May 1: Yellow Rose Productions Presents Second Annual Staged Reading Series for the Henley Rose Playwright Competition for Women

Yellow Rose Productions, a Knoxville-based theatre company, is hosting the second annual Staged Reading Series for the Henley Rose Playwright Competition for Women. Yellow Rose Productions teams up with various theatre artists from around Knoxville to perform these readings. The second and third place winners of this competition will be performed April 24th and May 1st at 7:30pm.

The Henley Rose Playwright Competition for Women began in early 2015 with endorsement from Pulitzer-prize winning playwright, Beth Henley. The competition offers women playwrights around the world an opportunity to be recognized for their work.

For more information, visit:


April 27-29: Circle Modern Dance presents Layer by Layer

An evening of exploration and commentary through movement, Layer by Layer performs Thursday, April 27th at 7pm, Friday, April 28th at 7pm, and Saturday, April 29th at 3pm and 7pm.

Made possible by a grant from the East Tennessee Foundation, Layer by Layer honors Circle Modern Dance’s past 26 years while looking forward to many more years of dancing. Throughout the evening, CMD core dancers and guest performers will explore vulnerability, love, and loss.

Tickets are $10 in advance for students/senior/military, and $13 general admission ( Tickets at the door are $13 for students/senior/military, and $15 general admission.

For more information on the event, please visit, or email

May 11-14: Tiger Lily Theatre presents 5th Annual Night of Shorts

Tiger Lily Theatre presents their 5th annual Night of Shorts, May 11-13 at 8pm, and a special Mother’s Day Matinee, May 14 at 2pm. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, available at the door.

 The show consists of original scenes, monologues, and even original music. Many contributors are from Knoxville, and all performers are local. This year’s selections range from a comical look at the Summer of 1605, a Grecian twist on Gilmore Girls, a new take on Rocky Top, and more.

Next up…

May 27: 70/30 CreativesA Midsummer Night’s Dream

T3 #3: Time to Show & Go!

We’re gearing up for our Grand Opening this Saturday! The doors open at 5:30 PM, and we’ve got a fantastic lineup of local acts offering a little something for everyone. Check it out:

7:00-7:20 Circle Modern Dance

9:55-10:05 The Moving Theatre

Plus, Farm-to-Griddle Crepes will be serving street-side supper and Single Barrel Events will be behind the bar making delicious drinks, including beer from Fanatic Brewing Company and Mill Creek Brewing Co.

We can’t wait for you to join us! In the meantime, please enjoy this article in the latest Knoxville Mercury about our fantastic local theatre community. You may see a few familiar faces and hopefully meet a few you never knew of before!

Third Thursday Theatre #2: Our Artistic Vision

We raised more than a few eyebrows when we said Modern Studio would include a theatre for the performing arts. “How exactly is that going to work?” many asked. While we faced some Doubting Thomas’s and Debbie Downer’s, for the most part folks were genuinely excited and curious to see this all come together. We didn’t exactly have a concrete plan from the get-go, but we knew we had a great idea. A “build it and they will come” kind of impetus. And whaddya know – it worked!

We’ve already put on a kickoff party for Tennessee Stage Co.’s New Play Festival, and this week we’re hosting Marble City Opera’s Chocolate & Wine benefit. So far this spring we have two theatrical productions and a dance show on the books.

We’re continuing to enhance the theatre space with modular partitions, platforms and curtains, and recently spec’d out some killer theatrical lighting instruments. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to learn how you can support this build-out effort!

We at Modern Studio believe in the artistic impact of the performing arts and how well the arts benefit our community. So we’re committed to making our space available to these groups and individuals at an affordable rate. Meanwhile, KPAX offers logistical, technical and promotional support so these artists can focus more of their resources, effort and attention on doing what they do best.

Our Grand Opening is Saturday, March 18, and will feature theatrical and dance performances alongside music acts throughout the evening. If you’re interested in participating in the Grand Opening, or renting the space for your own production, please hit up