The seeds for the beginning of the Tullahoma Community Playhouse, Inc. were planted in 1954.  The group originally organized at the Arnold Engineering Development Center and after requests by several interested people there, the group moved its headquarters to Tullahoma.  Lt. Allen B. Weisse was the acting chairman in April and in October he was followed by Jack Hickey as president, Tom Clough, technical director, Mary Glaus, secretary, Della Sneed, treasurer and Gordon Randall as librarian.  They met in the old city hall concrete building at the corner of Atlantic and Lincoln Streets (Veranda House is currently in that location.)
A night of one act plays was the first production presented: “The Strangest Feeling”, directed by Mrs. Felix Motlow, “Hello Out There”, directed by Mrs. Joel Ferrell Jr., and “The Fumed Oak”, directed by Glenn Hanson.  These were
performed at Bel-Aire School.  Ticket price was 85 cents.

In 1955, the late Mr. John Harton offered (at a cost of $1 per year) the use of a building located on William Northern Field Road for use by the Community Playhouse. (A framed $10 bill is being presented at this time, with heartfelt thanks, to the John Harton family for the 10 years use of the Northern Field Theater.  The building was one which was used for USO shows for WW II soldiers.  Northern Field was used then for B-25 aircraft for touch and go operations out of  Smyrna.  During that time period there were 100,000 soldiers in the area. 

According to Bud Austin, wooden benches were used for seating.  There were no lights, no ceiling, no heat, no sound, and the toilet “hammered” when flushed.  Tin cans were rigged by Pat Clements to house outdoor spotlights; gels were formed around wire coat hangers.  To heat the building for performances, blower heaters were used.  They were so noisy that the heat was turned on early to warm the building but turned off during the performance. Speakers were placed in vents.  The bathrooms were located in the front lobby of the building.  If the actors had to “use the facility”, they had to exit at the rear of the building and run around to the front. 

Lt. Allen Weiss knew someone who had connections with the National Broadcasting Company in New York City.  When the television show, “Howdy Doody” went off the air, drapery material was donated for use.  An Air Force 6X truck made the trip to pick up the fabric; there was enough to supply the main, sides and flys for the theater.  According to the late Mr. Sam Goldberg, the color was “shitay brown”.  Television shows were in black and white then so the color didn’t have to be pretty.

Flats were constructed behind the hardware store on Atlantic Street near the old post office. Sand bags were used to weight down the flats.  For the show “Gypsy”, a trailer was parked behind the building to be used to house the cast and a lamb that was used in the production.

The first production at the Northern Field Theater was “Petticoat Fever”, directed by Jim Mackay.  The seventieth and final play held in the Northern Field Theater in June of 1978, was “The Princess and the Pea”, directed by fifteen year old Annie Boss.

Bill Boss was concerned about safety issues of the Northern Field Theater which he brought to the attention of the playhouse membership.  Bill contacted Mrs. Alice Harton Ratcliffe to ask if the Northern Field Theater building could be donated to the Community Playhouse so that work could be done to bring it up to acceptable safety standards.  As a result, Alice’s husband Robert suggested as a possibility, to acquire the auditorium building at the old Jackson Street School which was being considered for demolition.  Because of the building’s historical significance, sentimental value and excellent location, Alice took the project on herself and worked with others to plan for a civic center for Tullahoma which would serve as a home for the Community Playhouse.

The Tullahoma School Board had planned to raze the 85 year old former South Jackson Elementary School building as it was deemed unsalvageable. Mrs. Ratcliffe successfully persuaded the school board to donate the building to a newly formed South Jackson Civic Association.  The city had previously allocated money for demolition and instead, the $8500 was used for a new roof.

The South Jackson Civic Center Association raised $40,000 and took over the renovation project in May of 1978.  In one year’s time, work was done to make a lobby, ticket office, work room, two large dressing rooms, two restrooms and to restore the auditorium.  Ceilings, were crumbling, wall plaster falling, 1000 individual windows were replaced, wiring replaced, ceilings lowered, lighting installed, brick walls exposed, as well as the installation of seats and a new gas heating system.   In the auditorium, the stage was extended forward, backward, and to the sides.  The gymnasium floor was removed to restore the original sloped floor.

Hundreds of volunteers, along with carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc. worked every day and long into the night.  Honored volunteers were Robert and Sally Rhodes, Robin Moore, Jack DeWitt and Alice Ratcliffe, the first president of the South Jackson Civic Center Association. They and others put in a lot of hard labor.

 In January 1979, the South Jackson Civic Center became the new home for the Community Playhouse, Inc. as the center’s resident theater company.  “A Gala Review” was the first show held there.  It was directed by Eleanor Dicks and Beverly Long, with Peggy Burton as vocal director and as orchestra leader.   One hundred twenty plays have been presented on the South Jackson Civic Center stage since then.  (Exceptions:  “Deadwood Dick” and “A My Name is Alice” were held at Motlow State Community College, due to the unavailability of the civic center facility)

The most recent show, the 190th production, of the Tullahoma Community Playhouse, Inc. was “Hello Dolly”.  It was directed by Rosie Graham and Suzanne M. Oliver in May of 2005.   John Jones is the current president of the Community Playhouse, Inc.

Thanks to all the laborers, light and sound technicians, artists. stage crews, set designers and builders, writers, directors, producers, choreographers,  vocalists, musicians, actors, photographers, artists, house managers, costumers, make-up artists, publicists, box office and ticket personnel, reception workers, programs and poster designers, assistants, fund raisers, advisors, sponsors, advertisers, parents, spouses, children, and audiences who all are the ‘life blood’ of the Community Playhouse.   We look forward to providing quality entertainment in the years to come.  The show must go on!

(June 2005)  Lucy Boss



Family Memberships for $15 per year.  Single Membership for $8.  Membership meetings at 6:30 PM on the fourth Tuesday of each month at the First Christian Church annex.  No meeting in December and annual pot luck and officer election in June.