As the second oldest arts organization in Memphis and one of the oldest and most successful community theatres in the country, Theatre Memphis has offered an opportunity for people from every walk of life and degree of talent to become part of the creative process.
The idea for a Little Theatre in Memphis was born in 1920 by friends who gathered during the holiday season. The first performance was of three one-act plays on May 20, 1921.
When The Little Theatre of Memphis opened its doors to the first permanent home in 1925, the theatre was housed in a former stable. By 1929, we had moved into our second permanent home, the east wing of The Pink Palace, where we remained for 46 years. The 272-seat theatre was part of the unfinished mansion of Piggly Wiggly founder Clarence Saunders, and was built on the sloping concrete of the never-used indoor swimming pool.
Eugart Yerian, a graduate of the famed Pasadena Playhouse in California, arrived in 1932 as Theatre Director, a position he held until 1961. Sherwood Lohrey was tapped as his successor in 1962, where he remained until his retirement in 1995. We opened our current East Memphis home on the corner of Southern and Perkins Extended on May 1, 1975 and changed our charter at that time to be called Theatre Memphis. Subsequently, Michael Fortner served as Executive Director (1995 – 2000), long-time resident costume designer Andre Bruce Ward served as Interim Producer in 2000-01 and Ted Strickland served as Executive Producer (2001 – 2004). Debbie Litch was brought on as Executive Producer in June of 2004.
Our two acre campus is located in the heart of Memphis and includes not only our two state-of-the-art venues (the 411 seat, proscenium Lohrey Theatre and the 110 seat, black box Next Stage). but also the Dramatis Personae sculpture garden which includes original works created by Lawrence K. Anthony. The garden was funded by the Tennessee Arts Commission and a generous gift from The Hubert and Stella Menke Family Foundation. The sculptures were installed in September, 1979 and added to the list of Urban Art Commission attractions in February, 2009.
In 2020, a major renovation and expansion was begun and completed. Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, a grand re-opening was postponed, but in August 2021 we re-opened and celebrated the upgraded facility as well as the 100th anniversary of Theatre Memphis!
Both the Lohrey Theatre and the Next Stage Theatre are wheelchair accessible with a handicapped accessible restroom on the same level as the main lobby to both venues. The Lohrey Theatre also provides hearing assisted equipment to any who may require or request it, at no charge.
The black box Next Stage seats up to 110 and is also wheelchair accessible with state of the art equipment for sound and lighting.