Irreverent Entertainment at The Flying Anvil Theatre
“We want to entertain you, but we really want to amaze you.”
This is the guiding motivation for Jayne Morgan, founder and Artistic Director of The Flying Anvil Theatre on Rocky Hill Road. The nonprofit professional theatre features off-Broadway productions designed to challenge and inspire audiences, and sometimes they want to push your buttons.
“We do shows that other theatres won’t do because they’re too controversial,” Jayne says, but not simply for the sake of controversy. The Flying Anvil seeks to engage adult audiences in larger conversations about issues that East Tennesseeans face. Gender, spirituality, and science are just a few of the topics they have explored onstage as Jayne seeks out shows that challenge both the audience and the performers and really make them think.
The theatre also features a unique wing known as The Hammer Ensemble specifically to wrestle with ethics and morality. Named for a quote from Berthold Brecht, the Hammer seeks to be “not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” As both a professional group and a training program for young actors, The Hammer Ensemble focuses on questions of equality, social justice, and health to produce original content relevant to the community. Past performances have dealt with human trafficking, gun violence, and Alzheimer’s disease, with more projects forthcoming.
Of course, not every show is profane or difficult. Sometimes they just want to make you laugh with, as Jayne says, “big, dumb fun.” Often irreverent, sometimes off-color, and occasionally ridiculous comedy makes its way into many of the shows at The Flying Anvil. Sometimes even the difficult, challenging shows have a lot of comedy because life is just funny.
“Tears and laughter and serious stuff and joyous stuff,” Jayne says. “It’s all mixed in there together, not one thing or the other.”
The emphasis on comedy may be a reflection of Jayne herself and her long history with the genre. The Knox-area native received a theatre degree from the University of Tennessee before working in dinner theatres across the Southeast. She likens that experience to “an advanced degree in comedy” due to the intensity and pace with nightly shows and continuous learning. She has lived in New York City, North Carolina, Los Angeles, and plenty of places in between, but she finally returned home to Knoxville in hopes of starting a dinner theatre of her own. When those plans fizzled out, she found work writing and producing for a local television network while doing theatre on the side.
It was through those years that she learned what she really loved was less on stage and more in the process of putting everything together as a director.
When her friend from New York expressed interest in starting an off-Broadway theatre in Knoxville, Jayne realized that the best way to become a good director was to hire herself.
“Running a theatre was a crazy way to immerse myself in the work of being a director,” she recalls. The two friends had a wide learning curve as The Flying Anvil took shape, but with lots of help and support from the community, the dream finally became a reality.
As the Artistic Director for The Flying Anvil, Jayne is looking for stories that surprise and move her in order to bring a truly unique experience to Knoxville. She wants the theatre to be provocative and challenging but also profoundly human.
“We want to make you think,” she says, “but first and foremost we want to make you feel.”
With open auditions, classes for youth and adults, flexible pricing and payment options, and free parking every day, The Flying Anvil wants to be accessible to everyone in the community. Jayne believes theater is an irreplaceable medium to work through issues in a way that is very relatable and human.
“It takes us out of our heads and into our hearts,” she says.
For upcoming auditions, shows, ticketing, and donations, visit flyinganviltheatre.com.