The Oak Street Playhouse

Welcome to The Oak Street Playhouse!

Since the late 1970s, The Oak Street Playhouse has been providing family entertainment and cultural enrichment. Located on the second floor of First-Centenary at the corner of Oak and Lindsay Streets, The Playhouse has become what June Hatcher, former Entertainment Editor of the Chattanooga Free Press, wrote, "A gem of a theater in downtown Chattanooga," which includes a spring play and a popular December Dinner-Theatre that draws audiences from across Tennessee.

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Upcoming Events

The Moving of Lilla Barton 

September 23-October 2 | Directed By: Evie Durant 

Lilla is an unforgettable Southern woman who defies small-town church politics and rediscovers the strength that’s waiting to be found in each of us. Lilla and her late husband single handedly designed and built the church vicarage in this small Alabama town. Now that her husband has passed on, Lilla is being evicted, but she refuses to move out of the church-owned house to make way for the new minister. A gossiping gaggle of Episcopal eccentrics is causing trouble.  The group is led by a stubborn Yankee newspaper editor and a crass real estate peddler.  The sympathetic bishop and the senior warden, an old Southern gentleman, are trying to help Lilla, but ultimately it is her combination of resilience, vulnerability, and courage that make this heart-warming story soar.  This is an endearing and witty dramady that will have you leaving the theater with a smile.

The Christmas Express 

December 2-11 | Directed by: Jerry M Draper

"This is the most hopeless place in the world!" Hilda intones as she and Satch, her assistant, argue over what time it is. She dreams of faraway places and only finds tedium in running the Holly Railway Station. That is, until Leo Tannenbaum drops in out of nowhere the day before Christmas Eve. Suddenly, an old radio that hasn't worked in years springs to life, the local group of carolers (which usually yowls like a gang of wet cats) begins to sound like the Morman Tabernacle Choir and the whole town gets the Christmas spirit. Coincidence? Or is Leo doing all this? Even Satch changes his tune when it turns out that Leo might be on the run. This nostalgic theatrical greeting card is full of eccentric small town characters, wise-cracking their way to finding the true wonder of Christmas. And on the way, they make us all wish we could take a ride on The Christmas Express.

The Oak Street Playhouse Puppets 

Fred Arnold, creator and producer of the puppet theater at First-Centenary, decided in 2010 it was time to retire his puppets and his shows after a nearly 30-year run. He had retired several years earlier as director of the shows himself.  Many of his puppets were sold and the profits given to the church.
His show "The Blue Bird" is now owned by onetime puppeteer Colleen Laliberte, who has produced the show.  He has continued to work with Colleen and has produced a new show for the stage on Signal Mountain.

Our History

In the 1970's, when people in Chattanooga were flocking to the suburbs, First-Centenary United Methodist Church took a giant leap forward with a decision to expand their facilities to become a more viable force in downtown Chattanooga.  In the plans were blueprints for a theater, suggested by Flo Summitt, a church member.  Senior Minister Dr. Ralph Mohney envisioned a drama ministry and in 1978, with the completion of the new wing, the theater was a reality.  Located on the second floor, the theater was really only a large room: a stage with just one entrance and no curtain, a long wall banked with stationary picture windows that extended up to the stage, and a limited number of stage lights. But it was a theater!

The first play presented in 1980 in the newly named Oak Street Playhouse was The Trial of Pontius Pilate, an interesting choice in which a jury, selected from the audience each night, decided the fate of Pilate.  The director was Nancy Lane Wright, a member of First-Centenary and artistic director of the Dance Theatre Workshop in Chattanooga.  Flo Summitt became the producer and Robert Smartt designed the lighting and sound.  The play ran two nights and there was no admission charge.  The following year, Fred Arnold came on board as set designer and as creator/director of the Oak Street Playhouse Puppet Theatre.

Now, years since it's beginning, like an acorn, Oak Street Playhouse continues to grow with its mission of providing outstanding family-style entertainment and cultural enrichment.

Throughout ensuing years, helped by generous donations and efforts of the Playhouse volunteers, carpeted risers were built, windows were closed in, a stage curtain hung and new lights and light board installed.  Suzanne Smartt became the Artistic Director in 1992.  The Playhouse produces a variety of productions: dramas such as Ibsen's A Doll's House, classic comedies like Harvey, musicals such as My Fair Lady and 1998's season's run-away favorite, The Moving of Lilla Barton, winner of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival Southern Writer's Competition.

The Playhouse today has become what June Hatcher, former Entertainment Editor of the Chattanooga Free Press, wrote, "A gem of a theater in downtown Chattanooga," which includes a spring play and a popular December Dinner-Theatre that draws audiences from across Tennessee.

The Playhouse holds open auditions with casts of actors from both Tennessee and North Georgia.  By invitation they performed Camelot before thousands at the 1989 International Methodist Men's Conference held on the Purdue University campus and their production of The Rainmaker competed at the Southeastern Theatre Conference in 1991.