Last week, under a copse of trees off of Ewing Street in Jaycee’s Park, stood what has, for many years, been loving referred to as the “Old Log Cabin.” Now, it is nothing but a pile of rubble and timbers, but it had a long history that began in 1939. It was built by the Youth Council of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). In the 1960’s, Murfreesboro Little Theatre (MLT) took over the building until they moved to the Center for the Arts in the 1990s, and then took it back over in the early 2000s.
History of the Old Log Cabin
It is sad to see a piece of history fall to the ground in tatters, especially one that has such a rich and meaningful past. The WPA was created as part of the New Deal during the dark days of the Great Depression to put millions of unemployed to work – including actors, musicians, writers, and other creatives. Federal Project Number One was the section of the WPA aimed at putting artists to work, including designing Camp David, Maryland where presidents retreat; and Timberline Lodge, Oregon, where part of ‘The Shining’ was filmed.
Home to Scout Lodge
The old log cabin first became a Boy Scout Lodge for a troupe that was, for many years, led by Percy Dempsey, the late father of Bubba Dempsey of Dempsey Vantrease and Follis, PLLC. Many local business leaders went to Boy Scout meetings in that building, including Mike Bickford, owner of Screen Art, and George Huddleston, Jr.
“More scout meetings were held in that building than plays,” said Huddleston in a recent Facebook entry. “Most of those scouts are in Heaven. Good, wholesome training was provided to … [Murfreesboro] citizens in both of this building’s roles….”
MLT Moves into the Space
Murfreesboro Little Theater moved into the building in the early 1960s, when the company was under the direction of such notables as Jim and Polly Ridley, Bren and B.J. Huggins, Nan and Hal Christensen, and Margaret “Dumpy” Waller. MLT was known for iconic talent like Dot Harrison, Lane Boutwell, June McCash, and Grandville Ridley III. The Sunshine Player’s Terry Ann Womack also performed in the building. As a matter of fact, just about anyone interested in theater in the community “tread the boards,” which is a cast of thousands.
Carol and Carl Bering were in “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in the 1970s. “I played Sally, and Carl played Pig Pen,” said local artist Carol Bering. “Richard Boyd played Snoopy, and directed.” Tom Harris played Charlie Brown.
“I have so many good memories from being in the children’s theatre performances done in the summer,” said Courtney Yates, also on Facebook. “Jackie Archer was a great dance choreographer, also.”
Incubator for Other Groups and Theater Interest
The building was the incubator for other theater groups, like Sunshine Players and Center for the Arts, as well as, more recently, Poetry in the Boro.
MLT’s outdoor productions of Shakespeare’s plays the last several summers have made the Bard’s creations accessible to many who would not normally see one. They made his plays available to a larger audience by making it a fun family activity.
Good-bye Old Friend
So many lives have intersected at the old log cabin. Many have grown up in this building. Many have found life-long friendships, such as Freddie Snell.
“My first show was Good Grief, A Griffin,” said Snell. “It was a musical. I know Ralph Smith was in the show, as was Dot Harrison. Virginia Jackson was also involved…I also built Ralph’s house in about 1990. That was truly a life-long friendship we developed … I got to do a lot of technical theatre at MLT, majored in Tech Theatre at MTSU …Trey [his son] was in 101 Dalmatians, directed by Jamie Storvic. Trey played a Chihuahua. He was four years old … “
The Set Has Been Struck
Like a set after the final curtain, the old log cabin has been struck. The feelings after the end of a run are complex. For years and years, the plays at Murfreesboro Little Theater were a fixture in the life of Murfreesboro. The loss of the old long cabin marks the end of an era. The theater has gone dark.
“There will always be some kind of a bond, not simply with the character you’ve played, but the other actors—even if you don’t keep in touch,” said actor Laurence Luckinbill on backstage.com. “And then there’s your feelings about the theatre itself. Even if a play only lasts two weeks, I’ve yet to pass a theatre that I’ve performed in without feeling, ‘my little house.’ And those feelings last forever.”
In the same article, actor Harry Groener talks about his private ritual when a show closes. “On closing night, after it’s all over, I’ll go out on the stage alone and privately thank the theatre for having had us there. I assure the theatre that it’s not its fault that the play closed. That’s very important, especially if it’s an old theatre with a lot of history.”