Johnson City was 14 years old when its first theater group was formed in 1885. Preachers at the Methodist churches in town took to their pulpits, promising hellfire and damnation to anyone who darkened a playhouse door.
A little more than a half-century later in 1912, Johnson City’s theater group began performing at least three shows a year. That organization continues to this day, making the Johnson City Community Theatre the oldest continuously-running theater organization in the state of Tennessee, and one of the oldest in the country. The group, then known as the Johnson City Dramatic Society, put on its first production, An American Girl, at the VA Memorial Theater in the summer of 1912. The play, American Girl has since been lost to history.
In 1913, that same play was produced at the Johnson City Country Club, which had just opened. Those early years for the theater were nomadic. In addition to the country club, plays were performed at the VA Memorial Theater at Mountain Home, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Old North Junior High across the street from St. John’s and Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church, which obviously had lightened up on play acting.
In 1924, theatre meeting minutes show Mary Gump was elected the first president of the Johnson City Little Theatre Guild. “Since this is not a social club,” Miss Gump said, “there are to be no refreshments.” Dues were $2 for the first year. The guild players continued to perform without a place to call their own until, in 1956, they found a permanent home at the former Temple Baptist Church at 600 E. Maple St, where the theater is still located.
The first production mounted at 600 E. Maple was The Curious Savage. The play was directed by Darryl Frank, wife of Bud Frank for whom East Tennessee State University’s theater is named. In 1967, under Cheryl Laws’ presidency, the theater group’s name was changed from Johnson City Little Theatre Guild to Johnson City Community Theatre (JCCT).
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, JCCT continued to grow with Johnson City. New generations of actors, directors, and theatre technicians participate in enriching the culture of Johnson City. With over 129 years of history and over a century of continuous seasons, JCCT has watched the 20th century come and go. Now, JCCT is looking forward to its second century as Johnson City’s own theatre, committed to artistic excellence and quality entertainment.