New Playhouse a Traffic Generator In Itself

By Bill Dries

Playhouse On The Square arrived in Overton Square in 1975, setting up shop in what had been Lafayette’s Music Room. The theater company, formed in 1963 by two Overton High School students as The Circuit Players, has become an influential landowner and landlord in the area.

Before the company was Playhouse on the Square, it was called Circuit because the company had no permanent home at first and presented plays at a circuit of churches and public buildings.

Some early members of the group recalled rehearsing in a dance studio near the University of Memphis they would use after the last security guard would leave for the night.

POTS executive producer Jackie Nichols, one of those two Overton High students who started the Circuit Players and then founded Circuit Playhouse Inc. and POTS, told The Memphis News the $12.5 million performing arts center will have a dramatic economic impact on the area.

“It’s going to be the catalyst for the conversion of this whole area,” he said. “We’re going to be bringing an additional 50,000 people a year into this area, not only for our performances, but for ballet, opera and symphony. So now would be the time to open a restaurant around here.”

The new Playhouse is on the northeast corner of Union and Cooper where a flea market stood for years.

An effort should be made to save the existing square buildings in any future plans for the Madison Avenue strip, Nichols added. And if not the buildings, then their character.

“I think there also needs to be a concerted effort to create an urban look in the square area because that’s what we’re all about,” Nichols said. “We’ve chosen to build this building, which is a contemporary modern building because we are a contemporary theater – we’ve chosen to build it in an urban fashion – up on the street so you see things going on inside of the building.”

Midtown won’t lose any existing theater venues with the new Playhouse. The area will be more of a theater district with Ballet Memphis, Opera Memphis and the Memphis Symphony using the venue between POTS productions.

The Playhouse on the Square that was the old Memphian theater will become the new Circuit Playhouse. The old Circuit Playhouse at Poplar and Evergreen will become the Evergreen Theater. It will be for rent as a live theater managed by TheatreWorks.

TheatreWorks will continue to run its facility on Monroe Avenue, which is booked for the next two years.