Tribute to Flo Summitt
When Oak Street Playhouse began more than 30 years ago, it was guided and directed by Flo Summitt. It was her idea to create a place in the church to present family entertainment with a message. So, with Nancy Lane Wright as the director and Fred Arnold designing sets, she began with "The Case of Humanity vs. Pontius Pilate."
Over the years, Flo found props, rented costumes, borrowed furniture. She wrote ads, made church announcements, and convinced the newspapers to review the productions. When Flo Summitt asked you to do something for Oak Street, there was no way to turn her down. There was something about the way she said, "Hello-ie," and "Oh, lovey," that just melted you down into your shoes.
For over twenty years, Flo kept the Oak Street Playhouse on track, under budget, and just a wonderful place to be. Those of us who performed and worked with Oak Street kept coming back to share in her energy, and her love of making others happy. We all felt there was nothing that Flo could not do.
We were right — even though Flo has passed away, she had prepared us to take over the management of Oak Street. Yet every time we come into this theatre, we always think of Flo, and we know she's in heaven, watching and calling down, "That's right, lovey."
These productions are done in her memory, and honor, for without her guidance and strength, we would not be here.
Michael B. Tulloss
Oak Street Playhouse 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.