Tri-Cities Original(s): Jonesborough Rep. Theatre and Bonnie Kate team up for summer shows and, hopefully, a big comeback

Tri-Cities Original

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (WJHL) — It’s showtime for an unlikely double-act — two “Tri-Cities Originals” that are teaming up this summer to make theater magic and to make history.

For the first time, the legendary Jonesborough Repertory Theatre will originate productions on the stage of the historic Bonnie Kate Theater in downtown Elizabethton.

Renovations at JRT were supposed to be complete in time for the season to open on June 7. But JRT Artistic Director Jennifer Ross-Bernhardt said the reality check came several weeks ago.

“It became apparent that that was not going to happen,” Ross-Bernhardt said.

The construction delay threatened to silence “The Sound of Music,” a show JRT had been trying stage for years.

JRT’s The Sound of Music. (Photo: Jonesborough Repertory Theatre)

Then, JRT got a phone call from friends of Bonnie Kate Theater, 15 miles away in downtown Elizabethton.

“They were total strangers, never met before,” Ross-Bernhardt said. “And yet they’re here for us.”

Bonnie Kate Theater opened in 1926. After years as a movie theater, the facility fell on hard times. Eventually, residents rallied to rescue it from bankruptcy. In recent years, a friends group won support from the Elizabethton City government to allocate public funds to begin major renovations. Now, there are plans to conduct a major capital campaign to complete renovations with hopes of starting an Elizabethton-based acting company similar to JRT.

“We want (Bonnie Kate Theater) to become a destination for people not only in Elizabethton but also in our area,” said Jeff Treadway, Elizabethon City Council member.

When friends of Bonnie Kate Theater heard the Jonesborough company needed a stage, they offered theirs. An in-person meeting was arranged, and JRT’s artistic director said she knew it was a perfect match the minute she stepped into the building.

“I’d never been in this theater, and I literally walked in the door and I knew immediately that everything was going to be okay,” said Ross-Bernhardt. “I felt a sense of peace, and I walked through those doors and I thought – this is it. This is going to work.”

Now, JRT plans two full productions at the Bonnie Kate this summer. Multiple JRT performances of “The Sound of Music” will be performed during June on the historic stage in downtown Elizabethton. JRT will stage its annual favorite “1940’s USO Show” at the Bonnie Kate July 2nd through 4th.

CLICK HERE for show times and reservations.

And JRT will host its youth drama summer camps at the Bonnie Kate in July.

CLICK HERE for information about JRT summer camps at Bonnie Kate Theater.

“To be able to have those folks on our stage is a gift,” said Bonnie Kate Theater volunteer and supporter Kathy Campbell who thinks people in Elizabethton are about to discover something wonderful.

“Having the venue available for them also opens the doors for us,” said Campbell. “So when people come here and walk in the Bonnie Kate they’re going to get excited and understand what we have to offer here.”

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Bonnie Kate volunteers hope visitors will give and get involved in the ongoing effort to save the community jewel. Meanwhile, renovations at JRT now are set to be complete later this summer. Until then, JRT actors and management say they are grateful to their generous neighbors who also are trying to stage a comeback.

“We hope that we can help them,” Ross-Bernhardt said. “And they most certainly are helping us.”

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There's no place on earth quite like the Tri-Cities region. From Johnson City to Haysi, Tri-Cities Original highlights the people and institutions that make our region so unique.


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Born and raised in the Tri-Cities, Josh Smith has been a member of the WJHL team since 1999. His family roots go deep in the region, and he’s traveled through almost every part of it covering news on local TV since 1995. When he’s not on the job, he’s with his wife, two sons, and daughter.   “They’re the best part of me,” he said.   You may run into them biking on the Tweetsie Trail, hiking around Bays Mountain Lake, or browsing the shelves at the local public libraries.

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