Good Neighbors Theatre, Inc. got its start under the direction of the Friends of Cordell Hull in 2000, later becoming a separate organization. It was incorporated and achieved its non-profit 501(c)(3) status in 2002. GNT, an all-volunteer organization, has been hosting performances of all kinds—plays, dinner theater, mystery theater, music and magic—since its start. These events have taken place in a variety of venues—churches, restaurants, gymnasiums, and even school auditoriums (including one in a neighboring county).
In 2003, the estate of Mary Estelle Mullins, mother of founding member, Kay Elder, provided the seed money to start a building fund. It was decided at that time to name the eventual home of GNT the Mary Estelle Mullins Arts Center. The dream of her descendants, founding members, and former executive director, Melva Nunnery, has finally come true. A converted funeral home on Highway 111 became the official home of GNT in 2009.
Led by Facilities Chairman, Stephen Stearns, a group of dedicated volunteers transformed the building into a theater—complete with stage and a sound projection booth. The facility also has a kitchen, which will be useful for receptions, reunions, etc. An office, lobby with concession/ticket booth, costume/prop storage area, and enclosed set construction area make the building ideal for its new purpose. The Mary Estelle Café will also serve as the site of the monthly Pig playing fundraiser. (If you are new to the area, you will quickly learn that Pig is a local card game.)
Since its founding, the group has produced not only plays, but educational programs in the local schools. The goal is to provide an arts and cultural center for Pickett County by presenting both local performances and productions from outside venues. Future plans for the facility include holding exhibits, workshops, and lessons in the various arts. A major focus is toward youth, with annual summer drama and vocal camps, leading to young performers in our productions and a lifelong appreciation of the fine arts.
Major funding for the conversion was obtained with a $300,000 low-interest loan from USDA Rural Development program. In addition to the federal investment, years of local fundraising events and generous donations have helped make the Mary Estelle Mullins Arts Center a reality. Entertaining fund raising events have included dinner under the stars at themed parties on the lawn of Kay Elder’s home, Bee Bop & Boogie dances on the Square to the music of Brian Cross, a Softball Tournament, and a magic show with a former Las Vegas performer.
Special programs are often partly funded through grants to bring arts, cultural, and educational opportunities not otherwise available to the community. Examples include an evening of storytelling, a puppet show with live puppets, a rock and roll concert, a historical program on Harriet Beecher Stowe, an Eastern European musical group, and a drama workshop for Pickett County 6th graders. The theater has received numerous grants from The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee working in partnership with the Tennessee Arts Commission. The Tennessee General Assembly provides funding for these agencies to administer the Arts Build Communities (ABC) program which aims to strengthen communities by funding projects that nurture artists and arts organizations.
Jim Crabtree, of the well known Cumberland Playhouse in Crossville, TN, was an advisor to the volunteer board as it formulated plans to establish a theater in Pickett County. It is hoped that he will again bring productions from his playhouse to perform on the Good Neighbors Theatre stage.
A fifteen member Board of Directors leads in making decisions for the operation of Good Neighbors Theater. Board members meet monthly and are elected at the Annual Meeting, which is open to the public and attended by friends of the theater. Non-Board volunteers are welcome & encouraged to participate in ways that suit their individual talents. Check the Volunteer page for information about what you personally can do to help.
GNT relies on the public to help insure that the facility can remain open and operating to bring entertainment to Pickett County. Gifts are always appreciated, either of money or services. Donations can be made in lieu of flowers as a lasting tribute to loved ones that will be an asset to the community. Forms are available at Brown’s Funeral Home and from GNT. Honor someone with a donation in their name and GNT will send an acknowledgment of your gift for you.
There is much still to be done to complete and maintain the facility. There are always ways to help with producing plays, in addition to acting in them. A wish list of needs for the upkeep and completion of the building is available from GNT. Each play involves many people to help with set construction, costumes/props, publicity, concessions, and other “behind the scenes” activities.