A! Magazine for the Arts

Catherine DeCaterina, director of the Bristol Children's Theatre, helps Lisa Schoenhardt, seated, and Mary Capers Bledsoe with their lines for a future play.

Catherine DeCaterina, director of the Bristol Children's Theatre, helps Lisa Schoenhardt, seated, and Mary Capers Bledsoe with their lines for a future play.

Theatre Bristol has a rich history

October 26, 2017

Theatre Bristol (called Bristol Children's Theatre in 1965) was founded by Catherine Fleenor DeCaterina.

DeCaterina, who grew up in Bristol, Tenn., studied classical voice and opera at the Juilliard School, New York City. After graduating, she performed contemporary music in nightclubs and theaters. It was at a performance that she met Frank DeCaterina whom she later married. They returned to Bristol, and she started a kindergarten in their basement. She later headed up the preschool department of the Episcopal Day School, where she began after-school drama classes, which formed the beginning of Theatre Bristol, the oldest community children's theater in Tennessee. When parents began to participate, the plays grew and became more complex.

In the 1970s, Theatre Bristol incorporated and rehearsed and performed in various locations before settling in downtown Bristol, Tennessee at 506 and 512 State Street.

In 1983, DeCaterina was instrumental in the rescue and rebuilding of a neglected Bristol iconic landmark, the Paramount Theatre. Through her dedication, determination and vision, she spearheaded government grants matched by generous local donations and support.

By the 1990s, she was ready to step back, and the theater continued to grow.

"Going into 2012, the theater began to be run by a volunteer-only board, keeping the theater in operation with a few shows," Samantha Gray, board of directors' member, says. "In December 2012, Cathy passed away, knowing that her legacy would continue. Since that time, Theatre Bristol returned to the Paramount stage in 2014 for the first time in five years. The theater intends to continue growing stronger, welcoming support and believing in the love for live performance in the area and the great deal of talent will help it continue to thrive."

As an all-volunteer organization, Theatre Bristol relies on a multitude of people to put their season together. "We are trying to foster a positive atmosphere around the theater and keep good, family-oriented productions where families can get involved," Gray says. "When you put that positive energy together with things families feel good about being involved in, you get a lot of volunteers. Get a lot of volunteers and especially several very dedicated volunteers working for the love of it, and you're able to get it done. Positivity, family friendly, hard work, dedication, repeat."

Theatre Bristol provides theater camps in the summer, as well as workshops and classes. Its Youth Service Board promotes and participates in community outreach on behalf of the theater. It stages a complete production, including directing, lights, sound, as well as acting, so young people can learn firsthand the ins and outs of theater. To learn more about Theatre Bristol and to see details about auditions and upcoming performances, visit www.theatrebristol.org.

Lucy Tester is Annie at Theatre Bristol