Murfreesboro is more than just MTSU but it’s unlikely that you envision it as an incubator for “edgy and thought-provoking contemporary entertainment.” But, why not? George W. Manus Jr. and his Murfreesboro storefront theatre, Out Front on Main, have been providing an outlet for a dynamic range of performing arts since 2011.
Almost from the start, Manus was a theatrical rebel—a renegade of sorts.
“I remember when I was fifteen,” Manus said. “I was performing pieces from works like Torch Song Trilogy and Bent in the acting categories and reading Dr. Seuss as poetry. Even at this early age, I was pushing the envelope with daring material. In the end it paid off and I placed sixth in poetry and second in solo acting for the entire state of Tennessee.”
After high school, Manus attended and earned a theatre degree from MTSU. Next, Manus crowd-surfed through a myriad of Middle Tennessee theatre companies, earning praise for progressive productions and being hailed as a rising theatre star. His list of credits includes producing and directing Pvt. Wars at the Darkhorse Theatre and both Torch Song Trilogy (in its entirety) and Equus with the Actor’s Playhouse of Nashville. Manus was recognized as a Top Five Nashville director for his work with the latter.
Out Front on Main is not Manus’ first theatre; he previously owned DreamWeaver on Third Avenue in Nashville. It was there that Manus fully tasted his artistic freedom—his first foray into edgy and thought-provoking entertainment. Productions included the Pulitzer winning play The Shadow Box,_a two-act tale examining diminishing mortality with strong LGBT themes, and Edward Albee’s 1960s dissection of American family dynamics, The American Dream.
But for some, there’s a predestined direction built into being at the top of your game. “I felt unstoppable,” Manus somberly reflected. ”Unfortunately a struggle with alcoholism showed me that I was not.”
In an effort to reclaim his career Manus jumped at any chance to perform following rehab including extra work on the set of the 2001 film The Last Castle starring Robert Redford and Mark Ruffalo.
Manus then turned his attention to multi-tasking his theatre talents when he took a position at Murfreesboro's Center for the Arts. There, Manus served as a youth coordinator, staff director, publicity director and part-time acting teacher. But Manus wasn’t always afforded the opportunities to present the type of productions he wanted. Creatively suffocated, Manus started his own production company, Out Front Productions.
Out Front Productions has been a decade long Manus adventure yielding productions of The Laramie Project, Daddy's Dyin' Who's Got the Will, and The Great American Trailer Park Musical and a lauded performance as Brother Boy in Sordid Lives. But the home for these productions was always a temporary one.
“It was our ultimate goal to turn Out Front Productions into a physical theatre in Middle Tennessee,” Manus said. And nearly four years ago Manus moved into East Main Street in Murfreesboro.
In its four years, Out Front on Main has established itself as a premier destination for “queer and queer-friendly entertainment.” Dispel any gay- movie stereotypes you may hold, Manus and Out Front on Main are also producing quality theatre work. Over the last two years, Manus and Out Front on Main have been awarded twenty-three awards in excellence in both performance and technical theatre including awards for Manus for Acting and Directing and Best Community Theatre award from Broadway World Tennessee.
But it’s not all theatre. The space routinely features LGBT and LGBT- friendly comics. And sitting adjacent to MTSU, Out Front on Main has hosted drag performances and provided MTSU Lambda, and the growing Murfreesboro LGBT community, a safe performance space.
Manus works really hard to give young artists an outlet for their creativity. “With declines in attendance to live theatre, it is the responsibility of established artists to provide training grounds for younger artists to keep theatre alive and thriving,” Manus declared. “This is especially true in Tennessee. It is my personal goal to keep live theatre, stand up comedy and performance art ‘Out Front’ and in the spotlight.”
From the laughable to the left of center, Out Front on Main continues to evolve. This year they will experiment by hosting a singer-songwriter night on Thursdays and karaoke on Fridays.
As for their upcoming season, Out Front on Main has some exciting productions planned for 2014. First on the schedule, Evil Dead: The Musical in January. That will be followed by Agnes of God in February and the LGBT-themed Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love in March. With a lineup like that, looks like we’ll be in front of the line at Out Front on Main.
For more information including tickets prices, dates and more, visit Out Front on Main online at www.outfrontonmain.com or on Facebook and Twitter (@outfrontonmain)
Special thanks to and additional reporting by Jaz Dorsey