Through the power and beauty of theatre, we seek to unite people from all backgrounds to experience and participate in stories that embody our shared humanity.


Life can really blow your plans out of the water sometimes, right? You know…like when you decide to move away from busy New York City life and pursue something quiet and simple in the slower south…and then one day while you are making your bed, you get a call that your father is gone and you are somehow alone in the world in a whole new way. It’s strange how life can feel so fragile and so powerful in these moments, when it forces you to look it in the face and say, “Ok, I see you.” When I learned about my father’s death, life suddenly became temporary for me. Urgent. Precious. This is how River & Rail Theatre company was born. Out of an urgency, a need to live, to tell the good stories, to do it all now while we can. 

In late 2014, some good friends at Gridwell came around our urgent desires to make theatre that is honest, relevant, and beautiful, and they helped us sculpt a vision for a professional theatre company with a community heart. We came up with two images: the river and the rail. We latched onto the idea, because the river and the rail are emblematic of Knoxville’s proud, industrious past. The heart of downtown Knoxville is situated between these two modes of transit, and we owe much of our city’s identity and growth to both. Together, they are intrinsically and inseparably Knoxville.

But the river and the rail also represent a sort of separation. When you look at the demographics of Knoxville, the people that live on the river and the people that live near the tracks experience Knoxville from vastly different perspectives. Our neighborhoods, churches, community groups, and social circles seem deeply divided along various lines. Some are the literal lines of the Tennessee River or the tracks of the railroad, and some are metaphorical, like the lines between races, religions, and ethnic groups or the cultural lines between East, West, North, and South Knoxville. The goal of River & Rail Theatre is to not just create professional theatre accessible to all Knoxvillians, but to create theatre true to the stories of Knoxville, shared collectively by those on every side of every line.

– Joshua Peterson, Founding Artistic Director

Check out the SUPPORT page to see how you can contribute to River & Rail.

River & Rail Theatre Company is an IRS Approved 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization


Let us start by saying very clearly: River & Rail Theatre Company fully supports the Black Lives Matter movement and condemns white supremacy in all its forms.

Violence towards Black Americans and the systemic Anti-Blackness that permeates every facet of our country has existed for generations – long before the social uprising of this summer. We recognize that River & Rail could have made a public statement in solidarity with Black, Indigenous, and people of color at any time, and we regret that it took the protests in response to the unjust deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and far too many other Black Americans to prompt our response today.

When Black Lives Matter protests spread across the country this summer, the River & Rail team was called to listen. As a theatre institution with an all-White staff, we knew that we were not doing enough to forward racial equity and justice in our Knoxville community. We decided to take time for deep reflection of our own complicity in white supremacy, to begin educating ourselves, and to listen to BIPOC leaders and communities of color. In July, We See You White American Theatre (WSYWAT) published their well-considered and comprehensive list of demands, and River & Rail has been and will continue to use this document as a guide in our efforts to become an actively antiracist theatre company.

In the past months, all of us at River & Rail have been reflecting on the ways in which we have been complicit in, benefited from, and perpetuated white supremacy. We had a staff meeting in early June to discuss how we as an organization would respond to the urgent cries for justice and action from Black people and communities of color. The first thing we decided to do was conduct an internal racial equity audit. We reached out to all the people who have worked with River & Rail in the past, and asked them to complete an anonymous survey answering questions about their experience with us that would help us better understand and identify the systemic changes we need to make. All survey participants were compensated financially for the time and labor it took to complete the survey.

We decided as a staff that we would wait to post a public statement on our website until the audit was complete, so that our statement would be informed and specific. We heard from some of you that in spite of our intentions, the impact of that decision was harmful and made us complicit in White silence. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us and for your patience, and we hope that this message sheds some light on how we have been addressing racism in our organization over the last months.

After taking in the survey responses of our talented, generous colleagues, and after many discussions of how we at River & Rail need to be better, we’re posting today our official statement in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the We See You White American Theatre call to action. This is a living document that will change and grow as we continue to learn, and we invite you to hold us accountable and share any thoughts, questions, or feedback with us by emailing Artistic Director, Joshua Peterson, at info@riverandrailtheatre.com. (Don’t be discouraged by the info@ email address – this goes to all our staff and will help us ensure transparency and accountability. If you want to reach out to one of us in particular, you can find our contact information on our About page.) We aim to be in conversation with our Knoxville community, always, and this moment in our history may be the most important that we’ve faced so far.


We proudly stand with Black people and communities of color in this time of resistance. We hear you, we love you, we support you, and we will fight for you. We are united with you in the struggle against an anti-Black America and a whitewashed American theatre. We share your desire for radical, systemic change, and we are starting in our own backyard.

The mission of River & Rail demands radical inclusivity, and is why we adopted our name from two unique landmarks of Knoxville. The Tennessee River and the railroad are points of pride for the Knoxville community, but they also draw dividing lines across our city. We took the name River & Rail because of our wholehearted commitment to serve all Knoxvillians, regardless of the dividing lines that separate us. It is impossible for us to do that without taking a passionate antiracist approach in everything we do. Up to this point, we have not been vocally or explicitly antiracist in our messaging and our actions, and we want to remedy that now.

We have reviewed the demands of WSYWAT, and we are extremely grateful for the time, effort, and labor that went into the creation of this document. We also offer our gratitude to all of you that completed surveys as part of our racial equity audit. Both of these things have helped us identify the first steps we can take as an institution to ensure that our culture and practices are equitable and antiracist. Below, we describe actions we are taking in response to our racial equity audit, WSYWAT, and the Black Lives Matter movement. We understand that becoming antiracist is lifelong work, and we are in it for the long haul. In that spirit, the below list is not comprehensive of all of the steps we are taking to become antiracist and promote equity, because we believe being antiracist comes from the moment to moment decisions we make as individuals. However, this list is important to hold ourselves publicly accountable, and to mark the beginning of our journey.

In the pursuit of racial equity, and in an effort to dismantle the systems of white supremacy within our own organization, River & Rail is committed to taking the following action*:

  • Increase the diversity of our administrative staff and artistic collaborators with an emphasis on recruiting, hiring, and supporting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
  • Prioritize applications from BIPOC candidates in our search for a new Managing Director, and create a racially-diverse search committee for the position
  • Move towards a shared leadership structure at the executive level
  • Program at least five productions by BIPOC authors for every ten shows we produce, and commit to at least 50% representation of BIPOC playwrights in our commissioned work and internal reading series
  • Institute regular antiracist, equity, and inclusion trainings for all staff members, contract employees, and front of house personnel
  • Include antiracism workshops / training at the beginning of each rehearsal process
  • Provide a culturally competent facilitator who is well-versed in antiracism training for each rehearsal process and artistic endeavor
  • Establish a land acknowledgement practice at the beginning of every official meeting and first rehearsal ritual, in which we recognize tribal sovereignty and the debt that Indigenous people continue to pay for allowing others to be on their homelands
  • Create an antiracism statement to be read at all first rehearsals and official meetings
  • Regularly recognize and acknowledge the enslaved Africans who lived and were subjugated to free labor in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the broader region of the American Southeast
  • Regularly recognize and acknowledge the exclusion, exploitation, and misrepresentation of Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern, and all People of Color
  • In the interest of creating a safe and welcoming space for BIPOC audience members, we commit to abolishing the policing of audience response and the behavior of BIPOC audience members
  • Create meaningful, lasting relationships with more BIPOC artists and administrators in Knoxville and beyond
  • Nurture and highlight the successes of our BIPOC collaborators, and consistently employ them for a variety of productions, not just “BIPOC shows”
  • If and when we hire BIPOC artists to reimagine works originally created by White artists, we will advocate for their free interpretive rein over the piece
  • Hire designers and technicians who have proper training in the styling and consultation of Black hair and makeup, and in the effective lighting of BIPOC skin tones
  • Provide financial support for employees’ mental healthcare, especially when they are involved in an artistic project that deals with racialized trauma
  • Work with marketing professionals who know how to engage BIPOC communities to ensure that the work of BIPOC artists has the audience for which it is intended
  • Expand our Community Engagement Program, which donates one ticket for every ticket sold, with an emphasis on including more BIPOC audience members
  • Require all staff to read selected works by authors of color on antiracism and theatre practice; meet regularly as a staff to discuss
  • Establish Election Day as a paid holiday for all staff and contract employees
  • Offer paid time off for staff to engage in civic action against oppressive systems and anti-Blackness
  • Refrain from ever establishing a 10 out of 12 tech rehearsal day or a six-day rehearsal week
  • All positions at River & Rail, whether full-time, part-time, or contract work, will pay a fair, living wage; if BIPOC artists are expected to do work such as marketing, fundraising, event appearances, etc. it will be included in their contract and they will be fairly compensated for their time and labor
  • At each staff meeting, evaluate our success or failure in establishing antiracist practice, and discuss ways that we can continue to improve
  • Explore other steps we can take to become an antiracist organization, and continue to add to this list

*Thanks to the writers of WSYWAT, whose language in their list of demands has informed and been incorporated into this list.



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