This article, written by Jackie Lane, was originally published in The East Tennessee Foundation newsletter.

The WordPlayers is a Knoxville-based faith-based nonprofit whose mission is to “impact theater artists and audiences by telling stories from a Christian world view,” according to Artistic Director Terry Weber. The theater company provides a “welcoming and encouraging environment for theater” and produces full-length plays and touring one-act plays, teaches classes, and provides programming, all from a Christian view.

In 1993, a group of local theater artists began brainstorming about this concept. By 1995, this group of artists was starting to give performances, and in 1998, following on the success of their production of “Paper Wings” at the Lab Theatre at the University of Tennessee, The WordPlayers officially incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It is “not a fully professional company, more of a community-based theater” but it does pay small honoraria to the theater artists.

The WordPlayers is looking forward to producing its largest venture to date at the end of the 2011-12 season: a production of the musical “Ragtime,” which looks at the idea of community and the American melting pot at the turn of the 20th century. A new children’s wing works with underserved youth. The theater company is also beginning to produce original shows, starting with a 25-minute play written by one of the members that will tour during the Christmas season and a 10-minute children’s show, also for the Christmas season.

The organization pays for its work through individual donations, corporate sponsorships, foundation grants, fees for touring programs, and ticket sales for its productions. “We have been really fortunate to have people coming to see our shows,” says Terry Weber.

The WordPlayers recently established an endowment fund at East Tennessee Foundation. The idea for the fund grew out of chats between ETF President Mike McClamroch and The WordPlayers board chair Gregor Smee while working out at the YMCA. From those conversations, The WordPlayers board found out that “It was less expensive to begin an endowment than we ever imagined,” reports Weber. “We wanted not to shut this down when the original members get too old and decrepit!” The endowment fund at ETF makes it possible for this small nonprofit theater company to accept planned gifts, gifts of stock, and other donations it could not previously handle.

The group plans to build the fund each year, with proceeds from their productions. “We can continue to invest ourselves, and hopefully attract other investors as well,” says Terry Weber. “ETF is a wonderful organization and we are privileged to be a part of it.”

See the original article at The East Tennessee Foundation website.