Stories of Technology, Innovation, & Entrepreneurship in the Southeast

Knoxville Business News Tennessee Mountain Scenery Background
First Take Co. Knoxville
Weekend edition April 05, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

First Take Co. brings theatrical experiences beyond the stage

The Knoxville-based start-up is working to bring immersive, cultural experiences to more people and places in Knoxville.

Imagine walking into a venue in downtown Knoxville and immediately being swept into a different world. Music and movement abound, attendees are wearing clothing from a different decade, and several scenes of entertainment unfold in spaces surrounding you.

If this type of immersive experience is something you crave, you should probably meet Ethan Graham Roeder

Roeder is a professional performer and in his own words a “theatre maker.” He’s been working in the theatre business his whole life as an actor and has even written, produced, designed, and directed several of his own shows. He’s multi-talented and recognizes that many people in his industry share that quality. 

However, Roeder points out a major flaw of the industry; once someone is categorized as an actor, singer, dancer, or director, it’s very easy to get siloed. Meaning, it’s hard to jump from being an actor to being a designer, or from being a dancer to being a director. That’s where Roeder’s big idea branched from.

“I wanted to create a company where people could bring all their skills to the table and make something great that they’re proud of,” he said. 

Ethan Graham Roeder pitching at “What’s the Big Idea.”

First Take Co. was born from that narrative coupled with a desire to bring new jobs, entertainment, and cultural experiences to Knoxville. It is an emerging production company, arts incubator, and professional development hub for multifaceted makers. Their work spans traditional theatre, immersive entertainment, & concerts and live events. They also offer consulting services in production management, casting, creating bespoke events for organizations.

It was important for Roeder to start this company in East Tennessee because he is a Knoxville native, and a double graduate from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK).

“I love it here, I just wish there were more opportunities for performers to make a living,” he said.

Roeder has traveled across the world participating in shows and experiencing theatre. He recently spent time in Idaho acting in Opera Idaho and Boise Contemporary Theatre’s rendition of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a musical drama that shares the true story of the Christmas Truce of 1914 between the British and German armies.

“That was one of my favorite shows because it was my first production back after the pandemic, and there was an electric energy in the cast,” Roeder said. “It was special to the audience, too. The show was sold out and was reviewed so highly that they remounted the show, and I got to do it all again.”

Furthermore, Roeder has also spent time overseas in the UK learning from creators of immersive experiences. He shared how in Europe, culturally immersive experiences are something many people seek out, spend money on, and thoroughly enjoy. 

Courtesy: First Take Co. website

It was through his study of those immersive acting experiences that Roeder decided to start writing an immersive experience with his long-time friend and colleague, Laura Clift. They debuted First Take Co.’s original programming with the wildly popular “Jane Austen Experience.”

UTK even ended up commissioning the company to bring the production experience to campus in 2022 & 2024. It helped students learn English country dances, play Regency-era games, listen to live musical performances and get a glimpse of what life would have been like in the Georgian Era.

“UTK loved the Jane Austen Experience, and the attendees were eager for it to happen again. Now, we want our company to help make more of these experiences accessible to the greater community,” he said.

He said the company is currently developing a series of portable “concepts” that can travel and adjust to a wide range of venues. 

“Every bar in town has trivia and karaoke. What we offer is something completely new. People want something different, something they haven’t seen before,” Roeder said. 

He participated in the ‘What’s the Big Idea’ competition with the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center, which helped him formulate a more concrete business plan. One development from What’s the Big Idea: an All Access Pass, which gets you into every First Take event through the end of the year.

They’re currently gearing up for their summer concert series, Scruffy City Sings, which features a new genre of music each month, a presentation of Annie Baker’s play THE FLICK, and multiple secret shows popping up throughout the summer.

Their next task? Identify venues and organizations that are interested in what First Take Co. offers. 

“This pop-up entertainment culture brings the arts to where people are at,” Roeder said. “You shouldn’t have to travel to a big city or abroad to have those experiences. In Knoxville, First Take Co. is on the forefront of that movement.”

To learn more about the company, visit their website.

Don’t Miss Out on the Southeast’s Latest Entrepreneurial, Business, & Tech News!

Sign-up to get the Teknovation Newsletter in your inbox each morning!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

No, thanks!