East Nashville's Theater Bug mounts an original play with an inspirational message

Great things in theater really can happen in a strip mall. Case in point: The Theater Bug, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to inspire young people to create community and develop their own confidence through the performing arts.

Founded two-and-a-half years ago by actress/teacher Cori Anne Laemmel, The Theater Bug began life at Donelson's Keeton Theatre, then moved to the Family Wash building in East Nashville. Since October, the company has been operating out of a strip mall at 2618 Gallatin Pike.

Now Laemmel and 50 performers ages 4 to 20 will present the company's first major production at the new venue: The Barefoot Children in the City of Ward, an original play inspired by young people with long-term illnesses. Gilda's Club is a co-sponsor.

Incorporating her own research, feedback from Gilda's Club staffers and interviews with affected families, Laemmel uses both fantasy and symbolism to craft a moving tale set in a pediatric oncology ward, where the children invite the audience into a world of their imagination. It's an all-ages show, though the production features some mature themes.