Ethan Graham Roeder is #MadeForKnoxville.

Through First Take Co., Ethan Graham is bringing more versatility to the siloed roles of theatre.

Never wanting to be stuck in one pathway, Ethan Graham founded First Take Co. to expand his own potential as a diversely talented theatre maker. Whether providing opportunities for directing, writing, acting or sundry other roles, he works with theatre makers to open up avenues for their varied skill sets to shine.  

“Theatre lets you reinvent yourself an infinite number of times, where your expertise becomes your flexibility and resilience.”

In Their Own Words…

I’m a theatre maker at heart. The term “maker” is the best word to describe what I do: between acting, directing, producing, playwriting, and design, I find that the making of a live performance is what most enraptures me. When people think of theatre, places like the Tennessee Theatre, Broadway, or television/film depictions of grand venues often fill their minds. To me, it’s much broader – any live event that includes a performer and an audience could be considered theatre. A rock concert, an orchestra performance, a stand-up set, and yes, even actors on a stage could all fall under a sense of “theatre.”

What draws me to the form is the inherent variety. What we make is ephemeral – there is a sense of virtuosity in becoming an expert in the content just long enough to share your vision, and then move on to the next. You never have to choose what you want to be when you grow up. Theatre lets you reinvent yourself an infinite number of times, where your expertise becomes your flexibility and resilience.

What led to entrepreneurship:

Entrepreneurship found me – I wasn’t seeking it out. As a theatre maker, there are well-trod paths to join the field. Actors can audition, directors “put up their own work” or go to graduate school, playwrights submit to open calls. While each individual may have a different branch of those paths, the structure is decently clear to follow for any one facet of artistry. However, if you wanted to branch beyond one aspect of creative expression, the industry doesn’t have a way to ramp you up without starting over. Often, you were pigeonholed into your primary medium, and deviating from those norms required immense patience and luck to create the opportunity to break through. I was seeking the kind of constant reinvention that is inherent to the form, but wasn’t necessarily supported by the field.

First Take was born from my personal desire to begin directing professionally while continuing my acting career, but I very quickly noticed this wasn’t an isolated incident. Many of my colleagues from across the country had similar struggles trying to professionally explore their artistry, without having the luxury of going to graduate school multiple times to try different modes of expression. While these revelations were coming to light, an opportunity presented itself to work with the University of Tennessee, Knoxville on a large-scale, immersive theatre project, and we needed an organization to link to the event. First Take Co. was established quickly to capitalize on the opportunity, and the sense of leaping into the unknown with your gut instinct has continued ever sense.

Lessons learned:

Transparency isn’t a weakness. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, discussing your business (the wins and the losses) openly with your community, customers, and colleagues is vital to growth.


Interested in sharing your “Made for Knoxville” story? Submit here! 

Read another story →