Theater UAB finds new synergy, collaboration with Red Mountain Theater
It’s hard to imagine a better place for students and theater professionals than the Magic City.
Since Red Mountain Theater opened its new 60,000 square foot arts campus in the city’s booming Parkside neighborhood in 2021, opportunities for University of Alabama at Birmingham theater students and teachers are booming.
The cross-pollination occurring between the UAB Theater and RMT is unprecedented in this community, says Kelly Allisonpresident of the College of Arts and Sciences‘ Department of theater and Vice President of Education on the RMT Executive Committee. The bands’ relationship is historic, dating back to the days of the legendary Town and Gown Theater and SummerFest; but the scope and breadth of their collaboration is bigger and better than ever, and will only grow stronger.
Left to right, in collaboration with Red Mountain Theater, Roy Lightner, Valerie Accetta and Dennis McLernon, UAB Theater teachers, and Sharon Morgan, Costume Studio supervisor. (UAB)
The new campus, with its set and costume shops, theaters, audio booth, sprung-floor rehearsal rooms and more, along with RMT’s excellent productions, provides students with a truly professional experience. After years of piecemeal work in locations across the city, the executive director of RMT Keith Cromwell and staff were able to take the time during the early days of the pandemic to carefully design the building to meet their exact needs.
Birmingham now rivals some of the nation’s biggest and best cities for theater performances, says UAB assistant professor Roy Lightner. Lightner is RMT Singh’s Associate Artistic Director and most recently directed its production of “Once.”
Located just four blocks from the UAB campus, the new Red Mountain Theater Arts Campus is an exceptional place for students to learn, grow, connect and work. It also gives UAB Theater faculty and staff professional opportunities to practice their craft in their own backyards. Outsiders are catching up with Birmingham’s creative potential; visitors from New York and other regional theaters were “stunned” by the quality of the art here. It also helps UAB and other entities recruit professionals to work here.
“Theatre is a collaborative art form, and the industry currently forces talent and skills to improve as they go,” said Lightner. “Just as this beautiful building that opened here fosters that kind of excellence, it then encourages the theater and musical theater program to be better and bigger – it’s like we’re coming together to rise together in the instead of feeling competitive.
“It’s an awesome, artistic collaboration between the two,” he said. “It’s a wonderful relationship that I haven’t seen in a lot of places. It’s super unique and powerful, and how UAB has reached into other areas of the community is so exciting to see.
Working together in so many ways leads to a rich creative environment in Birmingham, says RMT chief executive Jennifer Jacques.
“We always connect individuals, especially students, at the next opportunity,” Jaquess said. “As we have needs, we ask our friends at UAB, ‘Who do you know that might be good for x?’ or “This person applied or auditioned. What can you share about your experience with them?” Some of these could be different roles within RMT’s company, such as acting, front , box office, stage crew, stage shop and more, and others could be in sister organizations around town or even across the country.
Almost every Red Mountain Theater performance has a UAB graduate. RMT can hire up to five current UAB students per production, providing them with real theatrical experience and employment income. Red Mountain still needs a stage crew, sound operators, and projectors, and many of those helpers come from its UAB connections.
UAB Theater graduates on staff at Red Mountain Theater include (left) Kendra Weeks, Jessica Mathews and Olivia Bowles, with Bailey Dumlao for RMT’s ‘Kinky Boots’ production. (UAB)
The professional opportunities RMT provides UAB students will have a significant impact on their careers, especially those who choose to pursue opportunities in other markets, Allison says. Students will have the advantage of forming professional connections during their college studies, which gives them additional references beyond their university faculty.
“We want our students to first gain experience at UAB, enroll, train them so that they actually provide a valuable service to RMT,” Allison said. “It can’t be symbiotic if the students don’t contribute something of value.”
UAB Theater teachers know the people of this community and where students will have a good experience, Allison says. Each theater company operates differently and working with multiple theaters will show if a student can adapt to other ways of doing things.
“I’ve found that UAB holds its students to an incredibly high standard that they not only meet but generally exceed,” said Patrick MacDonald, RMT’s resident designer and sound engineer. “Because we work so closely with staff, we are able to quickly share resources when there is an opening or need.” MacDonald is also a great help when Theater UAB needs help with audio challenges, and RMT Resident Lighting Designer Brad Cozby and RMT Music Supervisor Anthony Smith have also worked with Theater UAB.
“Pro theaters are much more impressed with a one-page resume with three companies than a three-page resume with one location, especially if they know those companies,” Allison said.
UAB graduates on staff at Red Mountain include costume director Kendra Weeks, costume assistant Olivia Bowles, prop supervisor Jessica Mathews, and lead carpenter Dustin Green, among others. For the current show, “Naughty boots“, the costume design is done by the UAB Costume Studio Supervisor Sharon Morgan and recent graduate Bailey Dumlao is assistant manager. Several actors at different stages of their “Kinky Boots” careers are Blazers, including junior McKenna Shaw, recent graduate Thomas McFerran and veteran actor Terrance Campbell.
Later this summer, Valerie Accettahead of UAB Musical Theater, will direct “Cinderella.” Denis McLernon, performance manager and professor at UAB, made her RMT debut with “Once” this spring and will return in “Cinderella,” with recent graduate Rachael-Marie Strazza and current student Jalen Kirkman joining the cast. College student Morgan Tapp was smitten with her memorable performance in “Once,” and Campbell, Eboni Janae, and Kirkman were recently in “Once on this island.”
“RMT always wants to improve,” Lightner said. “Relationships help us move forward. The caliber of theater continues to rise in Birmingham, and as the bar continues to rise, we want to know where we can improve and implement programming to stay competitive.
The education of students under the age of 18 is also an important component of Red Mountain Theater – from summer camps and its ensemble program to the upcoming launch of a conservatory program that will provide more intensive development of theater skills. ‘interpretation. These young people are an excellent pipeline to UAB as potential students.
“We’re seeing kids move from our educational programs into competitive musical theater programs all over the country: Rider, Pace, DePaul, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music,” Lightner said. “And UAB is one of the schools they choose because of the progress we’ve all made here and the support from the community.”
“We see ourselves as a teaching theater,” Jaquess said. “Whether you’re a kid or a seasoned veteran, we always seek to provide an environment for learning and growing, personally and professionally.”
This story originally appeared on the UAB News Website.