Theater Tuscaloosa’s SecondStage brings its festival of one-act plays to life


In rockets, a smaller second stage reinforces the primary, which handles much of the initial heavy lifting. Working in tandem, the linked steps soar.

In theatre, a second stage is also usually smaller, with the main one hosting large musicals or shows more focused on set and design, attracting larger crowds.

The Tuscaloosa Theater grew in the 80s and 90s under the leadership of Artistic Director Emeritus Paul K. Looney, the late Doug Perry and others, evolving from a convergence of Tuscaloosa Community Players, Punch and Judy Children’s Theatre, SummerShow and Shelton State. Community College, in the offshoot program – its logo is a widespread tree – to become the largest performing arts group in western Alabama.

Its SecondStage offshoot developed as a venue for more intimate or experimental productions, studio material, featuring up-and-coming writers, directors and actors. With fewer stakes, there is less weight; with lighter loads, greater portability.

So this week’s Festival of One Acts goes live at Shelton State Community College’s CA Fredd campus at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, ending with a matinee at 2 p.m. Sunday.

That’s not where the company lives, at the Sandra Hall-Ray Fine Arts Center on Shelton State’s main campus, the Martin Campus at 9500 Greensboro Road. But SecondStage is looking for new homes to showcase its work, having settled into the Drish House, the downtown Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center and other locations.

Also this week, and also led by Theater Tuscaloosa project coordinator Kiera Gillock, will be the company’s annual fundraiser, “Lights, Camera, Auction!”, designed and executed online only, with bids registered via messages to www.32auctions.com/TheatreTuscaloosa.

There’s also been a house change there: Last year, a Facebook-only setup caused logistical issues, so it was moved to a dedicated auction site. Auctions will be handmade arts and crafts, signed show memorabilia, professional services, event tickets and more, going live at 9 a.m. Thursday and closing at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Among the items in the auction for the Tuscaloosa Theater

Each year revenue has increased, with 2021 revenue reaching nearly $6,400. It goes into a general fund, but that amount could fund three SecondStage productions, which usually only cost a few thousand, depending on location.

The company’s expenses are higher than people realize, said Tina F. Turley, executive producer. For example, the summer of 2009 “The Sound of Music” cost around $65,000, and although it sold out nearly every show, ticket revenue could not cover those costs.

“Royalties for music cost anywhere from $800 to $1,000 per night,” Turley said, referring to licensing fees paid to copyright owners, based on formulas involving seats, sales, number of performances, etc.

“By the time you hire the musicians, pay the designers, buy the wood, thrift the dresses…I think the sales have almost paid off,” she said.

And that’s for a hit, not for the rest of a season. Thus, the company relies on donations, corporate sponsorships, and grants from the city and other foundations, including the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

The Tuscaloosa Theater also thrives on its partnership with Shelton State, which pays salaries and employee benefits, and houses facilities including its Bean-Brown Theater main stage, with an adjoining workshop and loading dock; suits, dressing rooms and green rooms upstairs; Wilson Carr rehearsal room; Alabama Power Recital Hall; offices and more.

Among the gift packages auctioned at Theater Tuscaloosa's

“If we had to live on ticket sales alone, we would be sunk,” Turley said.

“Lights, camera, bidding!” proved an event that was easy to stage, and more creative than holding out an empty hand. The idea was partly born out of fundraisers around that “Sound of Music,” like “Maria’s Bridal Shower,” where, say, $50 would get you the ex-nun’s wedding veil.

“People get stuff and they love donating. It’s pure fun and it’s damn easy. You don’t have to dress up for it,” Turley said.

Along with offerings like four tickets to Broadway star Audra McDonald’s concert in Atlanta, gift sets from retailers like Ernest and Hadley Booksellers and Left Hand Soap, handmade jewelry and one-of-a-kind artworks, the auction offers professional services.

“They’re tailored to our audience,” Gillock said, with lessons in acting, tax planning, estate preparation, resume consulting and more. “Services are the thing we try to focus on the most; it’s the most unusual thing that people can’t find on their own, in an accessible way.”

This furniture set including chairs, side table and lamp is among the auction items available at Theater Tuscaloosa.

Auction items can be viewed at www.32auctions.com/TheatreTuscaloosa. Bidders will need to create an account, but it is not necessary to be on Facebook.

For those keen to find out where the money is going, the curtain on the Festival of Acts goes up on Wednesday evening. The omnibus show was one of the company’s last live performances of 2020, in early March, just before the COVID-19 shutdown. For 2021, the one-act effort has gone virtual, from auditions to rehearsals to performances.

“I don’t know if I’ve met a single person who came out (of the pandemic) with a big ambition to pursue virtual live theater,” Gillock said with a laugh. But the experience has taught them things, such as that virtual auditions can work, and line-ups — rehearsals where actors just say their lines, with no action — can also zoom.

“Is this how we want to conduct our business in the future? No. Is this really a useful technique that we’ve never considered before? Yeah,” she said.

But this week’s festival will take place live, in a newly renovated hall on the Fredd campus. A veteran actor of this and other companies, Colton Crowe will lead his first show with Rob Ackerman’s “On the Menu.” Longtime Tuscaloosa Theater actress and recent SecondStage director Carol DeVelice directs Jean Lenox Toddie’s “Moonbeams in Mid-Morning,” and frequent performer NorQuina Rieves will, like Crowe, take on her first directing job, in “Check Please!” by Jonathan Rand.

Gillock selected the directors and each chose their play, although she offered advice from her screenplay collections.

In “On the Menu”, a mother (Jessica Briana Kelly) tries to give her daughter (Alexys Smiley), “the talk” before the daughter leaves for a culinary summer camp.

“It’s more of a sketch than a play,” Gillock said. “It’s really cute and it’s funny. … I think it’s just borderline connecting with our modern audience, our contemporary audience.

This ceramic work by famed potter Jerry Brown is among the items for sale as part of Theater Tuscaloosa's fundraiser

“The mother tries to impress her daughter: ‘Because I saw your search history and I know what you saw on the Internet, I want you to know that this is not real life.’ But that also changes, and the daughter talks to her mother about the transition in HER life, becoming again what she was before becoming a mother.”

Toddie’s “Moonbeams in Mid-Morning” is a “…quirky little tune,” Gillock said. “Every time you go through it, every time you read it, every time you see it, a little nuance comes out. And I think that’s Carol’s strength, extracting those nuances.”

It revolves around a young journalist traveling to the Florida Everglades to track down an essayist who has disappeared from public view. It features Bryne Zuege as William, Mariah Kravitz as Carla, and Louise Manos as Barbara.

“Check please!” is nonsensical fun, Gillock said.

This signed copy of Lila Quintero Weaver's book

“It’s those characters that you see in people you meet every day, but just magnified,” she said. “This piece really allowed NorQuina to embrace his comedic side.”

Guy (DeAnthony Mays) and Girl (Melissa Grantham) navigate the awkwardness of a speed-dating event, with musical chair characters played by Elizabeth Ward, Katherine Brown, Charles Abernathy, Jacob Shelton and Carson Grantham. Speaking of goofy and comedic, Carson is Melissa’s son, so it was a source of unintended laughs during the process, Gillock said, but they’re working on it.

Admission is $8 general, at the door. To learn more, see www.theatretusc.com.

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