Nestled in the heart of Pepper Place, there is a theater with seven rows of chairs—98 seats in total. Founded by Carl W. Stewart and Steve Stella in 1986, Terrific New Theatre was created to be a place where both professionals and amateurs could experience the joy of theatre.
And that is the essence of community theatre: places that “involve more participants, present more performances of more productions, and play to more people than any other performing art in the country,” according to the American Association of Community Theatre.
Terrific New Theatre is one of several community theaters in Birmingham. Artistic Director Tam DeBolt loves the team-oriented feeling of community theatre. “Everything is so positive—it’s like a team sport. Everyone’s involved in making sure that the end result is worth the price of a ticket,” she says.
DeBolt claims there is a different vibe when working in a community theater than when working in a professional one because the people you are working with are not simply doing it for the paycheck. She wants people to understand that even though it isn’t professional theatre, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t good theatre.
Kirsten Quinn, a theater major at Birmingham-Southern University, grew up performing at a community theatre. It was there she learned her craft, made connections with local theatre professionals and grew in her love for the art. Quinn had fun participating in shows, but also notes, “The more we take arts out of our schools, the more important community theatre becomes.”
In Birmingham, the theatre is growing. Melanie Hollenstien, a recent college graduate, has been performing in community theaters since she was in middle school. She is currently in a production of Spamalot at the Virginia Samford Theatre. She has noticed in many other cities that there is support for theatre and says that as theatre grows, “Birmingham’s just now getting a taste of that.”
It is the team atmosphere that makes community theatre fun, and the accessibility that makes it important. Community theatre can be the foot in the door for aspiring performers, directors or technicians. It’s a place for them to learn, grow and build community. For those who don’t aspire to build a career in theatre, it is a place to see some incredible pieces and to experience theatre in the community that is put on by the community. It is a place where theatre can thrive.
To learn more about Terrific New Theatre and view their upcoming events, click here.