The Play's the Thing
By Jo Lynn Orr
UAB Theatre's production of Three Sisters featured contributions from all three students profiled in this article.
Long before the curtains slide back to unveil a new play at UAB, thousands of hours of hard work have gone on behind the scenes. While actors bring a playwright’s words to life under the guidance of a director, the costume, scenic, lighting, and sound designers all play crucial roles in helping theatregoers suspend disbelief and engage with the action. And central to all aspects of any theatrical performance is the stage manager—a field general who makes sure the whole operation runs smoothly and on schedule. Meet three UAB senior theatre majors who make sure the show goes on.
World on a String
Marci Turner-Holcombe comes from a long line of clothiers. After her great-grandfather died, Turner-Holcombe’s great-grandmother supported the family by making wedding dresses. Her mother earned extra money by sewing and selling fabric dolls; she also made all of Marci’s clothes. Marci herself began sewing at about age five. “My mother would take my Barbie doll’s original clothes apart,” she recalls, “so that I could use them as patterns to create new clothes from different fabrics.”
Initially, Turner-Holcombe didn’t see herself making a living as a costumer. After graduating from Tarrant High School, she struck out on her own, first living in New Orleans and then Washington, D.C., where she worked as an accountant. It wasn’t until she moved back to the Birmingham area and married that she decided she wanted a career doing something she loved.
“I enrolled at UAB, took a costume class, and fell in love with the theatre,” she says. “I knew this was where I wanted to be.” Turner-Holcombe’s designs have appeared in many UAB shows, including an over-the-top production of The Rocky Horror Show and We Three, an original UAB production written by Paul Shoulberg. She will be designing costumes for Theatre UAB’s production of Macbeth in spring 2012.
After she graduates in May 2012, Turner-Holcombe plans to build a freelance business designing wedding dresses and formal attire and creating costumes for local theatre troupes. “Not long ago, I landed a job designing costumes for a belly dancer, which could lead to designing for the whole troupe,” she says.
The Fellow Behind the Curtain
Jereme K. Lewis enrolled at UAB as a freshman theatre major in fall 2007. He was attracted to the university “because it has one of the most impressive theatre programs in the Southeast”; he also liked the fact that UAB is located in Alabama’s largest city. Having grown up in a globe-trotting military family, Lewis was ready for big-city life again after spending several years in a small town.
Jereme K. Lewis,
The theatre bug bit Lewis when he was just nine years old. His family had relocated to Savannah, Georgia; to get away from unpacking, they decided to take in a movie. “While we were looking at the movie listings,” Lewis recalls, “we saw an ad for a play and decided to go see it instead.” It was a pivotal decision. The play was Charlotte’s Web, and in the program was a note about auditions for the troupe’s next production. Lewis decided to try out, and he was immediately hooked.
At first, Lewis focused on performing; it wasn’t until his freshman year at UAB that he became involved in stage management. “I was asked to be the assistant stage manager for The Laramie Project,” he says. “A good stage manager must be super-organized, which I am. I’m used to keeping things clean and neat and having a place for everything, so it just kind of fits.”
Stage managers are responsible for all aspects of a performance, especially when it comes to time management. “You can’t be a dictator,” Lewis says. “You must be able to work well with others—but at the same time, you need to have a strong hand because you are in charge of the schedule. Being a stage manager is a fine balance between being personable and being able to take charge of a situation. You also need good communication skills because you want everyone involved in the show to feel comfortable talking with you.”
Lewis clearly had the right skills—and quickly became a behind-the-scenes star. His first leading role as stage manager was in UAB’s production of The Rivals. “Originally, I was supposed to be the assistant stage manager,” Lewis explains, “but about a week into the process, the stage manager had to back out, and I had to take over—having never stage-managed in my life.”
The first-timer was a hit—in fact, his work on The Rivals earned him a spot at the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. Then, at the Kennedy Center, Lewis earned another honor: He was selected for the national Eugene O’Neill Stage Management Fellowship in Connecticut in summer 2010. “None of that would have happened if it weren’t for the UAB Department of Theatre, especially [chair] Kelly Allison, who guided me through The Rivals and whose office door is always open to students,” Lewis notes.
He says that one of the department’s best qualities is that students aren’t locked into one particular specialty. “We get a great overview of all the components of staging productions,” Lewis says. “You need skills in more than one area if you want to succeed in the real world of theatre.”
Daniel Timothy Martin,
Daniel Timothy Martin decided to transfer to UAB in 2008 because of the theatre program’s history—and its forward-looking mindset. “The program is well established,” Martin says, “but I also liked the fact that UAB was staging some contemporary plays that weren’t being done at most of the other colleges around Alabama.”
Martin isn’t afraid to explore new frontiers himself. In fact, he’s developed into a theatre triple threat while at UAB. “I have focused on three components: performing, directing, and playwriting,” he says. The common link is that each comes down to storytelling, Martin explains. “If you’re an actor, you’re portraying the story though the character. If you are a playwright, you are using the director, actors, and designers to tell your story—laying the groundwork, so to speak. If you are the director, you’re making sure all of these elements succinctly come together to tell a story to an audience.”
Martin is leaning toward playwriting as a career. Several of his projects have been produced in the theatre department’s annual Festival of Ten-Minute Plays. And in 2010, two of his plays—Bag Boy and Pink Lemonade—were produced at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Region IV competition. Those productions garnered him an invitation to attend the national Kennedy Center program in Washington, D.C., where he worked with professional playwrights such as Pulitzer-Prize winner Marsha Norman, professor of drama at Juilliard.
Martin plans to earn a master’s degree in theatre and to teach; he also hopes to have a full-length play produced professionally. “I enjoy examining cultural and social issues, such as stereotypes and race relations, and then writing about them in a way that educates and informs people,” Martin says, “without making them feel like they’re being preached at.”