UAB Magazine Weekly - Features on Community Outreach
UAB Preserves the Voices of Birmingham’s Past
By Charles Buchanan
Downtown Birmingham seen from Red Mountain Park. Click here for more images. Photo: Eric McFerrin/Red Mountain Park
The mines of Birmingham’s Red Mountain fell silent nearly 50 years ago, but Ike Matson never did. He tells stories about becoming an industrial laborer at the age of 18, his experiences working the slope track that ferried miners to the ore, and the amount of the first paycheck he earned—$72.
He has plenty more stories where those came from, and soon he will share them with thousands of listeners thanks to an oral history project from UAB and Red Mountain Park, a new, 1,108-acre preserve covering much of the former mining lands. Launched in 2009, the ongoing initiative is collecting the accounts of people who lived and worked on the mountain when it was Birmingham’s industrial epicenter.
By Charles Buchanan
Douglas O’Neil (at left in both photos) and members of ETC portray Shakespeare’s rude mechanicals at Sloss Furnaces. Photos by Sharon Creel; courtesy of Muse of Fire
Douglas O’Neil Jr. is an information systems specialist in the UAB Office of Technology and Information Services. But for a few nights last summer he transformed into Peter Quince, one of the comic “rude mechanicals” staging a play within the play of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, produced by Muse of Fire at Sloss Furnaces.
The UAB theatre alumnus got involved with the community theatre group by auditioning for another Shakespearean character—in character as Daffy Duck. He was hired, and he was hooked. “I’ve done every Muse of Fire show I’ve been able to do since then,” he says.
O’Neil found it easy to get into character. “Peter Quince is a carpenter by day, but at night he’s a theatrical director,” he says. “He’s parallel to where I am—I’m sort of the tradesman by day, but I also run an improvisational comedy company.” (O’Neil’s troupe, Extemporaneous Theatre Company—or ETC—performs short-form improv shows in the style of Whose Line Is It Anyway? and long-form “improvised plays” in Birmingham, and portrayed the other rude mechanicals in Dream.) “So it’s tuning into my own excitement. I can really identify with his feelings of ‘This is going to be a great show . . . I hope.’”
Improv has proven to be good preparation for Shakespeare, O’Neil explains. “Shakespeare doesn’t have stage directions or cues to the actor; it’s just the dialogue. So there are so many different ways to interpret these lines that it’s fun to seek out new ways to say these things and different actions to play with them. Doing improv every week forces us to make bolder choices. It helps us get into a land where we’re not afraid to be Daffy Duck in Shakespeare.”
O’Neil and ETC rehearsed three or four nights a week for several months, but even with that amount of practice, the play’s industrial venue can spring some surprises. “It’s an adventure every time,” he says. “We always get to a point when we start rehearsing at Sloss, and we’ll find out that somebody has to exit on one side of Sloss and come in on the other side in 20 seconds—so we’ll be sprinting down and around the blast furnace with swords. It’s a little bit madcap, and sometimes you’re glad you’ve had a tetanus shot, but it’s also what makes these shows unique. Many of the challenges turn out to be bonuses we never expected.”
O’Neil says that performing at Sloss Furnaces with Muse of Fire is “distinctly Birmingham,” offering UAB students and the community an opportunity and an experience that aren’t available anywhere else. “It’s really gratifying and exciting for any theatre person to be involved with a project like that, which seems to have a magical buzz around it and draws in new people. It’s just a whole lot of fun.”
Back to Dream Role
Rolling Clinic Delivers Care to Patients in Need
By Caperton Gillett
Monica Newton helps bring medical care to uninsured residents of Selma and Dallas County as part of the innovative Family Doc in a Bus program.
Monica Newton, D.O., doesn’t quite make house calls. But her Family Doc in a Bus program might be the next best thing. Twice a month for a year, she climbed into an RV and hit the road to bring medical care to uninsured residents of Selma and Dallas County.
Newton, an assistant professor of family medicine in the UAB School of Medicine’s Selma Family Medicine Residency Program, says the idea for the program came to her through her office window. “I would see an RV parked in the lot at the Dallas County Health Department across the street,” she recalls. “I kept thinking about what we could do as a residency program to reach out and connect with our community in need.”
Supported by partners throughout the city, county, and state, the residency program purchased and equipped a 33-foot RV trailer to serve as a mobile family-practice clinic. Outfitted with three exam rooms and a lab, Family Doc in a Bus opened in August 2008 and saw its first patient the following month. Since then, the rolling clinic has made more than 20 trips and treated more than 350 patients through more than 600 patient visits, offering a wide range of care from cancer screenings and ophthalmology services to treatment for diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
UAB Saddles Up With Special Equestrians
By Caperton Gillett
“Making disabilities disappear.” That’s the motto of the Special Equestrians therapeutic riding program at Indian Springs School. And when the children mount up, it becomes clear that there are no disabilities here, only horseback riders—guiding their steeds through serpentines, picking up rings, throwing beanbags, and performing exercises that belie their physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges.
“Horses are amazing,” says Kathleen Claybrook, executive director of Special Equestrians. “Their hip action is almost identical to a person’s, so just by virtue of sitting on a horse, a rider with a physical disability can gain strength and mobility. They can increase their balance and core strength, relax the muscles, stimulate the nerves—you name it, they can do it, just sitting on the horse. And for somebody with a cognitive disability, sometimes it’s the movement that motivates them to do something that they wouldn’t want to do otherwise.”
Brazilians are familiar with green and gold—or at least green and yellow, the colors of their national flag. But they can find other reminders of home at UAB thanks to the Brazilian Student and Scholar Association. Ana Oliveira, one of the group’s leaders and a research associate in the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases, estimates that at least 50 Brazilian families live in the Birmingham area—mainly UAB graduate students, trainees, fellows, and scholars focusing on research and health care. “The opportunity to improve our English and the experience of getting to know American culture in a diverse environment are some of the big pluses of being at UAB,” she says.
The association offers opportunities for Birmingham Brazilians to keep in touch and speak Portuguese, Oliveira says, and the group often gathers to watch soccer games or dance and sing. “We also share our culture at UAB and community events, from the International Bazaar and Food Fair to presentations at public schools,” she adds.
Oliveira notes that Birmingham’s slower pace often surprises new arrivals used to the intense activity of Brazil’s major cities. But she says that Brazilian families quickly see Birmingham’s advantages, including lower costs and less traffic than they would experience in Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro.