Department of Theatre

  • “SpongeBob” actor Troy Serena learned all his moves at UAB

    Voted Best Performer in a Musical by Birmingham Broadway World for his sensational performance as SpongeBob SquarePants for Theatre UAB, Serena will reprise the role for professional theater after graduation.

  • Theatre UAB presents “Into the Woods” in a new way, April 12-16

    Are we already in the woods? This production of Sondheim’s beloved play looks at the dangers society has created with sets inspired by Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces.

  • In April, explore UAB’s academic arts performances

    For “April is for the Arts,” the UAB College of Arts and Sciences highlights the extraordinary talent from across the college’s fine art academic units for a month of events.

  • Renita Lewis keeps taking steps forward

    When Renita Lewis enrolled in college in 2008, she was focused on two things: playing basketball and studying nursing. So, it might be a surprise to learn that she is now an accomplished actor earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in Drama at The Julliard School and starring in a play at Lincoln Center in New York City. For Lewis, the pivot into the arts began with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Theatre.

    Renita Lewis (Photo Credit: Roger Neve)When Renita Lewis enrolled in college in 2008, she was focused on two things: playing basketball and studying nursing. So, it might be a surprise to learn that she is now an accomplished actor earning her Master of Fine Arts degree in Drama at The Julliard School and starring in a play at Lincoln Center in New York City. For Lewis, the pivot into the arts began with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Theatre.

    “It’s all the department—UAB theatre changed my life,” said Lewis, a UAB theatre alumna who graduated in 2014. “What a blessing that I was able to walk through the doors [of the department].”

    Lewis’ academic career at UAB did not begin immediately after high school graduation, though.

    While in high school in Alabaster, Alabama, Lewis earned a basketball scholarship from the University of Alabama at Huntsville. She was eager to move away from her hometown and experience new things, so she jumped at the opportunity to relocate to Huntsville, play basketball at the collegiate level, and earn a degree in nursing. Those plans changed after she arrived on campus.

    “I got placed in a hospice facility during our [nursing] training, and I quickly learned that I was feeling things way too deeply,” said Lewis. “I reached out for support… The advice I received was, ‘You have to get more distance [from] this,’ but I had no tools to really do that.”

    At the same time, the basketball program was undergoing personnel changes, and, as a result, Lewis lost her scholarship. Suddenly, she was no longer playing college basketball and feeling distant from her intended career path.

    “I wanted to stay in the [health] field, and I ended up switching to health care management,” said Lewis. “I transferred to UAB to be closer to home.”

    While at UAB, Lewis started reexamining her interests. Thankfully, during this period of reflection, she enrolled in an acting class with Dennis McLernon, Head of Performance and Professor in the Department of Theatre. The class prompted a moment of discovery for Lewis.

    “I thought, ‘These are my people, and this is what I’m supposed to be doing,’” said Lewis. “With Dennis, there was a freedom to explore the imagination and explore given circumstances. Dennis taught us that acting was the study of the human condition. Personally, [he] was giving me tools to handle some real things in my life.”

    Soon after taking McLernon’s class, Lewis decided to declare a major in theatre and immediately formed deep bonds with several faculty members, including Karla Koskinen, Cliff Simon, and Marlene Johnson. Through these mentors, Lewis learned about theatre, as well as life.

    “I was learning more about myself and people and why I feel the way I feel. The training I received felt so holistic,” said Lewis. “The things I learned in that program, I’m learning now [at Julliard] by the way… I’m just going deeper now.”

    That training led her to perform in several memorable productions during her time at UAB, including “Big Love” in 2013 and “Rabbit Hole” in 2014.

    One of her most impactful moments at UAB did not focus on theatre, movement, or voice, though. Instead, it was an insight shared by Marlene Johnson soon after she received a difficult health diagnosis.

    “She had just received her diagnosis, and she shared it with [my class]. I was distraught,” said Lewis. “I was like, ‘How do you just switch like that [and continue teaching]?’ And [Marlene said], ‘Well, that was one step. We have to move to the next step or else we’re just stuck in the chaos. That’s momentum. However that step looks, you just are there. Then you take another step, and you’re somewhere else.’ That has brought me through many a dark day.”

    Sadly, Johnson passed away on November 2, 2020. Her positive impact on students is undeniable, and her legacy continues to live on at UAB and the Department of Theatre. According to Lewis, Johnson’s powerful words continue to guide her, and she wants to share that same wisdom with future theatre graduates.

    “Accept that life is going to happen and that it's leading somewhere, just trust that there is something [ahead],” said Lewis. “Keep going. Take another step.”

    And Lewis is still taking steps. After graduating from UAB, she moved to New York City, and, for the past seven years, she has starred in off-Broadway productions, commercials, and scripted podcasts. In addition, she teaches theatre and acting in schools across all five boroughs through The Leadership Program. And, on July 20, she will fulfill a lifelong dream when “FLEX” opens at Lincoln Center.

    For Lewis, starring in “FLEX” is a full circle moment, because the play (which was written by Chandrice Jones) is about a group of basketball players in the South who aspire to make it to the WNBA—a subject that is close to Lewis’ own experience.

    “The show is about these girls trying to get recruited right out of high school in a small southern town… and how big basketball is to these girls and [it connects with] how big [basketball] was for me. All of it is so specific,” said Lewis, as she reflected on the parallels with her own life.

    As she looks to the future and continues to prepare for more “steps,” UAB’s Department of Theatre is never far from her heart or mind. “None of this happens without the training I got at UAB. None of it happens,” said Lewis.

  • Theatre UAB presents “Sanctuary City” from March 6-10

    Audiences are in for an unconventional experience in this brisk 90-minute show, which uses citizenship and documentation to speak on identity, belonging and privilege and is shaped by the actors’ own heritage.

  • See absurd comedy “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” from Feb. 22-26 at UAB

    Acclaimed as a post-modern dramatic masterpiece, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” is the fabulously inventive tale of Hamlet as told from two minor characters in Shakespeare’s play.

  • See “Sense and Sensibility” as never before, presented by Theatre UAB

    Theatre UAB presents a playful new adaptation of Jane Austen’s beloved novel, with glorious costumes, pop music and bright bursts of color, Nov. 9-12 and 16-19.

  • Kyle Adams and Ummu Bah are the 2022-2023 Mr. and Ms. UAB

    The Mr. and Ms. UAB Scholarship Competition is one of UAB’s longest-standing Homecoming traditions. Each winner will receive a $2,500 scholarship and serve as an ambassador of UAB.

  • Theatre UAB opens new season with musical “A New Brain,” from Oct. 12-16

    When we are on the brink of life, how do we choose to spend our time? This sardonic comedy is from the Tony Award-winning authors of “Falsettos.”

  • Theatre teaches soft skills

    Creative high school students find a home in theatre departments because they feel valued. But we also need to be thinking about the future.

    It’s not easy to convince students and their parents that a degree in theatre will ensure success in life. If I can be totally honest with readers, the majority of students who graduate with degrees related to theatre don’t go on to achieve fame and fortune in a job related to theatre. There… I’ve spilled the beans. This isn’t an industry secret that I have foolishly disclosed. And I suspect this is true for many disciplines. With this in mind, we often ask our students what they will do if they can’t do the thing that drew them to theatre. What is their plan B or the “other” option? Specifically, what will they do to pay their bills so that they can continue acting, designing, or, in some other way, creating theatre?

    A student in my Theatre Cornerstone class last year, I’ll call them Pat, told me, “A plan B is for losers.” A lot of responses rolled through my head, but I settled on, “You go, Pat!” It didn’t seem like the right moment to pull Pat back down to earth. Pat might actually achieve fame and fortune in theatre. They are very talented, focused, and driven. While I admire Pat’s passion and confidence, the reality is different for most of our students. Most of them are starting this journey in a whole different place. For the record, I’ve always had a plan B, so...

    Oddly enough, I believe a theatre education is more valuable for students who do not have Pat’s gifts. Pat is a triple threat who can act, sing, and dance—they are kind of a unicorn, though. So, why do students who might not become professional theatre performers enroll as theatre majors? If you gather 20 of them in a room and ask that question, you’ll get 20 different answers. There will be similarities, but every answer will be nuanced. Some have a true passion for theatre and want to pursue a career as an actor, designer, director, stage manager, or another role required to produce live theatre. It might surprise readers to learn that many students enroll as theatre majors because it’s a community that accepts them the way they are. It’s a safe place. It would require all my fingers and toes to count all the students who have told me that theatre saved their life in high school. Sadly, they are being literal my friends. It’s sad but it’s also gratifying to know that I work in a field that has that power. The theatre community doesn’t just tolerate diversity—we embrace it and celebrate it. Creative high school students find a home in theatre departments because they feel valued. But it’s not enough to feel safe and valued—we also need to be thinking about the future.

    I think graduates from our programs fall into three groups. Group one includes those who find success after graduation in the theatre industry. They are the smallest group. Then, there are those who find success in allied industries like film, dance, music, and opera. Also in this second group are the graduates who pursue careers in industries that value the technical skills our graduates learned studying theatre, including education, event management, fashion design, marketing, content creation, graphic design, public relations, politics, interior design, and many others. There are elements of theatre in all these industries. Students in the third group find work in fields that seem totally unrelated to theatre—the key word is “seem.” Because the thing that contributes more than anything to the success of our graduates in all three groups is the development of soft skills.

    Do a search for “soft skills” on your web browser, and you will find hundreds of lists. Narrow the search to “soft skills employers value,” and you’ll find dozens more. Some of the soft skills that you’ll typically find on these lists are critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, social skills, poise, confidence, communication skills (verbal and written), listening, collaboration/teamwork, resource management, introspection, and adaptability. These are skills and character traits that are important in any setting, and our majors develop these skills and character traits doing theatre. Every play we produce presents a new set of challenges and requires all of us working as a team to create a new world onstage to tell stories that enlighten and entertain our audiences.

    We tell our new students that the jobs they will pursue in four years don’t exist today. So, what are we doing with them for four years? In the Department of Theatre, we are preparing our graduates to be employees who can adapt and learn new things. We are preparing them to be creative thinkers who can work independently and collaborate as a member of a team. We are training them to communicate effectively with the written and spoken word. We are helping them develop the poise, confidence, and introspection required to be effective leaders. And, most important, we provide opportunities to explore the lives of others so that they will be empathetic human beings.

    It may sound like a magic elixir, and in some ways, it is.

    By Kelly Allison, chair of the Department of Theatre

  • UAB Department of Theatre announces new season of plays for 2022-2023

    Theatre UAB will present “A New Brain,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” “Sanctuary City,” and “Into the Woods” for its 2022-2023 season.

  • Theatre UAB grad wins national award, after starting career in costumes then pursuing her Ph.D.

    This year, Theatre UAB alumna Skye Geerts Strauss earned her Ph.D. from Northwestern, won a USITT Merit Award and will begin teaching this fall at Baylor University.

  • UAB student’s work recognized by Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival

    Amanda Grace Waller, 22, was named a national finalist for the KCACTF’s Barbizon Award for Excellence in Lighting Design and was one of two students nationally given a special achievement award.

  • For The World Games 2022, Birmingham puts on its biggest shows ever — with help from UAB artists

    UAB faculty, staff and students are helping create, organize and perform in the massive opening and closing ceremonies, happening July 7 and July 17 at Protective Stadium.

  • Theatre UAB finds new synergy, collaboration with Red Mountain Theatre

    Opportunities for UAB theater students and faculty are booming with Red Mountain Theatre in its new 60,000-square-foot Arts Campus in the city’s burgeoning Parkside District.

  • Employees recognized at 2021 UAB Service Awards

    Twenty-seven College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on April 11, 2022.

    Dean Kecia M. Thomas with Kim Hazelwood at the UAB Service Awards reception.Twenty-seven College of Arts and Sciences employees who have worked at UAB for 20 years or more were recognized at the UAB Service Awards reception on April 11, 2022. These dedicated colleagues were honored for their number of years of employment at UAB as of December 31, 2021.


    The UAB Service Awards are given to active employees beginning at five years of employment and at each five-year milestone. Employees who reach 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, and 45 years of service are invited to a reception on behalf of UAB President Ray L. Watts and presented with a service award pin, certificate, and a gift of gratitude.


    This year, Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, professor in the Department of Biology and co-director of the Undergraduate Immunology Program, was honored for 50 years of service to UAB. Dr. Gregory Pence, professor in the Department of Philosophy and director of the Early Medical School Acceptance Program, was honored for 45 years of service. Congratulations to all our colleagues for their dedication and commitment to the University’s mission and vision.

    50-Year Recipient: Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, professor in the Department of Biology

    20-Year Recipients

    • Kimberly H. Hazelwood, College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Office
    • Erin Wright, Art and Art History
    • Tanja Matthews, Chemistry
    • Dr. Jacqueline Nikles, Chemistry
    • Daniel L. Butcher, English
    • Dr. Gale M. Temple, English
    • Dr. Lourdes M. Sanchez-Lopez, Foreign Languages and Literatures
    • Dr. Stephen J. Miller, History
    • Dr. John Heith Copes, Criminal Justice
    • Dr. Reinhard E. Fambrough, Music
    • Dr. Gitendra Uswatte, Psychology
    45-Year Recipient: Dr. Gregory E. Pence, professor in the Department of Philosophy

    25-Year Recipients

    • James R. Grimes, Advising
    • Margaret Amsler, Biology
    • Leslie C. Hendon, Biology
    • Adriana S. Addison, Psychology
    • Dr. Karlene K. Ball, Psychology
    • Wanda R. Fisher, Psychology
    • Pamela Y. Robinson, Psychology

    30-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Tracy P. Hamilton, Chemistry
    • Dr. Kathryn D. Morgan, Criminal Justice and African American Studies
    • Kimberly A. Schnormeier, Theatre

    35-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Edwin W. Cook III, Psychology
    • Dr. Edward Taub, Psychology

    40-Year Recipients

    • Dr. Howard L. Irving, Music
    • Dr. Franklin R. Amthor, Psychology

    45-Year Recipient

    • Dr. Gregory E. Pence, Philosophy

    50-Year Recipient

    • Dr. Vithal K. Ghanta, Biology

  • Graduating students make a splash while creating “The SpongeBob Musical”

    Lighting designer Bailey Dumlao and co-director Devin Ty Franklin are two of the artists behind the scenes of Theatre UAB’s “The SpongeBob Musical.”

  • See “The SpongeBob Musical” by Theatre UAB from April 13-17

    When the Mount Humungous volcano threatens to annihilate the town, the citizens of Bikini Bottom must come together in this zany musical, which makes use of recycled and repurposed props, scenery and costumes.

  • Celebrate student creativity and fine arts April 11-20 with Arts Week 2022

    The College of Arts and Sciences will elevate a series of student performances, exhibitions and events for the new Arts Week celebration in April.

  • Theatre UAB grad is co-producer of “The Gilded Age,” HBO drama set in booming 1882

    The American period piece is entertainment “on a grand scale.” Alumnus Luke Harlan helped to shape the sumptuous new series and he credits the UAB Department of Theatre, where he learned many of his skills.