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.

TWG ART StreamKendra Weeks and Marci Turner, UAB Department of Theatre alums, are coordinating costumes for The World Games 2022. Photography: Steve WoodThe most extravagant performances in Birmingham’s history are taking place for The World Games 2022 this month, and artists from the University of Alabama at Birmingham are using their skills to make it happen.

The opening and closing ceremonies July 7 and July 17 at Protective Stadium — on par with Super Bowl halftime shows in production — will feature superstar performing artists, musicians, dancers, props and more, with elaborate choreography and stage design, original musical arrangements, and hundreds of costume changes.  

University Professor of Music Henry Panion III, Ph.D., is artistic director for The World Games 2022, overseeing the creative production in areas including audio, orchestration, visuals, dance and drama, among others. Faculty, staff and students from UAB are contributing their know-how in music, costumes, organization, talent, performance and more.

The festive musical and theatrical shows will have a 75-piece orchestra with members of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, a 120-member youth choir, a 120-member gospel choir, a 100-member concert choir, auxiliary percussionists, herald trumpets and more, as well as dancers and field pageantry artists. Some of those performers may have up to four costume changes.

The opening and closing ceremonies will include a slate of iconic artists representing a broad range of genres and styles including pop, rock, gospel, hip-hop, R&B, country, and Latin. Among them are Bootsy Collins as master of ceremonies, Nelly, the band Alabama, Tuskegee native Lionel Richie, Tony! Toni! Tone!, Sara Evans, Yolanda Adams, Jamey Johnson, Ruben Studdard, Sheila E., Martha Reeves, Taylor Hicks, Yung Bleu, Bo Bice, Worth the Wait, Pastor Mike J, and the Blind Boys of Alabama. Read more and buy tickets at

The creative details of The World Games 2022 ceremonies –

“These ceremonies will be unlike any previous,” Panion said. “This is truly going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, as The World Games have not been in the United States for more than 40 years.”

He has written more than 45 new orchestral works for this production, including new orchestral arrangements of the artists’ hit songs, as well as fresh arrangements of songs like “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Bo Bice and Dr. Panion resizeHenry Panion with Bo Bice of “American Idol” fame.
Photo credit: Connor Lancaster for Henry Panion.
First brought on to write and work with the music, Panion became creative director and now oversees 11 creative departments for The World Games 2022. In designing the show, he recruited people from here and all over the country to contribute their talents in making the shows a success.

Playwright and Associate Professor of Theatre Lee Shackleford worked with Panion to write the announcer’s scripts and wrote four very short films to be broadcast during the opening ceremonies. Shot by Emmy-winning director Mike Edwards, the vignettes are about the potential and power Birmingham has had from the beginning and the promise it holds for the future.

The schedule for rehearsing the ceremonies in locations around town has been very detailed. Putting on a performance with just one artist is challenging — the logistical needs of organizing all the performers involved is massive.

“I can’t think of anything in Birmingham when we have had that many artists together at one time. On two different shows, just take your pick; whichever show you want to come to will be amazing.

“I am really honored. I am really grateful,” Panion said with a smile, “but I have never worked so hard in my life.”

Department of Music faculty, staff and students step up – 

herald trumpetsHenry Panion III, Ph.D., with James Zingara, DMA, far right, and Steve Roberts, DMA, second from right, with the herald trumpet group.
Photo credit: Connor Lancaster for Henry Panion.
UAB faculty, staff and students from the College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Music are helping create and support music in the ceremonies. Student interns are doing audio engineering and music score work.

Professor and assistant director of Bands Gene Fambrough, DMA, leads an epic drumline: A group of 14 UAB Music students and Clay-Chalkville High School students will come out on the field with Sheila E., in a scene that also features Nelly and Bootsy Collins. Among the performers are a group from the UAB Marching Blazers’ flag corps and a small chorus group from the UAB Gospel and Concert choirs.

Recording engineer James Bevelle will run the sound. Associate Professor James Zingara, DMA, and Steve Roberts, DMA, are working with a herald trumpet group. Associate Professor Brian Kittredge, DMA, and Assistant Professor Reginald Jackson, Ph.D., are assistant choral directors.

Assistant Professor of Music Technology Craig Brandwein is the librarian over the myriad orchestrations and arrangements. Working with Brandwein as orchestra library assistants are Mary Brandwein and music students Arrany Spence, Maddie Dannelly, Mark Borden and Mollie Flotemersch, who are coordinating and assembling the folders of music for each musician. Keyboardist and producer Greg Phillinganes, a 2021 UAB Distinguished Visiting Professor, is working in the orchestration department and performing in the band. 

For some of the ceremonies’ “really cool” interlude music, pieces created by students in UAB’s music technology program were incorporated. One work, “Sounds of Birmingham,” cleverly fuses factory and industrial sounds to bridge two important scenes in the theatrical component of the show. Student Kitwan McCoy and two program graduates, Connor Lancaster and Josh Ford, are also working with Panion at his Audiostate 55 Recording Studios.

On the plaza, music technology students will staff a small mobile studio station — almost like a photo booth — in the Microsoft tent. People can go in, play a little and come out with some new music.  

TWG 2022 costumes are in good hands with Theatre UAB –

Costume and design for the ceremonies is led by Twyla Grider, who engaged Department of Theatre Chair and Professor Kelly Allison as a theatrical consultant. Two Theatre alumnae, Marci Turner and Kendra Weeks, are the co-costume coordinators, working with a team of seven UAB students as costume technicians. The students, Anna Medders, McKenna Shaw, Terrell Miller, Morgan Rankin-Taylor, Søren Klinger, Briana Scott and CJ Romano, will also be on the wardrobe crew backstage for the opening and closing ceremonies.  

TWG UAB Theatre Costume shop 17 resizedTheatre student Anna Medders works with spray dye to distress shirts for costumes. Photography: Steve WoodThe custom-designed costumes are being prepared for the stage by laundering, steaming and ironing, and the team is altering some other purchased pieces, making alterations to borrowed and rented costumes, and dying and distressing other pieces. On one Saturday, the costume team did 60 fittings for dancers and color guard, with one to four costumes per person, at Miles College, where field rehearsals were taking place. 

“It takes a whole lot of organizing for more than 400 performers, and many of them have multiple costume changes during the performances,” Allison said. 

Costume construction is a relatively small part of the job compared to the amount of prepping and organizing required for the project, but it is much more than the Theatre UAB crew typically does for a stage production in the department. Some of the costume construction is being done in studios in other states. Nearly every space in the department has been filled with racks of costumes.  

“When we are done, all of the costumes will require about 100 linear feet of hanging space,” Allison said. “It is a big project, to say the least.”

They are also building new costumes, including some for the celebrity performers. One cool item? A cape for Sheila E.

The World Games 2022 theme song, “Hope of Alabama” –

A highlight is the new World Games 2022 theme song “Hope of Alabama,” co-written by Panion, Owen — of the beloved group Alabama — and Alison Owen, which will be performed during the finale of both ceremonies.

Alabama seldom has an opportunity to tell our own story; the story is usually told by others, Panion says. The idea behind the theme song and its music video is to reflect the whole of what our state is. 

“For me, having an opportunity to show that we really are more together than people would think or know is powerful,” he said. “We don’t want to discount our past or hide our past. We want to embrace our past; our past is who we are — but we are a lot more than our history.” 

That sentiment is in one of the first lines of the song, and “American Idol” winner and Alabama native Taylor Hicks sings it. This is the first time in history that the three “American Idol” stars Hicks, Bo Bice and Ruben Studdard have performed or recorded together, and the first time that they and an “American Idol” judge — Owen — have performed together like this, Panion says.

Performances on The World Games Plaza –

haleigh black crop photo by Tonya WiseHaleigh Black
Photo credit: Tonya Wise Photography
Artists to represent The Magic City have been selected to perform on The World Games 2022 Plaza and Student AffairsSharifa Wip, Mentor Programs coordinator and advisor in Student Multicultural and Diversity Programs, helped find those artists. One performer tapped to play is violinist Haleigh Black with UAB Arts in Medicine. In her role as AIM artist-in-residence, Black provides music as a positive distraction for patients, guests and staff. She gives weekly performances in UAB Hospital public spaces, leads group workshops, and engages in research to further the field of arts and health.

For The World Games 2022, Black will perform with The Davis Little and Haleigh Black Quartet at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13. The quartet includes guitarist Davis Little, upright bassist Ryan Brown and percussionist AJ Covey. The group draws musical inspiration from different world cultures, and their unique and lively performance is filled with improvisation, fun rhythms and catchy melodies.  

Additional UAB performers on the Regions World Games Sound Stage are listed below. Check The World Games 2022 Plaza schedule for the latest information.

Make plans to visit UAB and UAB Medicine at The World Games Plaza from July 7-17, where nearly 20 units will host hands-on activities that highlight UAB’s broad and unique expertise — you can play accessible video games, explore arts in medicine, test your sports vision and learn lifesaving skills from UAB nurses, all at the new City Walk. See a full list of units and activities online.

  • The UAB Faculty Jazz Quintet is scheduled to perform at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10.
  • UAB student organization Alabama Agni, a co-ed Bollywood fusion team, will perform at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 12.
  • Speaker, author, poet and educator Seneca Wilson, director of University Recreation, will perform poetry Thursday, July 7, and Sunday, July 10.