Theatre UAB students learn much on stage, but taking the show on the road teaches them valuable life skills.
On most Fridays throughout the academic year, 18 student performers in four groups travel to schools, community centers, nursing homes and libraries in a nine-county area to perform. The UAB Department of Theatre Touring Groups program, now in its 29th year, offers a fully produced, traveling show for an affordable cost, says its Director Mel Christian.
“We usually tour 22 Fridays of the academic year, with all four tours often booked for at least one show a day, maybe two,” Christian says. “We offer varied material, and the tours reach a diverse audience in kindergartens, schools, libraries, corporate events and retirement facilities. We anticipate performing for more than 27,000 children and adults this year.”
Theatre UAB’s Touring shows include Shakespeare Ensemble, Bookends, Cabaret and Kids on the Block. The Shakespeare Ensemble presents an abridged work; this year it is “Hamlet.” Bookends presents a new show, “Six Tales from Six Continents,” adapted by UAB Theatre’s Playwright-in-Residence Lee Shackleford, that features extensive scenery and props and uses fast-paced interactive vignettes to stoke imagination and encourage children to read.
Cabaret is “A Tribute to Popular Music,” an upbeat, song-and-dance musical journey from the 1960s to the present day. Kids on the Block, the program’s longest-running touring group, has two shows: “Dealing with Bullies,” which teaches students about bullying, and one that answers children’s questions about people who are different, especially children with disabilities, titled “What’s It Like?”
Touring is the best experience the department can offer any young performer, says Shackleford, who writes and adapts the Bookends plays for tours.
“They learn tough lessons quickly about how difficult the life of a working actor can be, and by the end of the season, they have become experts at problem-solving, at thinking on their feet,” Shackleford says.
The spaces the groups perform in are rarely designed for theater, so as soon as they arrive, they must immediately adapt the show to work for the room and the audience. “After several months of this, our performers know how to assess a situation quickly, work with limited resources and adapt their plans to suit the reality of the moment,” he says. “We’re not just preparing them for a career in the theatre — we’re preparing them for life.”