The Virginia Samford Theatre, formerly known as The Little Theater, The Clark Memorial Theatre and Town & Gown Theatre, has a history as rich and colorful as the performances that have graced its stage since the building’s construction in 1927. Once in jeopardy of closing, this landmark building was restored and renamed in 2002 through the Metropolitan Arts Council and its generous donor, Virginia Samford Donovan. Today, we welcome theatre president, Cathy Gilmore, who, along with a committee of dedicated fundraising volunteers, was the driving force behind the capital campaign to restore and renovate the Virginia Samford Theatre as a multipurpose arts center for the Birmingham community. Welcome, Cathy!
Where did your passion for the arts originate?
I performed my first stage role as a dancer at the Virginia Samford Theatre when I was 12. It was known as UAB’s Town & Gown Theatre at that time. I received my BA in theatre, and performed as a professional actress/choreographer/director for more years than I wish to count. I am now responsible for raising money in order to continue the valuable work the VST does for the community. My love for the theater has never diminished!
Tell us a little more about your professional background.
After majoring in speech and theatre at Birmingham-Southern College, I began my professional career in musical theatre with performances throughout the Southeast, New York and Europe. I was also a cofounder and featured performer with the professional Cabaret troupe called The Wits Other End in Atlanta and Birmingham.
How many productions does the VST do on an annual basis?
VST now offers more than 25 productions annually. We are excited about the upcoming shows. “The Music Man” runs June 18 through July 5, and “Shrek The Musical Jr.” runs July 29 through August 9. And we have a great lineup for 2015-16 season. Visit our website to see all the upcoming shows.
Tell us about the STARS program you brought to VST.
I created Students Take A Role at the Samford, or STARS, in 2006, with VST artistic director Roy Hudson, to offer opportunities for all children to experience the transformative power of working in live theater. We have served more than 10,000 students through the program, which focuses on young people from diverse backgrounds and income levels. Our programs are open to all who wish to participate.
We heard some exciting news recently about further renovations happening at VST. Can you tell us what’s going on?
Yes, the theatre is expanding! With more and more sold-out performances and the growth of the STARS programs, the need to increase the size of the lobby has become apparent. The comfort of our theatre patrons is of the utmost importance in order for the theatre to continue to grow and thrive.
How is the expansion being funded?
The $950,000 capital campaign is in process with a lead gift of $300,000 contributed by a generous VST patron in October, as well as major gifts pledged by Louise and John Beard, The Pleiad Foundation and Betsy and Phil Henle, among others. If you are interested in donating to the Virginia Samford Theatre Lobby Expansion, please contact us!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Forgive, but never forget.
Did you have any mentors along the way?
Absolutely! Great ones! I was greatly influenced by my classical ballet instructor Lola Coates, who was one of Birmingham’s most creative artists in the 1960s and ’70s. She taught me discipline. I was also fortunate to be “raised” by Mr. James Hatcher, who was the director of UAB’s Town & Gown Theatre, where I received my early theater training. It was serendipitous that I was involved in the VST’s rebirth years later!
What’s your must-have purchase for this season?
A fabulous yellow handbag, which I recently picked up on a trip to New York City.
What fashion item would you never be caught dead wearing?
Bare midriff anything
Favorite vacation spot and why?
Rosemary Beach: I love the small crowds on the beach and all the good restaurants.
What is your favorite local place to relax and recharge?
Anywhere with my husband.
Favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?
I am usually at the theatre, but when I have down time, it’s out for a great meal.
Favorite local restaurant?
What are you listening to these days?
I am currently staging a new show at the VST called “Til Divorce Do Us Part,” so I am listening to that CD right now.
What books are you currently reading?
Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
Do you have any personality quirks or irrational fears?
You’ll have to ask my theatre colleagues and friends if I have any personality quirks. I think I am a wonderful person. :-)
What would our readers be surprised to learn about you?
I once played in a celebrity tennis tournament against John McEnroe. And yes, I lost.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding friends, family and faith.
Chocolate, great shoes and people/things that make me laugh out loud.
Thanks for sharing some insight into your world, Cathy! Find out more about the Virginia Samford Theatre and all the fantastic upcoming shows by visiting virginiasamfordtheatre.org.
And thank you to Beth Hontzas for today’s beautiful photos. See more of Beth’s work at bethhontzas.com.