Glenny Brock is a storyteller. In the past, she used this skill in her career as a journalist, once serving as a writer and editor for the Birmingham Weekly and later Weld for Birmingham. Now, she spends her days sharing the story of the Lyric Theatre as the outreach coordinator for Birmingham Landmarks Inc., the nonprofit that owns and operates the Lyric and the Alabama Theatre. Built in 1914, the Lyric is a former vaudeville theater and though its seating was segregated, it was one of the first venues in the South where black and white people could watch the same show at the same price. Glenny says working to help restore the Lyric Theatre has changed her life, and she believes the Lyric can change Birmingham, too. Please welcome today’s FACE of Birmingham, Glenny Brock.
How did your love affair with the Lyric begin?
When I was the editor of the Birmingham Weekly, my friend Jesse Chambers, who’s a writer, came into my office one day to pitch a story to me and he said, “How about a story about that vaudeville theater across the street from the Alabama?” To which I replied, “There isn’t a vaudeville theater across the street from the Alabama.” I assumed that if Birmingham had a vaudeville theater, I would know.
He reported the story and Brad, my boyfriend, shot the photos, and when I saw those pictures, I decided to come see it. And walking into this building changed my life. At that time, in 2008, it was a big mess. There was a forklift in the lobby and the lobby was full of garbage. The floor was busted. There were no seats on the orchestra level or in the mezzanine. There was a huge hole in the ceiling. There were pigeons in here. It was just a mess, but it was also evident that it was just really beautiful. During the end of my time at the Weekly and my whole time at Weld, I volunteered here. I wanted to be in this building every chance I could get.
As a writer, how did you use your gift for storytelling to help raise money for the restoration of the Lyric?
I think that creating a narrative that was both true and fantastic was absolutely vital in our efforts to save this place. A lot of people keep congratulating me and thanking me, which I love, but it’s also a little awkward, because I want to acknowledge that [local businessman and fundraiser] Tom Cosby raised $7 million in 10 months. There’s a great love in this community for the Lyric, and I think I had a lot to do with fostering that, the sense of ownership, this interest in it. I am not the one that raised the money. I don’t think I could have done what Tom Cosby did, however, I know that what I did was pretty essential to Tom Cosby’s efforts.
What’s a typical day like for you as outreach coordinator for Birmingham Landmarks?
I give a lot of tours of the Lyric. I give a lot of talks about the Lyric and about the Theatre District, which means I go out to schools and libraries and ladies’ luncheons. For the Lyric and the Alabama, I do some of the social media. I work to get sponsorships for a variety of film series and other events at the Alabama Theatre. Last year, I wrote a coffee-table book about the Alabama, and this summer I’m going to do a coffee-table book about the Lyric. And, if we’re showing movies at the Alabama, I’m tearing tickets at the door.
How do you think the restoration of the Lyric will help Birmingham?
I think having beautiful places really matters to a city’s psyche. I feel that every child in Birmingham should go to the Alabama or the Lyric Theatre at some point. In our daily knock-around lives you do not go into places that look like this place. I think it is good for the soul to be in beautiful places. The Lyric also has an important place in show business history, and it has a really significant place in Birmingham’s race and civil rights history. Otherwise, it’s too early to tell. In some ways, I think that we are still sorting it out.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
Working in the Lyric restoration project has been like going to graduate school in everything. I have learned about history and show business and architecture and sound and lighting design and fundraising and construction and the list goes on and on! But the Lyric has expanded my life in all these ways I could never have imagined.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Being able to bring people into this space day after day is incredibly rewarding. It’s just so wonderful.
Other than the Lyric, what’s your favorite place in Birmingham?
I think that Railroad Park is the best thing that has ever happened to Birmingham, AL, without question. It’s a beautiful space. It’s an integrated space. It has led to a lot of other things. The Lyric would not have happened without the baseball park and the baseball park would not have happened without Railroad Park.
List three facts about yourself people might find surprising.
Lonesome Dove is one of my favorite books. I’m a knitter. And I don’t know how to ride a bicycle.
Do you have any personality quirks?
I learned American Sign Language as a kid, and when I’m thinking, I’m frequently spelling words.
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Every episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” The Chris Rock episode I’ve probably watched seven times. Also, cookies from Urban Standard. I live very close to Urban Standard, which is kind of problematic. There are some days I can’t go in there because I know I will have seven cookies. It’s never a good idea to have seven cookies.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
One of my dad’s standard ways to sign off on the phone is to say, “Enjoy your happiness,” which is really great. That guy, he’s a good one. I think that’s very good advice.
Name three things you can’t live without.
The WTF podcast — my husband refers to it as my daily devotional. Fancy notebooks. And my knee-high Dr. Martens boots.
Thank you, Glenny! Check out Glenny’s entertaining TEDxBirmingham 2014 talk, entitled “Movie Brats and Show People.” And attend one of the upcoming concerts or movie screenings at the Lyric Theatre or the Alabama Theatre, where you can enjoy an evening of the arts while basking in the beauty of these breathtaking historical Birmingham theaters.
Thank you to Brendon Pinola for the gorgeous photos of Glenny in The Lyric Theatre.