Tam DeBolt is a critically acclaimed local actress, director, designer and stage manager, and most recently, she took the helm of the Terrific New Theatre (TNT) as its artistic director. She has brought to life many iconic roles such as Sophie Tucker in Sophie Tucker: Last of the Red Hot Mamas, Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd, Mama Rose in Gypsy and Mattie Faye in August: Osage County. She also has regional theater credits, commercial voiceover experience and national television commercial and music video credits. And now, as TNT’s artistic director, Tam brings her contagious exuberance and boundless energy to keep this fabulous local gem thriving and growing. We are delighted to welcome today’s FACE of Birmingham, Tam DeBolt!
You taught high school mathematics for 10 years before continuing your education with a second degree in mechanical drafting and design. How did you come to be in the theater?
I have always done theater, really, even as a kid, entertaining my family at the dinner table. As an adult, I began doing community theater in Indianapolis about 25 years ago, and began my professional theater career about five years after that. It wasn’t until moving to Birmingham that I branched out into directing and set design — both at Birmingham Children’s Theatre.
Are there any similarities between teaching mathematics and theater? Does one inform the other?
Well, teaching is standing in front of a room of people and keeping them engaged in what you’re saying, making them believe what’s coming out of your mouth, that you know what you’re talking about and that you are truthful. I guess I could say that even though the subject matter is very different, there are more similarities than I thought.
So, you’ve been an actress, director, designer, stage manager and now an Artistic Director. Is there a role within the theater in which you feel most yourself, or said differently, a hat you most enjoy wearing?
I hope that being artistic director will be my favorite, but each is great in its own way. Directing takes much preparation and understanding of the material, from the perspective of each character in the play. I enjoy directing very much, maybe because I think it’s the most challenging for me.
As the new artistic director of Terrific New Theatre, how will the theater company change and what impact do you hope to have on Birmingham through TNT?
That’s a big one. I don’t want it to change a lot, because it has been around for 30 years, doing new and edgy theater, but I do want to re-energize it. One of the biggest things I did my first season was to bring in four guest directors. Giving directors another place where they can practice their craft — everything we do will have a fresh take and a fresh look, because it will be directed by different people. As for having an impact on the city, I’ve instituted this project called WITS, Written in the South. Our first project is this world premiere of Love is a Blue Tick Hound by Alabama playwright Audrey Cefaly. Every year, I hope to have a piece that is tied to the South. I want it to grow into a competition, with submissions from across the South, and we’ll produce the winning piece. I think that will bring something new to Birmingham.
Being in the world of theater in any city in America is difficult and requires perseverance. Can you tell us about the sacrifices you’ve made in pursuit of your dream?
It’s funny — running a theater, as a full-time job, was never a dream of mine, until recently. I often mused that when I retired, I would move to a resort town and open a little theater, do a couple of shows a year and just enjoy life the rest of the time. Right now, I’m doing it full-time, and I am learning that it’s not ever a regular, 40-hour-per-week sort of existence. If I have sacrificed, I guess maybe it’s just coming to grips with having less down time. Is that a sacrifice?
What is the “hook” that gets you fired up about producing and directing a play?
I read plays and immediately think about which character I want to be. Ha! Then, I start thinking about the set and who, in Birmingham, could play the characters I’m reading. If the directors, cast and crew are are fired up, then I am fired up.
What is your favorite part of the rehearsal process?
I hate rehearsing — just kidding. My favorite part is watching the actors contribute their own ideas — movement, motivation, inflection, all of it. Theater is a team sport. Everybody has to be involved and prepared.
What kind of theater excites you?
I love theater that transports me — new places, comedy, drama, any show that takes me away from my everyday worries and concerns.
What is most challenging about your job?
The constant attention it needs. It’s nonstop. That has been the toughest adjustment for me.
Listening to an audience laugh, react, applaud — it’s why we do it, right?
If you could go back to 10 years, what advice would you give yourself?
Drink more water. Exercise every day. Find something to do for a living that makes you excited about getting started with your day.
What are you most proud of?
I am a woman of my word and have always tried to live my life that way.
Any guilty pleasures?
Favorite local eatery?
SAW’s Juke Joint off of Hagood Street in Crestline. It’s within walking distance of our house.
What the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
You are who you hang with; Give to the world the best you have, and the best will come back to you; and telling the truth is easier — if you lie, you have to remember what you told people.
Name three frivolous or light-hearted things you can’t live without.
My morning iced coffee from Starbucks, hand lotion in my purse, and it would be rare, ever, for me to not have socks on. I am a sock person.
Thank you, Tam, for contributing to the culture and arts of Birmingham through your great work at Terrific New Theatre! To learn more, visit terrificnewtheatre.com.
And catch their current show, the world premiere of Love is a Blue Tick Hound by Alabama-born playwright Audrey Cefaly, this December 8-17, 2016, on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Tam at the Terrific New Theatre at Pepper Place.