The show goes on

Published 2:00 am Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The first production put on by South City Theatre was “Dark of the Moon,” a tragic play in the vein of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” set in 1920s Appalachia.

“Dark of the Moon” had sentimental value to theatre founders Alan and Francie Gardner. Alan was cast in a school production of the play, and Francie’s mother and grandmother were cast in past productions.

The drama did not unfold on stage that night in 1999, but in a tent staked in Alabaster soil. It was then that Thomas Weber, a local chiropractor and audience member, made a generous offer to the Gardners.

“Dr. Weber supported the show and felt bad for us doing a show under a tent,” Francie said. “He offered us a space in his medical building until it was leased. We owe him an incredible debt.”

South City made its new home inside Hillside Medical Plaza, and in October 2005, moved to a warehouse on Cloverdale Drive. It is here where the South City family will celebrate its 10th anniversary July 25.

The 7 p.m. event will feature music, food, drinks, door prizes, a silent auction and preview performances of South City’s fall productions, including “Our Town,” “The Lady with All the Answers” “A Story-Tellin’ Fella Singin’ a Capella” and “Seussical Jr.”

Tickets are $35 each or $50 per couple. Proceeds will benefit the 92-seat theatre.

“Theatre to me is an integral part of our culture,” said Francie, a Briarwood Christian School graduate and certified drama teacher. “We’re all spellbound by stories and live theatre gives you a different perspective. It’s such an intimate and unique experience.”

“When we settled in Alabaster, we wanted to bring theatre here. We didn’t see the need to develop another theatre in the Birmingham area, and Shelby County had very little to offer. It was the right place at the right time.”

South City has put on 42 adult community theatre productions since “Dark of the Moon.” Among them are “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and “Hysteria 101,” a rapid-fire comedy written by Alan, director of theatre arts at Vestavia Hills High School.

“We try to keep it interesting,” Francie said of the productions. “We try to do shows we’ve had requests for whenever possible, and we try to have a variety of classics, comedies, mysteries and dramatic pieces.”

South City also offers acting classes for children and adults. Francie, who leads the children’s programs, said the experience is rewarding.

“I think theatre has invaluable lessons to teach children about communication skills, presentation, confidence and understanding,” she said. “I absolutely love working with the children. They have such a passion for it and they keep it fun and light.”

The Gardners would eventually like expand the theatre to include writing, dance and music lessons. South City currently features an Alabama artist gallery in its lobby, and hosts painting parties led by professional artist Charlotte Holder.

In another 10 years, the Gardners foresee South City still producing quality theatre. Though the economy has not been kind to the arts, South City has managed to avoid the dire fate of community theatres nationwide.

“I hope 10 years from know we’re not struggling month to month as we are today,” Francie said. “I would love to have a philanthropist see a production of ours and build us a real theatre. It would be ideal to have a great, big, beautiful theatre that could seat 350 people … I hope the theatre is still going strong.”

For more information, call 621-2128 or visit the Web site

South City Theatre 2009-2010 Season

“A Story-Tellin’ Fella Singin’ a Capella” Aug. 8-9

“Our Town” Aug. 14-23

“The Lady with All the Answers” Sept. 11-13, Sept. 18-20

“Mousetrap” Oct. 9-18, traveling to Homewood Library Oct. 23-24

“A South City Christmas” Dec. 11-20

Short Play Festival Jan. 15-16

“Crimes of the Heart” Feb. 5-14

“Driving Miss Daisy” March 12-21

“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” April 9-18

“The Octette Bridge Club” June 4-13

“All I Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” July 23-Aug. 1