How ‘Masterclass Mondays’ are keeping Tuscaloosa theatre thriving

In a year without live performances, one local program is dreaming up new ways to keep Tuscaloosa actors inspired. 

Theatre Tuscaloosa, a nonprofit program that offers performances, workshops and classroom instruction as a partner with Shelton State College, is one of the largest theatres in Alabama. Now in its 50th year, the group is finding new ways to keep the arts community alive. 

“We wanted to make sure we were still doing something. There’s a lot of people in our community who support us, and there’s a lot of people in our community who rely on us to help them stay grounded in the arts,” said Kiera Gillok, a Theatre Tuscaloosa project coordinator. “Theatre is their escape from the rest of life.”

Gillock said Theatre Tuscaloosa is dedicated to being present for actors in the Tuscaloosa community.

Last June, after it became clear that COVID-19 would not be dying down any time soon, Theatre Tuscaloosa began a YouTube series called “Masterclass Mondays” to continue to provide education and inspiration to aspiring and current actors. 

“I think that [the Masterclasses are] a really great way for people, particularly people who are working in the industry or are interested in working in the industry, to get an inside view,” Gillock said.

Adam Miller, Theatre Tuscaloosa’s managing director, said the Theatre Tuscaloosa staff brainstormed the idea together in hopes to keep their audience engaged and give them something fun and interesting to watch even though they couldn’t be together. 

“Necessity is the mother of all invention,” Miller said. “And we needed a way to connect with audiences remotely.”

The Masterclass Monday series releases new videos twice a month, every other Monday. 

Each video highlights a Theatre Tuscaloosa alumnus with an interview and historical footage from the theatre’s archives. 

“You get this nice mix of people and you get to [hear] all different backgrounds and experiences and see the joy that is theatre,” GIllock said, adding that she digs through the theatre’s archives to find videos and photos of working with the group decades ago. “It’s a really interesting and fun way to get a look at the history of the organization.”

Theatre Tuscaloosa is currently approaching their 50th anniversary. Tina Turley, Theatre Tuscaloosa’s executive producer, said though she is disappointed the theatre is not celebrating its 50th anniversary the way it wanted, she’s glad they have Masterclass Mondays. 

“We thought [Masterclass Mondays] would be a good way of sort of celebrating our 50 years by having people that have been involved with us over the years to do something,” Turley said. 

The first few episodes of Masterclass Mondays focused on the Theatre Tuscaloosa staff. 

“We thought, ‘Look, there’s a lot of people that don’t necessarily know what we do. So, we’ll start with the staff, and give a day in the life of the executive producer, a day in the life of the technical director,’” Turley said.

The next episodes honored Theatre Tuscaloosa alumni.

“We’ve had people who have gone on to be professional lighting designers and professional crew people on Broadway shows, and people who starred onstage in Broadway tours. We’ve got people in television and film,” he said. “All aspects of the entertainment industry are represented by people who got their start in one form or another by working with a community theatre here in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.” 

Turley said masterclasses serve a variety of purposes, such as tutorials for acting classes, visuals for appreciation classes, or local community outreach.  

“We’re simply putting information out there about how to be an artist and how Theatre Tuscaloosa has played some role in [an alumnus’] journey as an artist,” Turley said. “So, we hope that you walk away with an appreciation for the art and the artist, and that you have an appreciation that Theatre Tuscaloosa, your local community theatre, has played some small part in their success.” 

Turley continues to educate aspiring and current actors as she teaches at Shelton State. She also hosts play readings through Theatre Tuscaloosa over Zoom to give actors the chance to practice. 

Along with their Youtube series, Theatre Tuscaloosa is still offering productions and educational opportunities to audiences and actors.

The theatre calls their current theatre season ‘A Season of Spreading Joy.”

“Our executive producer jokingly says, ‘Spread joy, not germs,’” Miller said. 

The theatre’s performances are virtual and can be accessed on the Theatre Tuscaloosa website. The theatre sells tickets for $8 per virtual show.

Staff members at Theatre Tuscaloosa are excited to finally have audiences back in the theatre. Due to their affiliation with Shelton State Community College, Theatre Tuscaloosa will move forward with in-person productions as soon as the school allows public events.

“Theatre is really a shared energy between actors and the audience, so I think that’s what we’re most keen to get back to, and just be able to have people around us again,” Gillock said. “We’ve really erred on the side of caution, but I think we’re all very grateful to have done so. We’re excited to go back to live [performances] when we can.”