By Katie Roth
If you know Church Street, you know the historic red church building on the corner. You’ve seen small children taking dance lessons and sixth graders walking into the rite of passage that is ballroom dancing lessons. But for the past three years, Steeple Arts has been home to another art form too: theatre.
“I had always sort of jokingly said, ‘I see my theater being in an old church,’” admits Carl Peoples, founding executive producer and artistic director of the Central Alabama Theater (CAT). “I think it’s destiny. If you’re putting out the right energy and just keep pedaling, I think those places find you.”
And that’s exactly what happened. When Carl started CAT five years ago, he had no idea that he would find his dream performance space. Instead Steeple Arts found him. After holding shows in the Clubhouse on Highland for two years, Deanny and Sanford Hardy, the owners of Steeple Arts, offered for the organization to move its performances to their more spacious location. With the exception of bigger shows—like December’s upcoming one-man show version of A Christmas Carol—CAT has found its home in Mountain Brook.
The 2019-2020 season marks the start of CAT’s first official season. The season kicks off Nov. 2 with a one-woman show performed by local artist Amy Johnson, who you may recognize from Red Mountain Theatre Company’s My Fair Lady. The season is diverse, but its signature is always cabarets. “You have to have something different (in this business). And thank God we do,” Carl says.
Carl remembers thinking that it was ridiculous that people had to travel all the way to New York to see true cabaret shows, so he decided to bring them to Alabama—with conversations too.
“I think we choose plays and musicals that are story-driven that sometimes challenge our audience because I think that’s art’s job on some level,” Carl says. “I think it should at least make you have a social conversation.”
After more than 15 years as an actor, writer, director and producer in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, New York, California and even across Europe, Carl realized that storytelling was still the most important aspect of art to him. While working in the television business in Los Angeles, he went back to performing in local theatre productions “to satisfy (his) soul.” “At the end of the day, faster and cheaper was not my idea of art,” he says.
That move is not a common one, but if you meet Carl, it’s immediately evident how passionate he is about his profession. He’s a kind and creative soul with the goal of bettering his community, starting conversations and sharing his passion for theatre with younger generations.
In addition to bringing in well-known performers to play alongside local actors, Carl has also started a free mentorship program for rising juniors in high school to 26-year-olds who are interested in the world of theatre, whether it’s on the stage or behind the scenes. Twelve members are chosen for the Junior Advisory Board (JAB) each calendar year to learn more about their desired field—studying anything from acting to lighting to stage management to set design—while simultaneously gaining nonprofit community service hours for volunteer work and helping CAT with productions. JAB members also produce their own cabaret—called JABaret—to show off what they’ve learned throughout the year. JAB alumni currently include a woman who earned a full ride to Julliard, another who now works for The Educational Foundation of Birmingham and even Miss Alabama 2019 Tiara Pennington.
In addition to their ticketed cabarets, musicals and plays, CAT also holds a free play reading series called CAT Scripts whenever they find room in their schedule. Each event is followed by a talkback, where audience members can ask actors questions about the script and accomplish the goal of starting thought-provoking conversations. CAT was one of the first theaters in the Birmingham area to introduce script reading events, and now it’s fairly common at other local theaters. But “it’s not a competition,” says Carl. “It’s an exposure to art.”
As for planning, Carl is looking forward to scheduling more shows for the next couple of years and won’t be moving anytime soon, with the goal of “reaching more people and getting more opinions.”
For more information about CAT and to purchase tickets for the upcoming season, visit centralalabamatheater.org.
Save the Date for CAT Productions*
November 2, 2019 – Actress & Vocalist Amy Johnson
December 20-21, 2019 – Holiday Show: Mark Cabus’ One-man Version of A Christmas Carol
February 8, 2020 –Broadway Music Man Abdul-Hamid Royal
March 7, 2020 – Actor, Singer, Director & Storyteller Tawny Stephens
April 4, 2020 – Dynamic Husband & Wife Duo Dr. Jeff Kensmoe & Natalie Collins
May 16, 2020 – Central Alabama Theater’s Jr. Advisory Board JABaret II
June 5 & 6, 2020 –Birmingham’ Ensemble Three on a String
* All CAT Cabarets are held at Steeple Arts. The holiday show is held at UAB’s Alys Stephens Center. Auditions for the summer musical and play will be held in February 2020.