By Emily Williams
The Library Theatre in Hoover will be opening its 25th season of performances with a new look, but the faces that flock to the stage will be familiar ones.
This year’s lineup will bring back some of the most popular performances from the past 25 years of the theater, giving audiences something akin to a second chance in case they missed out on the artists previously. Taking into account the length of time that has passed since the theater’s first season Fine Arts Coordinator Matina Johnson said the earliest years of the theater won’t be as well represented.
“Over the course of 25 years, many performers are now deceased and most of the plays that were shown aren’t mounted tours anymore,” Johnson said. That being said, some of the earliest performances wouldn’t match up to the caliber of performers the venue showcases now.
When the theater first opened its doors, Johnson said, it was just building up its reputation.
“When I first started working here, we were still relying on board members to pack the seats,” she said. “It wasn’t until 2000 and 2001 that we started selling out the space.”
She recalled that one of the first big-selling shows was Nickel Creek, a country music trio, which sparked the theater’s transition into a “world-class venue.” Flash-forward to today, and the theater has been steadily selling out almost every show for more than a decade.
Johnson dubs herself the “idea girl,” booking the artists that she believes will please the audience and some that will take the staff out of its comfort zone.
“I like to have as much diversity and variety in the seasons,” she said. “I’ve found that the majority of our audiences like to be challenged.”
Though she said she has never felt any of the performers were a risky choice for the theater, Johnson admitted that a few of the more spectacular productions made her a bit nervous. Last year’s light show performance by the Luma Theatre art group peaked a bit of anxiety.
“They use backlights while they dance and I kept thinking, our theater isn’t that big,” Johnson said. “Our proscenium is quite close to the stage and I was so worried that the images wouldn’t translate because the audience was so close.”
Most of the performances that have taken to the stage have been musical groups and plays, so the larger productions tend to throw the staff for a loop.
“For the last Cirque du Soleil show, we had to bring in an entire rigging system, which at the time seemed hilarious, because the actors would only be suspended about 17 feet off of the ground at most,” Johnson said.
She’s fond of the “fun things” that happen while preparing for major productions, like big 18-wheelers full of set designs getting stuck in the theater’s driveway.
“It’s a normal thing to deal with at 2 o’clock in the morning before a show, but we have a wonderful team who works hard to make everything run smoothly,” she said. “There are many members of our staff that have been here almost, if not longer than I have. … These are people who know the space and who know Hoover.”
Johnson said having the theater connected with the library has been an asset. “Having that connection has helped give Hoover a cultural hub of arts and education,” Johnson said.
The theater is the brainchild of library Director Linda Andrews, whom Johnson describes as a mentor to her and an inspiration to the staff.
“We are all so lucky to have her,” Johnson said. “She really is the one who had this vision to bring avant-garde performances to a venue that was more than just a children’s theater, and it has been.”
In addition to the high-caliber performances, the venue holds three art galleries with displays that rotate monthly.
“Art is a huge part of our theater,” Johnson said. “We like to coordinate exhibitions with whatever show we have going on to try and expose the community to another level of culture.”
To accommodate the large crowds that filter through the cramped galleries after a performance, the theater is undergoing construction. Walls in the Friends Art Gallery and adjoining meeting rooms are being torn down to create one large event space with moveable partitions. In addition, the facade of the theater will get a facelift and feature an updated look.
“This will be the first big renovation that we’ve ever done,” Johnson said. “We’ve talked about it for years. How can we utilize more open space and have it be more functional for a variety of events?”
Construction is set to finish in September, pushing the season opener back a month later than the usual season.
The kick-off will mark what Johnson calls a long-awaited reunion with Grammy-award winner Mark Cohn, performing Oct. 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m.
“We’ve talked to Mark about coming back for a reunion a few times, but the timing was never right,” Johnson said. “We always look for an opener and a closer and this year he is opening our 25th season as he celebrates the 25th anniversary of his “Walking in Memphis” album.
“This year we are focusing on bringing back artists you may have seen before or missed seeing,” Johnson said. “For our 26th season, we’ll be showing all of the things that folks haven’t seen before.”
But just because the artists are returning doesn’t mean they will be putting on a familiar performance. The Celtic Tenors, who previously gave a Christmas show, will be showing their traditional performance, and the dance group Rhythmic Circus will take the stage during the holiday season.
Tickets for the 2016-17 season will go on sale for former season subscribers Sept. 6, followed by new season subscribers Sept. 8 and open sales Sept. 9 at 10 a.m.
For more information, visit hooverlibrary.org.