By Kaitlin Candelaria
Jack Mann has spent a lifetime developing talent. Retired from Alagasco in an employee devolopment role, he has also spent more than fifty years in local theater acting and directing. He and his wife, Suzanne are well known throughout Birmingham’s fine arts community.
Their love is fitting considering they fell in love on stage during a production of “The Music Man” over 50 years ago.
“When I graduated from Birmingham-Southern, one of my mentors persuaded me against my will to go to Town and Gown Theatre and be in a production of ‘The Music Man’ with him,” Mann said. “I agreed, and during the rehearsal process I met this cute young girl. This past year, we celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. The two of us have spent 52 years in and out of that theater, which is now called the Virginia Samford Theatre.”
Now 75, Mann is directing the Virginia Samford Theatre’s latest version of “The Music Man,” premiering June 18 and running through July 5. Suzanne will be taking over the role of Mrs. Paroo.
“This is my first time directing (‘The Music Man’), and I’m having a ball,” Mann said. “It’s a huge cast. Suzanne and I are the oldest people in the company. Most of our closest friends are as result of our theater involvement.”
Mann’s interest in the theater began during his middle school years in Mobile. One of his fondest theater memories to this day is landing the starring role of Amahl in “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in seventh grade, he said.
Although his interest in theater as an extracurricular activity continued throughout high school and college, Mann ultimately found himself majoring in English and landing a teaching job at Phillips High School in Birmingham.
“In the 1970s, Suzanne and I, along with Jim and Cathy Rye Gilmore and Boots Carroll, started a cabaret theater group on Morris Avenue called ‘The Wits’ Other End’ that ran for a number of years,” Mann said. “It was sort of like a Southern ‘Saturday Night Live.’ In the midst of this, all of us had full-time jobs and families. We alternated having babies, going to graduate school and serving in the armed forces, but overall our lives centered around theater.”
Mann also has been on boards for organizations such as the Birmingham Music Club, Birmingham Boys Choir, Birmingham Festival Theatre, Birmingham Children’s Theatre and more. In addition, he regularly participated in community theater productions not only with the Virginia Samford Theatre but other community theaters in the Over the Mountain area.
He and his wife taught classes in acting and public speaking at universities such as Jefferson State Community College and UAB throughout the years.
“Everything just kept rolling along,” Mann said. “We’re constantly involved in some level in some aspect in theater. Even when we’re taking time off, we’re anticipating being involved in some other theatrical enterprise down the road. It keeps us young.”
Mann is looking forward to this newest rendition of “The Music Man,” he said.
“First of all, it’s got such a broad spectrum of talent,” Mann said. “We have little kids and people who are as old as me. It’s working with people I know and people that I’m getting to know in an artistic enterprise where everyone has an opportunity to have fun and grow. Theater is far too difficult to do if you can’t have fun and enjoy it, but at the same time you have to temper that with theater discipline.”
Mann said theater along with family is what has kept him active as his age climbs.
“It’s what keeps us interesting,” Mann said. “The main thing I tell people is to never think about retiring from something, but to instead think of retiring to something.”