By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
Homewood Theatre’s 2019-20 season was filled with promise. It was the first season the theater performed in its own venue, which is in Brookwood Village.
Executive Director Kyle Bass recalls moving into the space in the summer of 2019 with its first performance held in August of 2019.
As they continued through their first fall, the location in the mall seemed to be the perfect fit.
“We would hold people’s bags from Macy’s behind the bar,” Bass said. They would also store patron’s leftovers from dinner at a nearby restaurant such as Brio or Cocina Superior in the venue’s refrigerator.
“We did four shows in this space and felt like we were rocking and rolling, then, all of a sudden …,” Bass said. Everything came to a screeching halt in March 2020.
“We had already planned a music series and were planning to do camps that summer. All of that went away,” he added.
Not only were productions in limbo, the mall began experiencing a rapid decline as businesses closed their doors.
Some of the major losses were Books-a-Million, Brio Tuscan Grille, Cocina Superior, Jason’s Deli and, most recently, Chick-fil-A.
“People have their place where they park when they come to Brookwood Village,” Bass said, choosing to park in their regular area whether they are going to Macy’s or to the food court. As patrons walked through the building, he said they were shocked by how empty it was.
“We’re the last man standing,” Bass said, but brighter days are on the horizon.
In August, news broke that the majority of the mall had been sold to Birmingham-based Fairway Investments and Pope & Land Real Estate, out of Atlanta.
“I cannot say strongly enough that this group, Fairway Investments, is on the ball,” Bass said. “They have been very gracious with us, a little nonprofit theater.”
Homewood Theatre offered their space as a venue for community meetings with the property’s previous owners, who seemed dedicated to a plan to turn the mall into a mixed-use facility with apartments.
Bass said Fairway seems to be more invested in feedback from local residents who wish to see the mall continue to be centered on retail and restaurant offerings.
“They are local folks, and they know what is important to the surrounding community,” Bass said, noting that some of the new owners’ team members have a history with the mall when it was known as Colonial Brookwood Village.
Updates to the building are needed, but Bass said the new owners have been more than accommodating.
“They asked us if we would be willing to move to another space in the mall to ride out the construction,” Bass said.
A Season of Adaptations
While it’s another challenge for the young theater, Bass is up for it. Adapting to changes is a skill the theater staff has had time to master in 2020 and 2021.
The changes have brought opportunities to create new theater arts experiences.
Last year, Bass worked with local actors to create an outdoor storytelling production. Performers created monologues recounting their pandemic experiences, titled “Working Without Pants.”
Stories included accounts of losing jobs and even one in which a woman rekindled a love of baking, quit her day job and opened a bakery.
“Then we had a guy who works in news and on the radio. He had been laid off for a while,” Bass said. “In one of his stories he said something about getting kind of tired of working without pants. I said, there’s our title.”
Over the summer, Bass and his team have been trying to rebuild. The theater produced a concert series featuring local musicians and songwriters and hosted Birmingham Children’s Theatre summer camps.
Bass also introduced a new After Dark series, something he has been promising his coworkers for a while. They would bring him a show they wanted to produce, but it would be just beyond the theater’s content rating.
“We’re not G-rated,” Bass said. “I always tell people we’re just a little bit naughty. That’s about all we can do.”
With the After Dark Series clearly stating an intent to present shows with adult themes, Bass was able to produce the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Proof” by David Auburn.
In mid-August, the 2021-22 season kicked off with Part 4 of the theater’s ongoing “Bill Bugg and Friends” show, featuring songs from the Great American Songbook performed by Bugg and other local theater arts legends, such as Kristi Tingle Higginbotham and Jan Hunter.
“The few shows we’ve done since the shutdowns, we probably had people stay and talk after shows longer than any that we used to do,” Bass said. They have even started to open up the doors and allow patrons to spill out into the mall so everyone is able to spread out and socially distance.
On the horizon, Bass is looking forward to the season’s next production “Natalie Needs a Nightie,” by Neil and Caroline Schaffner.
Bass describes it as a fun, lighthearted comedy with a “Three’s Company” vibe.
It will run for two weekends, with performances Oct. 21-23 and Oct. 28-30 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 24 and Oct. 31 at 2:30 p.m.
For more information, visit homewoodtheatre.com.