Birmingham Festival Theatre
BFT has staged over 250 productions—involving more than 50 directors and nearly 1,000 actors and 500 crew people—that have been seen by almost 100,000 audience members.
In the spring of 1972, three young Birmingham thespians—Carl Stewart, Randy Marsh, and Vic Fichtner—entered a new phase in their theatrical lives. After chafing under the artistic limitations of the area’s production environments, they picked up the pieces of Bill Ozier’s Actors Studio and began a venture they called Birmingham Festival Theatre.
For their first production, they chose a revolutionary work of musical theatre, The Threepenny Opera by dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill. It appeared on the stage of Munger Auditorium at Birmingham Southern College in May 1972. BFT’s next production, Shelagh Delaney’s A Taste of Honey, questioned race, gender, and the status of the mid-century nuclear family.
Matt Crowley’s The Boys in the Band had opened in 1968 in New York, where critics had compared its tension and intensity to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The 1972-1973 season at BFT brought both shows to Birmingham, where issues of homosexuality and disastrous families were hardly common fare for theatre-goers. Since then, BFT has offered shows that are serious and frivolous, edgy and mainstream, classic and brand new, musical and not so musical.
In 1973, BFT moved to its current location at 1905½ 11th Avenue South. A major capital campaign in 1987 raised funds that were used to fashion a lobby out of a loading dock, reinvent the performance space with fewer structural poles, and create bathrooms that weren’t also dressing rooms.
The three founding members remain noteworthy. Carl Stewart founded Terrific New Theatre in 1985. Randy Marsh had a celebrated career at the Alabama School of Fine Arts and, until his death in 2005, occasionally returned to BFT. Vic Fichtner took a position with the Jefferson County Board of Education, but remained involved with Birmingham Children’s Theatre.
Now, an all-volunteer board of directors strives to continue and build the traditions of Birmingham Festival Theatre—by supporting the exchange and development of theatrical talent, by reaching out to artists with a rich variety of visions, and by presenting shows that can be seen in Birmingham only at this theatre.