Hidden in the shadows of downtown Birmingham is a tiny theater appropriately dubbed The Underground. Home to Birmingham-Southern College’s small but mighty theatre department, The Underground buzzes with action, creativity, and life every September through May, as students direct, produce, rehearse, and perform in up to six productions per year.
With just over 1,200 enrollees, BSC’s student population is smaller than many large high schools. As a result, the theatre department is a tiny but tight-knit group that has no problem rolling up their sleeves and putting in the work to put on some truly great shows. According to Lusie Cuskey, visiting assistant professor of theatre at BSC, there are only around 30 active students in the school’s current production season.
“Students get to practice creating in close community and growing themselves as creative artists with competencies across multiple production areas, something that isn’t always as easy to do at larger schools with more closely focused degree requirements for participation,” Cuskey says. “There’s a lot of opportunity in the department for faculty and students alike to choose their own adventures and pursue work they’re passionate about.”
That family-like environment is exactly what drew senior Mhairi Kerr to the school and its theatre program. “I was looking for a close-knit, small department with relationships with my professors, and that was exactly what I got [at BSC],” Kerr says. “I also was interested in this department because our theatre program puts a huge emphasis on creating actors with well-rounded understandings of all aspects of production–not just acting.”
In addition to acting in several productions, Kerr and other students have the opportunity to explore every aspect of the theatre, from directing and wardrobe to set design and lighting. “If it wasn’t for that department dedication, I probably never would have realized my passion for directing,” Kerr says.
At the end of September, Kerr will put their education to the test as the director and producer of The Last Five Years, a well-loved musical that explores one couple’s tumultuous relationship from two different perspectives and timelines. For Kerr, a self-described theatre nerd, getting to produce and direct this show in particular has been especially meaningful.
“The Last Five Years is one of my favorite shows of all time, and it’s got a special place in my heart because it’s also one of my mom’s favorite musicals,” Kerr says. “It’s a show that breaks your heart and sticks in your head.”
Kerr’s production of The Last Five Years kicks off a full season of entirely student-led productions that spans from this fall through next May, all in The Underground with tickets priced at $22.
This season’s schedule includes:
- The Last Five Years | Sept. 29, 30, & Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 2 at 2:30 p.m.
Romantic drama and musical about a failed relationship from two different perspectives
- Milking Christmas | Nov. 17, 18, 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 20 @ 2:30 p.m.
A wacky Christmas-themed musical comedy and mystery
- The Wolves | Feb. 9, 10, 11 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 12 at 2:30 p.m.
A thought-provoking drama exploring the intimate lives of young women today
- This Is Our Youth | March 9, 10, 11 at 7:30 p.m. and March 12 at 2:30 p.m.
A coming-of-age play about a young man who steals thousands of dollars from his wealthy father
- Ordinary Days | April 20, 21, 22 at 7:30 p.m. and April 23 at 2:30 p.m.
A fast-paced musical telling the story of four unexpectedly interconnected New Yorkers
- Student-Directed One Acts | May 8, 9 at 7:30 p.m.
First-time student directors present a variety of drama and comedy one-act plays
For students artists like Kerr, support and involvement from the local community outside of the college bubble, is always nice to see. But the sentiment goes both ways.
“It’s in college and community theatre where your future Tony and Oscar winners learn to take their first leaps and risks,” Kerr says. “Small college theaters like BSC are where you’ll see the seeds of growth for new creatives in the world, and it means they’re like these microcosms of greatness within your own community. Ask me any day, and I’ll write a love letter to community and college theatre, our arts at home.”