Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It may seem easier to give in, but don't give a hand-out.

Most of us who live, work, or go to events in Southside or Downtown Birmingham have heard the lines: "Spare some change for something to eat?" "I need [x] dollars to get to Bessemer." "My wife's just out of the hospital and we need to get home to Nashville."

The people who use these lines are panhandlers, and they're not simply annoying you. Many of them are breaking the law. A 1996 Birmingham City Ordinance makes aggressive panhandling a crime.

Furthermore, as if you didn't know, these people are usually lying. Maybe you tell yourself that they're lying because they don't want to say outright that they're homeless. But in truth, they're probably not homeless.

According to Michael Calvert, president of Operation New Birmingham (ONB), "Most panhandlers are not homeless and most homeless are not panhandlers." (Begging in downtown Birmingham might get tougher [08/30/10]).

The sad truth is that many panhandlers are seeking money to support an addiction to alcohol or other drugs. If we give in to the "easy fix" of handing them even a little money, we may perpetuate their problems instead of working on a solution.

You don't need to be mean about your refusal. You can say "No" and keep walking. If you also say "I don't carry change," you may discourage other beggars nearby, too. And, of course, you don't have to say anything.

These statements and tactics may seem harsh to the Southerner who wants to be polite and helpful. They're not.

The good news is that you can help people in need without giving in to panhandlers. It's actually fairly easy.

Several legitimate charitable organizations provide support for those in need in the Birmingham area, including
First Light
Jessie’s Place/Jimmie Hale Mission
The Old Firehouse Shelter, and
Birmingham Salvation Army.

Community support programs are also run by many Birmingham churches. In the 5 Points area, outreach programs exist at
Southside Baptist Church
Highlands United Methodist Church
St. Mary's on the Highlands Episcopal Church
Similar programs exist at many other local churches.

A donation of time or money to one of these organizations or churches can help people with genuine needs.

If you've been approached by a panhandler and want to take a more aggressive stance, call City Action Partnership (CAP) at 251-0111 to report the incident. Your call may help someone get the help they really need.

Birmingham Festival Theatre (BFT) supports the efforts of ONB, CAP, and local officials to discourage illegal panhandling in our community. For more information about the city's efforts to help those in need and combat the crime of panhandling, visit or

As always, BFT appreciates the support of local theatre-goers. We believe that spirit of support and loyalty can be extended even further into the community if they, too, support the city's efforts in this cause.

Lee Griner
Secretary, Birmingham Festival Theatre

Monday, August 16, 2010

Who is playwright Jane Martin?

There's some question about the identity of the playwright behind "Talking With...," the first show of BFT's 2010-2011 season. Whether it's by a woman, a man, something in between, one person, two persons ... WHATEVER! ... the point is that the 11 women comprised by these monologues are extraordinarily entertaining.

For more on the controversy, see
University of Washington's Columns or
Hartnell College's Western Stage

For a list of all of Martin's plays—and there are lots of them—see the entry in Playwright's Database.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Production Note: Justin Wallace (Crew)

Justin Wallace (Sound Design) is a sound designer, performer, and student from Birmingham, AL. He works with the Birmingham Festival Theatre by providing sound design for numerous productions. As a performer, he regularly performs around Birmingham with several groups and other outfits as a musician for hire. At UAB, Justin is a Music Technology major and is a regular member of the Percussion Ensemble and the Computer Music Ensemble. He is also a company artist for the Sanspointe Dance Company.

Production Note: Sufia Butt (Crew)

Sufia Butt (Stage Manager) is glad to be back at BFT stage managing another show. Sufia is a senior at Birmingham-Southern College studying theatre and photgraphy.

Production Note: Janelle Cochrane (Director)

Janelle Cochrane (Director) has acted and directed in regional theatre throughout the country for many years with long stints at Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theatre of North Carolina. Some of her favorite directing stints include No Time for Sergeants, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, Rumors, Morning’s At Seven, Foxfire and, of course, Fuddy Meers and Rabbit Hole at BFT. And then there’s all those many silly farces. Among her favorite roles as an actress are Eliza in Look Homeward Angel and Big Mama in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Production Note: Jack Heidt (Cast)

Jack Heidt (George Payne) is glad to be back at BFT, where he performed in his first play in Birmingham (Tom Jones). Since then he has appeared with most theatre companies in Birmingham. Favorite roles include Friar Laurence (Romeo and Juliet)—or as he says Juliet and the Friar—also, Paul Sheldon (Misery), Don Pedro (Much Ado about Nothing), Uncle Freddie (Bent), and Bob Ewell (To Kill a Mockingbird).

Production Note: Bates Redwine (Cast)

Bates Redwine (Captain Tim) was surprised and delighted to be cast in this, his second BFT production. Bates appeared earlier this season in The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940. He is enjoying using his native Georgia accent this time. Other Birmingham roles have included Balthasar in Much Ado About Nothing, Dr. Hyman in Broken Glass, and Ensemble in The Who’s Tommy. After living near Tobacco Road for several years, Bates feels right at home in this production.

Production Note: Sarah Virginia Brock (Cast)

Sarah Virginia Brock (Pearl) is very excited to be doing her first play at BFT! Sarah is a film actress and has been very involved in the Alabama film community. She's done 17 movies, and you can find her profile on She's also done 5 plays in the Birmingham theater community and hopes to keep growing as an actress as the years go by.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Production Note: Mel Christian (Cast)

Mel (Melissa) Christian (Sister Bessie Rice) is Program Manager for Theatre UAB, where she is in charge of grants, special events, and their statewide touring program. Mel also serves as secretary on the board for City Equity Theatre. She is a native of Northport, AL and holds an MFA in Drama and Communications from the University of New Orleans. Most recently, Mel directed Twelve Angry Men and appeared as Dora Strang in Equus for Theatre Downtown. On the BFT stage, she was Evelyn in Kindertransport and Grace in Bus Stop. This January she will direct for BFT one of her favorite plays, the hilarious British farce Loot, by Joe Orton.