Donna Thornton on theater in Birmingham and ‘Chicken & Biscuits’

Donna Thornton.

For decades now, Chicago’s loss has been Birmingham’s gain.

Donna Thornton was born in Birmingham, but her family moved to Chicago, where she was raised and educated before earning a biology degree from Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina.

It was at Allen that she had what she calls her “first stage performance,” and she’s been hooked ever since.

That includes returning to Birmingham after college and, since then, starring in productions at a number of Birmingham theaters.

She’s one of the stars of “Chicken & Biscuits,” a production of Encore Theatre and Gallery opening Friday and running through Nov. 19. The show is directed by Marc Raby.

Thornton took some time to answer some questions about her Birmingham theater career and latest role on stage.

Can you tell me a bit about your theater career? 

When I returned to Birmingham, I auditioned for Aldrige Repertory Theatre’s “The Amen Corner.” I was open to any part, even non-speaking, and I ended up in the lead role. Shortly after, Chalethia Williams recommended to Carl Stewart (at Terrific New Theatre) that he consider me for his upcoming show, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.”   That began a long friendship with Chalethia and a long relationship with multiple theaters in the Birmingham area. 

 Any favorite roles up to this point? 

As I look back, I have never had a role that I didn’t LOVE! Some have been extremely special for different reasons. Almost any show with Chalethia or Jan Hunter is certainly a highlight. Those would include, “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” “A … My Name is Still Alice,” “Nunsense” and “Steel Magnolias,” to name a few.  

Donna Thornton performed with Nathifa Dance Company in its Juneteenth performance.

How has theater in Birmingham changed over the years?

During the peak of the migration to Atlanta, someone asked why didn’t I consider moving? I replied that Atlanta was fully developed, I preferred to be part of something that was growing. I think that is true of Birmingham theater. There has been tremendous growth in the quantity and quality of the local theater community. Without being overly saturated, it has a great balance of new and more established companies that continue to grow and diversify the audiences and performers in the area. 

Tell me about “Chicken & Biscuits.” What led you to that play?

“Chicken & Biscuits” is hilarious! It’s a very well-written play that is funny without being cliche. The situation may be cliche, but the writing is so believable that the cast has great material to work with. I was not familiar with the show. Marc introduced me to it. 

 Tell me about the play and about your character?

The play is set as a family prepares to bury its patriarch. As the oldest daughter, my character, Beanetta (pronounced Benita), has been charged with handling the services and minding the secrets of the Jenkins family. But secrets have a way of revealing themselves at the most inopportune time. And in this case, all comes to a head during the services of my beloved father.  As I struggle to hold it all together, it becomes clear that Beanetta has been “carrying everyone else’s weight” for far too long.

What about the cast and director? How have they been to work with? 

Director Marc Raby and the full cast have been great. …  I have never worked with anyone in the cast before. I want to also mention our stage manager. Stage managers don’t often get the kudos they deserve. Autumn Brown Kisor is amazing and a joy to work with.

 What’s next for you, on stage and off?

Funny you should ask.  Hot off the presses, someone just inquired about my interest in directing. I am in the early stages of considering it, but we shall see. Also, I have been doing some work with It’s a Southern Thing, an online media company. I have done some video content for them and some online series work that has shown at the Sidewalk Film Festival.

“Chicken & Biscuits,” at Encore Theatre and Gallery Nov. 10-19.

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