In the Spotlight: Michael Wilson and his Cahaba Theatre Group tackle Tennessee Williams

Michael Wilson was raised north of Boston in Acton, Massachusetts, and then lived in Asheville, North Carolina in 2001. He moved to Birmingham in 2003 and has established himself as a presence in Birmingham’s theater and fine arts community. His first show in Birmingham was “The Sound of Music” at the Virginia Samford Theatre, and one of his latest ventures is Cahaba Theatre Group, which is about to present “Three from Tennessee,” three short plays by Tennessee Williams performed as readers’ theater. That’s April 28, but Wilson has a lot more on his plate, as you’ll see in this interview.

Tell me about your theater background. What’s your first memory of being on stage?

My first time on stage was in 3rd grade singing “Where is Love” from “Oliver.”  After that, I was smitten.  I did several plays and musicals in high school and kept going afterward, playing such roles as Tony in “West Side Story,” Dickon in “The Secret Garden,” Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Claude Hooper Bukowski in “Hair” and Tommy in “The Who’s Tommy” in my younger years.  I have also directed quite a bit, including “The Mousetrap” (Brevard Little Theatre), “The Songs” (Asheville Arts Center) and “South City Cabaret.” (South City Theatre).  I am currently directing “The Magic Tower” by Tennessee Williams as part of our short play festival “Three from Tennessee” (Cahaba Theatre Group).

What’s your favorite role you’ve played?

My favorite musical was “The Secret Garden,” and my favorite play is a toss-up between “The Diviners” (Birmingham Festival Theatre) and “Graceland and Asleep on the Wind” (Hoover Library Theatre).

Who is your favorite composer?

Sondheim.

Who is your favorite playwright?

Charles Busch.

Do you have a favorite show?

“Aspects of Love” by Andrew Lloyd Webber – started listening to this at the tender age of 13 and it still stirs my heart.

Do you have a favorite song from a show?

“Marry Me a Little” from “Company” or “For Forever” from “Dear Evan Hansen.”

What’s a performance (on stage or screen) that sticks out to you as an audience member?

Joanna Gleason’s Baker’s Wife in the original “Into The Woods.”

What is a role you wish you will or could have played?

Bobby in “Company” – when VST did it a little while back, I hated that I couldn’t audition because my main job at that point was as a bartender.

Any great advice you’ve been given by a director or anyone else about being on stage?

The great Carl Stewart, in all his terrible glory, telling me and the other actors over and over again to just “tell the story!”

Tell me about a time something went wrong on stage.

We were doing “Take Me Out” at BFT in 2005, and there was a leak in the roof.  As many people remember, the beginning of the second act had all of the baseball players come out of the showers, drop towel and get dressed.  Poor Heath Mixon walked out in his towel, hit a wet spot and went down as his towel flew through the air.

Tell me something people might be surprised to know about you.

I did an epic three-month cross-country trip in 1997 with three friends.  We took a ‘79 VW Bus and an ‘81 Chevy Malibu, both of which broke down three times.  We camped the whole way, from Boston to Austin and up to San Francisco with four cats, a pet rat and a dog we picked up in Arkansas.  We finally arrived in San Francisco on Halloween night, and I ended up living there in a residential hotel for three months, whilst turning 21 years old.  It was quite an experience.

What kind of music do you listen to when you’re not performing?

Pop, EDM, a little country and bluegrass, trip-hop, ‘90s alternative.

What’s the last book you read? 

“Dare to Lead,” by Brene Brown.

What podcasts do you listen to?

Last one I listened to was “S–town.”

What’s the last TV series you binged?

My comfort shows are “The West Wing” and “Game of Thrones.” I watch both regularly over and over.  The last new one was “Only Murders in the Building.”

You’re also a visual artist. Can you tell me about that?

My mother and two of my sisters are visual artists. My mother can literally take a photo and reproduce it in pencil.  I have always loved photography, and during the pandemic, I took a lot of time to develop my eye and my editing.  Since then, I have produced dozens of canvases with my photography on it and lately, I have been getting a surprising amount of commissions.  One of the most exciting has been working on four pieces for Charles Barkley showcasing his statue in Auburn and his childhood home in Leeds.  My photography can best be seen on my facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/michaelwilsonphotos/

And Cahaba Theatre is your newest theater venture. How did that come about?  

Martha Summey, Brandon McCray, Barbara Faherty, Kenneth Faherty and I discovered that there was an appetite for readers theatre in town and that the concept was well received: One performance in venues that match up with the story.  The idea originated at BFT but due to certain factors, we decided to create our own 501c3 non-profit focused on the readers theatre, with room to expand.

Is it a different process to do readers theater as opposed to typical theater, or is developing a
character the same either way?

It’s easier!  And more focused on character and the story.  Less time commitment, no glitzy lights and costumes, just theater in its pure bare-bones form.

Can you tell me about “Three From Tennessee”?

Well, we all love Tennessee Williams!  That man knew how to create an atmosphere simply with words, which is exactly what our readers theatre group gravitates toward.  He has great name recognition, and his work is distinctly southern.  The plays we are performing include “The Magic Tower” (which I’m directing), “The Case of the Crushed Petunias” and “In Our Profession” on April 28 at 2:30 p.m. at Homewood Theatre.  

What’s next for you?

In addition to EVERYTHING else I’m doing, I’m also signed on with Red Models & Talent, a local talent agency here in town.  I’m currently on the air with a Wettermark Keith commercial and just this week shot stills for a local restaurant for a print campaign.  I am also directing “Graceland” and “Asleep on the Wind” this August.”  My goal is to do a show with Red Mountain Theatre – I have never worked there, which is very surprising because I am a fairly well-established musical-theater actor here in the Magic City.

“Three From Tennessee,” presented by Cahaba Theatre Group at 2:30 p.m. April 28 at Homewood Theatre.

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