Philip Mann named executive director of Virginia Samford Theatre

Philip Mann, whose parents met on the stage of the Virginia Samford Theatre, is the new executive director of the theater effective Feb. 8.

He succeeds Cathy Gilmore, who shepherded the theater through a major renaissance during her 22-year tenure at the helm.

“It’s a great honor to be entrusted with the responsibility of preserving the rich cultural heritage of the Virginia Samford Theatre and ensuring a bright future for this storied venue,” Mann said. “The VST family will strive to create programming and educational opportunities that reflect the growth and diversity of Birmingham and our surrounding communities.”

Mann spent the past five years as executive director of external affairs and foundation trustee of the Alabama Center for the Arts in Decatur. He majored in theater and philosophy at Birmingham-Southern College and the University of Alabama at Birmingham and is a graduate of the Oxford University Executive Leadership Programme.

Philip Mann.

His extensive experience in arts administration includes working for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouses and for Louisiana Economic Development as the division director of live performance and music industry development.

Mann has a long history with several theaters in Birmingham and, in particular, the Virginia Samford Theatre. His parents, Jack and Suzanne Mann, met while performing on the stage there. Philip Mann himself performed in a couple of shows there, including Town & Gown’s last show, “Cabaret,” which his father directed and his mother appeared in.

“I was there constantly as a child because that’s where my parents spent their time,” he said. “I remember some funny people and people dressed nice. Everyone smelled like cigarettes. I wasn’t really intrigued by the theater until my 20s, when I started digging into Sondheim, who was basically raised by Oscar Hammerstein. That’s how I was able to connect what my parents did with work that was relevant to me.”

He also has a long history with Gilmore, who revitalized the historic theater badly needing revitalization.

The building was built in 1927 as the Little Theatre. It eventually was renamed the Clark Memorial Theatre and was home to UAB’s Town & Gown Theatre. When UAB sold the theater in 1999, it was purchased by the Metropolitan Arts Council, and Gilmore oversaw a campaign to raise $3 million for renovations.

The complex now includes rehearsal space and a black box theater called the Martha Moore Sykes Studio.

Mann, who is married to former Broadway actress Ana Maria Andricain, said Gilmore “saved the theater.”

“Her energy and dedication is the reason VST exists, and I will always remember that,” he said. “I’ve learned so much from her in my 51 years, and I hope that continues.”

Mann says his first order of business as executive director will be to have a margarita, since “Escape to Margaritaville,” featuring the songs of Jimmy Buffett, opens the day after his new job starts. But there are other plans.

“I’ve been in close contact with the awesome staff for the past month or so,” he said. “I plan to do a lot of listening, and there will definitely be some gradual change.

“We’ve got to make the theater relevant to a younger and diverse generation, and a priority for me will be expanding our excellent STARS educational programs,” Mann added. “Patrons will still see the high-quality musical theater and plays they are accustomed to at VST, but we’ll have some new and interesting things for folks to experience, as well. Above all, I want it to be fun, and I want everyone to feel welcome.”

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