Where are they now? Catching up with Frank Thompson

Frank Thompson, center, in “It’s a Wonderful Life Live.”

Where are they now? That’s the crux of a new series of interviews that focus on members of the Birmingham theater community who have moved away – but are certainly not forgotten. We catch up with them and find out what they’re doing now that they’re not on the boards in the Magic City.

We kick the series off with Frank Thompson, a Birmingham theater stalwart before moving to Columbia, South Carolina, a few years ago.

Tell me about your background.

I grew up in the Birmingham area and was exposed to the arts at an early age through going to grade school at Advent Day School in the ‘70s/’80s. We always attended the symphony and Birmingham Children’s Theatre at the BJCC. Long before I knew them in real life, I had seen some of the then A-list actors in Birmingham on stage at BCT. (Some things never change.) I had done a couple of small plays at school, and maybe a church pageant or something like that, but my first legitimate theatre experience was playing Tootles, one of the Lost Boys in Summerfest’s “Peter Pan” in 1984, at the age of 14. From there I continued taking classes, attending workshops and getting the occasional role here and there.

Frank Thompson.

When I got to college, I soon became active with Theatre Tuscaloosa, where I truly cut my teeth as an actor from my late teens to late 20s. I moved back to Birmingham for law school in 1997 and quickly learned that I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but I figured why not get the degree and do theater at the same time? I performed at BCT, Canterbury Players and several other local companies before winding up as Billy Crocker in “Anything Goes” at the LJCC, which was just starting to revive its theater program, which had been basically dormant since Irving Stern’s retirement. The next thing I knew, I was artistic director for Theatre LJCC, which I did for several years. Around 2000, Leonard Jowers approached me about starting CenterStage, which began in 2001 with a production of “Greater Tuna,” with Jonathan Goldstein and me, in a then-abandoned commercial space beneath Cosmo’s Pizza. CenterStage grew through its which-high-school-auditorium-are-we-in-now phase, eventually winding up at VST, where I also started performing. I was doing quite a bit of theater in the 2000s, when I moved to Columbia. 

Can you give me a couple of highlights of your time doing theater in Birmingham?

Two highlights … wow, that’s a tough one. I’d have to say having Dawn Wells as our special guest for the opening night of “Gilligan’s Island: The Musical” (CenterStage’s first show at VST) tops the list. She was just as sweet and approachable as you would think and even went out to Rojo with the cast and crew for a couple of hours after the show. The other would probably be doing Lee Shackelford’s “Tom Sawyer” script on tour with Birmingham Children’s Theatre. Leah Luker, Chris Sams and I had quite a few memorable and fun moments on that tour and have all agreed that there was something special about it.

Why did you leave Birmingham?

I moved away because I got a little drunk at my 10-year law school reunion, took a wrong turn on my way to the men’s room and wound up in a small alcove with a few other people, one of whom happened to be a girl upon whom I’d had the crush of the century back in the day. There was just enough liquid courage in my bloodstream to motivate me to share that information, and as it turns out, she wasn’t altogether unhappy with that. A back-and-forth followed, with our alternating visiting each other in Birmingham or her home in Columbia. We finally decided one of us was going to need to move, and it was easier for me to up and move than her. We had a fabulous going-away party, hosted by Andy Duxbury and Tommy Thompson, and it seemed like literally the whole Birmingham theater community was there, which was heartwarming and sad at the same time. This was 2010, however, and social media was solidly a thing, so homesickness would be at a minimum. I did wonder what the theater opportunities would be, but I had by then seen a couple of shows in Columbia and knew there was some good work being done.

Once I got settled in, we quickly realized that weekending on a regular basis and living together 24/7 were very different things, so after a couple of months, I got my own place and decided to stay for a year or so. Fourteen years later, I’m still here.

Are you doing theater in Columbia?

Columbia is blessed with a huge theater community, and I have stayed extremely active. My first role in Columbia was as Bob Wallace in Town Theatre’s “White Christmas,” followed not long after by the Proprietor in “Assassins” at Trustus Theatre. Since then, I’ve worked with at least five or seven groups in the Midlands area and have played some amazing roles, including Thenardier in “Les Miserables,” Harold Hill in “The Music Man,” Freddie/Philip in “Noises Off,” Igor in “Young Frankenstein,” Gomez Addams in “The Addams Family” and Lumiere in “Beauty and the Beast,” just to name a few. I’ve also had the privilege of directing quite a bit, including “Boeing Boeing,” “South Pacific,” “Sister Act,” “A Christmas Story,” “Chicago,” “9 to 5” and “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” among others.

What do you do in Columbia?

By day, I live in Columbia, South Carolina, and am events manager for The Catery on Broad.  I’ve been married (not to the same girl from law school), divorced and gone through all the traditional rites of passage one encounters in midlife, and survived them all. This summer will mark my 40th year as a performer, and I’m still just as stage-struck as that 14-year-old in “Peter Pan” at Boutwell Auditorium. 

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