History

Formerly known as The Little Theatre, The Clark Memorial Theatre and Town & Gown Theatre, this Romanesque
playhouse is the origin of Birmingham’s theatrical legacy. Since 1927, the theatre on South Twenty-Sixth Street at Caldwell Park has had an interesting life.

The Little Theatre
Constructed in 1927, the Little Theatre was a place where the community came together to put on quality theatrical productions. Through the Depression and early days of World War II, the Birmingham Little Theatre presented hundreds of first-rate performances and played a starring role in the cultural life of Birmingham. People from every part of the city and every walk of life worked together as actors, costumers, and the theatre’s popularity was confirmed when it was recognized in a New York newspaper in 1940 as one of “the ten leading Little Theatres in the nation”. However, as the war effort escalated, its casting pool depleted and the theatre closed.

Town and Gown
In 1950, a group of individuals with ties to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) and an itch to act, began looking for a place to perform. UAB speech instructor James Hatcher led the effort to revive community theatre under the auspices of the University. Their efforts led to the development of Town & Gown Theatre. Just five years later, the C. Powell Noland family purchased The Little Theatre and generously donated it to UAB. The theatre was renamed Clark Memorial Theatre in memory of Mrs. Noland’s father, Gen. Louis V. Clark, who was instrumental in the funding and construction of The Little Theatre back in 1927.

Virginia Samford Theatre
In 1999, UAB announced plans to close and sell the theatre, and a beloved Birmingham landmark was about to disappear. However, the Metropolitan Arts Council stepped forward to restore the landmark building. The theatre has been given a new name, Virginia Samford Theatre, in honor of their generous donor Virginia Samford Donovan, who provided the funds to MAC for the purchase.

MAC and a committee of Birmingham leaders launched a $3,000,000 capital campaign, Center Stage for the Arts, to preserve this treasured historic structure and to provide Birmingham with a tremendous new resource – The Metropolitan Arts Center and the Virginia Samford Theatre. The Theatre was re-opened in May 2002 and was awarded the Preservation Award by the Birmingham Historical Society.

The Virginia Samford Theatre now serves as a beacon for local talent and performers are drawn to showcase their creativity. Local non-profit or community groups hold meetings in the facility, and citizens and corporations find this venue an intimate gathering place for weddings, receptions and private functions. MAC is headquartered in the Arts Center, which currently houses small arts groups in the “Arts Incubator”. With this broad spectrum of uses available to everyone in the community, the Metropolitan Arts Center and the Virginia Samford Theatre play a major cultural role in Birmingham’s
future.

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For more information on the theatre please visit our unique History Wall, located in the lobby at the Virginia Samford Theatre. It provides a wealth of information and pictures from productions, past and present. For inquiries contact The Virginia Samford Theatre at 205.251.1228 or email Cathy Rye Gilmore at cathy@virginiasamfordtheatre.org.