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December 18, 2009   Email to Friend 

Community Theater Rises From The Ashes

Raising the roof while praising the Lord is just one of the scenes from 'Come Home It's Suppertime.'
To say the community theater in Brundidge was born out of the ashes would be nothing less than the absolute truth. A fire gutted the town's city hall in 1990. The burned-out hull stood as an eyesore at the crossroads of the community for more than a decade before the Brundidge Historical Society (BHS) brought it back to life.

The historical organization had for years entertained the idea of producing a folk-life play based on stories and lore of the area.

However, the biggest stumbling block was finding a suitable place to house a community theater. When city officials gave the BHS permission to use the building "as is," a theater literally rose out of the ashes.

"We started with four walls, a roof and a hole for a floor," said Lawrence Bowden, BHS president. "Now, we have four walls, a roof and a red clay floor 'carpeted' with sawdust. It's not the usual theater, but it creates the perfect place for our folk-life play, 'Come Home, It's Suppertime,' written by Brundidge native Jaine Treadwell. It has been designated by the Alabama Legislature as "Alabama's Official Folk-Life Play."

In 2008, the play received the Governor's Tourism Award and recently completed its 16th season. It has played to more than 16,000 people over the years.

The cast, musicians and crew are all local residents from age 8 to 88. They come from all walks of life and all socio-economic groups. All are volunteers who act more like a family and combine their talents each fall and spring for the play.

"We are family, and we all care about each other," said Lenny Trawick, who wrote all of the original music for the play. "If we ever quit being family, this will come to an end."

Sherroll Tatom, a retired banker and city council member is one of the play's most senior members. He said "Come Home," has been the most rewarding thing he's ever done.

"I don't know of anything that has meant more to me or to our town than this play," Tatom said. "It has given so many of us a chance to be a part of something much bigger than ourselves and something that has brought so much positive recognition to our town. And it has persevered a part of the history, not just of Brundidge, but the entire rural South. So many people can relate to the stories we tell and those who can't, learn something about their cultural roots."

The two-act play tells stories of the way life was in much of the South during the Great Depression -- stories of hog killings, cotton picking, sitting up with the dead, peanut picking spots, moonshining, the 40 days of misery and raising the roof while praising the Lord. The music includes the original score, plus traditional songs from the past and favorite old church hymns. There's pre-show music to entertain the guests while dining on a country family-style supper complete with dessert served at intermission. The folk-life play has been tremendously popular, attracting supper guests from all across Alabama, nine states and three foreign countries.

"There's not any one thing that makes the play popular," Bowden said. "The original stories, the music, the food served around the supper table and the old building create an atmosphere that is unique. And, people tell us that when they leave, it's not like they've been to a play, it's like they've been home at supper time, and what a wonderful place that is to be."

The BHS also sponsors a Chili Country Christmas seasonal storytelling, at the We Piddle Around Theater. On Dec. 4 and 5, Alabama's own supreme storyteller Kathryn Tucker Windham will be the featured teller and will share her special Christmas memories and conduct a comb concert of Christmas carols. The We Piddle Around Theater is not just home to Alabama's official folk-life play. It's also the place of a storytelling revival in south central Alabama.

The BHS sponsors the annual Pike Piddlers Storytelling Festival the last weekend in January each year. The festival opens at the We Piddle Around Theater Jan. 29 with supper and stories. It continues with three storytelling concerts at Troy University's Trojan Center Theater the next day.

Brundidge Mayor Jimmy Ramage said the programs and events that the BHS offers have a huge positive impact on the town. "It has put Brundidge on the map," he said.

For information about the events of the BHS, call (334) 735-3125 or (334) 670-6302 or visit www.piddle.org.


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