It’s official now: Mobile Theatre Guild (MTG) will no longer reside in its traditional spot at 14 N. Lafayette St. No surprise, as structural issues with the 60-plus-year-old playhouse were common knowledge. Combined with pandemic setbacks, a new start was needed.
Long-range plans have MTG combining efforts with Azalea City Center for the Arts (ACCA), a nonprofit with youth-oriented theatrical arts and music training facilities close to Interstate 65 and Dauphin Street. A timetable isn’t clear for now.
“Please know, however, that MTG will continue as a viable Mobile community theater … we hope to have a roof once again over our heads in the near future,” MTG mainstay and officer Daniel Mainwaring posted to Facebook April 6.
He also announced a yard sale April 23-25 “to clear out the building. Furniture, prop items, equipment, fixtures, some costumes and other stuff will be sold at ridiculously low prices.”
“MTG is not going away. It will still have its own board; it’s only leaving Lafayette Street,” former MTG Board President and current ACCA board member Barney March said.
ACCA wants to purchase a pair of adjacent buildings for renovation. One is a sizable former Masonic Rites Hall at 67 Midtown Park E., which could seat a few hundred. March mentioned 160-odd new theater seats recently purchased by MTG that will be removed from Lafayette Street and stored in the meantime.
“They’ll rehearse and do stuff in our building. They’ll pay a monthly rent,” ACCA impresario Chris Paragone said.
Paragone previously planned for an impressive new facility to be built at Sage and Dauphin, on the final remnants of the Graf Dairy Farm. He solicited input from MTG, Mobile Ballet and Mobile Opera about their interest in using it, had blueprints drawn, gained leeway from the appropriate agencies and began fundraising. The pandemic derailed it all.
“We were so far down the road, but I couldn’t in good conscience put another deposit down in April of last year when we weren’t even operating then,” Paragone said. “They let us out of our contract and so now we’re regrouping.”
ACCA has staged productions outdoors at Spring Hill College since last summer and is prepared to stage another in the Arlene Mitchell Auditorium soon. March said MTG might follow suit for their productions.
Paragone is understandably cautious about new plans.
“We’re still in the exploratory phase. We’ve got an architect that’s coming and is going to try and see, you know, how many seats we can have and all that kind of stuff, so we’re not quite at the point of renovations yet. We haven’t even purchased the property yet,” Paragone said.
“If ACCA can get this renovation and expansion done, it would be a huge boon to the Mobile arts scene,” March said.
Father Anthony Zoghby founded MTG in 1950 and the guild earned a state charter in 1954. Former MTG Director Mike McKee said in a 2001 interview the building on Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile property was completed in 1958.
During the 1990s, MTG had five productions performed in festivals at state, regional, national and international levels, earning 28 awards. Their 1997 production of “Smoke On The Mountain” placed first nationally.
This culminated in nearly a decade of uncertainty. Rumors from 2014 said the building was desired as another spot for the ever-expanding parking lots around adjacent McGill-Toolen Catholic High School.
McGill-Toolen President Father Bry Shields told Lagniappe in 2014 parking was an ongoing concern, but there were no specific designs on the theater.
“We don’t know yet about the Theatre Guild, so it’s just kind of a wait and see,” Shields said seven years ago.
“The diocese did not say, ‘Hey, Theatre Guild, pack your bags and get out.’ They just said, ‘Right now the building is uninhabitable, so your move,’ no pun intended,” March explained.
The Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed (MOJO) is taking tentative steps out of pandemic hibernation. MOJO will feature locally reputed jazz trio Vibration Configuration — drummer John Milham, bassist Joe “JoJo” Morris, guitarist Corky Hughes — in an outdoor performance at Central Presbyterian Church (1260 Dauphin St.) Monday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. The combo and patrons will gather in the church parking lot at the corner of Dauphin and Ann, across from the Alabama School for Math and Science.
Entrance is $15, $10 for MOJO members. Attendees should bring their own seating and food donations for the Food Pantry at Central.
Advance tickets are available at mojojazz.org.
This page is available to our subscribers. Join us right now to get the latest local news from local reporters for local readers.
The best deal is found by clicking here. Click here right now to find out more. Check it out.
Already a member of the Lagniappe family? Sign in by clicking here