Story by SCOTT MIMS
Photos by JOYANNA LOVE and CONTRIBUTED
The performing arts encompass perhaps the rawest and most honest forms of human expression. In some places, however — most often rural areas — the opportunities for one to explore one’s ambitions in this realm are few and far between.
Mike and Mary Schiermann of Clanton grew up as classmates in Iowa, where they participated in their school’s choir. Upon moving here in 2006, they discovered that there was no such outlet for local students.
Fast forward to about 18 months ago, when the two started the Central Alabama Performing Arts Guild with the idea of promoting the performing arts — music, drama, dance and other forms — in Chilton County.
“I really felt like I had the bandwidth, time and energy to start an organization,” Mike Schiermann said.
The couple wants to expand the horizons of young and budding performers in the area, hence the motto, “All Ages, All Stages.”
“That’s one of the things that I’m proud of about the Guild,” Mary said. “We afford students of all ages the opportunity to perform and we support them with instruction to get to performance level.”
Some might know Mike by his radio name, Scott Michaels, from his days at Magic 96 or from his current program, “In the Mood,” a big band style radio show put on by the Guild. You can hear him swingin’ on 98.3 WSMX-LP, broadcast from LeCroy Career Technical Center; on Alabama State University radio, 90.7 WVAS (wvasfm.org); or on Jazz Hall Radio, 91.1 FM (jazzhall.com, the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame’s website).
The Guild also produces a dramatized radio play each year. In April, they performed “The Shadow: The Blind Beggar Dies” and “Dick Tracy: The Case of the Big Top Murders.”
Mike is a jazz guitarist whose current projects include The Usual Suspects and a smaller jazz combo, The Prime Suspects. The Usual Suspects utilize a rhythm section, horn players and singers, while the latter features guitar, woodwinds, bass and drums with wife, Mary, as the singer.
“We play at senior centers in Chilton County, Shelby County and Jefferson County,” Mary said, noting the big band and swing music styles are adored by the older generation.
The Guild is a nonprofit group that is working toward 501(c)(3) status. It currently has about 30 members.
“We don’t charge anything. We just want to encourage people of all ages to pursue music in their lives, whether it’s professionally or recreationally,” Mary said.
Sarah Jackson recalls her first theatrical production in elementary school when, at age 8, she played Little Red Riding Hood.
Sarah, originally from Louisville, Kentucky, grew up to major in theater at the University of Montevallo and teach children’s theater.
“My parents were both invested in the arts, so I grew up in a home full of music and art,” said Sarah, the Guild’s vice president.
She is now director of Creative Minds Classical Co-op in Clanton, a home-school cooperative where students can attend classes together in a structured environment.
It was Mary who approached Sarah about joining the Guild.
“When she expressed her vision for the Guild, I fell in love with the idea and I joined,” Sarah said. “As we get more people to join, our goal is to add more performing arts programs.”
Sarah expressed appreciation for many of the local young people she has had an opportunity to work with thus far.
“We are so impressed by their talent and intelligence,” she said.
Recently the group presented a theatrical production, “Play On” by Rick Abbot at the Jemison Municipal Complex.
Upcoming events include the Perfect Note Jazz Festival scheduled for Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Senior Connection.
Featured guest artist will be trumpeter Chuck King, a member of the Usual Suspects who is involved in band programs at Helena High School and Hoover High School. Also on hand will be Lorie Flanegan, teacher from All About the Dance Alabama.
There will be food trucks and an art show.
Attendees can expect to hear old-fashioned swinging jazz, Dixieland, big band and New Orleans-style jazz.
“This is going to be the type of music you can dance to,” Mike said.
The Usual Suspects have open rehearsals once a month at Senior Connection in Clanton, usually on the third Sunday from 4-6 p.m. It’s an “open-door policy” where everyone is welcome to drop by, sit down and listen or even join in and play along on an instrument.
“We have new players and new vocalists coming in that are not as familiar with the (big band) style, but they’re willing to give it a go,” Mary said. “We have a 9-year-old vocalist.”
Anyone interested in joining the Central Alabama Performing Arts Guild can contact Mary Schiermann at (205) 907-0008 or Jackson at (205) 565-5904.