'Go out and see the shows': JSU media adviser weighs in on local entertainment
by Ben Flanagan
Staff Writer
Aug 07, 2009 | 3543 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jacksonville State University media advisor Mike Stedham talks recently about local entertainment in the 92-J studio on campus. Photo: Michael Bell/The Anniston Star
Jacksonville State University media advisor Mike Stedham talks recently about local entertainment in the 92-J studio on campus. Photo: Michael Bell/The Anniston Star
Jacksonville State University media advisor Mike Stedham. Photo: Michael Bell/The Anniston Star
Jacksonville State University media advisor Mike Stedham. Photo: Michael Bell/The Anniston Star
Mike Stedham has his eye on plenty. He serves as adviser to Jacksonville State University's student newspaper, its yearbook and the campus radio station, 91.9 WLJS-FM.

He also keeps his eye on Calhoun County's entertainment scene, and even has his hand in the action, serving as the president of the board of directors for Community Actors' Studio Theater.

Stedham was a reporter, columnist and editor at the Anniston Star for 14 years before he headed to JSU to train future journalists. You could say he's seen it all in these parts and has a solid grasp on the shape of things with the art and entertainment culture here in Calhoun County.

We sat down with Stedham to talk about local theater, the area's entertainment decision-makers, The Sound of Music and college students' impact on the community.

Who decides what Calhoun County sees and hears on stage, screen and air? Who makes our access-to-entertainment decisions for us?

The boards of directors for CAST. That's us. The Knox Concert Series. The JSU drama department. Music at McClellan. Those would be the big four, as far as seeing live entertainment here.

How do they interpret the culture and counter-cultural market's needs and interests?

In our case, on the CAST board, we try to involve elements of all the communities in the area. We're a self-selecting board. We try to be as diverse as possible. But people have to have an interest in theater, obviously. The same way with Knox. They bring in people from all over the community. They have an advisory board that helps them. The same with the drama department here at JSU. They go out and try and serve the entire community.

The other thing that's going to tell you if you're successful is ticket sales. When we have a lot of people come in, we know we've made a good decision. When we pick somebody to play, and nobody comes to see it, we think, "Oh, maybe we better not do that again."

Why should we have to drive to Atlanta or Birmingham or even the performance centers in Talladega or Gadsden for some entertainment?

Actually, we're very lucky to be able to go to places like Atlanta and Birmingham to see things. There are certain kinds of theater and art that tour. If they came to Anniston, they might have five people (attend). They come to Birmingham, and there's a critical mass you have to try and achieve for a specialty kind of thing. Someone like Ruben Studdard [who played at Music at McClellan this summer] is going to attract thousands of people because he's Ruben Studdard. He can do that here. You have to have a certain level of popularity in an area with a smaller population just because of the number of fans.

You probably couldn't get enough people to bring in certain other acts as well. There's also the charm of going to another town. Going to different restaurants, maybe going to a museum or park while you're there, to see something you don't see at home.

How can the market demand wider, better, stronger, additional choices in this area?

They can talk to the people on these boards of directors I talked about. Anytime you get a program, you see the names of the people who are on the boards. Give them a phone call, write them a letter, get their e-mail address. We hear from people in our audience all the time. CAST takes audience surveys. "What would you like to see us do?" Sound of Music, Sound of Music, Sound of Music. You can only do Sound of Music so many times.

The same way with Knox. Who would you like them to bring in? Obviously, there are some people we can't afford because they have to have a venue of at least 20,000 or 30,000. One of the things that Music at McClellan is doing, and Pete Conroy especially, is getting that amphitheater together. That's going to be huge.

And one thing that CAST wants to do eventually is have a theater building that will allow us to accommodate different productions, all that costs money. So fundraising is a big part of that, too.

In what ways do JSU students enhance the entertainment community?

Students enhance because they're always looking for something new and different. They're learning about things. I have a daughter who's just gotten out of college herself, and she's always interested in hearing about a new band. Or I'll tell her about somebody that's been around for 50 years, and she's never heard of them.

I think college students are still in somewhat of an exploratory mood when it comes to music, drama, any form of entertainment. If you have that in your community, that's good. That's going to encourage the JSU drama department to do plays that otherwise might not sell enough tickets to justify a community theater doing it.

What kind of an emphasis does 92-J (the campus radio station) put on local music?

We devote one program a week to local music. Also, when local bands come to us with their material, we play it, assuming that it doesn't violate FCC regulations and things like that. We want to encourage that and talk about it, and sometimes add it into our regular rotation when we can.

What can the rest of Calhoun County do to improve itself as a cultural attraction in Alabama?

Actually go out and see the shows. We do a play and we might sell 100 tickets when we think we ought to sell 200. If people don't buy tickets, then we can't keep producing. Obviously, Birmingham just lost City Stages because not enough people showed up, which indicates to me the community made a judgment. Some people very passionately wanted to keep it, but the community as a whole has to support it. The same way with us. If people stop coming to see our plays, we'll have to fold our tents.

Does the entertainment culture here measure up to what it once was many years go? How much has changed?

It's cyclical. At one time, we had nothing. And then a young man named Martin Platt came to town. Like Kim Dobbs, he was the director of the local theater. He said we can start a Shakespeare festival here.

So for 10 or 15 years, we had a Shakespeare festival. That was probably the zenith of our cultural attractiveness with the state and national level. Then we lost the Shakespeare festival. Montgomery had a lot more money than we did, so they got it. So things went down for a while.

Then Anniston community theater built back up for a number of years. It had some financial problems and went down. So as far as the theater goes, it's cyclical. The community grows and shrinks, and those kinds of things grow and shrink with them.


This story is the third in a series that will examine Calhoun County's arts and entertainment scene. The Anniston Star surveyed members of the community who play prominent roles in delivering residents with high-quality entertainment options about their craft and how they feel about the local entertainment scene. The series will feature local musicians, fine artists, filmmakers, arts educators and public figures who make entertainment decisions in the county. The mission of the series is to offer an introspective look at this area as a cultural attraction in Alabama and the Southeast. The Star takes a look at local entertainment's past, present and what it could and should be, seen through the eyes of the entertainers.

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