Curtain’s up by the shore: Mason Street Warehouse opens third season in Saugatuck

By |2018-01-16T06:50:11-05:00October 31st, 2017|Uncategorized|

SAUGATUCK – A recent peek at license plates in the parking lot of the Mason Street Warehouse revealed quite a lot about why this “uptown theater in downtown Saugatuck” is one of the most unique professional non-profit theaters in the state.
For sitting amongst dozens of vehicles from Michigan were two from Florida, several from Illinois, a few from Ohio, a couple from Indiana and, interestingly enough, even one from Nebraska.
“It’s a very strange demographic,” co-founder Kurt Stamm – a native of Wyoming – told BTL on a recent visit to the west side of Michigan. “If you look at the people who buy our tickets, they really come from all over the country.”
Which makes sense, of course, since Saugatuck is a popular destination for vacationers worldwide. But it wasn’t until two gay entrepreneurs arrived with extensive backgrounds in theater that the long-famous arts town also became a Mecca for high-quality, off-Broadway-style entertainment.
It’s a concept that, after two seasons, seems to be working. “Subscriptions were great last year, the audience response was great and the critical response was amazing,” Stamm said. “Critically, I think, we really topped the charts in terms of the quality and what we’re trying to do here.”
The theater, which seats 200 and stages shows six days a week, sold about three-quarters of its seats last summer. “Until I’m sold out every single night, I’m not going to be happy,” Stamm laughed. “That’s not too much to ask, is it?”
Stamm and business partner Tom Mullen spent the fall and winter months planning their third season. “We’re limited by space with what we can do here and we’re limited budget-wise. We also don’t want to do stuff that’s been done fifty-thousand times. The main thing we’re trying to do is the kind of stuff people wouldn’t normally see in a summer theater. So we pick shows we think are interesting, smart, articulate, and that push the envelope a little sometimes,” Stamm said.
That will certainly be the case this summer – with one exception. Plus, the co-artistic producing directors decided to expand the season with longer runs and one additional show – the previously mentioned exception!
“Our season is still four shows,” Stamm said, “but we’ve made each of the runs three weeks so there’s a show running every single week throughout the summer. And then we’ve added sort of this bonus production on the front end that we’re co-producing with the Saugatuck Center for the Arts.”
That production is the premiere production of “Nunsensations,” the sixth and latest installment of the popular “Nunsense” series by writer/director Dan Goggin. This time, the talented sisters are staging a revue in Las Vegas. “The reason we’re doing it is because Danny happens to be a good friend of ours and he agreed to come here. And he got Georgia Engel to come here. So we’re really thinking of this whole month as a benefit performance for us.”
The musical premiered May 7 with a fundraiser that brought about 185 patrons to the theater. Although total income from the event is not yet known, Stamm is pleased with the results. The critics, too, have been thrilled: The show opened to heavenly reviews – something not necessarily guaranteed from a community heavily populated by members of the Dutch Reformed church.
Such a strong, positive response bodes well for the upcoming season that officially opens June 22 with the Michigan premiere of “The Thing About Men,” a modern musical comedy written by the creators of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.” Next up will be the first-ever regional production of “Urinetown” that hits the stage July 23, followed by a foot-stomping musical, “Honky-Tonk Highway,” on Aug. 3. The season concludes with “What a Glorious Feeling,” a world premiere musical that Mullen is developing with playwright Jay Berkow, a teacher at Western Michigan University. “It’s the back-story of how Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen created ‘Singing in the Rain,'” Stamm said.
Nearly 1,300 hopeful actors auditioned for the shows earlier this year. However, most of the performers who will appear on the MSW stage this summer will once again be from New York and Chicago.
That requires assistance from the community, Stamm pointed out. “Every year we beg, borrow and steal housing from people. That’s really our toughest thing, because it is a resort community, and clearly that’s the time when people want to make money on their rental properties.”
Like every other non-profit theater in the state, donations are the lifeblood of the business – and Stamm is always on the lookout for corporations and individuals who would like to offer assistance. “Anything we can get is always a help,” Stamm concluded. “We never say no to anything.

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