Year-End Review: 2005
Curtain closes on a very good year, indeed
It was yet another season for the record books.
Not content with an already hectic schedule, too busy or is that dizzy? theater critics crisscrossed the state and reviewed a whopping 99 professional productions in 2005, two more than the record-breaking year before. From Saugatuck to Fraser and Lansing to Greektown they traveled, visiting pretty much every professional theater company that raised a curtain in 2005.
And what did they find?
An interesting dichotomy, quite frankly. While most theaters struggled with dwindling financial support from the government and corporate communities and some experienced a noticeable drop in paid attendance the shows went on with little or no indication that the coffers were running dry. Rather, an infectious energy was detected at most theaters, proving that when times get tough, thespians get tougher and they stage some of their best and most innovative work ever.
But it wasn’t always what appeared on stage that was noteworthy in 2005. So here’s a sampling of both the highs and lows of 2005 from both behind the curtain and in the spotlight.
Theater lovers throughout the state were stunned in June by the news that BoarsHead Theater’s Artistic Director Geoffrey Sherman was leaving to become producing artistic director of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. “This was a very difficult choice,” Sherman said, noting that he would not have been offered the job if it hadn’t been for his two years at the Lansing theater. “Lansing should feel proud of BoarsHead’s excellent reputation nationally.”
Taking the reins only three months later was a face familiar to longtime patrons of the BoarsHead: Kristine Thatcher. The newly appointed artistic director got her professional start at the theater at the age of 16; four decades later, she was back at its helm. She was joined a short time later by Marlene Shelton as managing director.
York Griffith, another longtime Detroit favorite, left his position as Planet Ant’s artistic director to become an assistant director at Chicago’s famed Steppenwolf Theatre. He was replaced by Eric Maher.
And finally, Metro Detroit’s theater community was saddened by the sudden death of Beth Thibault, assistant director of marketing and public relations for Wayne State University’s Department of Theatre. She was much loved and well respected by all who knew her.
The Network comes out
Ann Arbor’s Performance Network Theatre painted a big red target on its door by staging not one, but two main stage productions featuring LGBT themes and characters. “Boston Marriage,” a story about two Victorian women, won high praise from fans and critics alike, but it was the summer’s “Take Me Out” that hit a home run especially at the box office.
Although the always gay-friendly theater took some flack from its more conservative patrons, that didn’t stop Artistic Director Carla Milarch from providing “uncompromising artistic leadership in the region and [producing] works that engage, challenge and inspire audiences and artists.”
She did just that and we thank her for it!
They come, they go
The long-awaited reopening of Second City Detroit occurred late in the summer with “In iPod We Trust,” its twenty-sixth revue. Now in Novi, the theater sits between a new Andiamo restaurant and the Dirty Martini Lounge, a not-so-subtle change from Detroit’s Hockeytown Café. Fans won’t be disappointed, however, as only the location has changed and not its celebrated humor.
But the question of the year is this: Whatever happened to the Detroit Ensemble Theater? The struggling troupe moved from its Roseville location after completing its 2004-05 season with a promise to resurface in the fall at a location in Ferndale but apparently it never did. It’s never a good sign when e-mails bounce and Web sites disappear. So is this truly the end of the DET?
Theater busts out all over
They said it could never happen, but theater busted out all over Ann Arbor this past June when nine of the state’s professional theaters joined forces to present the 2005 Michigan Theatre Festival. The five-day historic event included staged readings of 12 new plays at multiple locations throughout town, plus the annual 12-hour short play marathon produced by Heartlande Theatre Company.
Participating theaters included BlackBird Theatre, BoarsHead Theatre, Heartlande Theatre Company, Jewish Ensemble Theatre Company, Meadow Brook Theatre, Performance Network Theatre, Planet Ant Theatre, Plowshares Theatre Company and Williamston Theatre Project.
“We got everybody all in one room, believe it or not, and we came together as a community, as a coalition which is what we’re calling ourselves to put this festival on,” HTC’s Mary Rychlewski told Curtain Calls.
The coalition is already hard at work planning the 2006 festival. And rumor has it that a very “critical” component could open this year’s festivities. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.
The show goes on
Fifteen years of history went up in smoke in June when a five-alarm fire destroyed the warehouse where Plowshares Theatre Company stored its props, sets and costumes. Despite its loss, Gary Anderson and company mounted “Crowns” a month later thanks to the kindness and support of strangers and friends from within the theater community.
Awards and such
The longest-running production in Detroit history got a new and undisputed titleholder in the fall when the Gem Theatre’s “Menopause The Musical” surpassed the 71-week run of “Personals” at the long-gone-but-not-forgotten Dinner Theater of Detroit. (Some believe the record was broken when those hot and flashy gals beat the 66-week run of “Escanaba in Da Moonlight,” also at the Gem, but we sticklers insist otherwise.) And they’re still going strong, too!
Actress/director Gillian Eaton became the town’s most celebrated thespian in 2005 after earning ARTSERVE Michigan’s prestigious E. Ray Scott Artist Prize and the Lawrence DeVine Award for outstanding contribution to theater in a season by the Detroit Free Press. She also received a 2005 Wilde Award for Best Female Performer in a comedy.
ARTSERVE also awarded African Renaissance Theater’s Oliver Pookrum with its Emerging Artist award for “helping to redraw the map of local theater in Detroit.”
Congratulations one and all!