Happy New Year, and welcome to our annual look at some of last year's highlights in the always-exciting world of Michigan theater.
The biggest news – given our state's sluggish economy – was probably this: While curtains went up and curtains went down, none stayed down for good. That's not to say Michigan's professional theaters aren't hurting, because many – if not most – are. However, aggressive marketing mixed with severe belt tightening kept the bogeyman away – at least for now.
One sure sign that economic trouble was brewing was a 10-percent drop in the number of professional shows reviewed by this column. Much of the decrease can be attributed to fewer late night and improv shows, but also to the temporary disappearance of a handful of small companies that traditionally stage a show or two each season.
But enough of the doom-and-gloom.
Two area professional theaters brought new faces into their administrative offices in 2006. Janet Cleveland replaced Kate Peckham (who moved out of state in the pursuit of other opportunities) as Mosaic Youth Theatre's director of acting, while Samuel Pollak came on board as managing director. Performance Network looked to the future by adding Joe Hehir to the team as managing director.
Not to be outshined, Stagecrafters – Royal Oak's award-winning community theater group – added Rodney Terwilliger to its staff as development director.
Ann Arbor's Improv Inferno changed addresses this fall when it lost its lease on its popular Main Street location. A short time later, however, the troupe relocated only a few blocks away at Live at PJ's.
After bouncing around town a bit, Plowshares Theatre Company found a new home at the City Theatre inside Hockeytown Cafe. The intimate stage is a great fit for Detroit's premier African-American theater.
StarBrite Theatrical Productions left Fraser for Southfield in the fall when the Uptown Dinner Theater opened in September. The northeast side hasn't been abandoned, however, as this coming February will find StarBrite in Chesterfield Township at the Premier Entertainment Center and Guilano's Restaurant. The opening show should make sci-fi fans wet with excitement: "Murder: The Next Generation" set inside Deep Space Noir!
Even Curtain Calls wasn't immune to changes in 2006. Witty and dapper Associate Theater Critic John Quinn resigned for personal reasons early in the fall. Filling his shoes have been Robert W. Bethune and Shannon Thomas Kennedy. But even THAT didn't last, as Kennedy has already moved on to co-spearhead a major theater-related project that will be announced within the next few months. And wait till you hear what it is!
Playwrights get noticed:
Two Michigan playwrights are among the handful nominated for The American Theatre Critics/Steinberg New Play Award for works that received professional premieres outside of New York City during 2006.
Jeff Daniels was nominated for "Guest Artist," which opened in January at the Purple Rose Theatre, while Joseph Zettelmaier was recognized for "All Childish Things" that ran this past summer at Planet Ant Theatre.
The author of the main award receives $15,000. Authors of two additional citations each receive $5,000. Nominations are submitted by members of The American Theatre Critics Association.
The winners will be announced in early 2007 during the annual Actors' Theatre of Louisville's annual Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Congratulations – and good luck – to both Jeff and Joe!
Tony Caselli, John Lepard, Emily Sutton-Smith and Christine Purchis took the next step in their careers by launching the Williamston Theatre in – where else – the mid-Michigan town of Williamston. Despite the tough economy, the four took possession of their building on New Year's Day and by summer they were off and running with the first in a series of high-quality shows.
As discussed in last week's column, "Menopause the Musical" closed Dec. 17 after a record-setting 1,025 performances. Approximately 270,000 people – mostly women, of course – packed the Gem and Century Theatres over its 33-month run, cementing its place in the annals of Michigan theater history.
Other happenings of note:
Ann Arbor was home to a visit from the Royal Shakespeare Company this fall, thanks to the University Musical Society. Not only did theatergoers lust after Patrick Stewart in two out of the three acclaimed productions staged by the RSC, but dozens of related events were held all over the area for people of all ages.
Royal Oak native and Tony Award-winner Donna McKechnie came home in September with her cabaret show to help raise funds for Meadow Brook Theatre.
Five of Metro Detroit's friendly but competitive theater critics put away their laptops and joined forces to appear in "If a Tree," an original short play by John Sousanis that had its one and only performance at the 2006 Michigan New Plays Festival. Despite rave reviews, none has received further acting job offers.
And just before deadline, Crain's Detroit Business announced Mosaic Youth Theatre was named the publication's Best Managed Non-Profit of the year. Congratulation to Rick Sperling and his staff for their dedication and hard work that led to this prestigious award!
The Wilde Awards:
The fifth annual Wilde Awards were held Aug. 30 at Detroit' Gem Theatre. More than 240 attendees were treated to lively entertainment by The Actors' Company and The 313, plus music videos by director Mikey Brown.
Twenty-three awards were presented, including one to Lansing-based actress Carmen Decker who is the only performer nominated in each of the past five years.