When Tracy Spada left Northville and her role as stage manager, director and actor at Northville’s Tipping Point Theatre in 2020, she couldn’t have predicted she’d return a few years later with a surprising mission: to produce her queer play, “Game. Set. Match!”
After all, the theater had been unwilling to move forward with the production when she offered to direct it in 2020. But that, as they say, was then, and this is now. And now, Tipping Point has two new artistic directors on board, who are not only embracing diverse representation, but actively seeking it.
Spada, a Metro Detroit native and Eastern Michigan University grad, returned to Tipping Point earlier this year to direct “Steel Magnolias” after spending time in Virginia and D.C., where her partner was working during the pandemic. Like most theaters, Tipping Point closed in early 2020, abruptly halting Spada’s 15-year career there. Spada took a deep breath and decided it was an ideal time for a change of scenery.
While she can’t pinpoint exactly why the theater had been hesitant to produce the play, she recalls a previous artistic director being very resistant to the idea. “Ultimately, he just decided that it wasn’t the sort of play our theater patrons would care for,” she recalls. “And I casually asked, ‘They don’t like romantic comedies?’ There was a great pause on his end…”
These days, Tipping Point’s focus has shifted to having faith that patrons will embrace the queer-focused love story, which features a cast from all over Southeast Michigan. “I’m actually quite thankful it wasn’t produced at the time I was trying to push it through, because it wasn’t the right team of people at the theater at that time,” Spada says. Under the new direction of artistic directors Julie Glander and Jamie Warrow, the theater was proactive in soliciting Spada to return and produce her play, an opportunity that “just doesn’t happen very often,” she says. “Getting a new play produced is very difficult, because a lot of theaters want something that has already been produced.”
Local actor Stephen Blackwell welcomes Tipping Point’s new focus. “This play is a wonderful step forward for Tipping Point,” he says. “Too often, Tipping Point is solely recognized for their staid, conservative audiences. Putting this out there is not only impressive when it comes to opening closed minds, but remarkable in the scope of the theater’s ambitions.”
In “Game. Set. Match!,” main character Abby’s dating life takes centerstage when, unwilling to go alone, she seeks out a date for her ex-girlfriend’s wedding. The audience gets a front row seat to trials and tribulations that will feel all-too familiar to anyone who’s dipped a toe into the dating scene. The show isn’t wholly autobiographical, but Spada explains she leaned into her own dating life and married that experience to her lifelong love of tennis.
“It’s around the length of a two-set Serena Williams tennis match when she was at the top of her game,” Spada says. “The play sheds light on the complex elements between the mental strategy of tennis and the games people play on and off the court.”
“I had so many dating experiences,” she adds. “I would go on these dates and then talk to my friends about it and they were just loving my stories about being in the midst of dating and trying to find something. They weren’t funny to me at the time, but towards the end of it all, I was like, ‘I have all these stories and I’m really a storyteller. I need to do something with all of these experiences.’”
Spada says the fact that Abby is a lesbian is secondary to the core messages of the play, which can apply to anyone who has navigated life after a breakup or experienced not-so-great dating situations. Still, the writer-director did not shy away from addressing Abby’s identity head-on. When a character asks Abby when she knew she was gay, Abby replies, “Not sure I really knew. I mean, when I was young. But I knew that something was different. Like when my friends and I would play house, I would always be the father. Or when we’d roleplay, I was always the guy. Guess I thought that the only way to be with the girl was to be the guy.”
As Spada prepares for her vision to unfold onstage on opening night (June 15), she can’t help but think back to the first time she witnessed queer representation in live theater in the early 2000s, a Broadway in Detroit production of “Some of My Best Friends.”
“It was standing room only — I’ve never seen so many lesbians in one place in my life, and we were all just starving for queer stories, for queer representation,” she recalls. “I was starved for stories about something that represented me, and it was just so fascinating to see this, because I know that the place sold out every night. You could barely get a ticket. There were all these interlacing stories and love matches and drama, but I had never seen anything like it, and it just blew my mind.”
Today, in the post “L Word” and “Queer as Folk” world, she says, there’s more visibility than ever before. “But my hope is in the future. Where else can we go with visibility? I just remember that feeling of sitting in that room with so many like-minded people and all of us wanting and craving the same.”
Spada, who often works with younger actors, is especially aware of how powerful representation can be for the upcoming queer generations. “They have a lot to tell, a lot to share, and it’s huge to give them a platform to be open and to reveal and to feel safe and for them to be able to go somewhere and see that it’s OK that we exist.”
“Game. Set. Match!” is set to play at Tipping Point Theatre (361 E. Cady St., Northville) June 15-July 9. Tickets at tippingpointtheatre.com. Join Tipping Point for a special opening night pre-glow wine reception on June 17 beginning at 5 p.m. prior to the 6 p.m. performance.