The State of Local Theater Amidst COVID-19

Jason A. Michael

While it will be impossible to tell the full impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the arts until it is over, it has been almost a year since most professional theaters have gone dark due to COVID-19 restrictions. Still, that hasn't stopped much of the theater scene from adapting to the times. And though it's true that it's difficult to recreate live performances in a virtual format, many groups have experimented with online-only productions that have thrived.

From closures to ongoing seasons, here is a brief update on the state of some LGBTQ+-friendly theaters in cities across Michigan.



In Ferndale, The Ringwald Theatre closed its physical doors for good in November. The Ringwald, with its mission to engage diverse audiences through fresh, risk-taking theatrical experiences, first opened in its space on Woodward Avenue in 2007. However, Artistic Director Joe Bailey says the building closure does not spell out the end for The Ringwald.

"The decision to vacate was difficult," Bailey said in a statement posted to The Ringwald's website. "We moved into the space 14 years ago this month and it has become our home. However, through all of this, we have truly discovered that The Ringwald is more than just a building. It is a community. So, we will commence a search for our new home and we will continue to release virtual content as a way to stay connected to our audience and to raise funds for a new space as we enthusiastically look forward to when we can all be together in one room again.

"This is not an ending, though," Bailey continued. "It is only a transition."


Ann Arbor

Theatre Nova in Ann Arbor, meanwhile, ran a successful Zoom Play Series Festival in October. Known as Ann Arbor's importer/exporter of brand-new plays, Theatre Nova will present a virtual Play of the Month series through April with Ron Riekki's "4 Genres" being performed live on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m.

For those who prefer to watch on-demand, a series pass can be purchased for $30 which will give viewers the opportunity to view all four plays as they become available after the live performances. Individual tickets are $10 for each Play of the Month. Visit for more information or to purchase tickets.

In "4 Genres," four characters reveal what they've learned after being trapped within four respective film/theatre genres, including musical theater, documentary, slapstick, and horror. Described as "a hilarious comedy exploring the role of art in life and society," "4 Genres" will be directed by Theatre NOVA Founding Artistic Director Carla Milarch. The cast includes Jennifer Graham, Nate John-Mark, Dan Johnson and David Moan.


Walled Lake

Over at JET, the Jewish Ensemble Theatre in Walled Lake, "A Conversation with Anne Frank, a Virtual, Educational Experience," is being presented Thursday, Feb. 11.

The play is an interactive experience and designed to not only educate but to allow students to share their own experiences of isolation, discrimination, and growing up in a challenging world.

Tickets are only $5 and educators attend free. One of the longest-running professional, equity theatres in the state, 2021 will mark JET's 31st season. To purchase tickets for Anne Frank, attendees can call the Box Office at 248-788-2900. JET is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or an hour prior to showtime.



The Detroit Repertory Theatre is presenting "Virtual Homecoming," which is being billed as a celebration of 64 seasons of the theater. The event will stream free from the theater's website, Facebook and YouTube channels on Friday, March 5, at 8 p.m. The "Virtual Homecoming" is a fundraiser for the Theatre, and it will include stories from DRT artists, never-before-seen footage from past shows and readings of possible future productions. The event is free and open to the public.

"Like so many other live theatres, the Detroit Rep could not hold its in-person events, the Annual Member Meeting and the Black Tie Awards Night, in 2020," said Leah Smith, DRT's associate artistic director and managing director. "Instead, the Theatre will present this streaming event combining the two Detroit Rep traditions."

Traditionally, the Black Tie Night is the theater's biggest fundraiser of the year. It is also a homecoming celebration where Detroit Rep actors and artists of the past reunite and mingle with patrons who support the Theatre and its inclusive mission to demonstrate the power of diversity acting in unity.

"Though audiences and artists would prefer gathering in person, the Virtual Homecoming lets DRT alumni from all over the country participate," Smith said. "Viewers will hear stories from artists, directors and designers from the past six decades, see video clips of past productions, and watch local, professional actors read scenes from plays being considered for the future. Michael Joseph, actor, producer, comedian, and Detroit Rep alum, will be Master of Ceremonies."

The Detroit Repertory Theatre is Michigan's longest-running, nonprofit, professional, union theatre dating back to 1957. To register for "Virtual Homecoming" or to learn more about the theater, visit



Over in Chelsea, the Purple Rose Theatre Company has no upcoming productions, virtual or otherwise, scheduled at the moment.

"Even though our theatre is dark now, we are all working with our eyes on the future," said Managing Director Katie Hubbard in a release on PRTC's site. "The theatre continues to be financially secure, for the time being, due to excellent board, founder and staff leadership and generous donations from donors. In 'normal times,' we attract nearly 40,000 ticket holders, most of whom come from outside of Chelsea, to dine and shop in Chelsea's vibrant downtown and generate $4 million into the local economy as a result. Our place in the economic ecosystem of Chelsea is something we take seriously and we hope that we can all gather again soon."

For now, "Roadsigns," a play by PRTC's Founder Jeff Daniels, is available to download. "Roadsigns" was the last play to premiere at The Purple Rose before COVID-19 crisis closed the theater's doors. To purchase and download the audio version of Roadsigns, visit "Roadsigns" costs $20 to download.