Some nights you have an amazing dress rehearsal of a show, the reopening show after almost two years of being closed from a pandemic, and you have a great night of collaboration with a team of Michigan artists, and then you go home and watch Selena+Chef because cooking shows are your relaxing JAM and after a long day of building a play it’s nice to spend an hour on the couch before flinging yourself into bed.
Of course, by “some nights” I mean tonight, and that’s the night I’ve had. It’s been a wonderful month of getting back to rehearsing and making a play with the amazing production staff that I get to work with, and our team at Williamston Theatre is made up of people I love working with, so I’m exhausted but happy and grateful. I mean, Covid may shut us down any time, but we’ve had a great rehearsal process and we are ready for audiences, so we’ve done our jobs and fulfilled our mission statement and I can’t wait for audiences to come in and share the experience with us.
It’s been a long 20 months to get to this point. There were times when we weren’t sure our company would actually reopen or survive. So, although we are still 3 days from officially Opening our Reopening show, I’m really grateful to be here, doing what I do, with the people I’m doing it with. And I’m looking forward to doing it with the amazing team of artists we’ve put together for the rest of the season. We’ve got great stories to tell, and I can’t wait to help bring them all to life with these Michigan artists.
We are just under a month away from rehearsals starting for our first production in 18 months. I can’t wait!
We started production meetings a couple of weeks ago, and seeing all those faces on the Zoom call, excited and ready to work, was damned exciting. As usual I’m lucky enough to work with a wonderful team of artists, and this time we’re doing a revival of a production we last did 10 years ago, as a celebration of our 15th Season.
On top of that, there is so much going on in the building the last couple of weeks, it’s amazing. Contractors are everywhere: Our renovations are nearing the completion of this phase of work in the theatre space itself (and with the giant metal beams that go up through the second floor of the building and out the roof!) Plus there are HVAC people doing heating and cooling things in the lobby, there are duct-work people doing things in the basement, the IT firm we hired is building us a new website from scratch, our box office, management and development teams are working on our new ticketing and patron management system, I’m reviewing the many many audition videos we got sent over the last couple months, and we are about to start interviews with our top apprentice applicants. Plus we’re accepting applications for our newly created Office Manager position.
Our hope, of course, is that Covid doesn’t raise up and slap down our reopening attempts. We’ve got strict protocols in place: Vaccination requirements for all employees and patrons, masks in the building at all times – and we’ve seen those work for some theatres, and we’ve also seen it not. Broadway’s Aladdin reopened on Tuesday… and closed on Wednesday because of Covid cases in the company. So, as we join the world and try to move forward, all we can do is do our best and take every precaution, and then respond to each moment as it happens. We’re working with the unions and staying in touch with theatres across the state and country as everyone shares best practices. Hope for the best, plan for the worst, as the saying goes.
SO – keep an eye out for the announcement about our new website, and for tickets going on sale for This Wonderful Life, our first show back. And wear your masks. 🙂
We’re so excited to finally be able to announce the 2021/2022 Season, our 15th!
After a year and a half we’re so glad to be back in the building with the staff, prepping everything and getting out from under the dust of our long intermission.
Over the next couple months we’ll be finishing up some renovations and getting ready for first rehearsal of our first show back. As a celebration of reaching 15 years, we’ll be starting the season by bringing back a classic production that’s often asked about by our patrons, This Wonderful Life starring John Lepard. It’s a perfect holiday show to bring family, friends and colleagues to. And of course we’ve implemented lots of Covid protocols, including extra deep cleaning with all new equipment, wall mounted hand sanitizers, high efficiency air purifiers around the building, and new Ion Wave filtering technology on all of our HVAC systems, and more!
Can’t wait to see everyone at the theatre. Here’s the lineup for our 15th season:
This Wonderful Life
By Steve Murray Directed by Tony Caselli November 18 – December 19, 2021
To celebrate our milestone 15th Season, we’re bringing back a fan favorite from our early days! John Lepard reopens the Williamston Theatre stage by reprising his award-winning role as George Bailey, Mr. Potter, and the entire population of Bedford Falls in this theatrical re-telling of the classic holiday film It’s A Wonderful Life. Superbly adapted from the most irresistible and entertaining “what if” story of all time, this beautiful, heartwarming tale reminds us of the power of perspective, friendship and faith. A holiday experience for the whole family.
9 Parts of Desire
By Heather Raffo Co-Directed by Ed Nahhat & Sarab Kamoo January 27 – February 27, 2022
Featuring Sarab Kamoo in a one-woman, tour-de-force performance, this play details the lives of nine Iraqi women that span the decades between the first and second Gulf Wars and occupation. It is a stunning portrait of the extraordinary (and ordinary) lives of a whole cross-section of Iraqi women: a sexy painter, a radical Communist, doctors, exiles, wives and lovers. This riveting work delves into the many conflicting aspects of what it means to be a woman in a country overshadowed by war.
By Bekka Brunstetter Directed by Jasmine Rivera March 24 through April 24, 2022
All is going well for Della. Her North Carolina bakery is legendary and she’s just been cast on her favorite television baking competition. But then, her late-best-friend’s daughter comes home from New York City to ask her to make a cake for her upcoming wedding. When Della learns that Jen’s about to marry a woman, she is forced to re-examine her deeply held beliefs, as questions of morals, judgment and family swirl around them all. An emotional and deliciously funny play.
By Stephen Kaplan Directed by Tony Caselli May 19 – June 19, 2022
Tracy Jones finds herself alone, and lonely, in life. In a last-ditch effort to find any kind of connection, even a forced one, she throws a desperate party to which she’s invited every woman in the world who is also named Tracy Jones. Her uproariously disastrous encounters with the few guests that attend expose a vision of the isolation we experience in our increasingly busy world. Tracy Jones is a funny, touching story that explores the power of human connection. World Premiere.
The Hat Box
By Eric Coble Directed by John Lepard July 14 – August 14, 2022
Two sisters discover a hat box hidden in the back of their recently deceased father’s closet. What sits inside sends them off to visit eccentric Aunt Esther and on an increasingly wild ride down memory lane. With surprising twists and hilarious turns, Cleveland playwright Eric Coble’s brand new comedy of family lore revels in the bizarre and beautiful mysteries that make up a life. World Premiere.
You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand. — Woodrow Wilson
That’s the way things feel right now – after the kidney transplant, I’ve gotten a lot more energy back, my numbers are all looking great, and so I’m starting to do more and more regular life stuff. We’re also starting the progress of waking up the Williamston Theatre, after a long 16 months of dusty, quiet emptiness. Starting in August we’re bringing back the staff, and starting the process of re-opening the building and prepping for a late Autumn return to performances. AND this month the current phase of our renovations will wrap-up, which is going to be great. I can’t wait for audiences to return to the space.
We’re also working on a couple of staged readings! Very excited for these, they’ll be outdoors on the Summer Circle stage at Michigan State University. We’re always thrilled to collaborate with the MSU Department of Theatre, and grateful for the use of their beautiful outdoor space for these readings. It feels great doing things like sending out scripts and working out rehearsals again! For more info on those readings, CLICK HERE, and then join us on August 6th and 7th! Two terrific plays: A super charming, brand new piece by the award winning playwright Jason Odell Williams called On The Market, and a fabulous bitingly funny satire by indigenous playwright and MacArthur fellow Larissa Fasthorse called The Thanksgiving Play.
I’m really hoping that the Delta variant of Covid, and now the new Lambda variant I just read about, don’t take off and sweep through the country. Our reopening plans depend on numbers getting better, not worse, and the whole theatre industry is making plans and watching with wary eyes. Take care of yourselves, folks, and get your vaccine!
In other news, has anyone been watching the Detroit Tigers since the All-Star break?! I mean, this team is probably going to finish middle of the pack at the end of the season, but that’s okay – it’s a big improvement over the last couple years, and their future is looking bright. As I write this though, they’re on a 6 game winning streak and leading 7-5 in the 8th inning, so it could be a 7 game streak soon!
I’ve spent a bunch of my recuperation weeks reading – anyone else a fan of N.K. Jemisin? Over the last few years I’ve become a huge admirer of her writing, and I’m nearly through her fabulous sci-fi/fantasy series The Inheritance Trilogy. You can check out all her writings here. I’ve also spent a bunch of time reading a lot of plays, in particular looking at a lot of plays by BIPOC writers. In fact we’re excited at Williamston Theatre about a gorgeous play we’ll be producing in collaboration with a couple other theatres around the country in an upcoming season that I can’t talk about yet, but it’s going to be a very cool project, and I’m thrilled to start this relationship with this fabulous playwright.
That’s it for the Thursday update. So grateful to be getting back to work, getting my energy back, and hoping for things to open up safely a little more. Aaaaaand the Tigers just beat the Rangers 7-5, so that’s a nice 7-game winning streak!
Lots of things happening around here at Casa Caselli.
Jeanne and I are healing up nicely from our kidney transplant. It’s officially been a month, and everything seems to be going in the right directions so far. We’re both moving around pretty well again, with just minor soreness. We can both drive again, although it’ll be another few weeks before we’re allowed to lift anything heavier than 8 lbs. I’m adjusting to the new regimen of anti-rejection meds, and glad that they let me wear this shirt:
The whole family is really grateful for all the support we got during this whole event: a HUGE Thank You to everyone who reached out and sent support in any way – texts, cards, food, visits, it was all SO helpful.
Meanwhile, lots of other things are happening too – at Williamston Theatre we are FINALLY looking at a schedule that would reopen our building in 2021, and working on all of the 7,942,233,007 things that that involves. We’ve been doing some staff DEI training, which has been eye opening, educational, tough and really useful, resulting in lots of reworking of internal policies. We’re working on nailing down the reopening season (AND the next one, actually), and will be making some announcements over the upcoming months, and there are some really exciting projects and collaborations coming up that I’m excited to share with everyone. Plus we’ve got renovations happening at the theatre and new seats ready to install for our patrons to enjoy. The Covid Shutdown has been a nightmare of an intermission, but we’ve tried to combine “use the time wisely” with “spend this uncertain time with family and stay physically and mentally healthy”.
So, now we slowly start coming out of the bubble we’ve been in. Because of my anti-rejection meds making me extra susceptible to infection, I still will be wearing a mask often, but I’m still feeling better about being out among people again. I may have to see about getting to a Lansing Lugnuts game sometime next month, I’ve been looking forward to some live baseball!
One nice side effect of the surgery is that since coming out of it, because of the new dietary and medical stuff, I’ve been eating less junk and am down about 20 lbs. Feeling more fit than I have in a while, hoping to keep that trend up and stay healthier – I’m not quite back to my “pre-surgery” routine of walking 3-5 miles a day, but I’ve been able to do about 2.5 every couple of days the last week or so, and I’ll be trying to improve on that over the next couple of weeks. (I’m inspired by my amazing wife, who walked 2 miles AND ran 2 miles today!!)
So, I think that’s it from here for now. Trying to heal, rest, prep for reopening, and enjoy being with my family. Doing a lot of reading (plays, novels, anti-racism education, an N.K. Jemisin trilogy) and watching TV. And, honestly, lots of self-reflection about what “Post Covid” and “Post Transplant” life should be, and could be. We’ll see what that leads to!
I hope everyone is doing well, staying healthy (physically AND mentally) and enjoying their summer. Take care of yourselves!
Jeanne and I have returned home from the amazing UofM hospital and transplant clinic. They took great care of us, and now she has one less kidney, and I have three! (But, as the transplant joke goes, two of mine are decoys!)
We are at home, getting taken care of by wonderful family and friends, and being very grateful for the support. We’re both very sore and tired, and under strict orders to rest, do nothing but take short walks, lift nothing and heal. The next 8 weeks will be a lot of recuperating, and we both have to just make ourselves take it easy. Right now it’s hard to sleep or rest because of how painful everything is, but the pain meds help and that will ease over the next week or so as incisions heal, muscles knit back together etc…. Right now we are trying to sleep a lot!
The new kidney, for me, is a whole new lease on life. It comes with a new set of challenges, a lifetime regimen of anti-rejection medications that require constant balancing and some other things that go along with those, but it’s such a gift. I’m the luckiest guy, and I’m determined to make the most of this blessing that my wife, medical science and the universe have given me.
Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive – the cards, social media posts, texts and well wishes – they all mean a ton to us and it’s deeply, deeply appreciated. If you know a medical professional, hug them for us.
Well, this is the week! On Friday the 21st of May, I’ll be getting my new kidney. Even more amazing is that it’s coming from my wonderful wife, Jeanne.
I’ve known this day would come for the last 7 years or so, although we didn’t find out until recently that Jeanne was a match and would be donating my kidney – for which I’m so grateful and thankful – she’s amazing and I’m a lucky man.
I’m also very grateful that I got the last 7 years of not needing dialysis. After my whole hospital stay in 2014, every day is one I’m thankful for, but for the first few months after the hospital I was on dialysis and we were thinking that would be a long-term thing as I went onto the transplant waiting list. But then I got very lucky and my kidneys healed up a bit, to my doctor’s surprise, and I got a whole 7 more years out of them! (If you don’t know any of this story and want some details, check out this part of my website)
Now we go into another stage of the adventure. Jeanne and I, and the kids, are so blessed to have family and friends who are so supportive during this time (If you’re reading this, you know who you are and we love you. Thank you.)
SO – if you’re a person who believes in putting good energy out into the universe for things, we’d appreciate any good vibes you have this Friday and through the weekend! I’m nervous, just because… y’know, surgery, but I also know we are in great hands with the fabulous team at the UofM Transplant Center – they’ve been SO great to work with, we’re eternally grateful for their skill and awesomeness.
It was one year ago today, March 21st, that we finished our quick week of pivoting from “rehearsing a play” to “filming a play”, and we turned Tech Day into a long day of filming the show we’d been preparing for live audiences. These Mortal Hosts became a hybrid – a piece of theatre, performed in a theatre with no audience, and filmed for online release. At the end of the long day of careful filming, filled with lots of hand sanitizer and as much social distancing as we could, we sent the skeleton crew of people we had left in the building home and said “Hopefully we’ll see you in a couple weeks. Be safe.” Little did we know. A couple days later the state went into lockdown.
And here we are, a year later. We’re all hoping that we can reopen before the calendar turns to 2022.
This last week, though, has been fun – we’re working on a new audio project for Williamston Theatre, and it’s been nice to get to work on something creative with folks. I’ll be honest, the last few months have been tough. I’ve struggled personally with motivation, energy, and purpose. Part of that has been pandemic weariness, isolation and loneliness, and some of it has been physical – my kidney disease has progressed a lot over this year, and that’s taken a toll on my energy levels. Right now the expectation is that we’ll go through the transplant procedure in the next few months, and the kidney that my wonderful wife is donating to me will make a huge difference in our lives. I’m looking forward to having that energy back!
In the meantime, like everyone, we’re riding out the pandemic. I’m halfway vaccinated, I’ll get my second shot in about 10 days. Jeanne gets her shot soon. The theatre is taking this time to do some building renovations, and planning on our eventual reopen while we work on a couple audio projects to share with our audiences. You can see the ones we’ve already done on our website HERE!
And so here we are. It’s hard to believe that a year has passed and our theatre is sitting, empty and waiting. I miss the work, the stories, the audiences, the collaboration with artists. I miss being in a room with a bunch of people and working on a moment together until we HIT IT and everything clicks and the whole room buzzes with the energy of a moment that works – and we take that energy and excitement and try to infuse it into all the other moments of the play, because we know that’s why we’re there – to work together, to share these stories that move people, and make a difference in their world.
I miss that. So much of this past year has been horrible – the loss of life, the economic challenges, and for me personally (especially over the last few months), the feeling of being purposeless. We tell stories to try and make the world a better place, to try and make a difference – however small – in our little part of the universe. There’s nothing like hearing an audience laugh at a bit you hoped would work, or seeing them weeping with emotion at a story you helped shape. After nearly 30 years, I feel like that was my contribution to the world. And at first I took The Big Pause as a time to rest – to process everything going on – but now I’m really ready for that pause to end. I miss the work.