Lots of terrific things are happening at Williamston Theatre, I’m so excited!
First off, audiences are loving The Cake, and the show is getting wonderful reviews (even if some of them are doing unfortunate things like not mentioning the director or all the cast – disappointing). The reception of the show has been wonderful, director Jasmine Rivera and her cast and production team have crushed it, and it’s so exciting to have folks back at the theatre.
Speaking of The Cake, today we are sold out, and we have our Conversation Sunday, which should be a very cool presentation. Frank Cava, the President of the Lansing PFLAG chapter, will speak after the show and lead a discussion on the importance of Family Acceptance. Really looking forward to it.
And another cool event we have is our Dark Nights In Billtown play reading series: Tomorrow we are doing a Zoom reading of a funny thoughtful piece that will NOT turn out how you think it’s going to! Michael Gene Sullivan is the writer who adaptedGeorge Orwell’s 1984 into that fabulous 6-person adaptation that we did a few years ago – and his play Recipe is what we’re reading on Monday evening, and it’s hilarious and NOTHING like 1984… except when it sort of is! Join us online at 7pm Monday April 11th!
ALSO! Excited for these – on the 18th we are holding our Season 16 General Auditions for next season. We’re doing a full day of in-person auditions this year, and accepting video auditions. Info can be found on our website here!
AND that means that soon we’ll be announcing the whole season, and sharing our show titles and logos and plans for Season 16.
SO – lots to be excited about! If you haven’t seen The Cake, grab your tickets and join us, there are only 2 weeks left! And after that only 2 productions left in Season 15!
I know, most folks are like “Ugh, April Fool’s Day, noooooo……” but that’s not the great part of today. (I mean, if you love practical jokes and pranks, go for it) There are TWO reasons it’s a great day:
Reason Number 1 is that it’s the Anniversary of me getting OUT of the hospital after my long meningitis/ARDS/coma event in 2014. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT) It’s amazing to me that it’s been 8 years already – it feels like 100 years ago, and yet it also feels like it was yesterday. I sometimes find myself triggered into a memory of one of my long coma dreams by a sound, or an image, or a discussion. And I also still sometimes find myself suddenly anxious and sweaty when I’m at one of my doctor appointments or a checkup on my transplanted kidney, and it’ll take me a minute to realize that one of the machines in the room is making a sound similar to or exactly like the ones that were in my hospital room that made so much noise all the time, and it’s triggering a reaction. I’m SO lucky to be here – and so grateful for everyone at the Chelsea Hospital and St. Joe’s of Ann Arbor for everything they did to keep me alive and help me in my recovery, and grateful to everyone who was supportive of me and my family during that time and after. Life changing doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Reason Number 2 that today is a great day is that it’s OPENING NIGHT for The Cake at Williamston Theatre! This piece is beautiful and funny and thoughtful and I encourage everyone to come out and see the work by Director Jasmine Rivera and her wonderful team. Audience response to the previews was fabulous, and it’s an important piece in today’s world. Plus you’ll never look at cake, butter creme or mashed potatoes the same way! This piece entertains, provokes discussion and promotes empathy while making you laugh AND cry. I love it!
SO – I know we’re in a pandemic, and there’s a terrible war happening, and gas is $4.25 a gallon, and movie stars are slapping each other like fools, and every disagreement now means hatred and division and cancellation instead of discussion…. but there are still reasons to have hope, and to celebrate life.
I hope today you find some things in YOUR life to celebrate and savor.
Last wrote in January. I’ve wanted to write more but life has just been busy and I have not made the time. We’ve just closed the show 9 Parts of Desire by Heather Raffo at Williamston Theatre, and it was amazing. Just one of the most beautiful pieces of theatre we’ve produced in 15 seasons. Heather’s script (which she did updates to for our production) the performance by Sarab Kamoo, the direction by Ed Nahhat and Sarab Kamoo, the production team absolutely CRUSHED IT in every department. We had a working river onstage. A river the actor got into. Projections, lights, sound costumes, props and set dressing, paintwork, scenic design – I was really proud of the work by everyone involved. The show is about 9 Iraqi women being affected by the wars and atrocities in that country over a span of around 30 years, and it was beautiful and painful and eye-opening and impactful and audiences loved it. Here are a couple reviews if you want to read them: Lansing City Pulse and OnStage Blog
I was very happy that we got our second full production completed without any Covid interruptions! We start rehearsals for our third show tonight as we continue to work to return to normal operations (“Normal.” Hah.) after our long Covid intermission.
As we work, we’re all grateful to be here. Appreciative of what we have, and also aware of how many people on the other side of the world are suffering and struggling and fighting against autocracy, tyranny, injustice. I continue to remind myself that we are trying to make our part of the world better, telling stories that promote conversation and empathy. Some days it’s hard, and between the war and Covid and the political struggles here in the USA it’s easy to wonder if we’re doing anything useful. But then we do a show like 9 Parts of Desire that moves so many people in so many ways, and it brings it all back into focus. We may not change the world, but we can change a few people’s worlds each night… and that’s a start.
So, tonight we start rehearsals for our next show, The Cake, a lovely thoughtful, funny, sweet piece about some important topics and some life things we all can connect with. I can’t wait to share it with our audiences.
Today marks the 7th anniversary of my dad’s death. I still miss him every day. I talk to him all the time, sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud. Mostly if I’m trying to figure something out, or if something happens that he would’ve loved. Once in a while I’ll see someone on the street or in a store who reminds me of him and my breath catches for just a second – that usually takes the rest of the day to recover from. He was a a great guy, caring, smart, funny, imperfect like the rest of us, and I always knew I was loved. I wear the 25th Anniversary ring that he got from Ford Motor company, just to keep him close. (Well, he got a tie tack. Since my dad wore a tie about 3 times in his 68 years, he turned it into a ring when he got it!) Here’s what I wrote the day after he passed away, if you’d like to read more about Frank Caselli.
The other reason this time of year is weird is that 8 years ago today I was in the St. Joe’s Chelsea Hospital, after having collapsed at home, starting my long “meningitis adventure”. I remember very little of what happened, especially the beginning 6 weeks or so. The occasional flash of a hospital room or my wife or sister. I have clearer memories of the last few weeks, as I was waking from the coma and going in and out of consciousness. Some visitors, struggling to breathe, my parents being there non-stop. I remember a LOT of very vivid, long, coma dreams – what felt like other lifetimes and other realities. Here’s what I wrote about that experience, if you’d like to read more about that.
Also, my birthday is this coming Monday! It’s so close to these two things that have changed my life forever that it feels weird to be thankful and excited for my birthday, but I am. I know a lot of folks don’t like birthdays – “Another year older, ugh!” and all that, but I love it. Especially the last 8 years or so. “Another year older” isn’t “Ugh!” for me, it’s “I MADE IT!” – I got another year with my family, friends, enjoying the world around me. Especially with the pandemic and the world being what it is right now. This one will be 53! Who knows if I’ll make it to 68 like my dad – heck, who knows if I’ll make it to 54 – but I know I’m going to try and enjoy being here now, and celebrate the wonderfulness around me.
So, today, I encourage you all to celebrate. Celebrate your lives, celebrate the life of my dad, hug your loved ones and your friends – tell them how awesome they are, and put hang-out days on your calendar right now! This is the life we have – time is being spent right now. Enjoy it. Savor it all.
I remember in 5th grade, my teacher was Mrs. Kendrick. Or was it Mrs. Heater? No, Mrs. Heater was 4th grade. This was definitely Mrs. Kendrick. It was nearing Christmas break, and as an exercise she asked us all to take a minute, and figure out how old we’d be when we got to the year 2000.
How vivid that moment is – I remember thinking “31?! Oh man I’m gonna be SO OLD!” Mrs. Kendrick then led us on a discussion about what things we thought might change the most, and what would be different when we got to the year 2000. (I was a big fan of the reruns of the TV show “Lost In Space” at that point, so i was pretty sure I was going to wind up on a spaceship like Will Robinson, with a robot pal and a life of cosmic adventure! Sadly, no luck so far.)
Now, here we are 22 years PAST that magical point that seemed so far away. And the world sure is different than it was in 5th grade. My knees today, walking up the stairs at work, were WISHING they were 31 again! 🙂
I definitely didn’t think we’d be in year three of a global pandemic, and only a year past an armed insurrection trying to topple our democracy from the inside. I wouldn’t have predicted a kidney transplant, or the illnesses that led to it. I couldn’t have begun to guess at how blessed I’d feel to have a family as wonderful as the one I do, or how happy being with my wife and kids would make me. And, in 5th grade, I had no idea that I’d fall in love with storytelling, and theatre, and the joy I would get from bringing stories to life for people to be entertained by, and challenged by. Funny to think that at that point in my life I was still several years from the show that shifted my life forever, a Huron Civic Theatre production of Fiddler On The Roof that my parents took me to. The minute the lights went down and the curtain went up, I was hooked.
And now here we are – in 2022. I’m lucky to run a professional regional theatre with some of my closest friends, and despite the pandemic, the political polarization, the ridiculous denials of basic science, and the many challenges the whole planet currently faces, I’m happy and optimistic about our future. Are there challenges to overcome? Sure. But when haven’t there been? Right next to them, thankfully, are people working to solve them. And I still believe there are more people operating from a place of common sense, decency and compassion than there are operating from fear and greed and malice.
So, bring on the new year! There are good things on the horizon, and I still believe anything is possible! I mean – just a couple of months ago, we got a new season of the rebooted “Lost In Space” on Netflix – so maybe those 5th grade dreams still have a shot.
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!