Some great reviews for our big dystopian tale of mothers, sons, war and “othering”!

900 Miles to International Falls has gotten a couple of great reviews!  The production has been a wonderful challenge – it’s unlike most plays I’ve directed before, and it’s fun talking with our Williamston Theatre audiences about this different kind of production.

Set a mere 30 years in the future, in the middle of a huge war, this tale about mothers, sons, war and “othering” is provoking a lot of thought and discussion, which is very fun to see.

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An excerpt from the Lansing City Pulse review:

It’s a time of war, government propaganda and lies — and when mothers are asked to give up sons to fight never-ending battles. 2054 is when citizens are fighting aliens trying to occupy our lands.

Sound familiar?

Except in this new era, the “aliens” aren’t Mexicans, South Americans, or other foreigners fleeing horrific and unlivable conditions. The future invasion is actual alien beings from a distant, uninhabitable planet. Who look just like us. And care for their babies, just like us. And who really want to be our friends.

The world premiere of Annie Martin’s play is full of parallelisms, surprises, shocks and novel storylines. Getting to International Falls isn’t its real focus. “900 Miles” has flashes of aggression, emotional outbursts and genuine scares. Martin’s script also includes humorous and touching moments.

What helps make her very adult play succeed and come alive are the grand elements of the Williamston production.

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The Lansing City Pulse really got the show:  Click here if you want to read the full review.

This is a big production for us – a lot of tech elements, a larger cast that many of our shows, a set with lots of moves, and it’s a big epic storyline. I’m really pleased with the way the entire production team, the cast, and the playwright brought their A-Game. IMG_0240.jpg

I like this quote from the City Pulse:  “If the Orwellian and horrific future “900 Miles” portrays isn’t scary enough, the thought that a similar scenario could be less than 30 years away is terrifying.”

IMG_0134.jpgThe other great review, from Encore Michigan (Bridgette Redman), is available by clicking here if you want to read it.  It contains some terrific insight, and a couple of quotes I love, like this one:

900 Miles to International Falls asks questions about what we might do in a war-weary world where it seems impossible to make a difference because the odds against us are so great. What can any one individual do? When is it important to break free from our isolation and reach out to others, whether it is to help them, to let them help us or to learn to trust and care. It is ultimately a beautiful work by Martin interpreted with heart and love by the artists at Williamston Theatre.

The pics above are courtesy of the Williamston Theatre.  I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to bring this thoughtful, unsettling play to the stage, and work with Annie again.  The fun of the world-building in a piece like this was embraced by everyone involved.  I encourage you to check out the play, and also the list of wonderful people who made it all come together! You can learn more about them by checking out the website: Click here!

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Mid-December round up – keeping the plates spinning….

Still catching my breath after a wonderful trip to Actor’s Express in Atlanta for the NNPN National Showcase of New Plays (followed almost immediately by a trip to Buffalo with family for some much needed family holiday time!)

The NNPN Showcase was terrific.  (NNPN is National New Play Network, in case I haven’t mentioned it in a while.)  We saw 6 readings, some of which I absolutely loved, and I had a ton of good conversations and chats with theatre makers from all over the country.  I love the readings, but sometimes just being immersed in that energy is the perfect thing to recharge my batteries.  It’s energizing to get that reminder that everyone deals with the same challenges and struggles, the highs and lows of this industry – all on a variety of wildly different points on the scale, of course – from companies with a $50,000 annual budget up to ones with many millions of dollars to spend, and raise, every year.  But the wonderful part is the belief and faith in the power of storytelling, and of having an impact on your community, and the pursuit of excellence in the craft – AND allowing for a whole variety of opinions on HOW to make all that happen.  It’s really good stuff.

And then our trip to Buffalo was fabulous.  We continued our decades long family Christmas tradition of holding a big dinner at one of the relatives houses, and that person (or family) cooks a giant dinner for everyone that consists of food from some other country, or culture, from anywhere in the world.  No one knows what it’s going to be until we get there, and it’s a big fun reveal and feast, with lots of lovely family time and board games and presents and laughter.  This year my brother and sister-in-law made an amazing Jamaican dinner that was delicious!  The kids played games, built an igloo in the snow, and generally had a good time.  It was fun to see all the cousins together, the six of them don’t get to visit as often as they used to. The age range goes from middle-school up to college now, and it was terrific to see them having such a good time just enjoying each other’s company.

Now I’m neck deep in prep for 900 Miles to International Falls, by Annie Martin, the show I’m directing next.  We start rehearsals at the end of this month, and I can’t wait.  It’s a big thoughtful, meaningful piece about mothers and sons and war, but it’s also about trust, and compassion.  We get to do a lot of “world building” because it’s set in 2054, when the planet is at war with an alien race who have landed seeking a new home!  I have an amazing production team to work with, and I’m so excited to launch into rehearsals for this world premiere in a couple weeks.  Learn more about the show here!

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Until then, though, our production of A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show is going wonderfully!  It’s essentially completely sold out this weekend, except for the occasional person calling in to cancel one or two from a group, but then those are scooped up by someone calling wanting to see it before it closes.  Aral Gribble is wonderful in it, and the whole production team did some really fantastic work. Check out more info here!

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Now I’m looking forward to the next couple days, when both kids will be back home with Jeanne and I for a couple weeks, and we can all enjoy some holidays relaxing at home with the Christmas tree, the dogs, and some friends and family.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Next season!

Our Williamston Theatre – Season 14 brochures will be out in a few days, but here’s a sneak peek!  We’ve already announced the shows, and here are the blurbs with graphics.  Man I’m excited about this season!

 

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The Safe House
By Kristine Thatcher

October 3 through November 3, 2019

In 1982, Bridget returns home to Lansing looking for a respite from a failing NYC acting career, and a troubled, abusive marriage. Longing for the comfort of a stay with her grandmother Hannah, what she finds is a family struggling with change.  Hannah, the strong, independent matriarch of the family, is no longer as self-sufficient as she was: The challenges of aging have caught up with her, and her family is at odds on how to best ensure her safety.  With gentle humor, honesty, and heart, this play is a beautiful examination of family, transition, and the importance of being there for each other. 

Williamston Theatre’s first production of a play by Lansing’s own Kristine Thatcher.

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A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show
By David Albert

November 21 through December 22, 2019

It’s Christmas Eve, and with the actors snowed in and unable to make it to the studios of WXMS for the live radio performance of A Christmas Carol, the sound effects man decides to take the audience through the classic tale himself. A rollicking, creative adaptation of Dickens’ classic work that is sure to warm the hearts of even the chilliest audience members. This one-man tour de force features WT favorite Aral Gribble as our endearing and engaging storyteller.

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900 Miles to International Falls
By Annie Martin
A World Premiere

January 30 through March 1, 2020

The year is 2054, and our world is unrecognizable: aliens, war, and a congratulatory sheet cake for each baby born. In this future, a woman’s work is never done but always vital.  Tanya remembers a world where there was more than war, though, and refuses to surrender her son to the chaos surrounding them now. When she befriends a new young mother she thinks she’s found an ally…. but the universe has other plans for them.  This compelling drama explores mothers, sons, and the importance of connections.
Contains adult content and language.

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These Mortal Hosts
By Eric Coble

March 26 through April 26, 2020

“Don’t get in the car”, the voice said.  So, Meaghan didn’t.  And then her world turned upside down.  After a tragedy devastates tiny Dove Creek, Colorado, the Mysteries begin. Earl can’t explain the change coming over him… Phyllis knows the impossible has become possible, and… is the voice in Meaghan’s head still her own?  Three seemingly random strangers find themselves thrust together at the center of the Mysteries as their lives, and bodies, hurtle them toward events far beyond their comprehension.  But what are the Mysteries?  Whatever is happening, the whole town is suddenly swept up in events of epic proportion, and the question is: Are they preparing for a miracle, or are they succumbing to madness?  A riveting exploration of faith and community in small-town America.
Contains adult content and language.

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Alabaster
By Audrey Cefaly
A National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere

May 21 through June 21, 2020

Alice, a noted photographer, sets out to explore the topography of scars, and the women who bear them. Her journey takes her to the mysterious realm of an undiscovered folk artist, June, who is hiding herself away on a small farm in North Alabama. What begins as an artistic collaboration between the two women becomes an intimate exploration of love, grief and longing.  This bittersweet portrait explores the meaning and purpose of art and the struggle of the lost and tortured souls that seek to create it. Hilarious, heart-wrenching and full of theatre magic, this play will rip your heart out, make you laugh, and remind you to hold close the people in your life.
Contains adult content and language

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Be Here Now
By Deborah Zoe Laufer

July 9 through August 9, 2020

Bari’s always been a bit of an angry, depressed misanthrope. When she loses her job teaching nihilism in New York, and has to work a local dead-end job in her rural hometown, she spirals into despair. Suddenly, her recurring headaches manifest bizarre, ecstatic, almost religious experiences, and they’re changing her entire view of life. She’s in love! She’s almost… happy! When she finds out the headaches are also killing her, she must decide whether it’s better to live a short, joyful life, or risk a lifetime of misery. And she must also ask herself… what’s it all for anyway?  A wonderfully funny and heartwarming tale that asks the question “We know how life ends, so can’t we enjoy the beauty in now?”

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I’ve said before how excited I am about this season. To quote myself from an earlier blog post, in Season 14 “we’re deliberately and enthusiastically presenting a slate of plays that will run the gambit from big laughs, to big thoughts, to big tears.  Working around a couple of key themes like empathy, compassion, and the idea of being open to a world wider than our own, we’ve got six pieces from some fantastic playwrights that I just can’t wait to share with our community.”

For now, though, everyone has a couple more weeks to catch Popcorn Falls, the delightful comedy that audiences and critics are loving!  (Nominated for Best Comedy of the year by the Wilde Awards, and the actors Pat and Aral are nominated for Best Teamwork!)  See you at the theatre!

“Wonder will always get us there…”

What a joy Silent Sky has been. Some shows just have such an affect on people – audience, cast, designers, crew – that you don’t want them to end. Watching this beautiful script by Lauren Gunderson do that to people over the last 5 weeks has been wonderful and, now that we have reached the closing performance, I find myself feeling the same way.

The sense of wonder, of exploration and perseverance from this show is beautiful and inspiring. The sheer joy it evokes, that sense that “Anything Is Possible”, is just so beautifully interwoven with the loving bittersweet reminder “But… we don’t have forever… so Savor Everything.”

Working with the entire production team on this show has been an amazing journey. Telling the story of Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Cannon and Williamina Fleming – true pioneers in their field who persevered and changed the world around them despite incredible resistance – has been an absolute gift, and one of the highlights of my career so far. I offer a giant THANK YOU to the many wonderful people who helped to make it happen!

Because the real point… is seeing something bigger. And knowing we’re a part of it, if we’re lucky. In the end that is a life well-lived. Because thank God there’s a lot out there bigger than me.

-Henrietta Leavitt, SILENT SKY by Lauren Gunderson

Opening Night for SILENT SKY!

So excited to open this show tonight. It’s the first production of our 13th season which, in itself, is a really cool thing. Plus, the script is a beautiful piece of writing by Lauren Gunderson. Moving, funny, inspirational – and based on real people and real events, which makes it particularly wonderful to work on.

There’s something special about doing a play based on an actual person, especially one who did some amazing things but doesn’t get enough recognition for it. Henrietta Leavitt helped change the way we see the universe today, which is a pretty incredible freaking thing. She looked at the men saying “Nope, you’re a woman, you can’t do that” and went and did it anyway, and made the world a better place.

It’s also been a fabulous process – starting another season with my co-founders John, Chris and Emily is always a special thing, but then you add in the amazing team of people I got to work with on Silent Sky and it makes for an even more wonderful event. The cast, the production team, the stage management team – everyone is at the top of their game, and it inspires me to be better. PLUS – when you mix all of that with the tale of Henrietta Leavitt, who saw the world and knew what she wanted to do to make it better, and DID it – it’s hard not to come out of that process feeling like you A) have work to do, and B) WANT to do it.

So – here we are! This autumn will be full of cool work, and I’m excited to do it. Jumping into that can wait, though… until Sunday, anyway! Now we celebrate, and keep trying to make the world a better place, through storytelling!

A new season, a new show

Today we start rehearsal for Season 13 at Williamston Theatre, with a beautiful play called Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson.  A gorgeous story, it’s all about Henrietta Leavitt, one of the first women astronomers.  (Link is here for more info)  I’m super excited:  The play is wonderful, the production team I get to work with is top-notch, and the cast is fabulous.

Some designs I can leak:

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This set rendering (Design by Kirk Domer) is from the SR audience viewpoint. Imagine the back wall being full of stars, or projections, or color, or a combination of all 3!

And here’s an image of the set construction as of a couple days ago!

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I’ll post more designs and images as the days go by.

This is going to be a fun one.  Warm, funny, beautifully moving, and deeply inspirational.  Lauren Gunderson has taken the real-life story of Henrietta Leavitt and crafted a play about a woman who simply refused to accept the status quo – and changed the world. This is the kind of life-affirming play that makes you wanna explore the world around you, tackle something big and make a difference!

Williamston Theatre 2018/2019 Season

We are just past the halfway point of this season, and neck deep in rehearsals for Doublewide, but the wheel keeps turning. I’m so pleased to announce our upcoming Season!

Williamston Theatre 2018/2019 Season

Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson
September 20 – October 21, 2018

Based on the true story and science of early 20th century female “computers” at Harvard Observatory. Astonishing discoveries await Henrietta Leavitt as she maps distant stars in galaxies beyond our own. But this brilliant, headstrong pioneer must struggle for recognition in the man’s world of turn-of-the-century astronomy. In this exquisite blend of science, history, family ties, and fragile love, a passionate young woman must map her own passage through a society determined to keep a woman in her place. An inspiring, stunningly beautiful tale.

A Hunting Shack Christmas by Jessica Lind Peterson
Nov. 15 – Dec. 23, 2018

Looking to sort out his life, Charlie heads up to the hunting shack that’s been in his family for generations. Instead of the peace of mind he was looking for, he finds himself buried in a blizzard of snow, unexpected family squatters, beef jerky, crazy internet romance, and more snow. Can he sort it all out in time for his wedding anniversary? And who the heck is Helge?!

To Quiet The Quiet by Christy Hall
Jan. 24 – Feb. 24, 2019
A World Premiere

Having suffered great loss and heartbreak in her life, Kathy, now middle-aged and alone, is a woman on the edge. Haunted by her past, and her own personal demons, Kathy seems to be losing the battle against her thoughts, her words, her fears. And the one man who can help Kathy may prove to be just as powerless against her. This new mystery play will keep you riveted through it’s deepest, darkest secrets.

The Gin Game by D.L. Coburn
March 21 – April 20, 2019
Featuring Ruth Crawford and Hugh Maguire
1978 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Drama

Weller Martin is playing solitaire on the porch of a seedy nursing home. Enter Fonsia Dorsey, a prim, self-righteous woman. They discover they both dislike the home and enjoy gin rummy, so they begin to play. As they play, intimate details begin to reveal themselves, and what follows was called by the New York Times “The closest thing the theatre offers to a duel at 10 paces.”

New Releases by Joseph Zettelmaier
May 9 – June 9, 2019
A World Premiere

Jen is going down with the sinking ship. That ship is Avid Video, a small-time video rental store that is circling the drain. One night, a strange woman comes in to rent a video that has never been rented…one that Jen didn’t even know the store carried. The two of them strike a bizarre deal, and as the months go on, Jen struggles to unravel the mystery of this woman, even as the store she loves marches towards extinction. A warm comedy that’ll melt your funny bone and touch your heart.

Popcorn Falls by James Hindman
June 20 – July 28, 2019

The sleepy town of Popcorn Falls is forced into bankruptcy when a neighboring town threatens to turn them into a sewage treatment plant. Their only hope – OPEN A THEATRE! Two actors play over twenty roles in a world of farce, love and desperation proving once and for all that art can save the world. You won’t want to miss this hilarious, theatrical whirlwind!

The last week…

Currently having a blast directing Steve Spotswood’s Doublewide at Williamston Theatre. Man, this beautiful play is thoughtful, funny, heartbreaking and beautiful. It ticks so many boxes for me: Makes you laugh, cry, think, want to call people you love. And the team I get to work with in making it is pretty damned awesome. I’m a lucky guy.

Here’s a screenshot of the scenic rendering by Kirk Domer…

And here’s shot from rehearsal of the thing in action…

And here’s a pic from later that same day, after rehearsal when the scenic crew was hard at work!

This is one of those shows that has a good handful of locations, but a couple of them are the anchors where the majority of the action takes place. Thanks to a great production staff, we’re having a blast embracing the theatrical expressions of those locations instead of trying to do hyper-realistic scenery. This is something I’m wanting more and more as I get older – I don’t know why, but the more I do this the more I want to get away from super realism. Film and TV do that, but I love when theatre does what it does best: Make us imagine.

For more info, check out the Williamston Theatre website!

Every time…..

Every time this shows up in the mail, I think of my Dad.

I think back to when I was in high school, and told him I wanted to go to college for theatre. I was ready to be told I should find something more stable, I was ready to be lectured about responsibility and the future.

Instead, all he asked was “Do you think you can make a living at it?” When I said I thought I could, he just nodded, and said “Okay. Great. Your mom and I will help any way we can.” And that was it.

So when my membership card from SDC arrives I, naturally, get a sense of pride that I’m following my dream and making it work, and I’m thrilled that I’m contributing to the world the way I’d hoped to… but I also feel like I’m keeping a promise to my Dad. I know he was proud of me, of all his kids, but putting this card in my wallet every year makes me feel worthy of the trust and faith he had in me on that afternoon, sitting together in our kitchen, over 30 years ago.

On Tuesday I start rehearsal for Doublewide, a play about a guy who spends his life working in a factory and doing everything he can to provide a good future for his family.

Thanks, Dad. This one’s for you.

Random Thoughts on a Sunday

Okay, the weather is cold outside, but soon it won’t be. Soon the Tigers will be back, and MLB will begin the marathon of a regular season. There’s fear in Detroit, though – the Tigers will be in a big rebuilding season, and the new predictions for Wins/Losses just came out. It’s not looking good for the Tigers. Click here to see the dismal prediction.

I heard a great quote from a TED Talk by Susan David: “Discomfort is the price to a meaningful life.” She gave a very nice talk about dealing with negative emotions in a positive way.

Speaking of negative emotions: Is it just me, or is Facebook almost unbearable lately? No dialogue, no fun, just people deciding they’re authorized to tell everyone else what they’re allowed to believe, like, say, or do. Maybe I just need a break from it, but right now it’s just a tiresome repetition. One that I know I’m just as guilty of as anyone else. I feel like we all need a reminder (me included) that maybe our best option is to embrace the connections from our similarities and shared opinions, and embrace non-judgmental curiosity about our differences. *sigh* I just know I’ve enjoyed not being on it as much lately.

On a more positive note: I’m so proud of the team at Williamston Theatre, and the response we’re getting from audiences for the current production of Our Lady Of Poison. Shannon Ferrante led a terrific staff and cast, and did marvelous work. 27625370_10156102918764629_6048259823109898447_o.jpg

Right now we are deep into pre-production for our next show at Williamston, Doublewide. I’m having a blast working with this production team, and even though we have a few weeks of Our Lady… left, I’m raring to jump into rehearsals! I really hope folks enjoy this show, I think it’s a beautiful and honest exploration into life in this part of the world, and the struggle to find a place in it.

Speaking of Doublewide, here’s a Work-In-Progress of the scenic design by the amazing Kirk Domer. I’m not going to explain anything in it yet, it’s just a sneak peek.Doublewide Rendering - House Left - Draft 2-11-18 No Walls for Tony

I can’t remember if I posted these before? The last show I directed, Beau Jest, was a ton of fun. During the show, which took place in the late ’80’s, a little camera was used by a couple characters to take pictures of other people in the play with them. We used real film in a camera, and got some of them developed. Here, for fun, are some of them!

Ah, there are Pat Loos, Vanessa Sawson, Michael Lopetrone, Sandy Birch and (barely) Fred Buchalter! The quality is awful because they were under stage lights and it was an old camera, but I love that you can also see audience members in the background!

Random TV Thoughts: The Good Place is so freaking good. If you haven’t watched it, start at the beginning and binge. Star Trek Discovery has become a pleasant surprise for me, and I’ve really enjoyed Agents of Shield also! Tops on my list, and I’m late getting to it, is The Great British Baking Show! Jeanne and I have just started watching it, and we’re in love! Thanks to everyone who recommended it. I now desperately want to take some baking lessons.

Lastly – because it’s time to work: Man, I am so excited to see the Black Panther movie coming out this week. I just think it looks terrific, for lots of reasons, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

Hope you’re having a good weekend, everyone. Stay safe, and spend time with people you love!