Good Things, and a MILESTONE!

Lots of good things going on now!

SEASON 16 begins! We start rehearsal for The Magnolia Ballet by Terry Guest at Williamston Theatre tonight. I love this play, and can’t wait to see what the director Gary Anderson, and the production team and cast do with it. This beautiful, intense and thought-provoking piece follows a young Queer Black man coming of age in the American South. In a wonderfully theatrical storytelling style we explore sexuality, racism, toxic masculinity, homophobia, love, and the incredibly complicated relationship between fathers and sons and the legacy passed through them from generation to generation.

This week we also have our first production meeting for our holiday show, A Very Williamston Christmas. I’m really looking forward to directing this fun, sweet, ridiculously silly Christmas piece. Everyone loves (or loves to HATE) those Hallmark Christmas movies, right? Well we’ve got our own over-the-top parody of those stories coming to Williamston this November! If you’ve been jonesing for schmaltzy, smoldering “Will they Won’t they” looks over giant mugs of hot cocoa between flirty new friends as one of their Small Town businesses is under threat by an evil developer from the Big City RIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS EVE….. then we’ve got the show for you!

As I type this in my office, it’s quieted down in the building. And by “quieted down” I mean that now I can hear the normal buzz of people getting ready for first rehearsal. An hour ago I couldn’t hear that, because the sound of banging and sawing and drilling and construction workers yelling back and forth filled the air, and I loved it! We are just DAYS away from the renovations to our space being done and I am SO EXCITED. For 15 years we’ve hoped to get rid of the structural support poles in our theatre space, and this week it becomes a reality. Can’t wait to share the newly renovated space with our artists and patrons.

OH! And one other thing that I’ll probably write more about soon: I realized that I’ve hit a milestone. This Fall marks my 30th anniversary of making a living as a professional in the American Theatre Industry. I’m pretty proud of that. I remember many years ago, when discussing what I wanted to study at college with my parents, I said “theatre” and my father took a breath and said “Do you think you can make a living at it?” I responded with “I really think I can.” He nodded, and said, “Okay then, let’s figure it out. Your mom and I will help however we can.” And that was that. Now, all these years later, I can look at the last 30 years and say “Okay. Done. 30 years. I did it. I made a living at that.” And it feels good, like I lived up to my promise. And to their faith.

So, I’m having a good week. I hope you are too!

And now….. off to 1st rehearsal!

Rest In Peace Nichelle Nichols

Well… damn. Nichelle Nichols, the legendary Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek has passed away at the age of 89.

As a big Star Trek fan, this makes me sad. She was a woman who was a terrific actress and singer, of course, but who also changed a lot of lives as a representative of what the future should bring – acceptance, diversity, inclusion: In the 1960’s she showed a strong Black woman onscreen in a position of authority. To quote the article below: She portrayed “A capable officer who could man other stations on the bridge when the need arose, she was one of the first African American women to be featured in a non-menial role on television.” The article has many more details, and I encourage you to read a little about this wonderful woman.

Here’s the link to the Variety article!

There’s a ton more to say but, honestly, whenever one of the Original Seven from the Star Trek Universe passes, I get emotional. I love the show, and the subsequent franchise, for tons of reasons – the sci-fi, the characters and stories, the optimistic (usually) look at what the future could hold, and because I have such memories of sitting on the floor of our living room, watching the reruns with my Dad.

Instead of rambling on and being sad at her passing, though, I want to share something I wrote on Facebook about 7 years ago – in 2015 – when I had the most wonderful chance encounter, a moment that any great fan of something can understand and appreciate. A moment that left me a little stunned, with my son asking “You okay?” and me not even being able to answer him:

July 13, 2015: “Sometimes you’re at the airport, and suddenly Nichelle Nichols is there. 2 feet from you. And you lock eyes with her and your whole mind freezes up. And she smiles warmly at you and recognizes the look of stunned adoration, and says “Hello” and and gives you a smiling, loving wink and nod that says “yes, it’s me, you’ll be okay, just keep breathing” and she continues on her way. And after she’s gone, you feel lighter, and taller, and like you’ve been touched by a power of goodness and light from a time long ago, spoken of now only in song and legend.”

Rest in peace, Ms. Nichols. Thanks for the wonderfulness that you brought to the world. And thanks for that 10 seconds of kindness you showed to a nerd that you saw get overwhelmed by your very presence.

Three Things Thursday!

Our Season 16 brochures are out for Williamston Theatre! Look how great this cover is! Sandra Debnar created some awesome show logos for us this year.

And in other Williamston Theatre news, we got a great review for The Hat Box from the Lansing City Pulse. Click this link right here to read the rave! Or just look at the picture below to see the beautiful faces of the company! 🙂 The show is selling well, which is wonderful, and audiences are having a blast, which is fabulous. A terrific show and group of people to end our 15th season with.

The Company of THE HAT BOX on Opening Night at Williamston Theatre

One more pic? Why not: here’s a shot of our dog FlipFlop on our walk. He lost one of his eyes recently (I can’t remember if I’ve talked about that publicly!) He’s getting older and the vets tried to help him save it but with glaucoma and cataracts it was just getting painful and risking other damage and so it had to be taken out. He’s recovered nicely over the last few weeks, and is back to his energetic ways – he’s still like a puppy even though he’s almost 12 years old.

FlipFlop, the one-eyed wonder dog!

Lots of great family time this week too, which I’m grateful for. Spent a nice evening this week on the front porch with my wife and kids. Everyone back from work, or class, or whatever we were all doing in our busy week. After a hot week the weather had turned cool for an evening sit on the porch, eating some food and drinking some wine and just chatting about life and schedules and stuff. It’s so easy to get so busy, caught up in the things that we allow us to drive us crazy – it’s nice to sit with my loved ones for a while and just enjoy being there.

So, have a great rest of the week, and weekend everyone. Try and give yourself some time on the porch, and enjoy being there!

Things to be excited about

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 adapted George 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!

Have a great Sunday everyone!

A GREAT DAY! An Anniversary and an Opening

THIS IS A GREAT DAY.

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.

Catching up

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

Sarab Kamoo in Heather Raffo’s 9 Parts of Desire at Williamston Theatre

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.

This time of year….

This time of year is odd for me…

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.

2022 already?

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.

Slowly Waking Up

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!

Take care of yourselves y’all!