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.

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.

It’s almost October! So much going on!

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. 🙂

And, if you’d like to see it, here’s a little news article featuring Williamston Theatre, John Lepard and me!

Williamston Theatre Season 15!

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!

I’m also very excited to say that we have announced our Auditions for the season, AND we are accepting applications for our Apprentice Program. INFORMATION ON BOTH OF THESE CAN BE FOUND RIGHT HERE AT THIS LINK!

Can’t wait to see everyone at the theatre. Here’s the lineup for our 15th season:


Williamston Theatre 2021-2022 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. 

The Cake

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.

Tracy Jones

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.


The One Year Mark

One year. The Big Pause.

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.

I hope we can get back to it soon.

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!

Thankful

Taking a minute to acknowledge and thank the universe for all the wonderful things in my life.

With Thanksgiving just happening, and then so many wonderful things around it, it’s easy to take for granted the things I have. Sometimes I just need to look around and, to quote Kurt Vonnegut’s Uncle Alex, say out loud “If this isn’t nice, what is?”

It was so great to have the kids back home with Jeanne and I for a couple days. Just talking and hanging out and eating and playing games and watching them play with the dogs. Loved it. Going to sleep that night with everyone in the the house, knowing they were safe and home and happy, it was pretty terrific. And soon we’ll do it again for a few days for Christmas.

Plus we had a wonderful Opening week for A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show at the theatre, which is just lovely and so engaging and such beautiful storytelling, it gets me every single time, and watching packed houses fall in love with it is both inspiring and affirming.

Then we had a fantastic “Giving Tuesday” Play Reading Marathon, where we read a seasons worth of plays onstage in a day, 12 hours of readings, all open to the public, and we had so many people stop by for a play or two, or three, and a big group who stayed all day to see five or six plays! It was amazing, people came and went all day as their schedule allowed, and it felt like such a day of communion and togetherness and magic as we shared and discussed six wildly different pieces. Truly it was a humbling thing. Someone asked “Did you ever imagine this when you started this place 14 years ago?!” and the question AND answer got me all choked up because, no, we hoped but had no idea if it would work. Tuesday was pretty damned great.

And now I’m getting ready for the National New Play Network annual Showcase of New Plays – a weekend of staged readings and chatting about new plays and the challenges, joys and pitfalls of producing them with people from all over the country. This is going to be fun.

So much to be grateful for.

I hope you’re able to look around this weekend and find the same things in your life! ❤️