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.


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!

Updates on a Tuesday

Lots of things happening around here at Casa Caselli.

Jeanne and I are healing up nicely from our kidney transplant. It’s officially been a month, and everything seems to be going in the right directions so far. We’re both moving around pretty well again, with just minor soreness. We can both drive again, although it’ll be another few weeks before we’re allowed to lift anything heavier than 8 lbs. I’m adjusting to the new regimen of anti-rejection meds, and glad that they let me wear this shirt:

(I may have bought several fun “kidney transplant” t-shirts this month!)

The whole family is really grateful for all the support we got during this whole event: a HUGE Thank You to everyone who reached out and sent support in any way – texts, cards, food, visits, it was all SO helpful.

Meanwhile, lots of other things are happening too – at Williamston Theatre we are FINALLY looking at a schedule that would reopen our building in 2021, and working on all of the 7,942,233,007 things that that involves. We’ve been doing some staff DEI training, which has been eye opening, educational, tough and really useful, resulting in lots of reworking of internal policies. We’re working on nailing down the reopening season (AND the next one, actually), and will be making some announcements over the upcoming months, and there are some really exciting projects and collaborations coming up that I’m excited to share with everyone. Plus we’ve got renovations happening at the theatre and new seats ready to install for our patrons to enjoy. The Covid Shutdown has been a nightmare of an intermission, but we’ve tried to combine “use the time wisely” with “spend this uncertain time with family and stay physically and mentally healthy”.

So, now we slowly start coming out of the bubble we’ve been in. Because of my anti-rejection meds making me extra susceptible to infection, I still will be wearing a mask often, but I’m still feeling better about being out among people again. I may have to see about getting to a Lansing Lugnuts game sometime next month, I’ve been looking forward to some live baseball!

One nice side effect of the surgery is that since coming out of it, because of the new dietary and medical stuff, I’ve been eating less junk and am down about 20 lbs. Feeling more fit than I have in a while, hoping to keep that trend up and stay healthier – I’m not quite back to my “pre-surgery” routine of walking 3-5 miles a day, but I’ve been able to do about 2.5 every couple of days the last week or so, and I’ll be trying to improve on that over the next couple of weeks. (I’m inspired by my amazing wife, who walked 2 miles AND ran 2 miles today!!)

So, I think that’s it from here for now. Trying to heal, rest, prep for reopening, and enjoy being with my family. Doing a lot of reading (plays, novels, anti-racism education, an N.K. Jemisin trilogy) and watching TV. And, honestly, lots of self-reflection about what “Post Covid” and “Post Transplant” life should be, and could be. We’ll see what that leads to!

I hope everyone is doing well, staying healthy (physically AND mentally) and enjoying their summer. Take care of yourselves!

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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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! ❤️

Tech Day!

The calm before the….. well, I was going to say storm, because that’s the phrase, but that’s not really accurate. A good tech day is nothing like a storm. So really, I guess this is the calm before the…. well orchestrated day full of hard work and creativity that results from months of planning combined with in-the-moment inspiration? Sure, let’s go with that. So here we are, a deliberate air of busy-ness in the building, with 8 different things being tended to by different teams of people, all working together with, or around, each other. All so that when the Stage Manager calls “places, top of show” everything happens the way it’s supposed to happen.

I love Tech Day. When you add in the lights, sound, sometimes projections, later in the weekend costumes, all of the technical elements blend with the cast and you really get your first true look at what the play is going to be. Some people dislike the tech day process but for me, as a director, I love it – it’s like Christmas! You work for months with the design team and look at sketches and images and discuss renderings and 3-d computer walkthroughs and you listen to sound samples and play with fabric swatches and plan each moment….and then on tech day you GET THEM! All these magical little moments! AND you get to work with a team of creative, passionate people who combine ideas and talents and brainstorms and suddenly things from your imagination are there in front of you.

A college professor of mine, George Bird, once said to me about theatre “It’s not magic, Caselli, it’s hard work.” I think about that often, and it inspires me. Because he’s right, of course: But the thing is, all that hard work can give us magic in the end!

pictured above – the set from A Christmas Carol: The Radio Show at Williamston Theatre. Set design by Kirk Domer.

THE SAFE HOUSE

The current show at Williamston Theatre is a lovely, moving piece by Kristine Thatcher and directed by Casaundra Freeman. Reviews have been universally wonderful, and this is one of those shows that SO many people can directly relate to, people are loving it. Charming, funny, heartbreaking and uplifting, it’s a beautiful piece about family, change, and the power of being there for each other. A terrific start to our 14th Season!

Read one of the reviews HERE!

Karen Sheridan and Dani Cochrane

Tobin Hissong, Karen Sheridan and Dani Cochrane

Dani Cochrane and Karen Sheridan

Opening Night production team photo.

Back row: Chris Purchis, scenic designer Gabriella Csapo, assistant stage manager Matt Kowalczyk, set dressing/properties designer Michelle Raymond, apprentice Becca Bedell, stage manager Stef Din, tech director Aaron Delnay, sound designer Sonja Marquis, costume designer Holly Iler, apprentice Ariel Sheets, John Lepard, Emily Sutton-Smith, Tony Caselli. Not pictured: lighting designer Shannon Schweitzer.
Front row: Tobin Hissong, director Casaundra Freeman, playwright Kristine Thatcher, Karen Sheridan, Dani Cochrane.

Ch-Ch-Changes…..

Sat down to update my journal, and realized it’s been two months! Amazing, where did that time go? Well, life got crazy:

*We sold our house in Chelsea and moved to Williamston!
*We have officially become “empty-nesters” with both kids now moved out of the house and into their universities, University of Michigan and Western Michigan University!
*A BIG renovation has been taking place for the last 7 weeks at Williamston Theatre, at the same time that we’re rehearsing and about to go into previews for the beautiful play The Safe House by Kristine Thatcher.

So – life has been busy!  And WONDERFUL.  We’re about to open SEASON FOURTEEN at Williamston Theatre!

The kids:

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The building renovation.  We tore out our old Stage Manager tech booth and put in a new one!

How it looks now:

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How it looked a few weeks ago:

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and a couple weeks before that….

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…aaaaaand from the other side….

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Also, here’s our new house!

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AND here are a few rehearsal shots from the BEAUTIFUL show The Safe House by Kristine Thatcher, directed by the wonderful Casaundra Freeman, and starring Karen Sheridan, Dani Cochrane and Tobin Hissong.

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So, the last 8 weeks have been insanely busy, but also pretty darned wonderful.  I’m so grateful for my family, and my work, and the people I get to work with!

I hope everyone else has had a good summer as well – now that Fall is upon us, and my that wonderful Autumnal feeling is in the air, I’m really looking forward to what’s coming up. I hope you all are too!