Rather than securing funding or drawing theatergoers, D.B. Schroeder’s main challenge in starting a new Detroit theater company has been finding a space to call home.
Schroeder is the founder and producing artistic director of Puzzle Piece Theatre, which he says has been a “nomadic” company since he founded it in 2012. Puzzle Piece has flitted from a Detroit site (the former home of both the Abreact and Magenta Giraffe theater companies) to a Mount Clemens church to its latest home, Ferndale’s new Slipstream Theatre.
Schroeder moved to Detroit in 2011 to be closer to his wife’s family. He left behind another small theater company he founded in 2004 in Chicago, where he says black-box theater space was more readily available.
“While the Detroit arts scene is growing and we have a very vibrant theater community, most of the venues are larger or many of the more established companies are producing longer seasons in their own venues,” he says. “The time slots are kind of at a premium, so we go where the opportunity is.”
Fortunately, Schroeder says Puzzle Piece has been quick to establish a small but loyal audience that has followed the company from location to location. Associate artistic director Laura Heikkinen attributes that partially to the fact that Puzzle Piece, which self-identifies as presenting “fresh, bold and provocative” works, started right around the same time Magenta Giraffe and a few other small local theaters closed their doors.
“The buzz was that we were taking their place, which we weren’t intending to do,” Heikkinen says. “But we probably hit a similar demographic in their late 20s or early 30s, looking for something other than what is readily available.”
Those audiences have demonstrated financial support for Puzzle Piece. In 2012 Schroeder financed the company’s first production with a $5,000 loan crowdfunded through the online Kiva Zip platform. All backers were repaid by June of last year. More recently the theater crowdfunded $600 worth of new lighting equipment through the IndieGoGo platform.
The new gear will be put to use in the theater’s latest show, “The Boy Who Cried,” which runs at Slipstream through Sunday. The production will be the American premiere of British playwright Matthew Osman’s dark, expressionist play, which takes place in a world where werewolves are real, but depression and mental illness are considered a fiction.
“I read it, fell in love with it and thought it was really fresh, a really unique take on a challenging issue,” Schroeder says. “And it has werewolves. So I was hooked.”
The play uses werewolves as a metaphor for the way society treats the mentally ill as monstrous. The dialogue often takes an absurd turn that Schroeder describes as both “nonsensical” and “poetic,” evoking the inner mental landscape of depressive protagonist Sam Elvin.
“It’s moreso about the feeling and watching the characters struggle than about the actual words at some points in the play,” says actor Joshua Daniel Palmer, who plays Sam.
The unusual material stands in contrast to the more traditional works preferred by the Slipstream Theatre Initiative, the Slipstream venue’s home company. But Schroeder says that’s a good thing, as the two companies complement each other, rather than competing.
“We think we have a place where we can put down roots for the next few seasons,” he says.
The Boy Who Cried
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays
460 Hilton, Ferndale