The Park Players rehearse for their final performances at the North Rosedale Park Community House in Detroit before moving to their new home at the Redford Theatre.
Detroit’s oldest and longest-running community theater group is leaving its North Rosedale Park neighborhood
Detroit — The North Rosedale Park Community House in Detroit has seen plenty of comedy of errors, stage fright and forgotten lines — as Roger Loeb can attest.
The 72-year-old’s first Park Players’ audition was for a production of “Camelot” in 1980.
“On that very stage, I blanked and forgot my lines for Mordred,” laughed Loeb, looking at the red-draped stage. “Terror.”
Archie Lynch moved to North Rosedale Park in 2013 and read in the neighborhood paper that the Park Players were casting for “Guys and Dolls.”
“I was thinking, ‘I turned 50. Can I still do musicals?’ I thought, ‘Oh, this will be hysterical. I’ll go try out.’ I figured that was the end of it. I never left,” said Lynch, now 54 and president of the Park Players.
As Detroit’s oldest community theater group, the Park Players have been making audiences laugh and cry at the North Rosedale Park Community House for 64 years. But in 2018, the 100 volunteer actors and crew will pack up their props and move to the historic Redford Theatre on Lahser more than two miles away.
The main reason is cost savings. The Park Players pay about $14,000 a year to rent space from the North Rosedale Park Civic Association. It’s the only neighborhood association that owns a community house in the city, said association president Tamara Kamara.
“I tried to salvage the relationship and make it feasible for Park Players to stay, but Redford came with an offer they couldn’t refuse,” said Kamara, also a Park Player starring as playwright Lorraine Hansberry in the last regularly scheduled North Rosedale Park production this month, “To Be Young, Gifted and Black: A Portrait of Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words.”
As Lynch put it, “the house only holds 160 seats, and it becomes impossible to pay the rent and the copyright fees.”
The Redford, meanwhile, comes with 1,661 seats — 10 times the Community House’s capacity. Yet the smaller venue works for some productions, such as “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”
“It’s a show that demands a more intimate setting, and this is a lovely intimate setting,” Lynch said before rehearsal Tuesday evening. “However, you just can’t do the big musical here and make the economics make sense.”
Last spring, the Park Players presented “Sister Act the Musical” at the Redford Theatre. With any show, the goal is to break even on the cost of rent and copyright fees.
“We sold more tickets in one weekend than we’ve ever sold for the run of a show,” said Loeb, explaining that weekend generated $7,000. The Sunday matinee alone sold more than 600 tickets.
“Considering a full house for 64 years was 160 to us, 600 people freaked us completely out,” Lynch said.
Liam Neary, co-treasurer of the Motor City Theatre Organ Society — the nonprofit that owns the Redford Theatre — worked to entice the Park Players to move to the Redford, built in 1927 as a play house. Other community theater groups also rent the theater, but Neary said they’re “so excited” to host the Park Players, especially after their captivating “Sister Act” performance.
“If you closed your eyes and you just heard them, you would think that Whoopi Goldberg was up there singing. The energy was fabulous,” said Neary, who’s volunteered at the Redford since 1972.
Though the Park Players are optimistic about attracting a large audience at their first production — “Shrek the Musical” — as Redford residents in April, not everyone’s looking forward to the move.
“There’s this very homogeneous atmosphere (at Redford) that I think Park Players deserves, but there’s the aspect that this is home, there’s this intimacy, there’s this really familiar connection,” said 33-year-old Jonathan Jones, who‘s been a Player for six years and lived in the neighborhood since age 2.
While Players live all over Metro Detroit, many are North Rosedale Park residents. In fact, only North Rosedale Park residents were allowed to join the theater group, originally part of the North Rosedale Park Civic Association, until 1989 when the two split and the group opened to anyone.
That’s how Steve Spencer — who lives a mile away in Belmont — got involved. A few residents encouraged him to audition for “Rumors” in 1994.
“I got the lead, and they haven’t been able to get me totally out of here ever since,” said Spencer, 65.
Spencer is in the contingent that opposes the move from the 1930s-era building.
“I don’t like it,” he said in a quiet hallway, waiting for his next cue. “My kids grew up in here. They worked backstage. They’ve been in the shows, and so this is what we do, and that’s what I’m losing here.”
Recently, a wing was added to host receptions and events. The auditorium features an open wooden floor space, where tables and chairs can be added, and a small upper balcony. Theatergoers won’t spot glitzy chandeliers or ceiling artwork like at other Detroit theaters. As the website states, “the Community House offers pre-WWII charm and character.”
Loeb, a North Rosedale Park resident, said he’s “not happy” about leaving, mostly because of inconvenience.
“It’s five blocks away. I can get here in two minutes,” said Loeb, who teaches psychology in theater at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and is directing “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”
Kamara, 46, usually sticks to the backstage crew, “but for certain roles, I get on stage,” she said.
“I always say, ‘I’m not learning lines for Disney,’ ” she laughed, but “it’s an honor” playing Hansberry, known for “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Besides the Community House, the combination of Hansberry’s five plays and writings will also debut at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History for one night on Nov. 15.
While the Players have a new home, they hint they may still do occasional shows at the Community House. And the stage won’t sit empty.
“We’re kicking around the idea of doing an interactive murder mystery and maybe some children’s theater in the summer. If we could pull some Park Players that would be OK,” Kamara said.
Loeb said he’s only missed three productions since 1980, and he doesn’t plan to miss a fourth, even if he has to part with his memorable stage. Still, opening night on Nov. 10 will be bittersweet.
“I go up there in the balcony opening night of every show, and I say hello to all the people who are not with us any longer who have been on our stage, which after 37 years is a lot of people,” he said. “So this building just reeks of memories and many, many wonderful shows.”
Final Performances at North Rosedale Park Community House
Nov. 10-12 and 17-19
Tickets start at $18 for presale
Buy tickets at parkplayers.org or by calling (734) 752-1456.
18445 Scarsdale, Detroit