Shakespeare in Detroit opens "Twelfth Night," then vanishes till 2020

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

The Motor City's plucky classical drama company, Shakespeare in Detroit, is on the verge of some very big things. 

Asia Mark plays Viola in Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" opening Nov. 8 at the Detroit Opera House.

Opening Nov. 8 is their second production of the year, the bard's much-loved comedy of errors and mistaken identity, "Twelfth Night" -- this time set in the 1920s Jazz Age. The play runs through Sunday at the Detroit Opera House. 

Then the company will take a powder for one year, in preparation for its move into permanent quarters on the Detroit riverfront in 2020. The Detroit News is the company's media sponsor.

But in the meantime, there's "Twelfth Night" to look forward to. It promises to be a harmonious evening. 

"The production has a lot of music in it," said Sam White, founding artistic and executive director, "which is cool and easy to do in 'Twelfth Night' because there’s a lot of beautiful prose."

Shakespeare's amusing fool, Feste the clown, she adds, will lead the charge. 

"He's like the director of the play," White said. "Our Feste plays the guitar, and is sort of the through-line for the show. He kicks us off at the beginning, and then plays again at the very end."

The production is directed by JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell, who described the production as "an ode to romance, colorful words and music."

Interestingly, some of Shakespeare's language will be gently updated to be more intelligible to kids -- always White's target audience. But she vows the updated version, which came out of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Play On! project, won't sully the text.

"It’s little things," she said. "Instead of saying ‘betrothed,’ we might say ‘engaged.’ We didn't touch the iambic pantemeter. Literally," she added, "unless I told you what the changes were, you wouldn't notice."

After Sunday, things will go dark until the company's reappearance on Labor Day weekend in 2020, when they take up residence in their first-ever permanent home. 

"We'll be moving into the old Stone Soap factory east of Renaissance Center," White said, "at 1426 Franklin Street." 

Much of 2019 will be taken up as architects adapt the building into a black-box studio theater. Shakespeare in Detroit will be the anchor tenant, but will share the former factory with other outfits and a wine bar. 

While White's earlier productions, which launched in 2013, were site-specific -- her take on "Much Ado About Nothing" in the summer was performed in Mexicantown's Clark Park -- she always knew a permanent space would help with fundraising and visibility. 

The building renovation is being financed by Banyan Investments, which has taken Shakespeare in Detroit under its wing. 

White explained, "Aamir Farooqi, Banyan's CEO, asked me what was the one thing keeping us from getting the funding necessary for a world-class theater company, and I told him 'an address.' So he’s giving us a nice starter home."

Which is a very good thing, since Shakespeare in Detroit survives on the theatrical equivalent of air and water. White's 2018 budget was a mere $65,000, from which she managed to wring two impressive productions. 

Funding this year, she notes, came from Delta Dental, Deloitte, Greektown Casino, Southwest Airlines and the New York-based Hitz Foundation. 

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy 


'Twelfth Night'

7 p.m. Thurs.-Sun., Nov. 8-11

Daimler-Chrysler Black Box Theatre, Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit 

Tickets: $45 (Thursday sold out)