Ann Arbor's Wild Swan Theater to close after 40 years of performances

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

It's the final curtain call for one of Michigan's oldest kid-focused theater companies after 40 years of entertaining children and families.

Ann Arbor's Wild Swan Theater on Monday announced its plans to close. Founded in 1980 by Sandy Ryder and Hilary Cohen, the theater has performed hundreds of productions over the last four decades, reaching more than a million audience members. It's also traveled to school, libraries, museums and more. 

Hilary Cohen and Sandy Ryder, co-founders of Ann Arbor's Wild Swan Theater, are closing the theater after 40 years.

Ryder and Cohen, who were also Wild Swan's co-artistic directors, said while the COVID-19 pandemic was a contributing factor in their decision to close, they'd been thinking for awhile about the right time to say goodbye.

“When we began, people asked how long we would do this for," said the two artistic directors in a statement. "We replied, we can’t do this forever. We will stop when the time is right. Well, we both feel the time is right now.”

The theater, which won state and national awards for its impact, was an early innovator in offering accessibility programs for people with disabilities. In the early 1980s, it was one of the first theater companies in the nation to incorporate American Sign Language into all of its mainstage performances "and invent a new aesthetic for the theater by fully integrating ASL actors into the central action of the play," according to its website.

Its productions have included everything from classics such as "Charlotte's Web," "Little Women" and "The Wizard of Oz" to original pieces about the Underground Railroad, the Great Lakes and the role of women in space exploration.

"Rosie the Riveter" was part of Wild Swan's 2015-2016 season.

Just last year, the theater pivoted to offer online theater workshop for kids and teens amid the pandemic.

Ryder said when she and Cohen started Wild Swan, they had no idea it would one become so large and loved.

“We started Wild Swan in 1980 with nothing but an idea," said Ryder. "We didn’t have a nickel. No space. No backers. Just an idea, an idea of a kind of theater that could possibly exist, accessible and affordable for everyone, and of the highest artistic quality.”

Ryder and Cohen say their next step is maintain an archive of the theater's resources.

“We have a wonderful catalogue of drama activities for participants with disabilities that we would like to continue making available nationally as well as a number of DVD’s of our productions that we are testing in schools," said Cohen. "We are just beginning to explore what form that will take.”

The Wild Swan is the latest children's theater to close in the last two years. Last year, even before COVID hit, Northville's Marquis Theatre was sold to a new owner.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com.