Community theaters forge lasting bonds in Metro Detroit

Walter Middlebrook
The Detroit News

The lights dim, the curtain rises.

But wait, that's your neighbor, a work colleague or a friend of a friend onstage in that elaborate costume and make-up bringing this performance to life. It's showtime and quite possibly you know the stars.

In theaters throughout Metro Detroit, hundreds of friends, neighbors, work colleagues and newfound friends are involved in area community theater groups that have launched their 2014-15 seasons.

From the acting roles, to building the sets and costumes, to filling the various positions that keep the offices and buildings open, a corps of theater junkies has taken on the role of keeping theatrical performances at reasonable prices available in this region.

The roles are filled by people who have made their careers as business executives, medical professionals, public and other political figures, artists, educational leaders and teachers, lawyers, small business owners, public relations and public safety officials, homemakers and several local TV and radio personalities.

The groups include students — grade school to college — and above all, generations of families.

"People come from all walks of life," said Mike Moseley, president of the board for the Players Guild of Dearborn. "People come in and park their lunch pails or briefcases, and then we all become one for the theater."

Moseley, a senior manager of guest services at the Henry Ford Museum, is among the cast members rehearsing for the musical "South Pacific," which opens Nov. 15 and runs weekends through Dec. 7.

Community theater is "the only place where you have someone who oversees a multimillion dollar budget on stage with someone who works a trade," Moseley added.

Forever Friends

The one word that resounds among the people involved in this extended community is "friends."

"It's a great place to meet new people," said Barry Cutler, a news producer at WXYZ (Channel 7) who serves as publicity manager of the Farmington Village Players. "It's a place to find change in your life. People meet spouses ... best friends there."

"You're with friends you'll make for the rest of your life," said Theresa Selvaggio, chairman of the board at Grosse Pointe Theater. "We're doing this for the love of theater, and we're doing it for nothing."

Grosse Pointe Theatre just ended its run of "Annie Warbucks" and is in rehearsals for "A View from the Bridge," which runs weekends Nov. 9-22.

"The applause ... the letters ... the emails ... that's our pay," Selvaggio added.

Mary Ann McCourt, executive director of Stagecrafters in Royal Oak, said the reward for the group members is "seeing their work, seeing their colleagues ... the applause and the smiles on the faces in the audience."

McCourt, who joined Stagecrafters two years ago after a long career with two architecture firms, said the group's next production, "Other Desert Cities," opens Friday and runs through Nov. 16.

Marcia Closson, of the Rosedale Park Players, described how the theaters and shows offer an economical alternative and environment to the Broadway shows that come through Metro Detroit. "Theater has gotten so expensive," she said, noting how seats for shows at the Fisher and other commercial theater houses cost a minimum of $50 to $60 each. "This is the only way to introduce children to theater."

The price of most community local shows range from under $20 to about $25.

Closson said her group is one of the only remaining all-volunteer groups based in Detroit. The group features two shows a year. Its fall production, "Alice Through the Looking Glass," will run Nov. 14-23 at the North Rosedale Park Community Center.

"We draw from the whole metro area," Closson said. "We're a family."

All of the theater representatives echoed that theme and all of the groups talked of how they support each other's efforts.

"It's kind of a sub-culture of community theaters," said Jeff Foust, president of the St. Dunstan's Theatre in Bloomfield Hills.

Foust described how the groups form partnerships that range from sharing classes and workshops on topics such as acting and learning technical skills including working the sound board, curtains and lights. Some of the theaters trade costumes and sets, if they can.

Perhaps the most shared commodity are the "theater gypsies" — actors, singers, dancers and others such as make-up artists, costumers and musicians, among others, who travel from theater to theater based on the show or the opportunity to practice their individual skills.

"You get to be involved if you're not an actor," said Dearborn's Moseley. "You get to hang out with friends … you learn that it's OK to be crazy."

Each group has its committed inner ring of people who spend a lot of time at the theater. And then there is that outer ring of committed supporters who perform specific tasks to help keep the shows going.

Moseley said the gypsies are important. "You want them for the freshness of talent," he said.

Finding a balance

The theaters don't compare notes on their seasonal plans, which explains why some patrons could see the same shows done by several companies in the same year.

A season includes hard choices between musicals and dramas, and the groups make their decisions with the idea of trying to increase their annual revenues.

Some theaters, such as Farmington Players, Stagecrafters and Birmingham Village Players, own their buildings, while others — Grosse Pointe and St. Dunstan's, for instance — rent their performance spaces, and all those costs have to be accounted for by each group.

GPT tries to get a balance between art and consumption, Selvaggio said. At St. Dunstan's, "we look for shows that are going to draw the people we haven't had before," Foust added.

But Dearborn's Moseley stressed why some shows are classics that groups revive year after year. "They hold up," he said.

Grosse Pointe's performances of "Les Miserables," for instance, was the group's all-time best-selling run and involved 40-50 people.

A typical production "takes about 90 days" and forms a "bonding that presidents (of any company) would kill to have," said Selvaggio, a regional vice president for Estee Lauder Services, who also has been onstage in her time with the group.

"Doing a show teaches teamwork, deadlines and discipline," she said. "A director is a CEO who brings a team together in (those) 90 days." She added that her theater experience "has given me confidence in the boardroom."

The community groups have also helped young people decide if they want to make theater a future career.

"We have a bunch of college kids who are trying to figure out if this is what they want to do," Moseley said.

Selvaggio said most people don't join a group to go to Broadway, "but if you ask any Broadway performer, they're sure to have done community theater."

All about theater

Avon Players

1185 Washington, Rochester

(248) 608-9077,

"Miracle on 34th Street," Nov. 28-Dec. 13

"Clue The Musical," Jan. 23-Feb. 7, 2015

"Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," March 13-28, 2015

"A Man of No Importance The Musical," May 22-June 6, 2015

Baldwin Theatre (Stagecrafters)

415 S. Lafayette, Royal Oak

(248) 541-6430,

"Other Desert Cities," Friday-Nov. 16

"Jekyll & Hyde The Musical," Jan. 9-Feb.1, 2015

"Rumors," March 13-29, 2015

"Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida," May 22-June 7, 2015

Farmington Players Barn

32332 W. 12 Mile, Farmington Hills

(248) 553-2955,

"Leading Ladies," Nov. 28-Dec. 20

Grosse Pointe Theatre

Grosse Pointe War Memorial

32 Lake Shore, Grosse Pointe

(313) 881-4004,

"A View From the Bridge," Nov. 9, 13-16, 20-22

"Irving Berlin's White Christmas, The Musical," Dec. 13, 14, 17, 18, 20-22

"Little Women The Broadway Musical," Jan. 18, 22-25, 29-31, 2015

"Don't Dress for Dinner," March 8, 12-15, 19-21, 2015

"Mel Brooks' The Producers," May 10-14-17, 21-23, 2015

Players Guild of Dearborn

Players Guild Theater, 21730 Madison, Dearborn

(313) 561-TKTS

"Rodger's & Hammerstein's South Pacific," Nov. 14-16, 21-23, 28-30, Dec. 5-7

"Neil Simon's Rumor," Jan. 9-11, 16-18 and 23-25, 2015

"To Kill a Mockingbird," March 6-8, 13-15 and 20-22, 2015

"Monty Python's Spamalot," May 1-3,8-10, 15-17 and 22-24, 2015

The Ringwald Theatre

22742 Woodward, Ferndale

(248) 542-5545,

"Are You There God? It's Me, Carrie," Through Monday

"Stupid Bird," Nov. 14-Dec. 8

"The SantaLand Diaries & Season's Greetings," Dec. 19-22

Rosedale Park Players

Rosedale Park Community House

18445 Scarsdale, Detroit

(313) 835-1103

"Alice Through the Looking Glass," Nov. 14-16, 21-23

St. Dunstan's Theatre

400 Lone Pine Road, Bloomfield Hills


"Theatre for Children: The Candy Mansion Caper," Nov. 14-16, 22-23

"Next to Normal," Jan. 16-17, 23-25, 30-31, 2015

"Love, Sex, and the IRS," March 13-14, 20-22, 27-28, 2015

"Hair: An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical," May 29-30, June 5-6, 11-13, 2015 (Outdoor Greek Theatre)

Village Players

34660 Woodward, Birmingham

(248) 644-2075

"Songs for a New World," Friday-Sunday, Nov. 7-9

"Brighton Beach Memoirs," Jan. 16-18, 23-25, 30-Feb. 1, 2015

"Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," March 6-8, 13-15, 20-22, 2015

"Thoroughly Modern Millie," May 8-10, 15-17, 22-24, 2015

Compiled by Jocelynn Brown