Detroit's PuppetART Theatre to close after almost 20 years

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit – After operating for almost 20 years, Detroit's PuppetART Theatre announced last week it will close its downtown location at the end of August because the space "no longer meets its needs as a growing center for puppetry." 

Detroit's PuppetART Theatre, which has operated at 25 E. Grand River for almost 20 years, will close its doors at the end of the month as owners search for a new home.

Theater officials made the announcement on its Facebook page, saying this will not be the end of PuppetART, but the puppets will be "on the go" visiting sites in Metro Detroit as owners look for a new home. 

"Puppet shows, workshops, classes and more will be moving from site to site as (PuppetART) shares its stories as well as the history of puppetry to a wider audience. This future adventure has all the puppets and actors very excited," the theater wrote in a statement. 

The theater has operated as a performance center, studio and museum with hundreds of puppets in different forms and sizes. They can be controlled by strings, rods and bare hands, and the museum has a recorded history of each puppet's story. 

Igor Gozman, one of three owners, said he came to Detroit from Russia 27 years ago hoping to create a space where families with children of all ages can enjoy themselves over art.

Gozman, 63, said officials would prefer to relocate to a larger space downtown, but like the owner of Henry The Hatter, who recently closed the Detroit location, he finds that downtown changes are "too much to stay." 

The PuppetART Theatre is next door to construction of the Shinola Hotel and across from what will be the new tallest building in Detroit. The Bedrock project is part of an estimated $775 million development proposed by an entity linked to billionaire Dan Gilbert.

Gozman said for that years the theater has had to plan play schedules around games and other events downtown. 

"With the big development, everything is great for downtown, but not for us with a small operational budget ... (the city's) not helping us sustain," Gozman said. "We’ll be in downtown if something changes with official management to protect small niche business; otherwise, we could find ourselves near Eight Mile."

Asking for customers to pay for parking and a $15 ticket would require them to raise prices and tend to a larger audience, he said.

"We don’t want to have more than a 60- or 70-person audience because then we would lose the intimacy," Gozman said. "I'm very thankful to our landlords whose interest and support over the years has been of great benefit."

The theater's landlord of five years, Paul Howard, 43, said he has received offers to buy the building without marketing it, but he intends to continue to lease it.

"For years they have been talking about getting a bigger space. They didn’t feel they could really fulfill their mission here," Howard said. “They were there for a long time; they opened there in the shadow of the Hudson’s building and operated downtown even during its darkest times. It’s a shame to see them go."

Before leaving their home at 25 E. Grand River, PuppetART will perform its crowd favorite, "Banana for Turtle," at 2 p.m. this Saturday and 2 p.m. Aug. 19. Guests are requested to make a reservation at (313) 961-7777. 

Fans are also invited to attend a final farewell from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 20 to take photos with their favorite puppets and celebrate the theater's two decades in downtown Detroit. 

"... Of course, (PuppetART) will continue to present the culturally diverse, artistic productions that it has delivered to the Detroit area for 18 years," the theater wrote in its statement.

Disappointed fans of PuppetART Theatre responded to the announcement on Facebook, offering help to move and good luck wishes.

One user by the name of Sheryl Steinberg posted, "I am sobbing. Your final farewell is on my birthday! We have been with you since the very beginning and have received joy unspeakable. May God continue to chase you and overtake you with supernatural blessings and favor."

Another user, Sarah Pappas, posted " You're such a community asset!! Please don't go far. Please reach out when you need support from the community. We want to see you re-settled locally and comfortably and stably. Best best wishes for a speedy & healthy transition."

To receive a discount on gift shop items and puppets, volunteer to help pack up the location Aug. 26 through Aug. 31.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_