Finley: The Bard was made for Detroit

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

If you catch a performance of Shakespeare in Detroit this weekend — and you should — think about what this thing could become.

Rehearsal for Shakespeare in Detroit's "Much Ado Para Nada," which opens in Clark Park Thursday.

If you're thinking right, the answer is "HUGE."

Now in its sixth summer, the local theater troupe is hoping for a breakthrough as it presents the Bard's "Much Ado About Nothing" tonight in Clark Park and then in Campus Martius Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings.

The company has developed a loyal following, thanks to the high quality of its productions and the indefatigable promotion of its founder and director, Sam White. But it operates on a shoestring, staging free performances in parks and surviving on the generosity of a few sponsors, including DTE, Strategic Staffing Solutions and Deloitte.

But it could be so much bigger, and so much more impactful for Detroit.

"I would like to see Shakespeare in Detroit become a regional theater, along the lines of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Chicago Shakespeare Festival, where people come from all over the world to see professional actors and crew," says White, 37, a native Detroiter and a Wayne State grad.

This is the time to exploit the worldwide fascination with all things Detroit. Shakespeare presented by an urban cast in an urban setting with an urban interpretation has tremendous marketing potential.

"We are as much Detroit as we are Shakespeare," White says. "Theater companies are all trying to work to become more inclusive and diverse. We don’t have to work at it. That’s who we are. We are the only company in the country run by a woman of color. Young people in the city come to the show and see actors on stage who look like them."

There's room for a major summertime cultural event that is uniquely Detroit. White, who had a fellowship at the famed Oregon festival and was an assistant director at Stratford earlier this year, has positioned Shakespeare in Detroit to fit that bill.

Imagine a two-week festival presenting plays in venues throughout the city, with the most diverse cast on any stage in the country. That's what this could be, and as soon as next summer. 

The Detroit News is the media sponsor of the troupe, and I've been working with White for the past year with the goal of growing it into a major festival. She's making gains.

The company got a big boost with the donation of a permanent home in the Stone Soap Building on the riverfront, which is undergoing an extensive renovation. The space, donated by the Banyan Foundation, will be ready by Labor Day 2020. 

"You can’t start a family without a home," White says. "It will show sustainability. We want to be around and grow."

White also has added fall performances of "Twelfth Night," Nov. 8-11, at The Music Hall.

She ultimately envisions bringing theater to Detroit's schools and operating on multiple platforms, including film and digital. What does she need to get there?

"People who support us to do the work the way it should be done," she says. "This is the perfect market for Shakespeare. Detroit has all these unique stories embedded in our history that literally mirror Shakespeare's text."

Sam White is headed for the big time in the Shakespeare world. Detroit should come along with her. 

Catch “The Nolan Finley Show” weekdays 7-9 a.m. on 910 AM Superstation.