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Posted: Dec. 18, 2014 at 8:20 a.m.
ANN ARBOR - From now until Jan. 9, 2015, Performance Network is campaigning on Indiegogo to "cover our nut," a fundraiser to raise $30,000, which is a month's worth of operating expenses, or a month's "nut." In the spirit of Indiegogo, there are several perks such as a tshirt, tickets to the theater, and even a walk-on role in the March production of "Stones in His Pockets."
Performance Network has been in existence for almost 30 years. From its beginnings as a free community theater, the Network has faced a number of challenges, including working around a load-bearing pole placed inconveniently in the center of the performance space, relocating to a new space, and most recently temporarily suspending activities due to financial hardship. What stands out is the legacy of survival that has kept the Network alive, and has brought the new team to this point: How to keep the Network going for the next 30 years?
The 'New' Network took over operations on June 18, and re-opened the doors on Aug. 4. Currently the theater survives on 25 percent of normal revenue, and thanks to generous donations by supporters and a refined business plan, fewer staff are able to run the theater.
Since Aug. 4, the Network has produced three shows to critical acclaim, and there is a vision to turn the theater into the hub of a movement to protect all art in Ann Arbor. Art has kept the Network alive, and so the Network will do all it can to keep art alive.
With that mantra in mind, a relaunch of the Network is envisaged for Spring 2015 when the new theater space, which is currently being redesigned to reflect the "space of possibilities" mission, will be unveiled.
The Network is asking for $30,000 because that's the nonproduction "nut." That's what it costs to do business every month. With $30,000 in the bank, the nut is covered and the theater can get on with producing drama that will not only ensure Ann Arbor's only professional producing theater stays open for another 30 years, but will empower the team to write the next chapter in the Network's story - a space of possibilities for art to flourish.
Please consider donating to the Indiegogo campaign at http://igg.me/at/pntheatre and accept thanks in advance for joining in the fight to keep art alive in Ann Arbor.
For information on tickets and events at the Network or to donate, please go to www.pntheatre.org or call the box office at 734-663-0681.
Performance Network Theatre is located at 120 E. Huron St, Ann Arbor, MI, 48104.
Boogie Stomp! The Play
Dec. 30-31, 2014
Posted: Dec. 17, 2014 at 8:13 a.m.
ANN ARBOR - After several busy months reopening the theater, the Performance Network team is happy to end the year with a special New Year's Eve engagement of the dueling pianos production "Boogie Stomp! The Play" on Dec. 30 and 31. Premium seats in the first two rows (available only by calling the box office) offer a show CD, a meet-and-greet with the artists and other celebratory fare. Performances are Tuesday, Dec. 30 at 8 p.m., and Wednesday, Dec. 31 at 6 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. with pre-show receptions before each performance.
Two pianos. One stage. 100 years of American piano music. "Boogie Stomp! The Play" tells the largely untold tale of boogie woogie and how it has shaped popular American music, including blues, jazz, swing, stride, rhythm and blues, and rock 'n' roll. This is the story of American performers and audiences past and present and the vibrant music that emerges from their lives. The program stars Bob Baldori and Arthur Migliazza, two of the best performers of American piano music in the world, who inform, entertain, teach, preach, dance, and boogie their way through a performance like no other.
"This is going to be great," said Sara Dean, company manager at the Network. "The last few months have been challenging for sure, but I'm happy to say we are ending the year on a high note. This show has gotten such great reviews, and I don't know anyone who doesn't love dueling pianos. It's going to be a very special event!"
Ticket prices are as follows:
Additionally, fans can get a preview of the play by attending "Boogie Stomp! The Movie" at 11:30 p.m. Dec. 26 and 27 at Goodrich Quality Theaters' Quality 16 on Jackson Rd. in Ann Arbor. The film is a musical documentary telling the story of boogie woogie, its origins, subsequent history and ongoing development while profiling its two greatest living players, Bob Seeley and Bob Baldori.
Seeley spent his formative years playing with Meade Lux Lewis and other Jazz greats. Though playing in obscurity for decades at Charley's Crab in Detroit, he became known to insiders as the best boogie and stride player in the world.
Fellow Detroiter Bob Baldori has a rich rock history, and has played piano and harmonica with Chuck Berry since 1966.
Together, they have teamed up and hit the road to revive America's forgotten music. Compelling story, riveting performances, fascinating interviews, footstompin' concert and dance clips, tour footage from around the world. For tickets go to www.goodrichqualitytheaters.com/michigan/quality16.
For information on tickets and events at the Network or to donate, please go to www.pntheatre.org or call the box office at 734-663-0681.
Performance Network Theatre is located at 120 E. Huron St, Ann Arbor, MI, 48104.
Posted: Dec. 15, 2014 at 4:39 p.m.
WIXOM – Creative Many Michigan (formerly ArtServe Michigan), the statewide economic development organization for the arts, culture and creative and design industries, announced it will relocate its headquarters from Wixom to TechTown Detroit effective Dec. 18. Creative Many's new office space is 1,386 square feet.
"TechTown has been a strategic venue partner for Creative Many's professional practice and Lawyers for the Creative Economy programs, dialogue and networking events serving artists and designers in Detroit. TechTown's entrepreneurial spirit aligns with our interests in cultivating creative talent, successful creative practices and business start-ups, and jobs and business growth in the creative and design industries," said Jennifer Goulet, president and CEO of Creative Many. "Now as a tenant of TechTown, we are excited about the new strategic partnerships and program opportunities that will emerge as a result of working together in an environment that attracts and serves the creative sector."
Creative Many's new corner office, Suite 365, is designed as an open concept studio, with flexible drop-in work spaces for team members and partners, and a central area conducive for brainstorming and ideation. The new flexible workspace aligns with the collaborative, nimble and evolving ways that define how the Creative Many team operates in today's ever-changing environment.
"TechTown Detroit is a dynamic point of convergence for innovation in the city. Creative Many Michigan's focus on cultivating and advancing the creative economy melds with our mission of catalyzing entrepreneurship and economic development in Detroit, and we are thrilled to have them move into our historic facility. The revitalization of our city depends on the innovation and development of all sectors, and Creative Many does incredible work in the creative space," said Leslie Smith, president and CEO of TechTown.
TechTown launched in 1999 under the leadership of Wayne State University then-President Irvin D. Reid, in partnership with General Motors and Henry Ford Health System, to act as a business accelerator and incubator. In 2004, TechTown opened its doors in the 135,000-square-foot, landmark 1927 Albert Kahn building located at 440 Burroughs St., donated by General Motors. The facility was formerly the Chevy Creative Services Building, and the Corvette was designed on the third floor. Today, TechTown serves as a dynamic place where talent, technologies and capital converge.
Creative Many will maintain its Lansing location and plans for a satellite office in Grand Rapids in 2015.
About Creative Many Michigan
Creative Many Michigan, formerly ArtServe Michigan, is a statewide economic development organization focused on the mission to develop creative people, creative places and the creative economy for a competitive Michigan. Creative Many Michigan emphasizes the power of creativity through advocacy/public policy, research/reporting, professional practice programs, strategic communications and networking for the greater good of the arts, culture and creative and design industries. Contact Creative Many Michigan at 248-912-0760 or visit www.CreativeMany.org.
Posted: Dec. 15, 2014 at 8:36 p.m.
GRAND RAPIDS – Those interested in volunteering during Gilda's "LaughFest" can now signup. The 10-day festival of laughter will take place March 5 through March 15, 2015.
Opportunities to help include event promotion, logistics, ushering, selling merchandise, retail, office support and volunteer staffing needs during all "LaughFest" ticketed and non-ticketed events.
New volunteers are expected to attend an orientation meeting, a team training meeting, and the All Volunteer Pre-Festival meeting. Dates for these events will be provided after volunteers are accepted to their respective teams.
To sign up, log on to www.laughfestgr.org.
Entertainers announced for "LaughFest 2015" include George Lopez, Wanda Sykes, Billy Gardell, Patton Oswalt, Bo Burnham, Pete Holmes, Colin Mochrie & Brad Sherwood, Lavell Crawford, and Brian Posehn.
"LaughFest 2015" will include more than 200 free and ticketed shows featuring over 100 artists at more than 40 venues in Grand Rapids, Lowell and Holland during the 10 days of the festival.
Festival ticket packages start at $32 and are available online at www.laughfestgr.org, or by phone at 616-735-HAHA (4242).
Individual tickets are priced from $7 to $70, excluding the Signature Event. These will be available beginning Friday, Jan. 9 at the Van Andel Arena Box Office or at Ticketmaster outlets, or LaughFest Central, when it opens in mid-February, through the closing day of "LaughFest."
Gilda's "LaughFest" was created by a team at Gilda's Club Grand Rapids in 2011. Since inception, "LaughFest" has averaged 55,000 attendees per year. Proceeds from the festival will go to support the free cancer, grief and emotional health programs offered through Gilda's Club Grand Rapids. Visit www.laughfestgr.org or call 616-735-HAHA (4242) to learn more about Gilda's "LaughFest."
Holiday Improv Project
Dec. 23, 2014
Posted: Dec. 14, 2014 at 10:32 a.m.
FERNDALE - In the spirit of the holiday season, improv fans have an opportunity to gather with friends, have a few laughs and help a good cause all at the same time! Tickets for the "Holiday Improv Project" are now on sale. The event will be held at Go Comedy! Improv Theater in Ferndale on Dec. 23 at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds benefit The Detroit Creativity Project, an organization dedicated to giving back to Detroit by helping to preserve arts education in area schools.
"As we continued to hear of many Detroit public schools having been forced to cut back on arts programming due to the stress of the economy and lack of funds in the school districts, we decided we needed to do something to help so we formed The Detroit Creativity Project as a way to give back," said Marc Evan Jackson, co-founder of the DCP.
The DCP was founded in 2011 by a group of Los Angeles-based performers who were concerned about budget cuts for arts education in Detroit schools. The founders all have Detroit roots; many are alumni of The Second City Detroit and Wayne State University. Its mission is to empower and inspire young people through the arts. The flagship program, The Improv Project, is a 10-week course in theatrical improvisation. The program is offered free to Detroit middle and high school students. For the uninitiated, The Detroit Creativity Project describes improvisation as unscripted theater that relies on listening, respect, teamwork and making bold choices.
"The success of the program with the YMCA / Y-Arts has gained momentum for the project and we continue to receive requests from many Detroit school teachers looking to offer improvisational training to their students. With this, the Detroit Creativity Project's goal is to expand enrollment and add 200 new students to the program by the end of 2015," said Jackson. "To accomplish those goals, we are continuing to look for new ways to raise funds. The Holiday Improv Project has become one of our annual fundraising events and we hope to host many future fundraisers," Jackson added.
The "Holiday Improv Project" features performances from:
Tickets ($25) are now on sale and can be purchased online at www.gocomedy.net.
Go Comedy! Improv Theater is located at 261 East Nine Mile Road in Ferndale.
For more information on The Detroit Creativity Project, including information on how to donate, or donor opportunities, visit www.detroitcreativityproject.org.
Posted: Dec. 13, 2014 at 8:37 a.m.
GRAND RAPIDS - Broadway Grand Rapids is proud to announce that the new U.S. national tour of "Annie" will play Jan. 13-18, 2015 at DeVos Performance Hall in Grand Rapids. Directed by original lyricist and director Martin Charnin for the 19th time, this production of "Annie" will be a brand new physical incarnation of the iconic Tony Award-winning original.
A family night performance will be held on Thursday, Jan. 15. Young guests will be treated to activities and crafts in the inner lobby of DeVos Hall prior to the performance. The lobby will open at 6 p.m. and the performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. After the show, guests can enjoy a talk back in the theater with some of the actors.
For the family night performance, special four-pack pricing is available. Get four tickets for $150 in the Mid-Mezzanine (Zone 2) and save 40 percent. In the Rear-Mezzanine or Balcony, four tickets can be purchased for $100 (Zone 3), a savings of 30 percent. A minimum of four tickets must be purchased to receive the discount. This offer is not valid on previously purchased tickets.
Tickets for all performances of "Annie" are still available and can be purchased at www.Broadwaygrandrapids.com, www.Ticketmaster.com, or charge by phone at 1-800-745-3000. Tickets start at $32.50. Groups of 10 or more can also receive a discount by calling 616-235-6285.
Donald V. Calamia, hosting the 2010 Wilde Awards.
Posted: Dec. 11, 2014 at 2:50 p.m.
Time flies when you're having fun. But after recently celebrating 40 years working in or reporting on Michigan's professional theater industry, journalist and editor Donald V. Calamia is stepping down as editorial director of media company EncoreMichigan.com effective Dec. 20.
"As much as I love what I'm doing, health issues over the past two years – some minor, some major – have caused me to make significant lifestyle changes, and working seven days and 50-plus hours a week is no longer possible," Calamia said. "When I looked back over the almost-seven years since we launched Encore and realized that I've had a grand total of only 10 days off in all that time – and seven of them were when I was hospitalized last month with heart issues – something needed to change. And quickly."
Calamia's unexpected departure comes during a time of transition for the online media company. Founded by Calamia and Pride Source Media Group in 2007 and launched in 2008, ownership of EncoreMichigan.com changed in 2012 when the non-profit Michigan Equity Theatre Alliance assumed control. But META's closure effective this past July 1 left the company's future uncertain. "Luckily, a handful of interested community members came together to envision Encore's future, and with Carla Milarch acting as interim executive director, that's what they've done – envisioned a future path for Encore," Calamia said. "And that won't stop as a result of my departure. In fact, I'll still be kibitzing in the background as a consultant to the project."
What also won't change is Calamia's participation elsewhere in and around the industry. "As time and interest permits, I plan to continue as a freelance entertainment reporter, picking up work with media companies and arts organizations across the state," he said. "I'll also be available as a PR or media consultant if anyone is interested in taking advantage of my decades-long experience. And there are other ideas percolating, as well, so the industry isn't rid of me yet!"
Calamia's theater career began with a phone call in the fall of 1974. "If there's anyone to blame for where life took me, it's Kit Hoffman Choinski (now Dittner), who was a student teacher at my high school during my senior year," he recalled. "About a year after graduation, she called and said she and a handful of friends from college were starting a new professional theater company, and she wanted me to audition. To make a very long story short, I was hired in November of that year as both an actor and PR assistant – and eventually its administrative director – and you can probably guess which I was better at!"
The PR and management skills he honed with the now-long-defunct Southfield Repertory Theatre came in handy when he teamed with Theatre Arts Productions in 1978 to create Touring Company '79, and, the following year, co-founded and served as executive director of Crossroads Productions Ltd., a professional non-profit touring educational theater company that earned national recognition throughout its 14 seasons. "And just like today, unexpected circumstances conspired to change my direction, and so with much regret we shut the company down," Calamia said.
Several of the company's original programs lived on, however, placed with the non-profit organizations that had financially or technically supported them. "So for the next seven years or so, I served as a consultant to these organizations, helping them keep these programs running and touring to schools throughout the area."
It was serendipity that brought about Calamia's media career, however. Not once, but twice.
"Back in 1979, a friend was artistic director of a local community theater, and at the last minute a critic from the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers had to cancel out of reviewing their spring show. So the editor told him that if he knew someone who could write a decent review of the show and submit it, and if it passed editorial muster, they'd print it. So he asked me to do it, I did, they printed it, and then the editor hired me that fall as not only a critic, but also a columnist and feature writer," Calamia said.
That lasted for two-and-a-half years, Calamia said, ending when time constraints caused him to focus more on his theater company than his writing. "Back then, there were no home computers and no e-mail. So I had to use a typewriter to type my copy and then drive it from my home in Northwest Detroit to the editorial office in Birmingham. With the theater company growing by leaps and bounds, something had to give – especially when the pay at that time was 50 cents per printed each."
Fast forward 20 years – and a newspaper ad brought to Calamia's attention reignited his journalism career.
"It was in the summer of 2001 when a handful of friends told me about an ad they saw in the weekly newspaper Between The Lines looking for someone to spearhead their expanded theater coverage. ‘They're looking for you,' they said – and so I walked into BTL with my portfolio and resume and walked out with one of the most fun jobs I ever had, one that lasted till this month," Calamia said. "And that led to the creation of The Wilde Awards and EncoreMichigan.com. I'll always be grateful to co-publishers Jan Stevenson and Susan Horowitz for their faith in me and my crazy ideas. Without them and their support, much of the last 14 years of theater coverage in this state would never have happened."
So which of his accomplishments these past 14 years is he most proud? "It's tough to choose between two, so I won't," Calamia replied. "The Wilde Awards, which now brings together theater professionals from all across the state to celebrate their industry, and which has become nationally recognized; and EncoreMichigan.com, which fills the gap that was created when mainstream media stopped or considerably decreased their coverage of professional theater across the state."
And what's his main regret? "That because of time constraints, no marketing budget, and no staff, that I was never able to grow EncoreMichigan.com to where I know it COULD be. While traffic continues to grow and new readers continue to sign up every day for our twice-weekly newsletter, Encore still is unknown to many or most theatergoers, and it's not become the ‘must go to' site for theatergoers that it's envisioned to be.
"That's where the visionaries come into play: It's their turn to take this wonderful idea, feed it, and then manage its growth. And as its proud daddy, I hope they succeed beyond my wildest dreams," Calamia said.
That's precisely what Milarch and the visionaries intend to do. "In September, a team of theater leaders from around the state came together to envision the future of Encore Michigan. We've been working diligently since then, and together we have come up with a plan to move Encore forward," Milarch said. "It is a multi-faceted approach involving membership categories for theaters, individual artists and readers that will keep our critics on the road and maintain our commitment to covering ALL of the professional theaters in Michigan, whether they are members of Encore or not. A roll out is being planned for early January, so stay tuned for more details on our exciting future, and how YOU can be a part of it."
But that's not all. "Rumors are afoot about a going away party, as well as an end-of-the-year tribute gift to help support the transition. Keep your eyes peeled for those announcements, as well," she teased.
With one week to go before his retirement, Calamia said that theater executives and PR managers can expect a handful of e-mails from him regarding the future of EncoreMichigan.com, particularly whom to contact regarding reviews, press releases or other related matters. And future posts on the site will update readers as to what they can expect over the next few weeks, as well.
And after that? "Well, The 2015 Wilde Awards are still on the calendar, and I'll be back for that with a few surprises that have been in the works for a few months now. Otherwise, I'll see where the universe takes me," Calamia laughed. "But what I'll miss most are my regular interactions with the people who have created one of the most vibrant theater communities anywhere in the country. The talent here is second to none, and despite the occasional dust-ups and disagreements, no one works harder to make great theater than the professionals who live and work here in Michigan. I'm proud to have been one of them, and prouder to have helped spread the word about all the excellent work they do."
THERE'S MORE: CLICK HERE for the final episode of our podcast series, Encore LIVE!, titled "The End of an Era," which features Barton Bund and Calamia discussing his retirement and their opinions on the future of professional theater in the state.
Posted: Dec. 11, 2014 at 8:30 a.m.
Our popular podcast series concludes on a bittersweet note, as co-hosts Barton Bund and Donald V. Calamia discuss Calamia's pending retirement from full-time duties as editorial director of EncoreMichigan.com. Among the other topics discussed in this extra-length episode are their views on the current state of professional theater in Michigan, what they foresee as the future of theater in the state, their personal plans for the future, and what will happen to EncoreMichigan.com and The Wilde Awards after Calamia's departure Dec. 20.
Encore LIVE! - it's like radio, but over the internet! A production of EncoreMichigan.com. Produced for EncoreMichigan.com by Barton Bund and Tony Caselli. Theme music by the World Famous Love Machine.
Interested in commenting on this podcast? CLICK HERE to join the conversation on our Facebook page!
The sequel to last summer's "Alone Together" will be part of Tibbits Summer Theatre's 2015 season.
Posted: Dec. 11, 2014 at 7:50 a.m.
COLDWATER – Tibbits Summer Theatre will take flight next summer, literally, with an exciting season highlighted by the musical "Peter Pan," which will feature the boy who won't grow up flying across the stage.
The 2015 season will open with the Neil Simon comedy "The Odd Couple," and then "Peter Pan." It will continue with another big dance musical to be announced on Feb. 2, and the season will close with "Alone Together Again," a comedy that takes another look at the challenges of the population known as the sandwich generation.
According to Charles Burr, Tibbits artistic director for Summer Theatre, "It's another nice mix of shows. The two musicals complement each other well. 'Peter Pan' will certainly be a show the whole family can enjoy. The other show which we can't announce yet will still be in the vein of the big dance musicals audiences have loved the last few years."
Burr adds, "The opening and closing shows are both situational comedies, one from the '60s and the other written in the last few years, both very relatable and both a lot of fun."
According to Burr, many people know 'The Odd Couple' with Oscar the slob and Felix the clean freak trying to share an apartment. He says, "The closing show follows the play we did last summer about the kids moving back home. 'Alone Together Again' is about the couple, still hoping to become empty nesters, who now have their parents move in."
Tibbits professional summer stock season has been entertaining local audiences and bringing people to Coldwater from across the United States and Canada since 1964. In those 52 years, Tibbits has developed an outstanding reputation for quality theater. Last summer, it received 11 nominations for The Wilde Awards, Michigan's theater awards. In 2005, USA Today named Tibbits one of "10 great places to see the lights way off Broadway."
Summer Theatre tickets are available now as gift certificates. They can be purchased for the full season, for individual shows, as passbooks of six tickets or in any denomination. Actual renewal for season ticket holders will begin in January.
Gift certificates are available at Tibbits administrative offices at 93 W. Chicago Street, on line at www.Tibbits.org, or by calling 517-278-6029.
All performances are held at the beautiful historic Tibbits Opera House, 14 S. Hanchett Street, Coldwater. For more information, go to www.Tibbits.org.
Posted: Dec. 10, 2014 at 8:55 a.m.
SOUTHGATE - After opening weekend's overwhelming response from audience and critics alike, Open Book Theatre Company is pleased to announce the addition of one performance of "Red" on Monday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. With a running time of only 1 hour and 40 minutes, Monday's audience can see a great show and still make it home at a decent time to get a good night's sleep before work or school the next morning.
With the extension, there are now four more chances to see the show that John Quinn of Encore Michigan praised, saying "It's dramatic, it's kinetic – it's art!" Audiences are raving, too. One audience member wrote "Incredible! Loved it! [The] acting [is] superb" and more than one person commented that it inspired them to go home and create something.
Artistic director Krista Schafer Ewbank said, "We are so proud of this show, and we want to be able to share it with as many people as possible. Unfortunately, due to other commitments, this Monday performance is the only one we can add. I hope that people will make the time to come and see this extraordinary play."
"Red" is the second production in Open Book's inaugural season. The show stars Dennis Kleinsmith as Rothko and Richard Payton as Ken, and is directed by Topher Alan Payne with lights by Harley Miah and movement by Kat Walsh. Brandy Joe Plambeck provided the sound design.
Playwright John Logan is a celebrated playwright, screenwriter and producer. In addition to "Red"'s Tony Award for Best Play (2010), Logan has been nominated by the Academy Awards, Primetime Emmy Awards, Writer's Guild of America Awards and more.
Two Rothko-inspired paintings are being auctioned off during the run of "Red." Donated through River's Edge Gallery in Wyandotte and painted by local artists Tony Miello and Jeremy Hansen, all proceeds will go to benefit Open Book Theatre Company.
Performances of "Red," appearing Dec. 5-15 at Penelope's Venue, located at 12219 Dix Toledo Road, Southgate, are as follows:
Tickets are $20, $15 for students and seniors. For tickets and more information visit www.openbooktc.com or call 734-288-7753.
THERE'S MORE: CLICK HERE to read John Quinn's review of "Red!"
Former theater critic for The Oakland Press and The Detroit News, Kenneth Jones
Posted: Dec. 8, 2014 at 4:29 p.m.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Longtime and much-respected theater critic for The Detroit News and The Oakland Press Kenneth Jones has much to celebrate this coming New Year: His "Alabama Story," the fact-inspired tale of a fierce librarian who comes to the defense of a challenged book by a beloved American illustrator, will have its world premiere this January in the 900-seat Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Pioneer Theatre Company artistic Karen Azenberg will direct the production, to run Jan. 9-24, 2015. Rehearsals begin Dec. 15. Seth Andrew Bridges, Stephen D'Ambrose, Samuel Ray Gates, Greta Lambert, Kate Middleton and William Parry will populate this so-called "Deep South of the Imagination" that was a finalist in the 2014 National Playwrights Conference of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Festival.
Azenberg previously directed developmental readings of "Alabama Story" at Alabama Shakespeare Festival, in PTC's inaugural Play-By-Play New Play Reading Series and in the NewTACTics series by off-Broadway's TACT/The Actors Company Theatre.
Lambert, a veteran of Alabama Shakespeare Festival since 1986 and a native of Birmingham, Alabama, will play embattled Alabama state librarian Emily Reed (who happened to not be a native Alabamian). Reed seeks to protect books that are threatened by local critics, including bullish segregationist state senator E.W. Higgins (played by Broadway's William Parry) in 1959 Montgomery.
The politician's primary literary target is Garth Williams' 1958 children's picture book, "The Rabbits' Wedding," about the marriage between a fuzzy black rabbit and a cuddly white rabbit. It was viewed by some Southerners as pro-integration propaganda, a brainwashing tactic to steer children toward the commingling of races. (Williams is best known for his artwork for "Little House on the Prairie," "Stuart Little" and "Charlotte's Web.")
"Alabama Story" puts isolated librarian Emily Reed - and the very idea of the freedom to read - in the spotlight as she faces challenges from the people who fund her job. The highly theatrical play leaps from pages of history, exploring the controversy that earned Reed international headlines (and a later citation from the Freedom to Read Foundation) when she squared off against a state senator in defense of the innocuous book by Williams (played by Stephen D'Ambrose).
The political intrigue is crosscut with the story of two former childhood friends - African-American Joshua Moore (played by Samuel Ray Gates) and white Lily Whitfield (played by Kate Middleton) - who are reunited in adulthood that same year in Montgomery, sharing memories of their tangled small-town Alabama roots.
Here's how PTC bills the play: "A gentle children's book with an apparent hidden message stirs the passions of a segregationist senator and a no-nonsense state librarian in 1959 Montgomery, just as the Civil Rights movement is flowering. Inspired by true events, "Alabama Story" puts political foes, star-crossed childhood friends, and one feisty children's author on the same page to conjure a Deep South of the Imagination. The love letter to reading coincides with the 50th anniversaries of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act."
The "Alabama Story" production team includes scenic designer James Noone, lighting designer Phillip Monat, costume designer Brenda L. Van der Wiel, sound designer Joshua C. Hight and stage manager JP Pollard. Gregory J. Hatch is the dramaturg.
CLICK HERE for ticket information.
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