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Community theater growing locally
Posted by Laurie Humphrey | The Livingston Community News April 10, 2009 | Categories: Features, Top Photos
The Livingston Community News
If the mention of community theater conjures up images of a group of people casually getting together for a couple practices before opening up a performance from a half-decorated stage quickly set up behind a floral bed sheet ... your image is a little out of date.
Community theater, with at least five established groups operating in Livingston County, "has grown into a nice, tight, well-oiled machine," says Kris Lovill, president of The Pinckney Players.
Collectively those five groups report a membership of some 3,000 people, most from Livingston County, but also coming from Oakland and Washtenaw counties. The five groups are:
• The Livingston Players.
• The Pinckney Players, which includes their Jr. Pinckney Players.
• The Phoenix Players and (junior) Phire Phlies.
• The Hartland Players, made up of the adult Main Stage theater group and Encore Youth Theatre.
• The Community Theatre of Howell.
"There is nothing like live theater," says Deborah Whitson, secretary of The Hartland Players. In an effort to explain why community theater has boomed in popularity over the years, she said "people can spend $8 for a ticket at the movie theater now, and you don't get the same response as live theater. You can't beat that theater magic."
While ticket prices for the area's community theater groups vary, most seats cost around $12. Admission includes not only live entertainment but, in most cases, a high-tech show of light and sound.
"The quality (of community theater) has really improved (over the years.) We are much more polished now," says Linda Peasley, treasurer of Community Theatre of Howell, which began in 1987.
There is the added benefit of knowing the cast, according to Anne Levy, president of The Phoenix Players, the newest group to join the Livingston County community theater scene in 2004.
"Audience members will get to see people that they know, and that's exciting," she says. Instead of recognizing only a name at the larger stage venues, the people on local stages tend to be the people you would "run into at the grocery store."
Doug Knowlton, president of The Livingston Players, the county's oldest theater group, based in Brighton since 1962, offers one more reason why local theater groups do well: "It's an affordable evening out with friends and you don't have to travel to Detroit or the Wharton Center" on the Michigan State University campus.
Theater groups offer variety in their productions from mainly adult performers, to youth theater, musicals, comedy or drama. Several of the local groups have even started to offer dinner theater. For The Livingston Players, it seemed a natural progression since the group has performed mainly at Crystal Gardens Banquet Center in Genoa Township since losing its stage at Brighton's downtown Mill Pond in the mid-1990s. "We are currently looking for a building in which to create a theater and call home," says Knowlton.
Production budgets can vary just as much the production themselves. Musicals, the most costly types can easily exceed $20,000 for royalty rights, costumes and orchestra fees. More modest productions can have homemade costumes and no set. The Livingston Players last production only cost the group $600. But without a home theater, the group is limited in scope of productions compared to their neighbors.
"We have a fairly significant bank account," says Lovill, who suggested most of the theater groups in the county were similarly situated. None of the groups claimed to be money-making operations, however. "Some shows are in the red, some are in the black, but pretty much, we break even," said Lovill.
Peasley says the same applies to the Howell group. "Annually, we bring in $100,000 in revenue, and we pay $100,000 in bills." Money that is "extra" is reinvested in the auditorium at Howell High School's Freshman Campus, where the theater group performed for more than 12 years. The group has upgraded the electrical service, improved the stage floor and is in the process of replacing seats.
"We are making an investment into that facility," she says.
Each of the local community theater groups is run by its own board of directors, which has regular meetings. They have bylaws, prepare financial statements and have to file end-of-the year tax statements.
"I would definitely liken community theater to a business," says Levy. "We have our income and our outgo, and people have to be managed."
While financials are a necessary part of the business, the people involved prefer to focus on the community aspect of the theater groups.
"We are acting for the fun of it," says Lovill, whose group regularly puts new people in stage roles. "We give everyone a shot."
For some people, community theater has been a springboard to bigger roles.
"We feel community theater helps people become leaders in their schools, and some of our (people) have gone on to college in pursuit of theater majors and found jobs in the industry," says Whitson, whose group began in 1966.
According to Knowlton, participants of The Livingston Players continue to play a role in shaping the art scene, locally and afar.
"In the cast of 'Til Death Do Us Part' were a former off-Broadway child actor and a former dancer who appeared in Hollywood films and on television," he says.
Laurie Humphrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 810-844-2003.
Community theater groups in Livingston County
Community Theatre of Howell
· Membership: About 800.
· Where members come from: Most from Livingston County (Howell, Brighton, Hartland, Pinckney, Fowlerville) and Webberville.
· When group started: 1985.
· Where perform: Howell High School Freshman Campus Auditorium, 1400 W. Grand River Ave., Howell.
· Upcoming performances: "Escanaba in da Moonlight": Friday-Sunday, Feb. 1-10. Friday and Saturday show times, 8 p.m.; Sunday show times, 2 p.m. "Cabaret": Friday-Sunday, May 9-18. Friday and Saturday show times, 8 p.m.; Sunday show times, 2 p.m. "Mulan Jr.": Spring performance. Dates and times to be determined.
· • Tickets: Musicals are $18 for adults, $16 for students or seniors; non-musicals are $15 for adults, $13 for students or seniors. Advance sale prices are discounted $2. Youth shows are $10.
· • Web site: www.cththeatre.org
The Hartland Players
· Membership: 85 (includes adult Main Stage group and Encore Youth Theatre).
· Where members come from: Most from Livingston County (Hartland, Brighton, Howell) Fenton, Highland, White Lake and Milford.
· When group started: 1966.
· Where perform: Hartland Music Hall, 3619 Hartland Road, (Encore also performs at the Performing Arts Center in the old Hartland High School.)
· Upcoming performances: "I Hate Hamlet": Friday-Sunday, Feb. 15-24. Friday and Saturday show times, 8 p.m.; Sunday show times, 2 p.m. "Willy Wonka Jr.": Saturday, March 15, at 7:30 p.m. "Oliver": Friday-Sunday, May 3-10. Friday and Saturday show times, 8 p.m.; Sunday show time, 3 p.m.
· Tickets: Main Stage musicals are $14 for adults, $12 for students and seniors; Main Stage non-musicals are $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors. Youth shows are $5.
· Web site: www.hartlandplayers.org
Phoenix Players, Phire Phlies
· Membership: 70.
· Where members come from: Most from Livingston County (Brighton, Howell, South Lyon) and Ann Arbor.
· When group started: 2004.
· Where perform: South Lyon Theater, 126 E. Lake St., South Lyon.
· Upcoming performances: "Waking Beauty" (Youth Ensemble): Friday-Sunday, Feb. 29-March 9. Friday show times, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday show times, 7 p.m.; Sunday show times, 2 p.m. "Proposals": Friday-Sunday, April 25-May 4. Friday show times, 8 p.m.; Saturday show times, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday show times, 2 p.m.
· Tickets: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for children.
· Web site: www.thephoenixplayers.org
· Membership: 50.
· Where members come from: Most from Livingston County (Brighton, Howell, Pinckney) and New Hudson.
· When group started: 1962.
· Where perform: Crystal Gardens Banquet Center, 5768 E. Grand River Ave., Genoa Township.
· Upcoming performances: "Amy's Wish": Friday-Saturday, March 14-15, at 7:30 p.m. "'Til Death Do Us Part" (dinner theater production): Friday, April 11, 7:30 p.m.
· Tickets: $20; $38 for dinner theater.
· Web site: www.livingstonplayers.org
Pinckney Players, Jr Players
· Membership: Mailing list of about 2,000.
· Where members come from: Most from Livingston County (Pinckney, Brighton, Howell, South Lyon) Ann Arbor and Whitmore Lake.
· When group started: 1991.
· Where perform: Jane Tasch Performing Arts Theatre, M-36, Pinckney.
· Upcoming performances: "Orphan Train": Friday-Sunday, April 5-13. Friday and Saturday show times, 7:30 p.m.; Sunday show times, 2 p.m.
· Tickets: $13 for adults, $11 for students or seniors.
· Web site: www.pinckneyplayers.com