Park Players is more than just a community theater. It is equal parts welcoming committee, community activity hub and social justice organization. Add a scoop of professional strength focus on delivering good theater and you have the ingredients for a hallmark of life in North Rosedale Park on Detroit’s Northwest side.
Several of the members had their first introduction to this enclave of Detroit because they attended a Park Players production. Others have found friends who helped them grieve the loss of a loved one because of Park Players. Some have used it as a way to bond with their kids and grandkids while sharing a stage with them. Don’t let this focus on community fool you. These people are serious about their theater.
Just ask longtime member Roger Loeb.
“For such a small group, we put on incredible productions. We always expect to put on the best show we’re capable of,” said Loeb.
To make sure the shows are as professional as possible, they hire a director for each production. While the rest of the cast and crew is all volunteer, they all have a passion for giving their community a quality show … a show that casts the best person for a part, regardless of race, gender or age whenever possible.
They call it blind casting and it has been used to help create a welcoming environment for would-be actors like Montellis Whitt, who finally accepted Loeb’s invitation to see what Park Players was all about.
“When I finally came, (Park Players) didn’t feel black or white. I looked around and felt very comfortable,” remarked Whitt, who is now the technical director and a board member for the organization.
That’s what makes their choice of Hairspray as this year’s spring musical such an interesting choice. The musical tells the story of a teenage girl who tries integrating a 1960s dance show. There is a black dance show and a white dance show, so to accurately tell the story the players amended their strategy to fit the story.
“We do plays that are important plays,” noted longstanding member Marcia Closson. “This is a fun show with good music and it has a good message.”
The vice president of Park Players’ board took that sentiment a bit further. “This show is representative of what the group is about,” said George Evalt.
Everyone I talked to had similar sentiments about the importance of producing Hairspray and about their commitment to doing community theater in North Rosedale Park. Witt sums it up. “It’s a gem,” he said. “This gives the community people a place to come participate or to see the show at a reasonable price.”
Park Players presents Hairspray from March 18 through April 2. For tickets or show information, call 313-835-1103.