Like any good group of performers, the Park Players in Rosedale Park draws you in. The difference lies in the strength of their siren call and the fact that the community continues to be inviting and active after their plays close. The theater itself is used for a broad base of community-minded activities: Girl Scout troops, exercise classes, Monday night hustle dance classes, block club meet ups and neighborhood safety meetings with the police department all convene here. Two of the Park Player members have literally picked up and moved to be closer to the theater.
“We moved here because my husband wanted to join the Park Players,” says Marcia Closson, one of the longest-standing members. “At the time you had to live in North Rosedale in order to do so. I’ve been here since 1976. It’s been a wonderful place to live. North Rosedale is a very tight community.”
Rebecca Carter agrees. “I had a coworker who was in the theater here, and I just loved the community,” she recalls. “I could see that people really knew each other and that was exactly what I was looking for. Actually, when I started coming I was living in Ann Arbor. But the theater was one of the instrumental reasons why I moved to Detroit.”
She admires the authenticity that surrounds the group. “Nobody came in and tried to make it ‘oh look, this is the new Detroit!’ This has been consistently used as a community center all this time for this community,” Carter says. “People don’trealize that there are still viable communities here like Rosedale Park.”Rosed
It’s this tight-knit group of people that make the plays so dynamic to watch. So while the Park Players might be Detroit’s oldest running community theater, members will tell you that when they choose their plays they focus on issues that impact the community today.
“The theater that I like best is theater that has a deep message,” says director Sarah Hedeen. “This community is so racially diverse and that’s unusual for this area. It really stirs people when you talk about race and issues like economics and environment.”
This spring, the Park Players are tackling Urinetown, a comedy-musical set in dystopian future with scarce water where an overbearing corporation takes control of all toilet-related services. One actress brandishes a toilet plunger like a scepter. Eventually the citizens of Urinetown get so fed up they organize an uprising. Add in some love scenes, fight scenes, and dancing and you’ve got an entertaining, lively and thought provoking night of theater.
As one might guess from the name (and implied props), the play has its slapstick moments. But it also has a serious message.
“We are not good stewards of our water or of our other resources in this country,” Hedeen says. “There is a lot of grafting going on in government, and there’s always that theme of rich vs. poor.” Hedeen wanted to direct this play for years, but no one would take it on because of the name. It ended up working in her favor. With the surge of news concerning corporate greed and the Occupy Movement, the play is almost more relevant now than when it came out several years ago.
But even if your own personal politics aren’t left-leaning, Hedeen is quick to point out that it’s just plain good theater. “I think it’s witty,” Hedeen remarks. “I think it’s very satirical and it has a lot of commentary on other musicals… so it’s especially attractive to people who love musical theater.”
The casting for the plays keeps them fresh and interesting. “We cast non-racial and non-gender specific,” Closson explains. “There are some roles where it’s essential, but then in this play, for instance, there was a gang of thug boys and we turned them into girls.”
“We’ve evolved over time to become very reflective of the city itself,” Carter posits. The diversity of the park players is astounding. By race, age, and backgrounds, the community is ever-growing, even as population decline is a concern for the city itself. In the past they’ve worked with Detroit Public School theater groups, bringing teenage and seasoned actors together to work side by side… and with some neighborhood kids more or less growing up in the theater, they aspire to cross-generational collaborations in the future too. “They take such pride in their diversity here,” Carter continues. “When so many people have left for the suburbs, people stay here because they love this quality in the neighborhood. They love the community house. It’s a real center for things.”
Urinetown debuts on March 16th and will run through the 31st. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit their website or call their box office at 313.835.1103.