You want tourism in Detroit? Then, friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your eyes.
“Shakespeare in Detroit,” a creative venture that founder Samantha White is championing through a Kickstarter campaign, needs your hard-won wages. Her intention is to produce three Shakespearean plays in 2014, but she needs your money to make it happen. Consider it your Christmas gift to the soul of the city.
Because, truly, is there anything more emotionally lifting than a live performance of the world’s greatest works of art? Sure, Shakespeare may be difficult to read, lying there all flat on the page. But when it is spoken aloud, there is something transformative about it – the seemingly incomprehensible language now flows, the poetry reveals itself and the imagery (both the romantic and the ribald) shines through.
“Technology changes, the world changes, but who we are at the core remains the same,” said White, and that is why William Shakespeare’s literary gift remains a true north to most people.
Now, one can only imagine the incredulous looks that a person might receive at the very notion of producing Shakespeare in our broken, bankrupt city. Is this the time to think about sonnets and such when lenders and bond holders ponder selling the very art that distinguishes our city from the rest of the planet?
Ah, that indeed is what makes White’s decision to put a bit of English culture within the city limits so profound and powerful. That is because makes all the sense in the world to turn some of Detroit’s best landmarks – Recycle Here!, Grand Circus Park and Belle Isle – into our best stages. It makes sense to celebrate beauty where there is struggle. And it makes sense to dissect the stories Shakespeare told so long ago and find new ways to appreciate the universal themes of despair, disgust, devotion and diligence despite the odds.
Back to the tourism thing. There is a city a few hours away in Canada called Stratford. Let’s make the Detroit comparisons. Is it near water? Check. Is it full of people who support the arts? Check. But the key difference between us and them is that every spring, summer and fall, Stratford is overrun with people filling up its quaint retail shops, taking every available B&B and hotel room and filling the restaurants and bars. We have that in a limited fashion. Shakespeare truly could be a bridge to fulfilling our potential and our beds/seats/what have you.
“The first thing I tell people is that if you’re rooting for tourism in Detroit, Shakespeare is great bait – it has a worldwide audience,” said White, who first discovered the Bard at age eight and has been smitten ever since. The native Detroiter (and journalism major from Wayne State University) decided to jump in on Detroit theater in 2012 when she launched Shakespeare in Detroit.
White will admit she’s not feeling terribly optimistic right now. Yes, she produced a hugely successful version of “Othello” last summer, bringing nearly 500 people to the city to hear that story. Yes, the audience was filled with Detroiters and suburbanites, all leaning in together to hear what this story of a man feeling disenfranchised because of his Venetian past had to say.
But one success is not enough. White anticipates she need $20,000 total to make her dream of “Shakespeare in Detroit” a reality for the 2014 season. Most of the money will go toward staging a traditional production of “The Tempest,” but she needs funding all along to make each of her shows is something special. And so that her first performances — “Antony and Cleopatra” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – will be free to the public.
The Recycle Here! show of “Antony and Cleopatra,” which is scheduled for March, promises to be one of the most exciting combinations of location and material. White plans on using the materials found at the recycling center for props and within the costumes, and I have a feeling that Matthew Naimi will have something amazing up his sleeve to ensure it is a memorable show. (Fire-breathing dragon, maybe?)
White is excited as well, adding that she hopes it will be “experimental and funky and creative. It’s more of performance art instead of a theater,” she said. “I’m calling it sustainable Shakespeare.”
If funded – and she needs nearly $14,000 to make it happen in the next week or so – then White’s troupe of local actors, set designers and costume makers will bring the Bard’s works to life. Her prize offerings for donations are just as inspiring and creating – for example, a gift of $200 or more, you will have a small speaking part in “The Tempest.” You could blow that much money on a tablet for your nephew or niece. But, trust me, they’ll have broken the screen in a few months. That speaking role on stage? That’s an experience that will last way past their clumsy stage.
White hopes that people will see the value in what she’s doing; her home office at Tech Town certainly does. The partnerships she has with Belle Isle, Recycle Here! and Grand Circus speak to the relationships her organization will build around Detroit. Now, she just needs the backers to make all of this a reality for another year. (Ultimately, White wants a permanent spot in the city, a goal I will certainly support again!)
This grassroots theater needs our help. Even if you don’t have the money (which you know you have some…skip the darn latte), then you can offer your brute strength to carry stuff. Or paint stuff. Or make stuff.
“There’s something for everybody to do. There are roles for anyone that’s willing to help,” White said. “The more hands on deck the better.”