Live theater, unsolicited commentary. From Detroit to Lansing.


If nothing else, the Blackbird Theatre's season was a true test of its mettle. From producing a strong first half to suddenly announcing a swift change in venue to postponing its spring plays until next season, its journey has been a roller coaster ride that hasn't entirely subsided. However, the Blackbird battled setbacks with a daring original musical, followed by a long-awaited announcement about the organization's future. Yet the turbulent and dramatic real-life events of this season should not overshadow the many artistic accomplishments of this outspoken and experimental theater.

The season began with a psychedelic-goofball take on A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Artistic Director Barton Bund. The success of using a cast of five to play the many roles is largely attributable to Monika Essen's costume design and its varied themes, working in concert with the actors' versatility. Scenes varied from the earth-shattering young lovers' quarrels to the mystic faeries' realm to the deliberately bad pacing of the inept players; the plot lines held together through seamless execution and the plentiful humor in each. A two-man show followed, featuring Bund and frequent collaborator Will Myers in character as famous writers reciting their Christmas stories, for the original production If Only In My Dreams. While Bund bookended the production with somber tones and richly echoing language, Myers stood out with his juicy pairing of the meticulously idiosyncratic Truman Capote and the petulant, French Canadian–accented Roch Carrier. Much more than a series of recitations, the performances and staging (under Michael Williams's direction) made this humbly accented piece a play in its own right. It would also be the last production at the Children's Creative Center space that was home to the theater for years.

In late 2009 came the abrupt announcement that the Blackbird would be moving from its residential surroundings to a new space in downtown Ann Arbor, taking a scant few months off and resuming its season in February. Instead, what followed were weeks of harrowing silence, as behind the scenes, deals fell through and promising spaces proved too expensive to rehab. However, intent on finishing the season strong, the theater partnered with the SH\'aut\ Gallery and Cabaret and announced a weekend of staged readings and a revolutionary musical.

First was The Blackbird Theatre's RAW Weekend, with full-length scripts by local playwrights Bund, Margaret Edwartowski, and Kim Carney read on each of its three nights, the only settings some folding chairs and card tables. Each evening's reading was followed by a talkback including the playwright and cast, the close SH\'aut\ space contributing to an informal, workshop-like feel that encouraged discussion. Incredibly, the same stage that sometimes appeared crowded with just four actors holding scripts heroically accommodated the twelve anti-establishment guerrillas of Patty Hearst: The New Musical. At the center of a strong ensemble cast, Jamie Weeder owned the title role with innocent enthusiasm and awakening — if misguided — passion, as the kidnapped Patty was confined, then indoctrinated to the cause, then initiated into an underground militia and hunted as a criminal. Director Bund's staging and Brian Carbine's choreography employed a mind-warping anything-goes approach, continuing to shock and intrigue for nearly three hours. The production also changed venues in the middle of its run, drastically restaging the production in days to fit the much-larger Boll Family YMCA space in downtown Detroit.

The physical improbability of an epic like Patty Hearst lent the SH\'aut\ Gallery a sense of infinite possibility, and the theater's leadership felt it too: hence, the recent announcement that the Blackbird has made the SH\'aut\ its new permanent home. With yet another space for which theatrical performance was not the primary intention, the organization is likely to follow through on its history of marrying risk to innovation: not only presenting unexpected productions, but executing them in surprising ways.


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