Thunder Bay Theatre’s summer season opens June 20, 2018– and twenty-eight theater professionals from around the country have arrived in Downtown Alpena to begin rehearsing and assembling TBT’s summer season of shows.
On the playbill for Summer 2018 includes: Joe DiPietro’s All Shook Up, the 1960’s-set Hairspray, and Irving Berlin’s Annie Get Your Gun.
Jeffrey and Paige Mindock, originally from Allentown, PA and Springfield, MO, are entering their fifth summer season at Thunder Bay Theatre as artistic production staff, and Molly Stricker, a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, is entering her second summer as Managing Director.
Over the past five summers, TBT staff has worked on how to best line-up summer shows, both in scheduling and selection. Jeffrey Mindock, Producing Artistic Director, says that the theater has worked hard to be at the point it is today– where it has the resources to do three Broadway musicals and support a 28-person core company for the summer.
The season opens with All Shook Up, which runs June 20 through July 8. Featuring the music of Elvis Presley and the plot of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, All Shook Up tells the story of a sleepy, conservative community in the 1950’s after a hip-swiveling, guitar-swinging roustabout comes to town. The high-energy musical has elements of love triangles and mistaken identity, as the main female character, yearning for love and adventure, dresses up as a man in an attempt to woo the love interest.
The season then follows with the 1960’s-set Hairspray, which will be performed for one weekend only “in concert”– meaning while the play, music, dance, and cast will be presented in full, a minimal approach will be taken towards the set, costumes, and props. The season will close with the iconic Annie Get Your Gun, which runs July 25 through August 12.
According to Mindock, the choice of plays each summer is more than just logistical. “What we [the theater] are really excited about this summer is that all three plays explore and discuss issues of segregation and race, which is more prevalent today than any of us want it to be. There’s a lot of racial tones– in the right way– for our summer season.”
In All Shook Up, the small, sleepy community divided by race comes together not just through music, but through the ideals of the movement that Elvis embodies. “Think of a small, conservative town like Bomont in Footloose,” explains Mindock, “and the introduction of an Elvis-like roustabout who shakes the entire community up with music, love, and liberation.” TBT’s production will explore “how the music of Elvis Presley, and the values and morals that are brought on by seeking, wanting, and finding love brings people together, rather than pushing them apart.”
Hairspray is similarly set in a community segregated across racial lines in 1960’s America. The first thirty minutes of the show is dominated by a primarily white ensemble– and then, the production is shook up by the arrival of an African American, who is forbidden from being welcomed to entertainment show, Corny Collins Show. The rest of the musical follows the protagonists’ fight for equal representation on the show and the push for the desegregation of the community. According to Mindock, it is one of the few musicals or plays that works hard to blend races together on stage and in the plot.
And while Annie Get Your Gun may not seem to be a choice that seems to explicitly grapple with questions of race, the musical, which takes place in a period when America as a nation is coming to fruition, has sparked conversation about how race and gender are portrayed on the stage and on the screen.
TBT will also be welcoming its most diverse set of core company members yet. Almost half of their twenty-eight core company members are people of color, with members coming from universities from all around the country, including University of Michigan-Flint, Indiana, Alabama, Tennessee, and Oklahama. Only two sets of staff are from the same university.
“Thunder Bay Theatre is becoming a national organization,” comments Mindock, “being respected for bringing people from all over the country and putting Alpena on the map through the family, friends, and professors of the staff that come here.”
For Thunder Bay Theatre, it is crucial to engage the community and highlight these actors, characters, and stories that otherwise may not be heard or explored here, especially with a younger audience
“The fact that we do what we do, in a small town like Alpena, is something special that we need to take pride in as a community,” says Mindock.
In the last twenty-four hours alone, three theaters across the country have announced their decision to close their doors for good. Mindock always reminds patrons to not take Alpena’s two theaters for granted. The arts, and theater specifically, can be a fragile industry that take a lot of resources, talent, and passion to make it happen– but they provide an irreplaceable service to the community in their ability to educate, engage, and entertain. And especially in a community like Alpena, that role is invaluable.
Thunder Bay Theatre is a year-round, non-profit professional theater located at 400 N. Second Street whose mission it is to provide high-quality products and educational opportunities, utilizing a professional core company augmented with community talent. TBT would like to thank the following season sponsors: As You Wish Gourmet Eatery, True North Radio Network, and Dork Brothers Racing Team, as well as Michigan Council for Arts and Humanities and the National Endowments of the Arts for support.
Blog Downtown Alpena is written by Anne Gentry, Executive Director of the Alpena DDA.