Most people, when they think of the Lansing theatre scene, mention the Boarshead Theatre, Williamston Theatre and the Lansing Civic Players. Presenting shows like The Glass Menagerie and Fiddler on the Roof, these crowd pleasing subscription house theatres enjoy a place of popularity and repute within the Lansing theatre community.
But what about the other theatres in Lansing? What about Icarus Falling and Peppermint Creek? Capital Theatre Works and Sunsets with Shakespeare? These Lansing community theatres, while they many not have the same prestige as some of the city’s bigger theatres, are hidden gems within Lansing’s entertainment scene. I recently sat down to talk to the actors, the directors and the theatre owners of some of Lansing’s more obscure play houses to find out just what’s up with Lansing’s underground theatre scene.
Left of Center: Peppermint Creek Theatre
Peppermint Creek is perhaps one of the newest theatres in Lansing. Founded in 1995 by Chad Badgero, the company is beginning to make a name for itself as a “fresh, and vital performing arts group” that takes chances and believes in the power of theatre.
Lela Ivey, a Guest Lecturer in Theatre at Michigan State University and a past director for Peppermint Creek, describes the company’s past seasons as “left of center; alternative,” meaning non-mainstream shows. “But I don’t think [Chad] deliberately goes out and looks for stuff that is alternative or dark or whatever. He looks for pieces that he connects to and that he’s not straitjacketed in to having to please somebody,” Ivey said.
According to Ivey, it is Peppermint Creeks left of center thought provoking productions that set the theatre apart. “You know what the problem is when you get a Williamston and a Boarshead, is there all subscription houses and they have to please their audience. So if they start you know trippin’ over to the dark side there going to have a lot of unhappy subscribers and board members in Boarshead’s case. So they are in a straitjacket a little bit, you know, in that they have to please their audience, whereas Chad doesn’t have that. It makes you [wonder], is a theatre’s responsibility to keep their audience happy and feeling good at the expense of making them think, and possibly making them uncomfortable while they do it? You know, that’s a tough one.”
But there is more to Peppermint Creek productions than just making the audience think. The shows themselves are deliberate picked to send a message and start a dialogue in the Lansing community.
“Chad is so passionate about the plays he chooses,” said Japanese, Theatre, and Psychology Junior and former Peppermint Creek actor Toby Hemker. “He does his stuff not to put on a show that will make profit, but to put on a show that will send a message that is important to him. All of the plays he picks have a strong message because for him art is his mode of expression. He once said to me that he is not the type of guy to go storm city hall when he thinks something’s wrong, so he uses theatre as a mode to get across his opinions.”
Shakespeare for the Masses: Sunsets with Shakespeare
On the other end of the spectrum of Lansing’s underground theatre is Sunsets with Shakespeare. Performing mostly classics, such as Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliette, Sunsets strives to provide quality performances free of charge to the Lansing community. The main goal of Sunsets with Shakespeare, according to Hemker, is “to make Shakespeare available to a public that would never get the chance to see it.”
Hemker, who was Mercutio in Sunsets’ production of Romeo and Juliette last summer, loves the community aspect of the Sunsets company. “Were a community theatre, we’re Highschoolers, junior High kids, and elderly people who’ve never acted before getting a chance to do things that they never got the chance to do…It is good entertainment, it is art, and it is something that, you know, people are coming together to make.” For Hemker, Sunsets “really has the community of community theatre.”
Henker said a lot of people in the community are dedicated to supporting the theater, donating and raising the money to keep the theater a float. Henker said that all the local business allow them to advertise for free as well.
“To see the community getting behind [us] that is the purpose of community theatre. It’s not about putting out a great work of art; it’s about pulling the community together as human being,” said Henker.