The highlight of my weekend came early--Friday night at the BoarsHead. It was truly an exhilarating night at the theater for a lot of different reasons. It was the opening night of Doubt and there was an atmosphere of excitement. People in the lobby were talking to one another and the BoarsHead staff were all mingling and greeting people with warmth and enthusiasm.
I don't know how much theaters talk about the experience they create in the lobby, but it's well worth talking about. It really can make a huge difference in whether someone wants to return to your theater--almost as much as the quality of the production itself. People who come to the theater aren't paying for a product and they aren't paying for a service--it's an experience that they want and that experience begins the moment they arrive.
Theaters in small towns like Lansing have an additional advantage: People are more likely to know each other. This provides an opportunity to make going to the theater a social occasion--something that grows ever more important in a world where we're more likely to communicate with someone electronically than face-to-face.
For me, the occasion was especially enjoyable because I had another chance to meet with and talk to Don Calamia of Between the Lines. He and I have spoken on the phone a few times and through our blogs. We'd only officially met, though, at the Oscar Wilde Awards, a night when he was extremely busy putting on a superior show.
Don's reputation had preceded him. I'd been hearing for the past two years about how passionate he was about theater and how we was really making a difference in the Detroit theater community. He was kind, devoted to the art, and easy to talk to. Having now met him, I can easily testify to all of those characteristics. He also has a delightful sense of humor.
Given that it was an opening night, the two of us weren't the only critics in the audience and we soon had a circle of our colleagues including Kate O'Neill from the Lansing State Journal (who as there as the official reviewer from the paper), Tom Helma from the City Pulse, and Jim Fordyce from Channel 56. After the show, Don introduced me to Marty Kohn from the Detroit Free Press. The NEA has warned us that theater critics are an endangered species, but you wouldn't have known it from our representation that night.
We also had chance to meet Patty Mallett, BoarsHead's new and outgoing communications director. She was hired part time a month or so ago and then had a full-time offer come in (one with benefits!) that she'll be taking in two weeks.
BoarsHead first did a reading of Doubt last season. It was easy to see then why it has quickly become the show whose rights are in such great demand. BoarsHead was able to get Amy Fitts to return and reprise the role she did in the reading. It also lured back Nancy Elizabeth-Kammer and Michael Joseph Mitchell. Together with Tiffany Denise Mitchenor and directed by Jonathan Courtmanche, this was a show that held great promise long before the lights first hit the stage last week. It's a show that delivered on its promise--despite the annoyance of a car alarm that began in the latter half of the show and was still going strong an hour after the show ended.
But I'm going to save the details of the show for the review that I'm hoping to have posted on Epinions by Thursday (out of courtesy, I will wait until after the State Journal review has been published, though I won't be reading it until my review is done). But you'll read more about Doubt in this space as well. On Sunday, I'll be going to the Detroit Repertory Theatre and seeing their production of Doubt. Don and I will then be comparing notes and productions through this blog and his, Confessions of a Cranky Critic.
So stay tuned!