JET Welcomes Move to New Theater
A drive of only a few miles along Maple Road will take theatergoers from the former West Bloomfield venue of the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET) to its new locale in Walled Lake, but the move represents some sharp turns in operations.
That was announced Sept. 6, when the theater company held its 30th Anniversary Gala at Temple Israel and summarized board members’ decisions since learning last March that the Jewish Community Center (JCC) would not be renewing the JET lease of the Aaron DeRoy Theatre.
Besides renting a building in the Maple Plaza Shopping Center near Pontiac Trail and working with architect Stuart Fine to remodel what had been used by a bank, JET is scheduling four mainstage productions in 2019 between Passover and Thanksgiving to avoid inclement weather experienced with September-May productions.
New initiatives planned for specific age groups — preschoolers to seniors — also are in the works for the space.
“Accessibility and a place to grow were important to our building search,” says Elaine Sturman, JET board president. “I love that it’s our own facility, where we’ll be working year-round. I think of this move as a new beginning and expanded opportunities for JET.”
Among the new locale selling points are convenient parking and significant outdoor lighting.
In explaining the lease termination, Brian Siegel, CEO of the Jewish Community Center, revealed that the Aaron DeRoy Theatre will be taken over by the Frankel Jewish Academy, also located at the JCC.
“We’re sad about it, but we’ve all been preparing for this for some time,” Siegel told the Detroit Jewish News in April. “What [JET] could pay was less than our costs, and funding JET is not within the JCC mission. We have great respect for JET, but we can’t afford to be their donor.”
Christopher Bremer, JET executive director working with the company since 1999, is excited about the move now that the building has been chosen for use and should be move-in ready by December. At the JCC, there were availability limitations as other groups shared the space.
“The theater space itself will remind people of our old and intimate seating arrangements because both can accommodate an audience of 85 people,” Bremer explains. “Nobody will ever be more than four rows from the stage.”
While the troupe takes along its curtains, lighting, sound equipment and props, there will be new seats.
“Working with 4,550 square feet, we have the same amount of overall space that we had at the JCC,” says Bremer, whose year-round administrative work includes oversight of the productions developed for young people, such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Mean Girls, which are presented to school groups in larger venues.
The coming season’s mainstage productions start in late April with a comedy, The Odd Couple, now considered a tribute to playwright Neil Simon, who died in August. Next in line, the musical Ain’t Misbehavin’ will feature Alvin Waddles, who was a hit in last year’s season and will be taking the stage in June. Another musical, Cabaret, is being scheduled for August, and A Doll’s House, Part 2, ends the season in October by presenting a 2017 script written to follow up on the Henrik Ibsen play that examines society and gender.
Staged readings, which seek audience comments on new works, will continue.
“We are anticipating a time when we can have a theater camp,” Bremer says. “Because of the summer activities at the JCC, we did not have access to the theater during that time of year. Now, we can offer our own stage opportunities for young people.
“During our years at the center, we gave special ticket offers to the staff, and we want that to continue. Our subscription rates also will be the same, but we will have to raise individual ticket prices a bit.”
Wendy Kohlenberg, JET board member who co-chaired the gala, also is enthusiastic about the upcoming changes. Before becoming active with the organization, she often was in the audience.
Theater has been a lifelong interest for Kohlenberg. It was introduced by her late mother, Dorothy Gould, an actress performing in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
“I didn’t know about the anti-bullying productions JET offered until after I started going to the mainstage plays,” Kohlenberg recalls. “When I learned about Mean Girls, I knew that JET is so much more than theater, and I love being part of it.”
Until the new space is ready, JET administration can be reached at the same phone number, (248) 788-2900, and through the same website, jettheatre.org.