JET Theater’s move to a new Walled Lake venue and new season dates have improved attendance and reach.
Photos courtesy of JET
As the Jewish Ensemble Theatre (JET) worked its way through the first season at its new Walled Lake venue, the people at the center of the stage company had strong reasons to celebrate.
The last two weeks of the company’s final main play of 2019, Cabaret, were all sold-out performances.
The musical, set in a nightclub, invited viewers into a cabaret seating arrangement and validated original plans for different audience setups, changed according to the nature of each show.
“I felt I was part of the show,” says Susie Simons of West Bloomfield, who has attended JET productions fairly regularly. “I think the new building has tremendous potential as a nice, intimate theater.”
Christopher Bremer, JET executive director, reports that the range of ticket holders’ zip codes has vastly widened since the move to a strip center at Maple and Pontiac Trail. Attendance comparisons were made between Disgraced, a popular show presented in the Jewish Community Center theater, and Cabaret.
“We sold more tickets in this last season than we did in the prior season,” Bremer says.
With the change in timing of the main productions — now spring to fall instead of fall to spring so audiences can travel during longer daylight hours and better weather — JET is expanding to other kinds of programming for diverse year-round scheduling.
Board member Patty Ceresnie, a longtime performer and producer, is focused on “Hot Jazz in January,” a musical series that spans six evenings to spotlight one act and one theme at each performance.
“I went to a wonderful concert and thought concerts would be good for JET audiences,” says Ceresnie, who was producing artistic director for IlluminArt Productions. “I called friends who perform music, and we will do this with proceeds funding the theater.”
The themes include “Blues Piano” with Alvin Waddles (Jan. 10 and 11), “A Tribute to Jewish Composers” with Ursala Walker and Buddy Budson (Jan.12), “A Tribute to Frank Sinatra” with the Steve Wood Quartet featuring Kevin Grenier (Jan.17), “History of Jazz in Detroit” with the Pam Jaslove Quartet (Jan. 18) and a mixture of klezmer and jazz with the band Klezundheit conducted by Alan Posner (Jan.19).
“Klezmer and jazz have similar rhythms,” says Posner, Bloomfield Hills High School band director, who works with an 11-member group that includes family members: wife Michelle, a flutist; dad Ken, a singer; and mom Gail, dance leader.
In February, JET will offer performances in Arizona to present young people with The Diary of Anne Frank, produced by JET in Michigan every spring for some 20 years and supported with the help of the Phoenix-area Jewish community.
“We’re going to be in Arizona for a week with the cast that performs at the Detroit Institute of Arts,” Bremer says. “We had 4,500 seats available, and we’ve booked 4,300.”
The Seymore J. & Ethel S. Frank Festival of New Plays will be held Sundays, March 8-29, when actors will be staging the plays without formal settings and costumes. Script submissions currently are being accepted.
The 2020 mainstage season will include five productions. As of now, plans are to open April 24 with Always … Patsy Cline, which should run through May 17. The Ted Swindley musical serves as a tribute to the legendary country singer.
Garson Kanin’s Born Yesterday is in the works for June 5-28. It is about a man trying to defraud the government and the romance that develops between his girlfriend and an investigating journalist.
Mel Brooks’ musical comedy The Producers, about bungling Broadway fraudsters, tentatively should be staged July 17-Aug. 9.
Charles Ludlam’s comedy The Mystery of Irma Vep (Oct. 2-25) satirizes whodunits, particularly by recalling well-known movies.
Another musical comedy, The Full Monty, with book by Terrence McNally and score by David Yazbek, should take the stage Nov. 6-29 to portray unemployed steelworkers facing the challenge of becoming male strippers.
Out-of-town entertainers, still to be announced, will travel to the area Sept. 16 for the annual Fall Gala, now held midseason because of the new scheduling plan.
Janet Pound of West Bloomfield, a regular JET audience member, was a casting director when professional film production was regularly happening in Michigan.
“I enjoy all kinds of theater and like what JET has been doing in its new versatile space,” says Pound, who has worked as a playwright, actor and agent. “I have watched performance levels that have been very high and look forward to all that continuing.”
Bremer said, “I want people to come to our new theater and have a good time.”
“Visitors should watch for our vinyl banner (outside the theater) — no neon sign yet — when coming to our shows and think about having their own events here when they’d like a theater or improvised setting.
“Although we have no kitchen facilities, Annabel Cohen was able to cater wonderful hot dishes for our opening night gala. Other caterers, as well, are able to handle this situation with their own equipment.
“There is space — with plenty of seats and tables — for all kinds of events, including bar mitzvah parties, anniversary celebrations and bridal showers. For those who like to host New Year’s Eve get-togethers, the move from 2019 to 2020 is open for booking on our events calendar. Come on in and check us out.”
For more on JET programing or rental at 1124 E. West Maple in Walled Lake, or submissions for the Festival of New Plays, call (248) 788-2900 or go to jettheatre.org.