The Nicely Theatre Group had planned to launch this summer with two live performances, but that changed when COVID-19 moved people out of theaters and toward digital platforms.
While David Carroll was building a strong career at Quicken Loans, he maintained a leadership presence at JARC and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. He relaxed by watching musical theater productions.
After retiring four years ago, Carroll, of West Bloomfield, realized a longtime dream by being cast for a community theater role in his favorite show, Guys and Dolls, which he had seen some 30 times. That onstage experience for the Village Players of Birmingham motivated him to find new ways of bringing theater to others while offering paid opportunities to those in the entertainment field.
At the encouragement of former employer and longtime friend Dan Gilbert, Carroll established a nonprofit stage company, Nicely Theatre Group, and is now executive producer of its first presentation, One-Act Festival. The group had planned to launch this summer with two live performances of Pippin, but that changed when COVID-19 moved people out of theaters and toward digital platforms.
Although the premiere can be seen for free at 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 7, donations will be accepted to benefit the Detroit Public Schools Foundation. For each person registering to watch, $3 will be donated by Nicely.
“Maybe I’ll be like director Alfred Hitchcock, making brief appearances in productions,” joked Carroll, who is personally financing this presentation featuring short plays that capture the emotions of the times.
“I’ve learned that there’s a lot of talent in the area, and I hope to work these people into high-quality theater at low ticket prices to benefit educational programs in Detroit. One-acts are not that expensive or complicated to produce.”
The four short works include Ghost Light, a love story set in a post-apocalyptic theater; Shelter, a series of monologues exploring youth homelessness; He Said, a Zoom-held argument entered into by a wife and her husband’s lover; and The Tinker Bell Situation, a dark comedy about a lost pet and parent-child relationships.
The choices of plays were made by the Nicely team that includes Carroll, director Mitch Master, producer Nicole Broughton-Adams, technical director Eric W. Maher and marketing director Tina Fleming.
“We had a lot of submissions when we were looking for plays to present,” said Master, director of performing and visual arts at Frankel Jewish Academy and co-director of Roeper Summer Stock Theatre.
Master, who has directed 90 stage productions and performed in 50 productions, is glad that this program will support educational initiatives.
“We developed our presentation through Zoom recordings,” Master explained. “We wanted to start and finish each play in one take so it would give the feeling of live theater. When we had sound or internet issues, we would start over.
“Mostly, performers were in their own homes, but we staged [Broadway veteran] Eric Gutman, in Ghost Light, at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield, one of the locations where we had planned to show Pippin.”
Master explained that the four one-acts fall into the theme of people getting through rough situations. Given COVID-19 issues, he felt everyone in the audience could relate.
Emily Rose Miller, who performs one of the monologues in Shelter, feels a strong understanding of the character she portrays. A DePaul University theater student forced home to Franklin as schools shut down, she speaks the feelings of a coed with no place to go.
“My character feels she has overstayed her welcome by friends but doesn’t want to return to the home of her abusive stepfather,” said Miller, who attended the Frankel Jewish Academy. “I’m grateful I could perform my part from my couch.”
Marc Paykuss, formerly a Los Angeles entertainment copywriter, scripted The Tinker Bell Situation based on a friend’s experiences.
“I write in a lot of different styles, and I’m very excited to be part of an inaugural season,” said Paykuss, now living near Boston but familiar with Michigan through visits to relatives. His Jewish heritage motivated the play No Entry, recently performed digitally by Theater Resources Unlimited.
The motivation for the title of the new theater company returns Carroll to his favorite musical. Nicely-Nicely Johnson was his favorite character in Guys and Dolls, and he hopes to bring theater experiences more than nice to draw audiences and encourage donations.
“We will be giving folks a showcase for original work,” Carroll said. “Let’s build something and then fundraise.”
To register for the free One-Act Festival, click on the link at nicelytheatregroup.org.