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By Donald V. Calamia
Mason Street Warehouse, West Michigan's only Equity theater, opened its doors in 2003 and quickly became a major asset in a community known for celebrating the arts. Referred to as an uptown theater in downtown Saugatuck, the popular theater is about to open its eighth season with the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. To celebrate the opening, managing director Ricki L. Levine talked to EncoreMichigan.com about the company, its history and what types of programming MSW offers to theatergoers each summer.
What is your theater's mission statement?
MSW is dedicated to connecting to the community through the creation and production of entertaining, diverse and stimulating plays and musicals that enrich the audience, the art, and artists. MSW is committed to fostering broader knowledge of performing arts and creating lifelong learning opportunities in an already thriving arts community.
What are your theater's short-term goals and objectives - such as for the current season?
Short-term goal...is to survive! In order to make it through this economic climate we are being creative and thinking outside the box in order to keep butts in seats and satisfy our supporters at the same time. We are doing this by appealing to the masses in our tourist community as well as those who are our supporters and have become used to the innovative and interesting seasons we try to put together each year.
We feel fortunate that we are in a position to offer four shows this season, back up from the three we offered last year.
The season has one big Broadway musical in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a regional premiere with The Marvelous Wonderettes and a couple of innovative fun presentations with Dixie's Tupperware Party and The Nuclear Family. There is something for everyone!
What are your theater's long-term goals and objectives?
Mason Street Warehouse still has work to do to fulfill our mission. It is important that we expand our production of both plays and musicals that are innovative, interesting and new to the region. It is absolutely necessary that we continue to be a vital presence in the art community we reside in. Our Centerstage Internship program should expand so that we can help to nurture new artists who are the future of the collaborative medium of theater.
What makes your theater different from any of the others in Michigan? What is it about you that is unique?
MSW is the only professional Equity theater in West Michigan. Our professional actors, many of whom have graced the boards of Broadway as well as Broadway tours, bring a level of talent and experience unique to the theaters in this area.
We don't compare to the tours that come through Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, and that is sometimes a very good thing. Our goal to bring new works and regional premieres allows patrons to experience Broadway caliber theater in an intimate setting in an arts community with very reasonable ticket prices.
What is your programming philosophy? What type(s) of shows does your theater produce on its main stage - and why?
MSW strives to provide entertainment that audiences might not have the opportunity to see unless they travel to a major city such as New York, Chicago or Detroit.
The theater serves the community of Saugatuck, which along with its neighbor city Douglas, is an area that welcomes diversity in its visitors and residents. There is a large gay and lesbian population, as well as a large number of retirees. MSW embraces this diversity and gears its productions to appeal to this audience.
Often tourists want light musical theater when on vacation. We do our best to appeal to this audience but at the same time provide productions that have depth too. An example of that would be the 2009 production of The Full Monty. The story has lots of humor, the score and lyrics are catchy and memorable. But at the same time there is a depth and seriousness to the story about unemployment, friendship and love. It is much more substantial than some other choices we could have made."
Does your theater offer any classes or workshops - either to the general public or to industry professionals?†If so, what are they?
Not on a regular basis. We have offered interns an occasional workshop depending on the professionals that have been hired in a particular season.
Is your theater an Equity (union) company?
What is the philosophy you use to cast your shows? From what talent pool(s) do you draw from?
Artistic director Kurt Stamm tries to hire the very best cast possible for each show. Each season there is a mixture of Equity professionals, non-Equity professionals and interns. We audition in New York City, Chicago, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Saugatuck. In the past we have auditioned in Ann Arbor and would like to be able to do so again in the future.
How does an actor go about arranging an audition?
Through Equity in New York and Chicago, or by calling the theater directly to make an appointment. Auditions dates are posted in late winter for auditions in late February and early March.
Does your theater offer an apprenticeship or internship program? And if so, what is the criteria - and how does someone apply for such a position?
In 2003 MSW initiated the Centerstage Internship program. In Centerstage, Michigan youth experience working life in a professional theater company as students from area high schools, colleges and universities apply for internships. The interns are, by and large, students whose families and homes are located in West Michigan where professional theater opportunities are limited.
MSW welcomed three student interns in its first season, six in both its second and third, 10 in its fourth and fifth, 18 in its sixth and 12 in the seventh and plans to hire a minimum of 13 in 2010.
We offer internships during the season in the areas of acting, directing, stage management, design, tech, theater and company management. During the off-season, internships are available in company/theater management.
Applications are available by contacting the managing director or producer/company manager by calling the theater or sending an email to email@example.com
Does your theater accept new play submissions? If so, how does a playwright go about submitting a script for your consideration?
We are always looking for new works and welcome any playwright's submission. There is no formal process in place. Anyone with a submission can contact the theater by calling or sending an email.
What else should we know about your theater, the current season, etc.?
MSW continues to benefit the West Michigan community not only by bringing quality theater to its residents and visitors, but through educational opportunities for its youth, cooperation with other area non-profits, and economic support for area merchants.
We are an important part of this area known as an arts community, and invite everyone to check us out.
Theater name: Mason Street Warehouse
Business address & performance address (including zip code): P.O. Box 1182, 400 Culver Street
Saugatuck, MI 49453 inside the Saugatuck Center for the Arts
Web address: www.masonstreetwarehouse.org
Facebook fan page: Mason Street Warehouse
Twitter name: Mason Street Warehouse
Business office phone (including area code): 269-857-4898
Business office hours of operation: Monday - Friday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Box office phone (including area code): 269-857-4898
Box office hours of operation: In Season: Monday 10 a.m. to - 5 p.m., Tuesday - Saturday 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. or 2:30 p.m. depending on performance schedule.
In what year was your theater established: 2002; first season 2003
Company's founders: Kurt Stamm and Tom Mullen
Current leaders or management team: Kurt Stamm - artistic director, Ricki L. Levine - managing director, Ellen Engle - producer/company manager.
Is your theater a non-profit, tax-exempt organization? Yes, 501(c)(3)
Is your theater wheelchair accessible? Yes
During which months of the year does your season run? June - September, with some off-season productions in the fall/winter.
How many main stage productions do you offer each season? Four
How many OTHER productions or programs do you offer each season? Two or three off-season
How many seats does your theater have? Our Equity contract is 349 seats
What type(s) of seating is offered to your patrons (ex: general admission, reserved, etc)? All seating is reserved
In general, what is the price range for your non-discounted main stage tickets (exclusive of service charges and other fees)? $26 - $39.75
Are there†service charges or other fees added to the† price of the tickets? And if so, what are those charges and fees? No fees or service charges are added
In general, what is the price range for your OTHER programs and services? Off-season productions range between $30 - $50
Do you offer subscriptions to your main stage season? Yes, as well as season flex passes
Do you offer discounts to senior citizens (and if so, what are the details)? Senior discounts are available to anyone 65 or older. Discounts vary with the production day, but are not available for any of the bargain matinees.
Do you offer discounts to students (and if so, what are the details)? Student discounts are available for anyone with a valid student I.D.
Discounts vary with the production day, but are not available for any of the bargain matinees.
Do you offer group discounts (and if so, what are the details)? Group discounts are available in two tiers: 10-19 and 20 and over. Discounts vary with the production day, but are not available for any of the bargain matinees.
For ticket purchases, does your theater accept personal checks? Yes, via the mail or box office
For ticket purchases, does your theater accept credit or debit cards? All major credit cards including debit cards are accepted
Can tickets to your shows be purchased online - and if so, how? Yes, individual tickets may be purchased by going to our Web site, www.masonstreetwarehouse.org
ABOUT RICKI L. LEVINE:
2010 will mark Ricki L. Levine's sixth season with Mason Street Warehouse. As managing director, she is responsible for the administrative, marketing and revenue generating side of the theater. She spends her time in the off season signing up corporate sponsors, writing applications for grants to help pay for the theater season and developing new donor prospects. If you would like any information about being a sponsor or becoming a donor, please donít hesitate to give her a call! Levine has more than 13 years of experience in promotions and marketing before her time at MSW. She moved to West Michigan six years ago from Los Angeles where she worked in large part for the entertainment industry. For Buena Vista Home Entertainment (Disney) and Paramount Pictures, she developed national promotions and marketing campaigns, managing programs for them as well as on behalf of clients, including Fox Entertainment, Sony and Universal Studios. She served as an account director for Howe Promotions in Pasadena creating promotions for national retailers and their manufacturing clients. Originally hailing from New York, Levine has a B.A. degree in theater arts from George Washington University in Washington, DC.
The 2010 season opens with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which performs Tuesday through Sunday, June 25 - July 18 at Mason Street Warehouse, 400 Culver St., Saugatuck. Tickets: $26-$39.75. For information: 269-857-4898 or www.masonstreetwarehouse.org.
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