There’s been much discussion and some drama this summer relating to the abrupt closure of Performance Network Theatre – an Ann Arbor mainstay for 33 years and home to some of the finest theatre in Michigan. Controversy aside, there are two things everyone can agree on: noone wanted to see PNT close, and everyone wants to see it reopen. That is about to happen, albeit with a different cast in the role of management.
On Sunday, July 27, PNT will host two open houses, at 2 p.m. and at 6 p.m., in an effort to reach out to patrons proactively and in a personal setting. The new management team with be on hand to share information about the plans to move forward – maintaining the theatre’s high creative standards, with a re-dedication to education and a new business approach. The new financial model concentrates on generating revenue while simultaneously addressing the cash-strapped theatre’s sizeable debt over the course of a three-year span.
Heading the team as Executive Director is John Manfredi, who is tasked with reopening the theatre. A veteran performer, director and producer, Manfredi was most recently seen on the PNT stage in last fall’s powerful one-man show, “An Illiad.” Joining him is award-winning theatre artist and arts advocate, Suzi Regan, as Artistic Director. She most recently performed at PNT last spring in “Good People.” In addition, for the immediate future, the newly staffed office consists of part time employees, volunteers and interns.
”The adverse financial situation at the theatre didn’t happen overnight,” Manfredi said. “It’s not going to be rectified overnight either but we feel it’s imperative to get the Network back up and producing as soon as possible. That’s going to take not only more revenue but our loyal donors'continued faith and support.”
We asked about the possibility of seeing PNT favorites – actors, musicians, designers, directors and playwrights – return to the theatre. Sara Dean, Company Manager, saw no reason why that wouldn’t happen. “We intend to reach out to everyone for auditions when the time comes,” she said. “You can be assured that any past theatre artists of PNT's will always be welcomed back. Our goal is to be a great place for great theatre and the level of artistic quality at PNT has always been stellar. We will do everything we can to uphold that tradition.”
Suzi Regan added, “The professional theatre community here in Michigan is small and tight knit. We are nothing if not supportive. When an artist has success it makes the rest us better. When one of us experiences loss...we all learn from it. Ebb and flow...yin and yang....abundance and lack. This is natural. The Performance Network has always been and will continue to be inclusive. Everybody is welcome. That being said, John and I are committed to making a quality product. The kind of product that the patrons and artists alike have come to expect to experience at Performance Network.”
The PNT plan to achieve financial stability relies on expanded programming. The ambitious plan eventually calls for a multi-use facility open 16 hours a day with over 300 active dates a year. They are also looking to develop many co-productions and partnerships with other businesses and organizations, including the Williamston Theatre. There is precedent here, as PNT and Williamston Theatre have cooperated on many productions in the past, including “Dead Man’s Shoes” by Michigan playwright Joe Zettelmaier, which was staged at both theatres
The first joint effort between Williamston Theatre and the revitalized Performance Network will bring the musical comedy “The Big Bang” from Williamston to Ann Arbor the last two weeks of August. The two organizations have also already agreed to co-produce an exciting new World Premiere production in their 2015-2016 seasons – the title of which is yet to be announced.
"We are asking our patrons and donors to be patient,” says Regan. “We will be announcing an entire 2014-15 subscription season soon. We are at work obtaining rights, but already the season includes “Driving Miss Daisy,” starring Network favorite James Bowen, and “Salvage,” a Joe Zettelmaier piece that was recently Jeff Award Recommended in Chicago. We can also already announce that we’ll be bringing critically acclaimed production of “This Wonderful Life” with John Lepard to the Network for a special engagement over the holiday. It’s exciting. Our goal is for PNT to be a national destination for arts and culture.”
By August 1st the theatre hopes to secure the rights and begin selling a subscription season as well as a full slate of educational programming and classes. Those patrons who have already purchased season subscriptions will be contacted as soon as details become available. All season subscriptions will be honored. Arrangements are being made to accommodate 2013-2014 ticket holders who have missed shows due to the suspension of operations. The theatre is working on gathering that data and hopes to be able to satisfy those patrons quickly.
In the meantime, for more information, stop by the theatre at 120 E Huron St in Ann Arbor on Sunday, July 27, to learn more.