Plowshares Theatre Company, Detroit's only professional troupe devoted to African-American content and talent, will be staging work in suburban Dearborn later this year due to the 1999 loss of its Motown space.
The company, which has rented a half-dozen venues in its nine-year history, is currently reviving Charles Fuller's A Soldier's Play in a former church sanctuary at the Holistic Development Center in Detroit, but Dearbon's Henry Ford Museum is the next venue for Plowshares.
Plowshares artistic director Gary Anderson told Playbill On-Line that last summer's decision by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to close off its theatre to outside groups needing multi week commitments, as Plowshares does, was a blow to the company's momentum. Attendance was boosted by 8,000 after Plowshares began performing at the new museum in the city's cultural center in 1997-98.
The museum wanted to control the space and offer more diverse programming. The closed door strengthened Anderson's resolve to get his own theatre, a longtime goal of the Equity-affiliated group.
"I'm hell-bent on getting my own place," Anderson said. "I've pulled together a diverse group of business and civic leaders and we're on a two year campaign to develop the key core group of supporters who can help invest in the company and the future." Anderson's annual budget to mount a four-to-six-play mainstage season plus a New Voices playreading festival, is less than $500,000.
The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, the city next door, has committed a space for Plowshares through fall 2000 in the 600-seat Anderson Center Theatre. In the 1970s and '80s, the attractive proscenium theatre on the grounds of the tourist mecca, Greenfield Village, was appropriate for the classic (Anglo) American revivals (The Crucible, The Bat, Seven Keys to Baldpate) that used be staged by the now-defunct, non-Equity Henry Ford Museum Theatre. Anderson said Henry Ford Museum has also extended a verbal offer for one more season to Plowshares.
Anderson is gracious, but plans to be back in the Motor City one day. The company's mission, beyond staging new works, revivals and Michigan premieres of work by African-American writers, is to be accessible to its constituency. The population of Detroit is 77 percent black and, he said, that's where his troupe ultimately belongs.
"The distance between Dearborn and Detroit is in attitude more than miles," he said. "The move is a test of [the theatregoers'] commitment to the company. They have to understand the circumstances we find ourselves in. They need to follow us."
He added, "Our audience didn't go to our shows because we were at the museum, they went because they wanted to see what we were doing."
Thrown into disarray due to the loss of the museum space, the refigured 1999-2000 season now includes the world premiere of Detroit actor Jeffry Chastang's Full Circle (June 1-25), Ron Milner's Jazz Set (Aug. 17-Sept. 3) and John Henry Redwood's romantic comedy, The Old Settler (Sept. 21-Oct. 22), all at the Anderson Center at Henry Ford Museum. Anderson, who is not linked to the "Anderson" named at the Henry Ford venue, will direct all but The Old Settler.
Performances of A Soldier's Play, directed by Janet Cleveland, continue to Feb. 27 at the Holistic Development Center, 17425 Second Blvd., Detroit. Shows began Jan. 20.
Call (313) 872-0279 for information about Plowshares Theatre Company.
-- By Kenneth Jones