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February 16, 2007

Bad News from Owosso

mclennan

From Bridgette Redman:

Theater people talk a lot about how theater builds community and makes their home a better place to live. It's that sense of community that is felt viscerally when tragedy strikes.

I'd skipped over the front page of the newspaper this morning on my way to work to get to the arts section. So it wasn't until an e-mail arrived pleading for sets, costumes, and volunteers that I heard the news that was on the front cover.

Owosso is a town of 16,000 people. Its downtown has many cultural landmarks including a castle built by a famous novelist. But the community's heart is found in the spotlights of the Lebowsky Theater, a historic building where the Owosso Community Players draw huge crowds every year with their musicals. The building was erected in 1926 and Players purchased it in 1991, making them one of the few local groups to own their own performance space.

At least, that was true until fire ripped through it Wednesday, destroying the auditorium, the stage, their equipment, and all of the sets and costumes for "Beauty and the Beast", the musical that was to open next Friday.

It's difficult to describe the death of an arts space. No matter what happens with rebuilding or insurance, there is a loss that can't be replaced. All the hopes and dreams poured into the space, all the work, all the laughter can now be sought only in memory and ashes.

When I last made the hour drive out there it was in 2005 to see Motown's Martha Reeves perform in a Motown Revue alongside singers from the community. My father tells a story of his childhood how his first trip to a "big city" was to Owosso and what was then the movie theater. Each year, the Owosso Players have put on more and bigger musicals and shows, making themselves a source of pride to their entire community. Now they are homeless.

The Owosso Community Players plan to open their musical next week on schedule. They don't know where and they don't know how, they just know that they're not going to let tragedy stop them from doing what art does best: bring people together.

Posted by mclennan at February 16, 2007 12:31 PM

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COMMENTS

Thanks to Bridgette Redman for this touching reflection on what it means to lose a theater. Theater is truly a public space. If it is a loss for one, it is a loss for all. Though the physical place can be destroyed by fire, fortunately the creative spirit that live there cannot. Best of luck, Owosso.

Posted by: John Stoehr at February 16, 2007 12:49 PM

I was reflecting on Ben Cameron's metaphor about theater being our communal photographs. When the house catches on fire, the first thing people want to grab are the photos. Our photos, like theater, he said "help us to honor the past and commemorate the present."

So it somehow seems appropriate that when the theater fell to fire, what they saved was the spirit, the drive, and the connections that make theater such an important part of our community's life.

They do now have a space to perform. The local schools opened up one of their spaces. It has fewer seats than what they typically draw, but it is a space.

Posted by: Bridgette Redman at February 16, 2007 1:09 PM

Thanks for this. You really managed to put into words what so many of us were (and still are) feeling.
The show is going well. We opened last weekend, and our second weekend starts tomorrow night.
Theatre not only brought together the cast and crew of the show and members of the OCP, but people from all over Michigan, from Lansing to Grand Rapids to Ann Arbor. We even got a letter from the VP of Walt Disney Co. telling us how happy and proud they were that we would continue the show despite the loss of our home, and the Broadway cast sent us an autographed poster and certificate with a letter.
Theatre really can do some amazing things.

Shannon Elizabeth
Beauty & the Beast cast member
Member of the Owosso Community Players

Posted by: Shannon Elizabeth at March 1, 2007 4:13 PM