Small theatre in small town continues to grow big successes

Eighty artists. Six productions. And more than 11,000 tickets sold annually.

Numbers reveal the success of Greater Lansing's only professional resident theatre. Since 2006, the Williamston Theatre has fostered the artistic vision of primarily Michigan artists, delivering a regional art form that enriches the culture and economy of Mid-Michigan.

"We're providing opportunity, but we're also providing the local part of it," says Williamston Theatre Development Director Emily Sutton-Smith. "When we choose a play, we have our audience in mind here in central Michigan and reflect our community and their desires."

The Williamston Theatre employs five full-time people and two apprentices. Funding and support come through box office sales, grants and donations from individuals and area businesses. In return, the theatre attracts theatergoers from across the state who support area businesses and add to the cultural buzz of the growing town.

Sutton-Smith says about 80 percent of people attending plays at the theatre come from outside Williamston. And of the people who come to town, 93 percent combine their trip with a visit to a restaurant, a trip to a shop, or a stay at a lodging facility.

"All you really need to do is come downtown to Williamston and look around to see the economic growth we've helped foster," says Sutton-Smith. "When we opened in 2006, there was one restaurant in town with a high-end experience. Today, there are six."

The Williamston Theatre kicked off its 12th season in September and will run through August 2018. Artistic Director Tony Caselli says theatre lovers have a lot to look forward to, including world and Michigan premieres by Michigan playwrights.

"One of the things we try to do is to have plays that people can relate to," says Caselli. "One of our upcoming plays, for instance, takes a warm and humorous look at the challenges of people who live in our state. 'Doublewide' is the kind of play we can connect with and relate to, and shows what our world is and how we can make it better."

Caselli and Sutton-Smith point out that in addition to supporting Michigan playwrights and actors, the theatre also provides opportunities for faculty and students from Michigan State University.

"I love the relationship we have with the MSU Department of Theatre," says Caselli. "We give students a lot of opportunities to start their path toward professional union membership and to build their careers. We take a lot of pride in being an equity theatre."

For information on the 2017-18 season and for tickets, call the Williamston Theatre at 517-655-SHOW (7469) or visit here.

Source: Emily Sutton-Smith, Development Director, Williamston Theatre
Writer/Editor: Ann Kammerer, News Editor

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