The Historic Masonic Temple raises the curtain for three local playwrights

Artists have something to say, but not always the venue to share their thoughts with the world. For local artists, the Historic Masonic Temple of Bay City is doing something to change that.

For several years, the Temple has sponsored artists programs, inviting them in to meet each other and create. Now, the Temple takes the program a step further, inviting three local playwrights to debut their work on the stage.

Two different parts of the Historic Masonic Temple feature stages. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)Ryan Sequin, who works as a receptionist in a local pediatrician’s office, wrote the Masonic Temple’s opening production, “Unraveling Magicians.”

Sequin, who has worked on the musical for a decade, says he is excited to have the chance to see his work showcased at the Masonic Temple. Seeing the community come together to embrace his work gives Sequin hope that he’ll be able to grow his hobby into something more substantial.

“I went to school for music and theatre,” he says, “so it’s currently something that I do outside of my financially stabilizing job, but obviously, as someone who went to school for it, it would be wonderful to have the opportunity to grow it into a full-time career.”

Photo Credit: Ashley BrownSequin’s project is a musical comedy based on a collection of medieval Welsh Folk Tales.

“I had read the stories that they’re based on when I was a child. I had a book with all of them in it, and it was just something that always inspired me,” he says. “At one point it just struck me as a good idea for a musical.”

Sequin has written for others and even helped produce musical scores, but “this is my first all on my own.”

Kelley Kent, Executive Director of the Friends of the Historic Masonic Temple, says the artists programs have existed for a few years, but these three performances represent something new.

“The other part that has really started to develop and kind of where the playwrights are falling in as well is artist incubation,” Kent says. ”They really want to give people a space where they can develop their artistic passions and to find a community to support them along the way.”

The exterior of the Historic Masonic Temple is distinctive. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)Sequin says he’s grateful to benefit from the work being done at the Temple.

“What I really appreciated about approaching Kelley and the Temple for putting on my show was their willingness to work with someone who just wanted to create art,” Sequin says.

Kent says Sequin will have the benefit of not only being the first production under the incubator project, but he will also be able to see his work produced for wider audiences.

Light shines through stained glass windows throughout the Historic Masonic Temple. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)“We're giving him the space so that way he can record the audio drama, which would then allow him to, basically put that out into a catalog where other people could purchase the licensing to perform his work.”

The Vanishing Elephant Players will hold auditions in September for “Unraveling Magicians.” (Learn more about the Vanishing Elephant Players in this Aug. 29, 2019 Route Bay City article.)

Kent says the playwrights will also be tied in with another part of the Historic Masonic Temple’s goals. “We’re going to build educational programming around audio production, so it really is nice to kind of bring it all full circle.”

Two other playwrights are also taking advantage of the artists’ incubator.

Artists are finding a home and a venue for their work at the Historic Masonic Temple. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)Kent says in February, Zoey Schwab will present her play, “The Wasp Closet,” a drama with themes around domestic abuse. Aja Jade Philpot’s, “Nymphomaniacs Anonymous,” will be staged in June.

Kent says for Schwab’s production the Temple plans to partner with the Bay Area Women’s Center and the CAN Council to develop education around that topic.

The three playwrights whose work will be produced come from a variety of backgrounds, but Kent says they all have one thing in common: They’re all artists looking for a space to be artists.

“We’re really excited to be able to celebrate everybody that is looking at their art and asking ‘How do I advance that,’ or ‘How do I take it from a hobby that’s just mine and share it with a bigger community?’ ”

As part of the greater artist community, Kent says there are opportunities to work in collaboration, learn how to take the next step, and learn where to go from here.

A full bar sits inside the basement of the Historic Masonic Temple. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)“It’s a lot of fun because we share ideas, we talk about the process.”

Over the last handful of years, the Historic Masonic Temple has been renovated and work is being done to keep the building a vital part of the downtown landscape.

The artists' incubator is just one of three areas of focus. Kent says the most prevalent is performance, which includes the Vanishing Elephant Players. The Temple also holds music events and movies.

“We have our Midnight Monster Movie series, where we promise you the good, the bad, and the really awful.”

The next Midnight Monster Movie takes place Sat., Sept. 16. The featured film is “Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil.”

Rooms throughout the building provide space for artists to collaborate. (Photo Credit: Ashley Brown)There are several opportunities each month to come together as artists, too. Whether it’s writing, painting and drawing, fiber arts and crochet, or any other medium, Kent says once a month on the first Tuesday there is an artists' assembly, where “it’s a very fascinating space.”

Kent says the incubator is also about providing people with the tools to create their art and community support to elevate them to the next step.

“The artists’ incubation space is an area that we’re continuing to grow as new people step forward and say, ‘Hey, this is what I do; how do I take it to the next step?” And that’s the moment where we get to say, ‘Let’s figure this out and we’re going to give you a platform.’ ”
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Read more articles by Denyse Shannon.

As a feature writer and freelance journalist, Denyse Shannon has written professionally for over two and a half decades. She has worked as a contractor for daily and weekly newspapers, national and local magazines, and taught introductory media writing at her alma mater – Central Michigan University. She also holds a Master of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University. She and her husband live in Bangor Township and enjoy sailing on the Bay, and are avid cyclists.