In 2015, Courtney Burkett, Sarah Clare Corporandy and Sarah Winkler felt that there was a hole in Detroit’s cultural landscape and that the city needed an institution that would serve as a home for professional theater and employ both local and national artists. So they created it.
Burkett, Corporandy and Winkler are now artistic directors of the Detroit Public Theater.
The Detroit Public Theater began production in 2015 at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and in 2016 produced Detroit ’67, created by Dominique Morisseau, a multiple TONY Award winner and MacArthur Genius Award winner Author of internationally acclaimed, and also a Detroit native who is now the theatre’s Executive Artistic Producer.
“Dominique’s world-renowned work, which has performed on Broadway and on stages around the world, now has a home, fittingly, here in Detroit,” Courtney said.
Connecting locally, and also with the national community, is important to DPT and part of its overall mission, and Morisseau has helped drive this forward.
The theater’s success in developing coveted productions was rapid. For this purpose the first commissioned piece from DPT birthday candles by Detroit native Noah Haidle premiered on Broadway last year and starred Deborah Messing. “That’s a quick turnaround and a feather in our cap for our first commissioned piece,” Burkett said.
The DSO has acted as an incubator for DPT since its inception, enabling employees to learn. And they have. So much so, that after just five years of existence, they saw a need for a new space built specifically for them
Burkett says, “Having the opportunity to start and grow at DSO was great. But the infrastructure wasn’t built for theatrical productions and we just needed more space – space built to support our productions.”
So the employees and board launched a massive campaign to raise $5 million in 2020.
To date, they have raised $3.6 million that enabled them to develop and move into their new home at 3960 Third Street in Midtown. time staff.
To build a new regional theater house in a cultural center in just a few years in the midst of a pandemic is impressive, to say the least. Burkett says, “It’s bold purpose, a dedicated and wonderful community, and strong artistic talent from Detroit that brought us here.”
Not only does the move mean the theater can expand and grow its productions and audiences, but it also means it can pay dividends for emerging talent.
“We are now able not only to reach more people with our work, but also to do for others what the DSO did for us,” says Burkett. “It allows us to invite the community in new ways.”
With this in mind, the DPT has launched a residency program and will open its doors to other companies via affiliate programs and rental use.
When asked what DPT the Theater means to Detroit, Burkett says:
Detroit has long deserved theater like this. A space for the community to experience themselves, mirrored to them by the stage.
And that’s exactly what’s happening now with Noura – a performance that runs now through December 18. The play — written by internationally acclaimed Michigan-born, Iraqi-American playwright Heather Raffo — examines a family who have fled their home in Iraq to New York City and are then forced to face the costs of their choices and a past retrace the ones they left behind.
“We brought Heather and her play home and it was really exciting to bring in a different audience. We had many Chaldean Americans attend the performance and witness their story reflected off our stage.”
Burkett, who spent five years as a youth program director at Detroit’s Mosaic Youth Theater, says nurturing young talent and keeping it in Detroit is another strong driver for the program. “A big part of the formation of the DPT revolves around that. I’ve seen great talent work in other cities like New York and Chicago because they didn’t have a place at home to do their great work. Now they do.”
What does the future of the DPT look like? Burkett says, “To be part of the national theater conversation and to make people here aware that there’s great theater coming from and coming from Detroit right now.”
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