Theatre at the Zeitgeist 1997-2008

Cast on the set from Ron Allen’s “Tibetan Book of the Dead” in 2003

I’ve long been a “cinematician” aka movie nut.   My love of old films got me interested in  the stage.  I studied the theatre and its history.  I studied this in college and later through the usual independent studies.  I’d always see plays when I could.  Live was best but I’d also watch films and videos.  Also, I did many improvised puppet performances, thus I was sort of a theatrical performer myself.

The plays at the Zeitgeist were a cause for celebration.  I saw most of them.  Because I was helping to run the gallery, I usually got in for free.  I loved to be in attendance.  In 11 years, they staged around 40 plays.  The artists got involved too.  We’d do artwork for flyers, posters and playbills.  Sometimes we’d even help with props or, more rarely, set design.  They had excellent set designers and builders headed by Troy Richard.  There were also a lot of talented designers and makers of costumes and of props.  There was the theatre people and the visual artists yet sometimes they’d overlap and connect.  Each side appreciated what the other side was doing.

From 1998 to 2003 they staged five plays written by local playwright, the late Ron Allen.  Ron was a well known local figure.  I first met him around the time he was helping to organize the H.I.P. (Horizons in Poetry) readings at the old Cobb’s Corner Bar.  He was one of Detroit’s best, a good guy and a real character.  His plays were amazing.  I’ll have to write more about Ron in the future.

In 2001, just after the September 11th attacks, they staged an excellent version of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.  This was one of  their best received plays and even won a play of the year award!  They had real dirt on the floor.  When the actors fell, they’d brush off fresh dirt.  Somehow, they got a huge tree in there too.  They must have taken it apart and put it back together again.  The performances and the staging was solid and sublime.

There’d usually be a good audience.  Sometimes the plays received reviews in the Detroit News or Detroit Free Press, The Metro Times or the Monitor.  It was a very lively scene.  I’d always wonder “What are they going to do next?”

Troy Richard and John Jakary were at the center of the Zeitgeist project.  Their main interest was the theatre side yet they were totally supportive of the visual artists and their displays.  I got to know them well.  I also got to know some of the actors, actresses, designers and others.  Sometimes we’d be there hanging an exhibit or having a meeting while rehearsals for a play were going on.  That was interesting.

There were some some productions where everything came together nicely.  Others were more difficult or challenging to stage.  To me, it seems that that’s what theatre is about.  You find an interesting and well written play and then you try to bring it to life as best you can.  Directing is important.  You have to try to tune or orchestrate all of the elements including acting, blocking, sets and costumes, lighting, sound design and more.  It doesn’t always all come together perfectly.  At the Zeitgeist, you could see that they were working hard and that they knew what they were doing.  They took chances, esperimented and were always pushing the envelope.

Troy Richard on the set of Eugene Ionesco’s “Victims of Duty” in 1999

This list is in progress.  I’ll try to have it in more complete form soon.

Directors

Troy Richard, John Jakary, Ron Allen, Timothy Campos, Boukaer Williams, Neil Alting, Leah Smith, Neil Carpentier-Alting, Jennifer George and others.

Most plays were produced by Troy Richard.

Writers

Samuel Beckett, Fernando Arrabal, John-Paul Sarte, Eugene O’Neill, Harold Pinter, Phillip Hayes Dean, Dario Fo, David Mamet, Amira Baraka, Sherry Kramer and others.

Local Writers

Troy Richard, John Jakary, Ron Allen, William Boyer and others

Actors and Actresses

Frequently appearing:

Lauren Allen, Chuck Reynolds, Thomas Hoagland, Sergio Mautone, Joel Mitchell, Leah Smith, Timothy Campos, Maria Haag, Alan Madlane and many more.

Appearing just once or twice:

Lisa Lennox, David Chamberlain, Chris Moeller, Ann Bonnie, Elton Litzer, Chris Munday, Fatimah Bazzy, Antonio Ramirez, Tara Grey and many more.

Lighting Design

Usually by John Jakary.  In the Abreact productions in 2008 often by Chad Kushuba.

Sound Design

Often by The VisionEar.

Costume Design and Masks

Usually by Heather White though I think sometimes others would be involved as well.

Others who helped with this and that

Eric Maher, Chris Roady and others.

 

lastchurch

Early 2001, art by John Elkerr

This link to an old blog post lists most of the plays that were staged at the Zeitgeist.  I’m still trying to update the last year, 2008.  All or most of the plays in that year were productions of the Abreact theatre group:

https://maugre22.wordpress.com/2011/09/09/theatre-at-the-zeitgeist-detroit/

ronallenbb

2002, Art by John Elkerr

More on Ron Allen:

https://artremedy20.wordpress.com/2010/08/12/ron-allen-1947-2010/

ubucardto

2003, art by Maugre aka Maurice Greenia, Jr.

Total Sensory Freakout: Detroit’s Zeitgeist Collective, 1997 to 2008

The current exhibit, closing in 5 or 6 weeks:

My history of the Zeitgeist Gallery and Performance Venue opened at the library of the University of Detroit Mercy on Monday May 20th. The display will continue through August. Materials include photographs, posters, postcards, original artwork and press clippings. This is my 6th year of exploring Detroit’s creative arts history at the library.

There are five display cases on the wall by the first floor entrance.  The last two, nearer the stairs will be focused largely on the theatre side of the Zeitgeist space.  Also on the first floor, original art will be displayed in the windows of the librarian’s offices.  On the second floor, in the Bargman room, there’s one more case.  It’s a large flat case.

The exhibit includes original artwork by Jacques Karamanoukian, John Elkerr, Roger Hayes, Jim Puntigam, Diana Alva, Gerard Sendrey, Claudine Goux, Sam Mackey, Robert Hyde, Maugré, Jaber, Pascal Hecker, Jean-Joseph Sanfourche, Arnold Dreifuss, Jack Johnson, Michael Loverich, Murray Carter and others.

Hours: https://libraries.udmercy.edu/mcnichols/hours/

Location: https://libraries.udmercy.edu/mcnichols/

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