Although the Detroit Repertory Theatre packs plenty of laugh-grabbers and tear-jerkers into each season, its artists have more on their minds than just entertaining theatergoers. The actors, playwrights, producers, and directors of the Repertory want to unite all Metropolitan Detroit communities under a banner of creativity. It's a lofty ambition, but the theater hasn't lost focus on that goal since it first opened in 1957. As the oldest alternative professional theater company in the state, it prides itself on having weathered storms economic, social, and literal, and continues to produce four shows a year that remind audiences of the power of live performance.
Those shows often feature scripts from the most promising talents in the Midwest, and aim to be as thought-provoking as they are engaging. The theater follows practices of ethnicity- and gender-blind casting whenever possible, ensuring that the people on stage represent the range of people in the audience. And that dedication to community extends beyond the footlights?the theater welcomes play submissions from local writers, and displays pieces from Michigan artists in the lobby.
The nation's fourth-oldest orchestra, the DSO has been filling Detroit's music halls with top-notch euphony since 1887. By the 1920s, the orchestra came into its own, entering a golden age that saw them hosting such legends as Igor Stravinsky, Richard Strauss, and Sergei Rachmaninoff. After financial difficulties put the outfit's hall in jeopardy, a multi-decade fund-raising effort led to their triumphant return home in 1989. Today, the orchestra remains one of the most recorded symphonies in the country, bringing the classical canon to millions of listeners and giving orchestra members something to blast at family gatherings when their siblings start talking about their jobs.
The Detroit Institute of Arts takes the “s” at the end of its name seriously. The immense Beaux Arts building on Woodward Avenue isn’t only a setting for a top-tier collection of visual works that include Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry frescoes, a van Gogh self-portrait, and ancient sculptures from Africa and Asia. It also opens the doors of its lecture halls, event spaces, and auditoriums for craft workshops, wide-ranging talks from historians and people who know how to draw really good cubes, film, and music. The latter two art forms find a home in the Detroit Film Theatre, a gilded, neoclassical auditorium that preserves a sense of coziness amid the grandeur.
Since 1936, the historic Gem Theatre has moved movie lovers to laughter and tears with films in an elegant, comfortable single-screen vintage theater. Peruse current showtimes and choose a first-run film, which may include a romantic romp, a superhero adventure, an independent feature, or Casablanca II: Electric Boogaloo. Guests pick up their sodas and popcorn at the concessions stand in the carpeted lobby, whose ornate table lamps cast soft light on potted plants and flowers. In the red and gold 916-seat amphitheater, upholstered floor seats beckon audience members and balcony perches provide a sky-high view behind marbled wood rails. Before the film, guests watch wrought-iron vines curl around colorful birds in sculptures flanking the screen. Sumptuous gold curtains hide the big screen until showtime, allowing staff members to finish reenacting each film’s climactic scene in private.
During its 20th season of socially engaging theater in southwest Detroit, Matrix Theatre Company continues to create challenging and visually compelling work that includes the community it calls home. The year of six plays begins with Southwest Story (October 14–November 13), a Detroit take on the story of Romeo and Juliet that explores the conflict between African-American and Latino cultures but fails to solve the mystery of how Shakespeare kept his goatee so pointy.
Ranked among Ticketmaster's Top 25 Most Requested Family Events for five consecutive years, UniverSoul Circus grants an interactive spectacle of acrobatic stunts, dance, and comedy set to popular urban sounds. With its swirling lights and pulsing beats, the circus's resemblance to a blowout concert tour is no accident: production designer Tom Marzullo has created internationally touring stage shows for Justin Bieber, Jay-Z, and Prince.
As hosts, a troupe of improv comics slip laughs in between the gasps and draw the crowd even closer into the action. Meanwhile, the production makes jaws drop farther with trained elephants, illusions featuring a live tiger, a head-balancing act from Vietnam, and female contortionists from Ethiopia. These make up just a few of the globally sourced performers, others of whom hail from locales as diverse as Colombia, South Africa, Russia, and Trinidad and Tobago.