Few cities with a population under 5,000 can boast their own musical theater company, but Dexter is lucky. The idea to open a musical theater came to Anne Koch shortly after moving to Dexter in 2007 with her husband Paul. Koch is from Westland, MI but had fallen in love with the intimacy of small-town theater while living in Rhode Island. Koch wanted to create a space where her community could come to enjoy musical theater the way she did. During this time, Koch was surprised to find an old high school classmate on a Broadway website and reached out to see if he would be interested in helping start a theater. She hadn’t seen Dan Cooney since their high school choir days but was hopeful that he would email her back. After a few seasons performing on Broadway in productions like Les Misérables and Mama Mia, Cooney decided it was time to leave New York and head home to Michigan to take the Kochs up on their offer. Together, Anne and Paul Koch and Dan Cooney embarked on a new passion: a small-town Midwest theater with a slice of Broadway.
The Encore Musical Theatre Company launched in 2008 in a former garage space on Bond St. converted to a black box theater. In thirteen years the simple, 122 seat theater has staged a staggering amount of theater. Encore has hosted over 70,000 audience members, as well as trained the next generation of Broadway talent through children’s acting classes, week-long summer drama camps, and a two-year intensive program, The MAAS Conservatory, where aspiring actors can build their portfolios before going on professional auditions or applying to performing arts schools.
Although their productions were frequently sold out, a common response from audience members was that Encore’s space was no longer adequate for the ambitious, high-quality productions the theater was putting on. Cooney and the Kochs had succeeded in bringing musical theater and drama education to Dexter, but they agreed with their patrons: it was time to expand. When they learned that the old Dexter school house, known as The Copeland Building, was up for sale, they realized immediately it was the perfect choice for the move.
Amid a global pandemic, the Encore Musical Theatre Company purchased the 20,000 square foot Copeland building from Dexter Community Schools for $1 million. In the fall of 2020, Encore launched a capital campaign, “Our Next Stage” to raise $2.5 million to pay for and renovate their new space. They are over halfway to their goal, which they’ve raised from community members and a $500,000 grant from the Benard L. Maas Foundation, also the founding supporter of Encore’s MAAS Conservatory program.
The historic brick and limestone building, located at 7714 Ann St., is named after New York Senator Royal Copeland, a Dexter native and University of Michigan graduate. Ironically, during the Spanish Flu epidemic when Copeland served as the President of New York City’s Board of Health, he allowed theaters to remain open. “I consider it a good omen that we are moving into a building named after a health professional during a health crisis,” Robert Caplis, the marketing consultant of Encore, chuckles and adds, “It’s like moving into a Fauci building.”
Originally built in 1857, the last time the Copeland building saw major renovations was in 1936. Encore broke ground in January, 2021 and is set to wrap up reconstruction in time to debut Some Enchanted Evening on June 17. During renovations, the original walls of what had been the Dexter Union Schoolhouse were uncovered, and a large archway that once connected to the clock tower. Encore’s renovations leave the original limestone intact and exposed in an open floor plan with a bar, lounge area, and box office, in addition to classrooms for summer camp, MAAS Conservatory programs, and community use.
The 75×75 ft. theater holds more than twice the number of seats as their former space, and because the stage is surrounded by the audience on three sides, allows for an immersive theater experience. When the theater opens its doors on June 17th for the first production of their summer series, “Some Enchanted Evening,” they will seat less than 125 patrons to maintain social distancing and comply with Covid capacity limitations.
Donations can be made here: https://theencoretheatre.org/capital-campaign/.
Tickets are being sold online for all productions in Encore’s summer series: