The Blackbird Theare celebrated its new freedom with nude male wrestling.
The scene, in the theater’s current production of Women in Love, would never have been possible in its former home on Pauline. While the space in the Children’s Creative Center had been a wonderful place to grow for seven years, “We felt there were certain things we couldn’t do because we were sharing a space with children,” explains artistic director Barton Bund. In addition, “we had to set up and tear down [our sets] every weekend, so logistically it was difficult.”
After concluding their final season on Pauline, Bund and his wife and associate director, Dana Sutton, wanted a venue that would allow them more control, and more freedom for the risky work they like to do. They found it at Shaut, a small rental hall in a house in Braun Court.
The couple met in a directing class at Eastern Michigan University soon after Bund started the theater in 1998. Sutton appeared in Bund’s first adaptation of Women in Love, in 1999. (Bund says his prior take on the D.H. Lawrence novel was a period comedy of manners, while the new one is freer and more theatrical, embracing the dreamy philosophical atmosphere of the book.)
The two worked with other volunteers to manage the theater during its early years in Ypsilanti. “When those folks moved on, we decided not to go to graduate school or move out of state but to stay here and make this theater our lives,” says Sutton. “Bart and I have done this for eight years with no pay, but I don’t know that I would change anything.”
Though they’re proud that the Blackbird covers its costs, “Dana and I have always needed other sources of income to support our art habit,” Bund adds. “Dana works full time handling operations at a venture capital company, Plymouth Management, and I pick up outside acting and directing jobs to make ends meet.”
The Blackbird will work closely with Shaut to make sure productions don’t encroach on the other events already held there. With careful planning, they won’t have to dismantle shows during a run. And if the Blackbird wants to do something requiring more space, they can take productions to other venues–Bund’s musical Patty Hearst had an extended run in Detroit, and after doing Shakespeare in a Royal Oak park this summer, he wants to do more shows outdoors, too.
Women in Love is the first production to take advantage of the Blackbird’s new freedom, but it won’t be the last. Scatological language abounds in its second offering this season, Suzan-Lori Parks’ Topdog/Underdog, a Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about brothers struggling with gambling, racism, and women.
“We’re trying things that scare us a little bit,” Bund says. “I don’t think I’m ever drawn to a project that doesn’t have some element of terror for me.”