Theaters/Venues

583. Detroit Public Theatre – October 2, 2022 – Detroit, MI

Get swept away by story at Detroit Public Theatre!

Season Eight of the local theater company kicked off in a brand-new home: the renovated Third Avenue Garage building in Detroit’s Midtown/Cass Corridor neighborhood. Prior to this, Detroit Public Theatre held its plays at venues around town – most recently at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

The theater is a beauty of a building! The airy lobby is an elegant example of the industrial aesthetic, with neat concrete floors, exposed brick walls, and a wood-plank ceiling. A bar along one side serves beer, wine, cocktails, and non-alcoholic libations.

I was there to see Mud Row. Written by lauded playwright and native Detroiter Dominique Morisseau (who is also Detroit Public Theatre’s Executive Artistic Producer), the play explores themes of racism, civil rights, gentrification, and (oft-complex) family dynamics. The intimate theater was an ideal space for this emotionally raw, moving production. Seated a couple of rows from the actors, I definitely felt in on the action.

Mud Row wrapped on October 30. Detroit Public Theatre’s next production, Noura, a tale about an Iraqi immigrant family grappling with their past during the holiday season, debuts November 15. To learn more about Noura and Detroit Public Theatre’s other Season Eight productions – and to buy tickets! – click here.

3960 3rd Ave.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.detroitpublictheatre.org

572. Berkley Coffee – August 5, 2022 – Oak Park, MI

Berkley Coffee has charm for days! From the drinks to the service to the ambiance, the good vibes are on overdrive at this Oak Park-based coffee shop, performance venue, and non-alcoholic bar.

Yes, Berkley Coffee isn’t based in Berkley, but Oak Park. But who cares? It’s Berkley adjacent – and its coffee is delicious. Berkley Coffee roasts it own beans and offers multiple varieties with origins ranging from Ethiopia to India, Nicaragua to Brazil.

The shop has multiple identities by design. By day, it’s the coffee shop, which is how I experienced it. I spent a couple of hours working at Berkley Coffee one morning, at a table bordering the performance stage. I loved the ambiance – both the lively energy (the place was bustling with customers that Friday morning) and the interior aesthetic. Berkley Coffee’s main room has a contemporary feel, with industrial details and neutral hues accented by pops of color (potted plants; stained glass in a pretty pattern of turquoise, white, and gold). Shelves housing nonalcoholic beers, wines, shrubs, syrups, and other drinks and drink ingredients dominate one corner. A room dubbed the East Room offers additional seating, books, children’s toys, a piano, and a plethora of board games.

I learned that Berkley Coffee takes a unique approach to ordering coffee. Cylindrical containers holding individual portions of beans are stacked on shelves facing the customer. When you place your order, you pick one of the vials and hand it to the barista, and they grind the beans and make your drink.

Staff members kindly ushered clueless me through the process, recommending bean varieties based on my preferences. I had two drinks that morning: a cappuccino with Brazilian beans and oat milk and a Japanese iced coffee with Ethiopian beans. Both were fantastic! (The Japanese-style iced coffee was something I’d never heard of but turned out to be a drink I regularly enjoy at home: fresh-brewed hot coffee poured over ice.)

By night, the main room of Berkley Coffee is the performance space. The shop regularly hosts bands and other performers. Amps, mics, PA equipment, guitars and other instruments are available for performers. The bar whips up cocktails that range from non-alcoholic versions of classics such as the Manhattan and Mai Tai to signature drinks with intriguing flavor components such as pine syrup, sesame oil, and blood orange cordial. According to Berkley Coffee’s website, it’s dedicated to offering a space where guests can socialize and enjoy live entertainment while also being sober.

With so much good to experience at Berkley Coffee, days’ and days’ worth of revisits are warranted!

14661 W. 11 Mile Rd., Ste. 500

Oak Park, MI 48237

www.berkleycoffee.com

555. Tipping Point Theatre – April 16, 2022 – Northville, MI

Tipping Point Theatre, weaving the magic of story into my Saturday afternoon!

Is there anything more compelling than live theater when it’s done right? Being able to attend plays again since COVID happened has been such a treat for me. So I was excited to experience a production of The Baxter Sisters at this community theater in downtown Northville.

The experience was wonderful! The Baxter Sisters was a moving tale of four sisters from small-town Michigan attempting to make it big on the dance circuit of the 1930s – until the tragedies and realities of life lead them down different paths. While I’m sure every seat in Tipping Point’s intimate, 100-seat theater is a good one, I felt especially fortunate to be seated in the first row facing the front of the stage – front and center to the singing, dancing, and drama!

Tipping Point Theatre is a non-profit community theater that started in 2007. Check its site for tickets to upcoming performances, and experience the magic yourself!

361 E. Cady St.

Northville, MI 48167

www.tippingpointtheatre.com

540. Open Book Theatre – December 19, 2021 – Trenton, MI

Visiting Open Book Theatre – what a sweet experience!

I was introduced to the Trenton-based playhouse in December, when I attended a performance of The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley. What a delight it was to experience live theater for the first time since COVID’s appearance!

Open Book Theatre Company has been putting on plays since 2014. The theater building is small in stature, nestled between a record shop and a lighting store in a suburban strip mall. But it’s got mega-watt charm! I appreciated the diversions put out for waiting guests in the lobby, including The Wickhams-themed games and a poll asking playgoers whether they’d seen the last Pride and Prejudice-oriented play put on at Open Book (2019’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley). It was also fun to learn the rules of the theater via song, in a parody of the “Twelve Days of Christmas.”

But the best part about visiting Open Book Theatre was, of course, experiencing live theater. The auditorium is intimate, seating maybe 75 people. Because admission is general, I got to pick my seat, smack-dab in the middle of the third row. I loved being up close to the actors, soaking in the drama and the set’s cozy ambiance (what’s more enchanting than a 19th-century English manor kitchen decorated for Christmas?). The actors were great; the play was, at turns, fun and funny and serious and scary. It had a happy ending, as holiday plays are wont to have. And it left me with warm-and-fuzzy feelings to savor on the ride home. Oh, the magic of live theater!

If you’re ready to experience live theater again, too, check out the tickets page of Open Book Theatre’s website. As of the writing of this post, the theater’s COVID protocol dictates that playgoers must be fully vaccinated and wear a mask. Playgoers are being asked to show their vaccine cards at the door. Consult the COVID Safety page on Open Book’s website for the most up-to-date protocol.

1621 West Rd.

Trenton, MI 48183

www.openbooktheatrecompany.net

528. Willis Show Bar – October 9, 2021 – Detroit, MI

To be at Willis Show Bar on a Saturday night, savoring live music!

The experience felt singular: not only because it was my first pandemic-times excursion to see live music, but because it happened at this wonderfully one-of-a-kind bar in the Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit.

As with many Detroit buildings, the Willis Show Bar venue has a storied past. It was in operation for nearly 30 years as a jazz club of the same name, from 1949-78. Forty years later, the current owners restored and reopened the property as a sleek tribute to its former self.

Stepping into Willis Show Bar is like stepping into a gorgeously glam portal. It’s intimate, dimly lit by candlelight and neon-purple and blue lights. Seating is offered along the sleek bar, via cozy two-top tables and wrap-around booths. The two elevated stage areas are uniquely positioned: one is tucked behind the bar; the other, near the front door. Open floor space beyond the bar leaves plenty of room for dancing.

As of the writing of this post, Willis Show Bar is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. It offers two nightly sets of live music: from 8-9 and 10-11 p.m. Admission is typically $10 when purchased in advance on Willis Show Bar’s website and $15 the day of the show. Select acts can cost more.

On the night of our visit, my friends and I sat in a booth positioned in a corner near the front door. We were right across from the singer/guitarist and keyboardist playing on the stage near the door. We attended the 10 p.m. set. Willis Show Bar’s house band, The At Will Band, was playing. They were phenomenal! They kicked out exuberant covers of funk, hip hop, R&B, and soul favorites varying from Bill Withers’ “Lovely Day” to Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” (my personal favorite of the night). The male and female singers sharing lead duties that night were both talented, but I found the male singer to be especially fantastic. He had incredible range, adeptly hitting the high notes on a Justin Timberlake cover and bringing the house down with the closer, Montell Jordan’s “This is How We Do It.”

Speaking of incredible: Willis Show Bar’s craft cocktail menu is just that. Such an intriguing menu of offerings! I selected one of the seasonal drinks, the Flannel. The melding of chai tea-infused bourbon, dry curacao, lemon, maple, nutmeg, and salt was so delicious. And it went down so easy!

Enraptured by the music and those Flannel cocktails, I was wholly surprised when the At Will’s hour-long set came to an end. It went by so quickly!

My friends and I lingered a bit after the set, listening to the then DJ-spun tunes and dreaming up our next visit to Willis Show Bar. It’s a visit that can’t come quickly enough!

4156 Third St.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.willisshowbar.com

432. El Club – September 8, 2019 – Detroit, MI

September2019ElClub1 (2)September2019ElClub2 (4)September2019ElClub3 (2)September2019ElClub4 (3)El Club! The venue in Southwest Detroit is an all-ages club that hosts musical acts on a near nightly basis. It’s also where I saw Stef Chura and Ezra Furman perform on a Sunday night in September.

I’d been wanting to experience El Club since I read about it in Hour Detroit a year or two ago and was thrilled when I saw that one of my favorite contemporary musicians, Ezra Furman, was going to be performing there. I ordered tickets right away – and was even more psyched when I saw that closer to the show date, local artist Stef Chura and her band were added to the bill. I was familiar with her music and knew she would rock out!

I’m not familiar, in general, with the artists featured on El Club’s events calendar. I presume most of them are up-and-coming performers or those who appeal to more niche audiences. I’m admittedly not at all hip to the alt-music scene – though after my visit to El Club, I want to be!

The venue’s concert floor is relatively small, looking to accommodate no more than a couple hundred people – and that’s frankly part of its appeal. It’s what makes seeing a show at El Club exciting – you’re going to be right down there on the floor, in the action, a part of a live musical experience that is much more visceral, more alive, than being stuck up in the nosebleeds at some slickly produced yet lifeless stadium show.

The show I attended at El Club was billed as starting at 7 – but that ended up being when the doors opened for the night, which my friend and I discovered when we arrived at the club about 45 minutes early, the sole early birds in sight (LOL). Our early arrival did make parking simple; there’s a lot across the street from El Club where parking is free, so we parked there.

Killing time was easy, as beautiful Clark Park is only a few minutes’ walk away, and we sat on a hill there and watched people being led through square dances by a bluegrass band. It was a surprisingly moving experience, people of all ages and races coming together to joyfully perform these old-timey dance moves.

Back at El Club once the doors opened, I got a beer from the bar (which is a full bar serving beer, wine, and liquor), and my friend and I hung out on El Club’s picturesque patio with its garlands of lights and mural swirling with vibrant colors.

We were waiting not just for the show to start, but for the pizza to appear, because El Club serves slices of the pie. I was under the impression that El Club makes the pizza, but on that night, it arrived via outside delivery. Regardless, it was fresh and delicious.

Sometime after 8, we heard an explosion of music – the show was starting! Stef Chura and her band had boarded the stage; they played for about a half hour to 45 minutes, and they killed it!

Stef Chura’s voice mesmerized me; its got this alt-’90s vibe that I really dig, and I legit found myself thinking “I wanna be a cool rock star like her!” (Maybe in my next lifetime.)

After about a 20-minute break, Ezra Furman and his band hit the stage and also rocked out HARD. It was exciting to see a guy whose music I’ve admired for so long playing that music right in front of me. I actually found myself exclaiming a few times, “He looks the same as in his pictures!” (LOL – bless me with my obvious, fan-girling statement!)

As Ezra thanked us in the crowd for coming out on a Sunday night to support the arts, I felt a proclamation welling up inside of me: “I am going to CHANGE my life: I’m going to see live music more; I’m going to visit El Club all of the time!” I had drank the El Club Kool-Aid – and it felt good.

Flashing forward nearly a month: I haven’t been back to El Club since that night; I’ve let daily life with all of its routines and obligations pull me back into its orbit. But I’m still excited by the memory of my visit there and scan its newsletter every week, seeking the act that will make another magic moment out of my everyday life.

4114 W. Vernor Hwy.

Detroit, MI 48209

www.elclubdetroit.com

427. Cinema Detroit – August 25, 2019 – Detroit, MI

August2019CinemaDetroit1 (2)August2019CinemaDetroit2 (3)August2019CinemaDetroit3 (3)Cinema Detroit is doing the good work, bringing interesting movies to the Metro-Detroit masses!

The independently-run, non-profit movie theater based in the Midtown/Cass Corridor neighborhood of Detroit occasionally screens films that the corporate theater chains show (it ran BlacKkKlansman when it came out last year, for instance). But most of the movies Cinema Detroit features have a smaller reach – think indie films, documentaries, cult classics. Cinema Detroit curates its films with care, favoring those that are thoughtful or artful or have an impactful message rather than those that net mega dollars.

Take the movie I saw at Cinema Detroit on a Sunday afternoon in late August, The Farewell, a comedic drama about a Chinese family’s decision to hide its matriarch’s cancer diagnosis from her. The movie got some mainstream attention – likely in part because it starred Awkwafina of Crazy Rich Asians fame – but it’s no flashy superhero-packed blockbuster. It’s in parts funny and heartwarming, but it’s also quite dark at times, and it poses an important moral question: is it wrong to hide from a loved one that she’s dying? Or is it a kindness, a shouldering of the burden so that she doesn’t have to? The Farewell is a thinker of a film.

Cinema Detroit specializes in such films. The other movie playing that day was a documentary on Toni Morrison, Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, which I’m kind of kicking myself for not returning and seeing because she’s one of my favorite authors. (Her writing is so beautiful, and her fictional characters are so wonderfully strange! That’s my Toni tangent of the post.)

The movie theater is housed in a brick building with its own gated parking area and a beautiful mural emblazoned on its side, featuring flowers and a quote by Detroit-born poet Robert Hayden: “Undiscovered suns release their light.”

Entering it, I immediately took a liking to it. Cinema Detroit definitely emits indie-theater vibes with its lobby with its homey mish-mash of sofas and stuffed chairs and its combination ticket/concessions counter, where admission (reasonably priced at $9) is sold alongside popcorn and Faygo pop and candy.

Within Cinema Detroit, there are two viewing rooms: the main theater, which appears to be – from the photos I see on Yelp; I didn’t see it in person – a traditionally laid-out theater with cushy red chairs; and the screening room, which is where I viewed The Farewell. That room (captured in the third photo shown above) is a more intimate setting, a small space with a collection of couches and chairs that could seat about 12 to 15 people, depending on how cozy you want to get.

There were eight or nine of us in the screening room viewing The Farewell that afternoon, and from my chair in the back row, I had plenty of room, as I only shared that row with one other person. But if you want to make sure you get your preferred spot to view a movie in the screening room at Cinema Detroit, it wouldn’t hurt to show up early.

I left Cinema Detroit that night jazzed up by the experience I had there. Arts and culture, for me, make life more vibrant and compelling, and it’s exciting for me to have discovered another way I can experience them. Thanks, Cinema Detroit, for doing the good work!

4126 3rd St.

Detroit, MI 48201

www.cinemadetroit.org

384. One Night Stan’s – December 31, 2018 – Waterford, MI

december2018onenightstans1 (2)Wayyyyy back when, on the very last night of 2018, I saw a comedy show at One Night Stan’s in Waterford. It was hilarious, and the staff of One Night Stan’s were excellent hosts. And that is about as much as I can say about that, because at the point I’m writing this, that was over five-and-a-half months ago, and yeah . . . the memory is hazy at this point (and not because I enjoyed too many adult beverages during this New Year’s Eve show, I swear!). But I DO know that I had a great time at One Night Stan’s and that I’ll take any excuse to enjoy live comedy, so kudos to its owners for introducing another venue for this hilarious art form to the Metro-D!

4761 Highland Rd.

Waterford, MI 48328

www.onenightstanscomedyclub.com

345. Emerald Theatre – July 15, 2018 – Mount Clemens, MI

July2018EmeraldTheatre2 (2)July2018EmeraldTheatre1 (2)While I was volunteering at the Femmes of Rock concert at the Emerald Theatre a few weeks ago, it hit me that it was my first time visiting the venue.

Could that be possible? I asked myself. I’d grown up in relative proximity to the Emerald; it seemed crazy to me that I’d never before witnessed a concert or other live event at the popular venue located in the heart of downtown Mount Clemens. But I’ve since racked my brain, and unless I visited the place as a kiddo and have totally forgotten it, it indeed appears that this was my first time in the space. So . . . new-place time!

The gorgeous, nearly 100-year-old (built in 1921) theater is small and intimate, as you can see from the above photo of its interior; it seats approximately 1,600. According to its website, it’s been revamped in some respects since its inception; that mural on the face of its exterior obviously isn’t circa 1921, for instance (but man, is it striking!). There’s a bar in the theater area, and upstairs there’s a sleek bar space called the Rock Room open on Friday and Saturday nights that features live performances.

While I was at the Emerald in a volunteer capacity, I was able to watch the show performed that night – which was AWESOME. The performers, Bella Electric Strings – a quartet of female violinists backed by a three-piece rock band – KILLED it! The ensemble brought mad energy and skill to the classic-rock tunes they played; I highly recommend you check them out if you’re interested: www.femmesofrock.com. And of course, check out the Emerald for a live performance!

31 N. Walnut St.

Mt. Clemens, MI 48043

www.theemeraldtheatre.com

329. Planet Ant Theatre’s Ant Hall – May 17, 2018 – Hamtramck, MI

May2018PlanetAntAntHall1 (2)May2018PlanetAntAntHall3 (3)OMG, you guys, did I have a blast last week watching improv at Planet Ant Theatre’s Ant Hall in Hamtramck!

Have you ever been to a Planet Ant production – specifically the Thursday night Comedy Slice Block Party? It is an absolute DELIGHT, a three-hour revue of various improv groups providing off-the-cuff hilarity and absurdity that I found to be massively entertaining. At $5.50 a ticket, entrance to the Comedy Slice Block Party was a steal considering the intense laughter therapy it provided me.

Planet Ant Theatre had been on my radar after reading a profile on it in Hour Detroit a year or two ago (thank you, Hour Detroit, for yet again providing a spot-on recommendation). Attending a show there seemed like the perfect kick-off to my 2018 Best Summer EVER initiative, so I recruited my friend Jaclyn, whose willingness to check out new places is just one of the many reasons she is dear to me (my friends are seriously the best at tolerating my obsession with exploring the area for this blog).

After dinner at Dos Locos Tacos, we walked over to the Ant Hall, the Planet Ant satellite building where the Comedy Slice Block Party was being held. When I’d picked the weekly Thursday-night improv event from the schedule of comedy, plays, and live music, I hadn’t realized it was held at a building other than the main theatre, the vibrantly purple two-story brick building with its giant ant-head logo splayed on one side.

I discovered that the Ant Hall is a smaller building just across the street from the main theater and is connected with a bar called the Ghost Light bar, which is accessible from inside the Ant Hall. (I thought of potentially counting the Ghost Light as another new-to-me place separate from the Ant Hall – but despite it having a different street address, for me the two places and my experience visiting them felt connected.)

When we meandered into the Ghost Light once it opened at 7, I dug the small bar’s dimly-lit, dive-bar coziness and inviting aura.

Around 7:30, a guy entered the Ghost Light and announced that the improv show was about to start and that us bar patrons should feel free to wander into the theater to enjoy some comedy. Jaclyn and I finished our beers and headed over to the theater, our curiosity piqued about what this Comedy Slice Block Party would entail.

I’d bought tickets for the show online and been instructed to pick them up at the Ant Hall lobby counter. But we never picked up the tickets because we never saw anyone at that counter at any point prior to the show. Given that, and given the open invitation from the aforementioned guy in the Ghost Light, we could have easily gotten away with not buying tickets at all. But I was glad we had, to support the theater in that way (thumbs-up to nurturing the arts!).

Joining the show already in progress, we entered the theater, which consisted of a stage with several rows of folding chairs set up in front of it. Our entrance brought the audience total to five people.

Throughout the evening, that audience grew so that it eventually consisted of about 20-something of us. It ended up being a small-but-mighty crowd, good-vibing and boisterously laughing. Several brief intermissions were interspersed throughout the show, to allow us attendees to use the restrooms and frequent the Ghost Light for drinks, which we were allowed to bring into the theater.

From the get-go, I admired the improv performers of this show. Acting in front of a sparse audience, under pressure to spontaneously follow their teammates’ cues and be comical in the process, took major courage – at least, for me it would. These guys and gals had guts!

And they were FUNNY. I laughed and laughed and laughed at each portion of the Comedy Slice Block Party featuring a different improv group. Man, it felt so good to laugh like that! Every time I crack up that much, I remind myself that I need to do it more often. Improv shows need to become a mainstay in all of our lives!

(BTW, in case you are interested in becoming one of these gutsy guys and gals who gets onstage and make funnies on the fly, Planet Ant Theatre offers improv training classes – check out its website for more info.)

Each group performed for about 15 to 20 minutes – perhaps longer as the night went on. I wasn’t keeping track of time because I was enjoying myself so much – the nearly three-hour show flew by.

Most of the groups performed standard improv sets; a few varied the format. There was one act called Alex Explains it All (shown in the second photo above) that did what came off more as theatric performance than improv. Goth Alex was joined onstage by her boyfriend guitarist, her drag-queen mother, and her drummer stepfather, Skid Rock, for a rousing act of shenanigans and song.

The last set of the night at this Comedy Slice Block Party show incorporated one of the most inherently unfunny elements on the planet: torture. It had troupe members getting spanked with a rubber paddle for producing jokes that merited boos, walking blindfolded amongst a minefield of live mousetraps, and performing sketches with one team member’s head submerged in a bucket of water – until that person begged out and tapped in the next team member to hold his/her breath under water for as long as he/she could tolerate.

This torture set: that shit was crazy! It definitely made me a bit uncomfortable, in a “Is it OK to laugh at this?” sense – which was probably part of its intent. While I certainly didn’t derive pleasure from the troupe members’ discomfort, it was entertaining in its unconventionality. Props to those guys for being willing to endure beatings, mouse-trap pinches, and water torture in the name of comedy!

Overall, attending this Comedy Slice Block Party was the most entertaining thing I have done in months; it was an absolute riot. I’m going to self-prescribe myself the directive to attend improv and comedy shows on a regular basis, because laughter really IS the best medicine, in my book!

2320 Caniff St.

Hamtramck, MI 48212

www.planetant.com