The DATC 'Breaks the Mold' in Community Theatre

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

There's a reason for the apostrophe in the word Actor's in Detroit Actor's Theatre Company.

"It's because the actors take ownership of their work and essentially, the company. It does not belong to one single person. All productions are a collaborative effort. That is our biggest strength," said Eric Swanson, co-founder and artistic director of the DATC established in 2011 with Michael Johns, co-founder and marketing director. Their vision was to create a safe place for a diverse group of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, and instrumentalists to create on and off stage.

"We are just kind of getting our footing and figuring out how to exist in such a big city," said Swanson. The "we" includes Mindy Grissom, creative director; Gerianne Ditto-Harvey, music director; and Adam Milstein, tech director.

As of 2015, the DATC has moved to their final destination in Detroit as a member of the Bamboo Detroit shared office space, located on Brush Street near Music Hall and the Gem Theatre, where it conducts business on a routine basis. The DATC performs in iconic Detroit locations such as New Center, Grand Circus Park, and Campus Martius.

"We are able to travel in the city. Wherever people will have us, we'll put up a show," said Swanson.

The first production officially produced by the DATC was "Bare: A Pop Opera" in November of 2011 which took place in Pontiac at the old iLounge in the basement of Clutch Cargo's, which is now closed.

"This is where we started building our audience and our repetoire," said Swanson. The DATC was headquartered in Pontiac until the spring of 2013 when it moved to the Social Hall Theatre in Ferndale's United Methodist Church on Woodward Ave.

"They really gave us a home with no agenda. They were a fabulous support system for us," he said. During that time, the DATC took a leap and created a video for their performance of "The Hobbit."

"We invested some money in really cool special effects and prosthetics. Somebody who books for Campus Martius saw the video. He's like 'You guys look cool, can you come do something here?' From there it spiraled. We got lucky. That was our break quite honestly," said Swanson.

The DATC strives to provoke thought by producing works addressing social justice issues such as LGBTQ rights, women's rights, socioeconomic issues, racial debates, and moral issues.

Swanson points to the DATC's Create for Action Series featuring five Main Stage shows, all of which create a conversation and help to "break the mold."

"The caveat to that is we will welcome representatives from local nonprofits that advocate in those specific areas," said Swanson. For example, Alternatives for Girls in Detroit has been invited to push their material throughout the entire run of "The Vagina Monologues."

"Our talkbacks have the most profound and biggest impact following the show," he said. "It's an intellectual experience that has been very powerful. People are so moved by what they see. They are really touched and get a chance to say that to the actors and that feeds the next performance and the next performance. It's a beautiful way of forming our company."

The DATC Second Stage, guided by the DATC's board member and artistic director Brent Brozek, fosters the growth of their member produced shows. These include a wide variety of cabarets, stand up, improv, and other interactive shows.

The DATC staff looks to its board - which meets once a month to exchange ideas - to support their mission and needs. It is a partnership that Swanson and his team value. To look at the DATC board, people will see a minority with regards to people of color.

"I do believe firmly that that should and will change the more time we spend in Detroit and the more people we get excited about our organization," said Swanson, noting that it is a challenge to exist in a theatre company in a city that's striving to be so diverse.

"I would only add that diversity goes beyond skin color. We have openly gay members on the board, quite a wide range in ages, people of Jewish, Catholic, and agnostic faiths, and a variety of socio-economic backgrounds. Additionally, half of our named officers are women with my own co-founder hailing from Lebanese decent. Diversity goes beyond skin color."

While not all of the DATC's shows are free, their main objective is to present shows in various public forums free of charge.

Some of their more recent performances like "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Hair" each attracted more than 1,000 attendees.

"Allowing people to come and view a show without the financial barrier of a ticket has been huge for us. It's an amazing way to engage people without asking for money, not that our art isn't worth the money," said Swanson, adding that they do the work ahead of time to secure funding to produce their shows.

The DATC received a Michigan Council for Art and Cultural Affairs grant this year. Beyond that, they rely on support from sponsorships and are committed to fundraising. On Sept. 29, the DATC will host The Mad Hatter Ball, their sixth annual fundraiser. The event, for which tickets can be purchased online, will take place at 5 p.m. at Eastern Market's Shed 5, 2801 Russell St. in Detroit.

DATC Upcoming Performances

The Vagina Monologues

Oct. 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, 26 and 28

All performances at 8 p.m.

Boo's Music Lounge, 215 S. Main St., Royal Oak

Death by...WHATEVER!

A murder mystery dinner

Sept. 15 at 7 p.m.

Boo's Music Bistro, 215 S. Main St., Royal Oak

Prizes available including awards for best '90s outfit.

Tickets: $30

For more information about The Detroit Actor's Theatre Company, visit http://www.thedatc.org/ or http://www.facebook.com/TheDATC/.

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