Traverse City News and Events

Parallel 45, Interlochen Launch Theater Partnership

By Beth Milligan | Aug. 25, 2019

Two of northern Michigan’s theatre institutions are joining forces, partnering to offer year-round opportunities for both professional artists and high school students to hone their craft and create new works of art.

Interlochen Center for the Arts and Parallel 45 Theatre announced the two nonprofits are entering into a new partnership, which will feature three different programming components. The first is the launch of a new six-week artist-in-residency program on the Interlochen campus starting in February 2020.  Each year, Interlochen and Parallel 45 will jointly choose one or more theatre professionals to stay on campus and work with Interlochen’s nearly 90 theater high school students on developing original material for a public performance in March. The artist(s) will earn a living wage while in residency – funded by both Interlochen and Parallel 45 – and will have on-campus accommodations provided by the boarding school.

Parallel 45 Executive Director Erin Anderson Whiting says the program will focus on devised theatre – a collaborative process in which a group typically starts with no script, only a concept, then fleshes out the production together through improvisatory rehearsals. “They won’t create a perfect complete piece in six weeks,” she explains. “You’ll get to see where the piece is in its life cycle, and it’ll probably have 15 iterations after that. It takes a long time to develop work.” Whiting says the program will not only offer students a chance to help write and act in original work, but can generate material the professional artists can continue to hone after their residencies and be later performed by Parallel 45 or other theatre groups across the country. “It’s material we can use in future years when they’re ready,” she says. 

Interlochen Director of Theatre Arts Bill Church says devised theatre is the way “most contemporary theater in New York is being produced right now.” The program will allow students to get first-hand experience in that environment, he says. “We strive to provide our students with as many different performance opportunities as possible,” he continues, adding that because the theatre professionals will be living on campus, they “will be closely involved with the lives of theatre majors here.”

For the program’s launch next spring, Interlochen and Parallel 45 chose Shelby Lewis to serve as the first artist-in-residence. Lewis, a graduate of the Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, has previously served as a theatre instructor for Interlochen and has trained in Los Angeles, New York, and abroad. She has performed in Interlochen’s Shakespeare Festival at Parallel 45 productions and also directed Old Town Playhouse’s first sensory-friendly performance – a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream – in 2018.

For her residency, Lewis says the most exciting component of the program is not being allowed to plan any material in advance. “A variety of elements will be prepared to serve as inspiration and exercises for creation, but I will not know what will unfold until I meet who is in the room and nurture what unique views and talents each person brings,” she says.

Interlochen seniors preparing to graduate from the theatre program will also have another opportunity to work with professionals – this time as part of Parallel 45’s new summer repertory at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center. As a second component of the partnership, Parallel 45 will offer a number of guaranteed apprenticeship spots for Interlochen students each summer. Before leaving for college, the students will have a chance to earn income and train alongside the professional artists who fly in from across the country for Parallel 45’s summer performances. “They will participate in training and workshops, and will sometimes have substantive roles in the productions," says Whiting.

Church notes that for “a couple thousand years, the way actors were trained was not in school. It was through apprenticeships. It was a younger actor following an older actor around and learning their techniques.” The program will also give students a professional credit on their resume – and “the more credits you have on that resume, the more doors it will open,” he says. Parallel 45’s inaugural summer repertory this year drew over 3,000 attendees, providing exposure to a wide audience for students. “It gives them a sense of closure on their time here,” says Church. “Our students never want to leave when they graduate, so to give them one more opportunity in the area is special.”

The third and final component brings in another partner: The MITTEN Lab (a Michigan Incubator for Theatre Talent Emerging Now). The artist residency program founded by Rachel Sussman and Katherine Carter focuses on cultivating “early career playwrights, musical theatre composers, lyricists, librettists, choreographers, and performance artists in an effort to strengthen the development of new theatrical work in Michigan.” Parallel 45 serves on the selection committee for MITTEN Lab, which will send its artists to Bear Lake for a week and then to Interlochen for 1.5 days. The artists’ material will be directed by individuals provided by Parallel 45, with Interlochen students and faculty helping perform the work at a public showcase. The next free MITTEN Lab performance is scheduled for September 15 at 7:30pm in Interlochen’s Harvey Theatre.

According to Church, Interlochen and Parallel 45’s new partnership is representative of a creative explosion in northern Michigan’s theatre scene in recent years. “I’ve noticed with the addition of our Shakespeare Festival and the expansion of the theater program, we’re really gaining momentum here on campus,” he says. “To see Traverse City get a company like Parallel 45, that feels like it belongs in a bigger city, and give fans a chance to see really great theatre in both venues – it’s very exciting.”

Pictured: Parallel 45 production of Hair at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center

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