October 1, 2023

Pack a Picnic for Parallel 45’s Outdoor Summer-theater Series

Floodlights, sunset, action!
By Ross Boissoneau | June 22, 2019

The tradition of summer stock theater — productions usually staged outside in the heat of summer — is an old one, harkening back to a handful of American cities (and their outskirts), circa 1920.

But what’s brand spanking new in Traverse City this July: Parallel 45 Theatre’s grand opening of its own version of summer stock in an all-new setting. For the first time, theater lovers — and newbies — will be able to attend a series of professional productions on a new stage, with new seating, professional lighting and sound, at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center in Traverse City.
The season opens July 11 with the iconic musical tribute to ’60s counter-culture, “Hair.”

Erin Anderson Whiting, the executive director and co-founder of Parallel 45, said everyone is welcome at the theatre company’s new home.

“We hope to have an audience of locals, visitors and seasonal [residents],” she said. “We want to provide a great experience to both seasoned theatre-goers and people who haven’t been to a play since high school. Theatre shouldn’t feel like an obligation, like something that requires homework.”
The group’s goal: That attending a Parallel 45 show will come to be part of an Up North summer tradition like going to the beach or picking cherries, with audiences perhaps picnicking prior to the show and enjoyingthe Civic Center grounds.

Whether audiences are first-time theatergoers or seasoned vets, they can expect some skillful turns under the spotlight.  The professional theatre company are showcasing the talents of 51 professional actors in the three different plays: HAIR, directed by Parallel 45 co-founder Kit McKay; Little Bunny Foo Foo, directed by Katherine M. Carter; and Stupid F--ing Bird, directed by Matthew Gutschick. The lattermost is (sort of) adapted from Chekhov’s The Seagull.
Performing plays in the great outdoors isn’t new Up North. Locally, Interlochen, Riverside Shakespeare and Lakeside Shakespeare in Frankfort have all produced plays at various locations. But Parallel 45 is taking things a step further, protecting cast and audience under a saddlespan tent, which will encompass the new staging, seating, and other upgrades. The venue will seat 148 people.

Parallel 45 was formed in 2010 by Whiting and McKay. “Kit had finished graduate school in directing and was entertaining employment offers at theatres around the country. I was working in philanthropy at the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. I wanted to take my knowledge of nonprofit management and charitable giving and combine it with Kit’s creative vision and theatre industry knowledge,” said Whiting, calling herself “a passionate theatre audience member and advocate for the arts.”

Since its founding, Parallel 45 has showcased more than 100 artists in seven seasons of plays. When it lost its previous venue, Inside Out Gallery, Whiting and company decided to make lemonade from lemons, taking a year off from presentations to regroup. “It gave us a moment to step back and determine how to have a greater reach,” said Whiting.
The organization began discussions with Grand Traverse County about using space at the Civic Center. The result was a cooperative agreement to refurbish the Civic Center Park amphitheater. The new venue will be available for rent to other entities when it is not being used by Parallel 45.
The new summer season harkens back to the company’s origins. “Originally we did one or two [shows] each summer. Then we got away from that,” said Whiting.
Whiting said the theatre company is always looking for ways to showcase both contemporary and classic material, often with an edge. “We bring different a perspective on familiar stories,” she said. “Our tagline is ‘Familiar Stories for the Adventurous Mind.’”

The three plays will be performed on alternating days, with occasional overlap. Cast members will typically play roles in two of the three plays. “That model makes a lot of sense,” said Whiting, both in terms of finances and performance. She said rotating the shows gives those who might only be in the area for a short time the opportunity to see more than one play. It also gives locals reason to return to the venue. “We believe theatre is an accessible adventure. We want visitors, seasonal residents, and those who live here year round to feel welcome and excited to be there,” said Whiting.
The shows differ wildly, again offering reasons to attend for both veteran theater-goers or those for whom it may be a brand new endeavor. HAIRbrought the 60’s counter-cultural revolution to a mass audience with songs like “Aquarius” and “Easy to Be Hard.” Little Bunny Foo Foois a new musical based on the classic children’s song and features the music of Tony-nominated composer Dave Malloy.Stupid … Birdoffers love triangles, philosophical war-waging and foot-stomping hilarity as it “minesThe Seagull for classical heft even while giving it the bird,” according to The Washington Post.
Whiting said McKay’s work experience has put her in touch with a large network of actors, designers and technicians at theatres such as Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, and Seattle Repertory. Those actors who come from across the country will live in the new dorms at Northwestern Michigan College. “Between these contacts and her network from graduate studies at Northwestern University and Yale University, she has developed an incredible pool of talent from which to draw,” Whiting said.
That pool is supplemented by the other directors as well as auditions. “In January, we opened online auditions and received more than 150 video submissions from actors across the country,” said Whiting. “We also held local auditions at The Depot and Interlochen, which allowed us to see impressive local talent.”
When summer is over, the tent will come down, but Parallel 45 will continue. It has shows scheduled at the City Opera House, a co-op agreement with the Mitten Lab for showcasing new works at Interlochen’s Harvey Theatre, and a spring residency at Interlochen, as well as readings and workshops.

“Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical”: July 11–14, 19–20, 27; Aug. 3
‘Little Bunny Foo Foo: A Play for Small People”: July 18–21, 24, 27; Aug. 1, 2
“Stupid F##king Bird (sort of adapted from ‘The Seagull’ by Anton Chekov”) July 25, 26, 28, 31; Aug. 3, 4
For tickets, schedule, and additional information, go to www.parallel45.org.


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