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Wednesday, November 26,2008

All in the family

Theater company brings all-ages drama to Frandor

by Eric Gallippo
Director Bill Gordon (right) coaches the Cratchit family before their Christmas toast. (From left) Lisa Funkhouser, Heath Sartorius, Heather Wood, Erin Panter, Katie Panter, Gabe Maldonado, Jackson Hall and Mik Sobocinski. (Alex Henderson/City Pulse)


Drop by the new home of the Mid Michigan Family Theatre and you’re likely to see a work in progress. The fledgling company recently made the move from the Meridian Mall to the Frandor Shopping Center, where it is neighbored by Dress Barn next door and Kroger across the parking lot.


For now, the place is pretty hard to see from outside. The windows are covered in black paper and the only signs are a few 8 1/2-inch-by-11-inch fliers in the window. Inside, the space still looks pretty new, with half-finished risers, folding chairs and ladders out. But if director Bill Gordon and his volunteer cast and crew have their way, it’ll be a Dickens-esque village by Dec. 12, when they open “A Christmas Carol,” the first production in their new home.


Gordon says he and the rest of the company, which staged its first production over the summer, hope the new spot, with its easy access to U.S. 127, will help draw better crowds than the old location, since the theater brings people from across the mid-Michigan area, including Mason, Leslie and Charlotte.

The 4,200-square-foot facility includes a 20-foot-by-20-foot staging area and seating space for about 100, as well as a ticket and concession area, lobby, storage space and workshop. “It’s about ready,” Gordon said. “We’ve got a couple work days coming up. People do whatever’s necessary. We’ve got some set-building to do and some painting to do.”


The volunteer theater company has an active board of five directors. Cast and crew sizes vary. For “A Christmas Carol,” Gordon said about 50 people are working on the show, including a cast of 25. The company is also in the process of filing for nonprofit status.

Gordon said the company’s commitment to family-friendly shows with casts that range in age, as well as casting multiple members of the same family set the company apart in a theater-heavy region. “We’re getting family involvement,” he said. “That makes it kind of nice.”


As for their upcoming show, Gordon said he chose “A Christmas Carol” because it hadn’t been done locally in a while and it allows for a big cast. “Every time you do it, it offers a family a chance to see a classic story,” he said.


Rehearsals are held four nights a week, with the principal players’ attending all four and the other characters expected to make it to at least two. On Monday, Gordon was running a table full of kids and a couple adults through a Cratchit Christmas dinner. On some nights groups rehearse different scenes simultaneously in separate rooms.

“It’s interesting, because there’s a lots of activity during rehearsal nights,” Gordon said. “It seems to be an organized chaos. We’re happy with the way things are progressing.”


(Alex Henderson contributed to this story)

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