Detroit Performs: Detroit Public Theatre & Friends

Premiered October 26, 2020

Even in isolation, beauty exists. With the shuttering of live theater by the pandemic, Detroit Public Theatre, Chautauqua Theater Company, Detroit Public Television and WNED Buffalo partnered to bring two unique one-person shows to the small screen. DPTV recorded Eric Gutman’s autobiographical one-man musical journey, “From Broadway to Obscurity,” on a stage on the Marygrove campus, while WNED taped Nilaja Sun’s extraordinary exploration of the New York City public school system, “No Child…” Both performances were simulcast in the Detroit and Buffalo markets and include interviews with the artists and the behind-the-scenes story of how this remarkable theatrical event came to be.

Take a sneak peek to see how the play “From Broadway to Obscurity” came together:

Read the full transcript

Courtney Burkett – Co Founder & Producing Artistic Director  We did really great work yesterday. We are in really good shape.  Thank you everyone for contributing everything that you have to get us to this point and today is going to be really, really exciting.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  I mean, the pandemic’s awful to this industry, to all my friends and coworkers and people that are far more talented than I who who don’t have work.

Courtney Burkett – Co Founder & Producing Artistic Director  There is hand sanitizer and water at the back of house in front of the house, so please use those and wash your hands frequently.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  I think we’re all here to create art because we haven’t been able to because of this pandemic.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  I feel so blessed and thankful to Detroit Public Theater and Chautauqua Institute and DPTV and everybody else involved that of all the shows that they picked mine.  So the fact that I get to do mine, it just means, it means the world me.

Racheal Allen – Cheif Operating Officer  That filming was the start of our partnership with Detroit Public Television.  Where we’ve been looking for ways to partner with arts and cultural organizations such as DPTV to really showcase and highlight the benefits of our theater.  Preserving our legacy of arts and culture in this community is a really important value of the conservancy.  We believe that through gentrification and through a number of other systemic changes in our neighborhoods, bases such as these traditionally go away.  And so we’re working hard to make sure that these spaces remain affordable and accessible, so that arts and culture can remain a staple on this institution’s campus.

-voice-  Shortly after graduation I learned of an off broadway show that was having a Detroit run and they were looking for local understudies to audition. I figured I’d go, I’d have my first real professional audition experience.

Courtney Burkett – Co Founder & Producing Artistic Director  Our mission at Detroit Public Theater is really to to provide theater for everyone, to make theater accessible, to make theater public in Detroit, that people who live in Detroit, people who are Detroiters, see themselves reflected in the work that we do.  So I think the values of DPTV and Detroit Public Theater are aligned.

-voice-  Probably needs more lighting because the camera can’t, you can artificially give her a little bit, but that’s not going to look amazing.

Andrew Borba – Artistic Director  Theater community right now is in the somewhere around 95, 96 percent unemployment rate, so it’s devastating out there.  Another big motivation for us wanting to do this safely was to create work, but to try to find a way that we and by example, all of us can continue to do what we do, what we were put on this earth to do.

-voice-  Yeah, enjoy these eight hours, this is such a gift that we get to do this for eight hours, so soak it in!  Don’t know when we’ll be in a theater again.

Brian Sage – Director  I teach college you know, so I’ve been all summer long we’ve been dealing with how do we make theater in our current situation?  I leapt at the chance to do this when Eric called and said we were doing it.

Katherine Nelson – Production Stage Manager  I love this show, I stage manage a lot of plays and I don’t get the chance to do musicals a lot.  So this is really a fun treat for me because it’s so many musicals wrapped into one.

Brian Sage – Director  We’re fortunate to be able to be doing this now, obviously.  honored to be able to bring it back, to be in a room with theater makers right now is phenomenal.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  In 2014 we premiered it, we’ve been performing it now for six years.  In 2013, a place called Birman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield, the managing director there at the time, is an old friend of mine.  And she called me she said, “you want to do a cabaret, about your time with Jersey Boys?”  And I was in Chicago at the time.  I said, “yeah sure, that’ll be fun!”  It kind of morphed out of a cabaret and into a book show.  I started working on it with Brian my director, and after 10 months and 14 drafts, we have what is being presented tonight.

Brian Sage – Director  He knew he wanted to tell his story, but you know, initially it was kind of all showbiz.  It was all that story and I think eventually we found our way into the more personal narrative. And I think that’s when we really found the heart of the show.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  Brian was really instrumental in kind of piecing all my thoughts together and so I don’t kind of just go off the rails, so to speak, which sometimes I do.

Brian Sage – Director  We were friends, but we didn’t stay connected through that time, so all of this story was new to me.  When he asked me to be on board and as we were developing it, you know, starting to learn, I had no idea about struggles and the things that he went through.  So for me, it was like re-meeting a friend in that collaboration.  (Eric) – And living in a city where there are 50,000 other actors just like you, struggling and clawing their way from audition to audition.  (Katherine) – With this show, we actually have only had a couple of days to put it all together, so it’s kind of been a whirlwind process.

Courtney Burkett – Co Founder & Producing Artistic Director I think all the shots are pretty wide, but not incorporating the projections ever. Is there a possible shot in this camera that has, that also incorporates the projections

Courtney Burkett – Co Founder & Producing Artistic Director  And we had some partnerships, obviously, with DPTV and WNED that made it possible that we could bring these productions to life and shoot them as stage plays, but to be broadcast.

Sarah Clare Corporandy – Co-Founder & Producing Artistic Director  For us there’s nothing that can quite compare to being in a room together with our audience. And we are craving that and looking forward when that can happen again, but for now, we’re not going to stop making art and connecting.

Andrew Borba – Artistic Director  What they’re calling me is a transition director, which is actually I’ve come to believe that it’s, I’m the interpreter, because I speak two languages.  I speak theater and I speak film.  My job is, is to watch what’s happening on stage, but also what’s happening on the monitor and make sure that the people on stage, what they’re looking for is being translated to the people who are running the cameras and the backstage.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  It’s very strange to film in this way with no audience, you know?

Courtney Burkett – Co Founder & Producing Artistic Director  It’s different, it’s always different than being in a live theater.  There’s no replacement for gathering in the room together with an audience.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  It’s just, it’s a ghost town, so it was hard to adjust that way.

Courtney Burkett – Co Founder & Producing Artistic Director  So to not have the human bodies there, the cameras, you know, he did a great job communicating with those and playing the show as if there was an audience.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  I’ve done this show for, yes six years.  I’ve done it 60 times, 70 times, and I always kind of know where the laugh is going to be or where the applause is going to be

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  Twenty one hundred people think I am far too short to play this role.  In Chicago..

Harley Miah – Lighting Designer  There’s no holding for laughter, there’s no holding for applause, so that’s the big thing to kind of get used to it.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  It’s knowing that I do like a really big song that takes a lot out of me.  And I don’t have the, you know, six, seven seconds of applause to catch my breath.  It’s just like, catch your breath quick, move on to the next story

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  After 10 months in Detroit…

Courtney Burkett – Co Founder & Producing Artistic Director  There’s a lot lost in that communion between the performer and the audience, it’s a conversation, a performance isn’t complete until the audience is there.  The audience is part of the performance

Harley Miah – Lighting Designer  The timing is just very different and the energy and I applaud Eric for being able to keep his energy up.

Andrew Borba – Artistic Director  The audience experiences becoming an isolated experience these days, more and more people have there are witnessing it over their phone or their ipad or their or their computer or their television. And don’t get me wrong. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.  It is a tool and it’s a magical tool, but at the same time to have an experience with a group of people is something that I believe is in human DNA

Brian Sage – Director  We try and hone in the audience’s eye on those particular moments, but we have to do it in a different way because it’s a different medium. Whereas the camera can just zoom in and capture that, so I’m having a I’m having a fantastic time watching that happen.

Katherine Nelson – Production Stage Manager  With this project we really wanted to keep it true to the spirit of a live continuous production. It’s almost as if you’re watching a live show; it’s definitely as close to that as we can get it for you.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  Theater and performing, was a mere memory and so there I was.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  It’s funny how all life throws you curve ball sometimes. I was working a desk job for a ticketing broker company in Southfield, Michigan and the call came in and I took it.  And it was, I mean, it changed my life, that one phone call.

-voice-  Hi, Eric. This is Jennifer from Dodger Theatricals. We would like to offer you a role in the first national tour of Jersey Boys.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  Talking to people that have seen the show over the years they say, “gosh, you know, I was able to relate to this or to that or, you know, I have a kid that wants to go into theater or I did this 20 years ago, and then I gave it up, you know, to raise a family.”  And and our our lives are all kind of parallel that way.

Tony Ross – Audio Mixer  It’s a great story and I think one of the things I take away from it is being somebody who’s earlier in their career. It gives them hope to keep working and not stop going till you get that break.  You know, we all get breaks, but sometimes it takes longer for other people. But work is the most important part of that and Eric works very hard for it.

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  It’s been an amazing week doing this and an amazing few months getting this ready. And I just hope that people will not just appreciate the shows, appreciate the work that’s going into them

Andrew Borba – Artistic Director  This is an experiment.  We’re really hoping that this crosses that boundary and gives a lot of people who are missing the theater something that they haven’t been able to go out to

Courtney Burkett – Co Founder & Producing Artistic Director  Theaters not a part of everyone’s life, television is a part of everyone’s life.  So I think that television has a lot to offer us as theater artists

Eric Gutman – Writer & Actor  I think a lot of theaters are trying to adapt to this new way because they have to they’re forced to. And I only hope that all of these theaters that employ so many designers and artists will be able to do this. And we’ll have the opportunity like like I did, like Detroit Public Theater and like Chautauqua Institute did.