The Williamston Theatre began as the Williamston Theatre Project in the spring of 2004 when four Michigan-based theatre professionals, actor John Lepard, director Tony Caselli, arts administrator Christine Purchis and actress and producer Emily Sutton-Smith, chose Williamston as a location to found a not-for-profit, small, professional live theatre company.
Throughout 2005, the four founders worked to develop their business plan, secure support for the project and raise awareness in the community. In late 2005, local business leader Steve Zynda pledged to support the Theatre by underwriting its facility expenses. After a thorough evaluation, the property at 122 South Putnam Street in downtown Williamston was deemed suitable as a theatre space. Community volunteers rallied around the effort to open the Theatre and spent literally hundreds of man-hours building, painting and remodeling the former retail space to be a workable black box theatre with eighty-eight seats. Additional Particulars, a comedy by Ed Simpson, was the Theatre’s first full production and opened in June 2006.
Since that first summer, the Williamston Theatre has produced nineteen World Premieres of new works, fifteen by Michigan playwrights, and mounted regional and state premieres of countless other works. During its first full season, the Detroit Free Press named their production of Rounding Third as one of the Top Ten Shows of 2006. In 2008, the Lansing State Journal Awarded the Theatre and its four founders the prestigious Robert Busby Award for extraordinary contribution to theatre in the Greater Lansing Area. That same year, the Williamston Area Chamber of Commerce named the Theatre as the Chamber Member of the Year for their contribution to the vitality and economic health of the downtown area. In 2014, the American Theatre Wing recognized the Williamston Theatre as one of the top twelve up-and-coming young theatres across the country with a National Theatre Company Grant Award. Click here for a complete list of awards that the Williamston Theatre has won since opening.
Following through on its mission to develop innovative collaborations, the Williamston Theatre has partnered with MeadowBrook Theatre, the Performance Network of Ann Arbor and the Tipping Point Theatre on several co-productions. Additionally, the Williamston Theatre has an ongoing partnership with Michigan State University’s Department of Theatre to continue the successful development of the next generation of theatre professionals through collaborative working experiences.
Each season, the Williamston Theatre provides dozens of job opportunities to Michigan theatre professionals, both on stage and off. The Theatre provides apprenticeship opportunities to recent college graduates, providing them with valuable skill development alongside working professionals. Many MSU Department of Theatre students have started their journey to AEA Union membership at the Williamston Theatre through their work both onstage and offstage. The Theatre maintains a commitment to developing the next generation of theatre lovers and professionals through student discounts at the box office and school day matinees for local area high school students.
The Williamston Theatre, ever a champion for the voice of the Midwest, developed a groundbreaking three-part series of new plays called Voices From The Midwest. Taking place over the course of three seasons, these new works were developed through an interactive process with Midwesterners throughout the region. Spearheaded by playwright/creators Tony Caselli, Annie Martin, Suzi Regan, Joseph Zettelmaier and Dennis E. North, the works garnered both critical and audience praise and won numerous awards. Maidens, Mothers and Crones: Voices From Women of the Midwest debuted in 2008.Flyover, USA: Voices From Men of the Midwest debuted in 2009. Home: Voices From Families of the Midwest debuted in 2010. All three are available for production through the Williamston Theatre.
The Williamston Theatre’s success during a time of economic hardship can be attributed to the diligent work of its founders and the support and commitment of its board, volunteers and donors. Since its founding, the Theatre has received support from hundreds of individual donors in addition to awards from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, the Capital Region Community Foundation, theArts Council of Greater Lansing, the Jackson National Community Fund, Midwest Homes, Cardinal Fabricating, Meijer, Target, the Sinas Dramis Law Firm, Mercantile Bank of Michigan, the Verizon Foundation, ASAP Printing, WKAR, the Williamston Downtown Development Authority, the Williamston True Value Hardware, Plante Moran, The Draggoo Huber Team of Merrill Lynch, and the MSU Federal Credit Union.
In 2014, with the support of major donors to the Theatre, the organization took ownership of its building at 122 S. Putnam Street in Williamston, securing its home in Central Michigan for the long term. In August of 2015, the building was renamed the Zynda Building, home of the Williamston Theatre.
The Williamston Theatre is a 501(c)3, not-for-profit organization. The Theatre is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the National New Play Network, the Lansing Convention and Visitors Bureau, Creative Many, and the Williamston Area Chamber of Commerce.