By RuAnne Walworth
Williamston Post staff writer
Williamston Theatre, founded in 2006, is a treasured charm of downtown Williamston. With award-winning productions and a homey downtown feel, the success of the theater continues to make its founders proud.
“I believe that what gets us, what makes us, at our core human beings, the reason why we are here and why we are going through this journey is to connect with each other and to relate to each other and the best way to do that is to tell stories,” said Emily Sutton-Smith. “Theater is a great way to do that.”
Sutton Smith is one of the four founders and development director of the theater.
The founders of the theater strive to establish a homey feel for visitors. To do so, they lean toward plays focusing on Midwestern people or rural areas that can make the plays feel more at home for people in the area versus stories based and scripted from areas such as New York.
The theater has had an array of awards such as the Pulsar Award Best Ensemble in both a play and musical, Wilde Award Best Comedy and Thespie Award Best Play.
“We did a Christmas show three years in a row called Every Christmas Story Ever Told!! and that was, at the time, our most successful show because it was silly and Christmas time and everybody was looking for something to do,” one of the founders and Executive Director, John Lepard said.
Williamston Theatre’s most successful show attendance-wise, according to Lepard, was the world-premier show And The Creek Don’t Rise. Where the critics are concerned, its greatest production would have been Shirley Valentine.
“(Shirley Valentine) was really popular with women, especially in their 40s and 50s,” Lepard said. “It swept the awards in Lansing; the critics in town just loved it.”
The Williamston Theatre isn’t involved only within the town, it also remains heavily involved with both Michigan State University and Lansing Community College.
“We became involved with MSU probably around 2007-2008,” Lepard said. “We decided that we wanted to do a show a year that would use their talent on our stage or backstage. So the first show that we did with them, we used their design team.”
MSU students are now involved in almost every play held at the theater and are also able to participate in many of the younger roles on stage. According to Lepard, students are also able to use the time at the theater towards their union membership in the Actors’ Equity Association.
From an idea made in 2004 and an old furniture building to use as the home for the theater, Williamston Theatre is a growing part of not only the Williamston Community, but neighboring communities.
“Sometimes it will make you cry, sometimes it will make you laugh and sometimes it will make you think and it’s meant to do all of that at different times in different ways…,” Sutton-Smith said.