Tibbits Summer Theatre at the historic Tibbits Opera House has been a mainstay in the region for 55 years bringing professional performances of musicals and comedies for adults, as well as an array of shows specifically geared to youth and families with its Popcorn Theatre.
From the beginning of June the energy around the Tibbits Theatre is palpable with multiple shows in rehearsal, sets being built, painted or decorated, costumes being constructed, volunteers doing their part, and of course, people buying tickets.
Tibbits hires and assembles the entire company of actors, musicians, directors, designers, and technical crew. This year’s company represents 15 different states from across the country, Alaska to New York and Florida and Texas to right here in Michigan. With 55 years of history, those company members have extended Tibbits’ reputation from coast to coast. Tibbits alumni have gone on to perform in television, film, and theatre, all the way to Broadway.
Charles Burr has been the artistic director of summer theatre for 29 years. He auditioned, interviewed, reviewed video and evaluated resumes to assemble this year’s company of 54 people to create the shows. His job requires an ability to understand all of the roles in four main shows and three Popcorn Theatre shows and to arrange the puzzle, matching characters, and song styles with actor strengths, acting styles, and vocal qualities, while also considering rehearsal schedules and balance to the season.
Regular Tibbits attendees will recognize a solid core of seasoned professionals who fill the company each year. They are complimented by new talent fed in part by connections with college and university theatre programs, such as SUNY Cortland in New York.
Company members stay anywhere from three to ten weeks. Most of them stay in homes of Tibbits volunteers, who offer a sense of home amidst the very busy summer schedule. The schedule is intense with the main shows coming together in 11 days from the first rehearsal to opening performance. Each week while on show is in performance, there are generally two other shows in rehearsal.
Designers have it equally challenging as they are often looking at the next three shows not only for the design and build but coordinating the changeover between shows that run at the same time. After Popcorn Theatre in the morning the stage is transformed and ready for the main show at night. Additionally when a show closes, the crew starts taking the set down within minutes of the final curtain. Work on the set for the next show begins the same night. It needs to be at least partially ready Sunday as the cast moves its rehearsal from the studio to the stage for the first time, in preparation of the show that will open Thursday.
In 1964 in the newly renovated Tibbits Opera House, the American Theatre Festival presented the first summer season of 10 plays and a musical with a new show opening every week. By 1966, Tibbits was producing the season itself and musicals became the staple of the season. Over the years generations of families have created memories through Tibbits Summer Theatre and Popcorn Theatre. It has attracted thousands of people through its doors and built an outstanding reputation. USA Today called it one of “10 great places to see the lights way off Broadway.”
Tibbits Summer Theatre takes pride in some of its firsts and this summer will be among the first to produce A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, the musical that just four years ago swept all of the theatre awards. Back in 2002, Tibbits presented one of the first productions in close to 50 years of Rodgers and Hart’s A Connecticut Yankee, thanks to a collaboration led by Charles Burr. All of Tibbits’ theatre productions utilize complete set, light and costume design. Musicals are presented with complete choreography and a live orchestra.
Tickets available online at Tibbits.org or by calling 517.278.6029. The historic Tibbits Opera House is located at 14 S. Hanchett St. in Coldwater, MI.