Here’s something fans of the Detroit-area theater scene don’t want to miss. Against the odds, the Purple Rose Theatre Company founded by Jeff Daniels in the rural community of Chelsea is celebrating its 25th anniversary. And to mark the occasion, Detroit Public Television will air a special documentary about Daniels and PRTC on Monday, October 26, at 7:30 p.m.
The program is called “Purple Rose 25 Years” and if you miss it Monday, you can watch for the promised rebroadcasts throughout 2016. The film reviews how, in its 25 years, the Purple Rose has amassed some impressive statistics – 97 plays and counting, including 54 world premieres, with 16 written by Daniels himself.
The show chronicles Daniels’ journey as an actor, singer, playwright and director—starting with his first high school role (one of the sailors in “South Pacific”) that changed the direction his life would take. “I knew then what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Daniels says in the film, “and I credit DiAnn L’Roy, who introduced me to the community theater in my hometown.”
Daniels founded the nonprofit theatre as a way to pay back, or perhaps pay forward, support from his beloved Chelsea community. Through the PRTC, Daniels and company provide encouragement, training and much needed exposure for artists—from apprentice to professional. Countless playwrights, actors, designers, directors and those studying theatre management have launched their careers at the Purple Rose. In fact, the PRTC makes it a point to champion new American plays and playwrights (including many Michigan authors) and also celebrates such American classics as “Our Town” and “On Golden Pond.” Daniels instituted an internship program to give young people a start in the industry, modeled after the Circle Repertory Company program in NYC that gave him his first break. The internship evolved into a lifelong friendship with the late Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lanford Wilson. PRTC staged Wilson’s final two plays, “Book of Days” and “Rain Dance,” and more recently offered moving productions of earlier Wilson plays—“Redwood Curtain” and “Talley’s Folly.”
“Purple Rose 25 Years” also features interviews with long-time PRTC Artistic Director Guy Sanville and explores the artistic process as it is expressed through stage productions and educational activities. Rocco Landesman, former director of the National Endowment for the Arts, also comments on PRTC and its contributions to the creative community. Ultimately, the film speaks to the essential notion of why theater matters.
“’Purple Rose 25 Years’ beautifully captures the mission, history, passion, spirit and legacy of the company, its values, founder, artists and staff,” said Sanville. “It is a testament to the need human beings share for this ancient and powerful art form.”
The documentary was produced by Jeff Daniels’ company, 2188 Studio, and sponsored by Meijer Inc. and Comerica Bank. Underwriting support for the PRTC’s 25th anniversary season comes from the Ford Motor Company Fund, The Hamp Family, Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, Sage Foundation, Shubert Foundation and Matilda R. Wilson Fund.