The Planet Ant Theatre has been around for over twenty years, but when it first began, it wasn’t a theatre at all. It was a coffee shop, offering live music and ambiance. After a couple of years, they transitioned into a fully functioning theatre company,casting/directing/presenting/designing and even writing plays. About fifteen years ago, they started doing improv shows – not so much “Whose Line Is It Anyway” short form – which is also great – but long-form improv that sometimes evolves into fully scripted shows and at other times stays entirely in the moment as it is performed on Monday nights. They’ve become a company that has improv shows every week (sometimes twice a week), presents between six and eight fully realized theatrical productions every season, hosts and participates in outside events (BoxFest Detroit, Detroit Improv Festival, and more), and engages dozens of students in all kinds of improv, acting, and writing classes and workshops.
It’s no secret that Hamtramck went through some hard times in the past several years. That’s part of the reason it’s so remarkable that The Ant (as it’s called in the industry) opened its doors during an economic challenge period and has been around so long. Detroit, (and Hamtramck – a municipality of its own, located geographically within the Motor City), has gotten some recent attention as a playground for creative people and entrepreneurs to make their dreams come true. Millennials are coming in droves to these areas now – theatre companies are popping up across Southeast Michigan (woohoo!), warehouses are being converted to gallery space, amazing restaurants are getting the kinds of reviews previously reserved for LA and New York. Planet Ant has been here all along, quietly offering unique theatrical experiences and training the improvisers and actors who work in and start those new companies (remaining loyal to the original colony as well, of course).
It’s been especially amazing to watch the Ant really flourish in the last several years. – Michael Hovitch, Managing Director, Planet Ant
And so The Ant has evolved. Their current project is to capture that Detroit excitement and channel it into a major expansion. Their new space, known as The Ant Hall, will provide more opportunities for classes and larger performances (Monday Night Improv, featuring the Planet Ant Home Team, is always a fun time for $5 – but they often sell out). The purple house on Caniff will still be its home, but across the street there will be additional shows and classes that allow for some breathing room. In a callback to its original format, the Ant will host musical performances and resurrect the most popular shows from its twenty-year history as a theater. More actors will have a chance to take the stage; students will have more opportunities to get out there in front of a crowd and perform as well.
Michael Hovitch, Managing Director, says, “Planet Ant has been a part of the community for so many years, and it has had a positive impact on so many artists, performers, students and fans. I can’t imagine where I’d be now if I hadn’t stepped into our original purple building in my formative years, when I was just beginning to exploring improv and the world. It’s been especially amazing to watch the Ant really flourish in the last several years. We’re excited for the opportunities the Ant Hall expansion will provide and we hope to continue having a positive impact on our community. We couldn’t be doing this without the support of our community and the family we’ve built around that purple building. They’re the ones that will help shape the future of Planet Ant. We can’t wait to see what we all get up to in Planet Ant Hall.”
It’s a big project. Epic, even. Having been in the Ant Hall on the day the owners closed on it, the changes in the past few months have been immense. It truly doesn’t look like the same space anymore. They built out a huge stage, did some major work on the ceilings, roughed out the bar spaces and made cosmetic changes in a big way. But, being a banquet hall, the space still needs some tweaking to make it into a functional theatre. The area where the relocated Seven Brothers bar will be is sure to be noisy – so they need to better separate the sound from that area from the performance area. They need tables and chairs, microphones and sound equipment… lights and all of the oft-forgotten pieces that make the audience able to see and hear what’s going on.
They’re running an Indiegogo campaign through September 9 to raise enough funds to finish renovating the building, and they’re almost halfway to the goal. The way I see it, investing in the Ant Hall is about much more than giving to one theatre group. It’s increasing the safe spaces available in Detroit for performers to explore. It’s helping to write shows that would otherwise never see the light of day. It’s being a part of that Detroit-area renaissance, inviting the community into that family.
From the Ant Hall Press Release: Planet Ant Theatre is located at 2357 Caniff in Hamtramck, MI 48212. It is a non-profit professional theatre founded 20 years ago on the principle of artistic freedom and artistic experimentation leading to the growth of community, artistic fulfillment, and artistic success. The theatre has presented more than 140 high quality professional productions to southeastern Michigan with a commitment to providing the best in theatrical productions that has brought it critical acclaim and awards from across the region. More information on Planet Ant Theatre is available online at www.planetant.com.