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Puzzle Piece Theatre Will Be Anything But Ordinary

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D.B. Schroeder left Chicago to create Detroit's newest professional theater company.  Photo: Courtesy Puzzle Piece Theatre

D.B. Schroeder left Chicago to create Detroit’s newest professional theater company. Photo: Courtesy Puzzle Piece Theatre

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By Dana Casadei, EncoreMichigan.com

Detroit: a city home to Motown and the big three auto companies, among other things, is soon going to be home to a new theater, the Puzzle Piece Theatre.

When asked about why Detroit, a place slowly starting to rebuild what it once was, D.B. Schroeder, Puzzle Piece’s producing artistic director, just laughs and simply says, “You know we’ve been getting that question a lot,” before launching into the story.

Schroeder, a St. Louis native, and his wife, who is from Detroit, had been living in Chicago before deciding to move closer to family since their children were getting older. It then became a matter of where to go, a place where he had started out or branching out to something new. “I’ve learned from the successes and failures from my time in Chicago, my last effort at this, this just seemed to be the perfect storm, the perfect culmination of where to give it another try,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder co-founded the Thunder and Lighting Ensemble in Chicago in 2004, serving as its artistic director before stepping down in 2008. Even though they were getting great reviews, including having one show in 2006 and two in 2007 named top five shows to see in smaller theaters by the alternative weekly New City Chicago, they were still cancelling shows due to lack of audience.

Schroeder believes a lot of their lack of audience was because there is so much theater in Chicago, with just about any type you could imagine being offered Thursday through Sunday. “It was exciting to be a part of that, but you’re just one little drop in the bucket,” he said.

After having seen pieces about little theaters making it in Detroit sent to him by his mother-in-law, Schroeder had another reason to add to the list why this should be the place to be. “That kind of pioneering spirit was part of what excited me about Detroit,” he said. “It was like something’s happening here, and it could be fun to be a part of that.”

To introduce themselves to the city, Puzzle Piece Theatre is participating in Figment Detroit this year, which takes place July 21-22, from noon to 6 p.m. on Belle Isle.

The piece they will be doing is called “Community Puzzles,” which Schroeder described as a performance instillation hybrid. This will consist of participatory storytelling of “Stone Soup,” which will happen three times each day; super-sized puzzles, which people will be able to put together, and they’ll need help, with each piece being over two feet long; and a tent with hand-outs of puzzle pieces for kids, who will be able to color in the puzzle piece with their family and then take that piece home. “We saw this as an opportunity to get out and engage with the community,” Schroeder said.

Community programs will be a large part of Puzzle Piece Theatre, which will be geared more towards audiences who aren’t immediately thinking about going to the theater, while the theater’s main stage season will target to early career, young professionals working in Detroit and wondering whether or not to stay there or move onto to another city. “Hopefully we can bring something new to the table and keep them here,” he said.

And they have plenty of plans to make this theater not your ordinary one.

With a mission statement to serve the community by bringing to life a wide variety of theatrical texts through storytelling that re-imagines what is possible in live performance, Puzzle Piece Theatre doesn’t plan on being run-of-the-mill. “It’s kind of a post modern approach, where each time an audience comes to our theater they can expect to see a different environment waiting for them,” said Schroeder. “It’s finding different ways to create the theatrical experience.”

This sort of different environment could range from a lobby that looks like a jungle to walking into the theater and seeing the entire cast dead on floor, only to reset and start the show, something that Schroeder has done before.

Puzzle Piece Theatre, which will be based out of the north end neighborhood of Detroit, is bringing a whole new perspective to the Detroit arts community. “The perspective that I focus on is how the story is told for the audience,” said Schroeder. “We’re committed to storytelling in general as far as literature and that context of performance, but it comes back to how we view framing devices to introduce the audience to actual theatrical event.”

Get tickets and showtimes at EncoreMichigan.com.

Dana Casadei reviews local theater productions for http://www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.

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