Director brings love of Detroit, Shakespeare together

Shakespeare in Detroit offering free performances in New Center park

DETROIT – Samantha White loves her hometown. She also loves Shakespeare.

As the founding artistic and executive director of Shakespeare in Detroit, she is bringing her two passions together.

"I do Shakespeare in Detroit because I love Detroit. It is as much a part of me as the blood in my veins. I am a native, so it was nice to be able to do something in the city that I love and  give it back to a city that has done so much for me," White said.

White attended Mumford High School and graduated from Wayne State University.   She said her parents were not going to pay for a theater degree so she got involved with community theater and then eventually professional theater.    She has been acting for 15 years and got involved in directing and producing four years ago.

She started Shakespeare in Detroit, a theater company that performs in spaces where people live, work and play.  So far that has included a recycling center, historical garden and this year the New Center Park Amphitheater.  

White still recalls when she brought Shakespeare to the city in 2013.

"I didn't know what would happen because the same year I started Shakespeare in Detroit  the city filed for bankruptcy, so I didn't know what would happen," White Said.  "For our first show we didn't have tickets or anything, it was free."

The first show was Othello at Grand Circus Park and it had an audience of roughly 500 people.  The production has grown and the theater company has engaged with thousands more residents, neighbors and supporters.  

This summer's performance is The Merchant of Venice and it will be performed in New Center Park.

"This one is about acceptance and love and being able to see someone despite the differences in them," White said.

Jarreth Jackson, 13, the youngest actor in the play, is Leonardo.

"I am an associate of Bassanio, who is the star of the play, who is trying to find his fair love and keep his friend from dying," Jackson said.

Jackson said he has enjoyed the experience except for one thing.

"I love it except for the pants," Jackson said. "It's like putting an elephant in underwear, it just doesn't work."

While the actors are in costumes from Shakespearean time, White said you don't have to be an expert in Shakespeare to get something out of the performance.

"Shakespeare in Detroit is a little bit of tradition and a little bit innovation because being innovative, I always tell my cast doesn't mean doing something different or doing something new, rather it means doing it in a unique way," White said.

The unique way includes having a rap at the top of the show.    White says the show itself is very much Elizabethan.

"The thing that is special about Shakespeare in Detroit, and I say this because it is a fact, when you look in our audience everyone is accounted for; black, white, young, old, from West Bloomfield to west 7 Mile. gay and straight, families, singles, they are all there," White said. "So there is mirrors and windows in the audience. you see somebody who is just like you and somebody who is different and you look on the stage and that's what makes us special too, and there is someone who looks like you and someone that's different than you and you're seeing Shakespeare and you realize although the language is a little funny and the clothes are different, the humanity and the story telling are why Shakespeare still matters and why it's so cool."

Shakespeare in Detroit is a nonprofit, year-round, professional theater company.

Performances for The Merchant of Venice will be July 14th - 16th at 8 p.m. and July 17 at 2 p.m. at New Center Park Amphitheater.   There is free admission.   Patrons cannot bring any outside foods or drinks, but there will be a café there for refreshments.

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