The Bonstelle Theatre: Serving Detroit for 115 Years Today!

Did you know that on this date in 1903 the first services of Detroit’s Temple Beth El were held in what is now known as the Bonstelle Theatre?

Thanks to a Facebook user and the the Historical Detroit Area Architecture group, we can share several photos of the rich architectural history of the Bonstelle.

From Wikipedia

When Rabbi Leo M. Franklin first began leading services at Detroit’s Temple Beth El in 1899, he felt that the construction of a new temple building on Detroit’s “Piety Row” stretch of Woodward would increase the visibility and prestige of Detroit’s Jewish community.Accordingly, in October 1900, the congregation held a special meeting at which it was decided to build a new temple. A site for the new temple was purchased in April of the next year, and Albert Kahn, a member of the congregation, was hired to design the building. Groundbreaking began on November 25, 1901, with the ceremonial cornerstone laid on April 23, 1902. The first services were held in the chapel on January 24, 1903, and the formal dedication was held on September 18–19 of the same year.

After Temple Beth-El relocated to another space in 1922, Jessie Bonstelle purchased the building and converted it into the Bonstelle Theatre. The remodeling was done by architect C. Howard Crane in 1925 and renamed the Bonstelle Playhouse. In 1928, the Bonstelle Playhouse became the Detroit Civic Theatre, and in the 1930s became the Mayfair Motion Picture Theater. In 1951, Wayne State University rented the building as a performance space for its theater company, and purchased it outright in 1956, renaming it the Bonstelle Theatre in honor of Jessie Bonstelle. [source]


You can visit the Bonstelle Theatre next on March 1 and 2 as we present our 89th Annual Spring Dance Concert and again from April 13 to 22 with Sister Act: The Musical. Click each title for performance schedule and tickets!

Images from Indiana University’s Building a Nation: Indiana Limestone Photograph Collection and from the Burton Historical Collection, circa 1902.


Celebrating Our Alumni – Peter Van Wager

Our alumni are always astounding us with their remarkable success. For example, you can catch Peter Van Wagner‎ (Hilberry company member, 1977-1980) in The Post as Harry Gladstein, opposite Meryl Streep. Mr. Van Wagner is also finishing a run of Rachel Bond’s play Curve Of Departure at Studio Theatre in Washington DC. (pictured) Check out Studio Theatre’s website for information and be sure to catch Mr. Van Wagner on the silver screen.

Photo from Curve of Departure. Pictured: Ora Jones, Justin Weaks, and Peter Van Wagner.

7 Facts About Charles Dickens

Charles John Huffam Dickens was an English writer and social critic.  He created some of the worlds’s best known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era.  Adaptations of A Christmas Carol can be seen all over the world during the Holiday season.  Here are seven facts about the man behind it all.

  1. Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812. He died on 9 June 1870 and is buried in Poet’s Corner in London’s Westminster Abbey.
  2. When Charles was 12 he had to work in a dirty and smelly factory, near the river Thames in London. His job was to put labels on pots of “blacking” which were then used to clean fireplaces. People think that his books ‘David Copperfield’ and ‘Great Expectations’ were written from his own life experiences.
  3. Working in a factory was not Charles Dickens’ only job! He had many, including working in a lawyer’s office, writing for newspapers, editing for newspapers and acting. He even acted in front of Queen Victoria in 1851!
  4. Dickens had 3 sisters, 3 brothers and a pet raven called Grip!
  5. Charles Dickens published some sketches under a different name – Boz. This is because he wanted to keep his real identity a secret. In 1833 he published his first story.
  6. Charles Dickens became very famous. People would recognize him as he walked around London. A lot of people liked his funny stories called The Pickwick Papers. In Victorian times lots of people liked long novels to read because it was the best way to entertain themselves – there was no television, radio or internet!
  7. In 1843 Charles Dickens wrote the Christmas Carol.  Apparently after the Christmas Carol was published people used to say “Merry Christmas” a lot more!

On 8 June 1870, Dickens suffered a stroke at his home after a full day’s work on Edwin Drood. He never regained consciousness, and the next day he died at Gad’s Hill Place.  Dickens loved the theatre and his memory will live on for many, many more years to come as his beloved tale celebrates the generosity of the human spirit and its ability to change even the hardest of hearts.

An Interesting Fact About 9 Cast Members of A Christmas Carol

Everyone has something that makes them unique, and Theatre and Dance at Wayne’s cast for A Christmas Carol is no different.  During rehearsal on November 15, we asked nine cast members to share an interesting fact about themselves. This is what they said!

  1. Tim Hiemstra‘s eyes change color depending on the light.
  2. John Bergeron is an amateur juggler.
  3. Durshara Kirby loves R&B music.
  4. Kyle Sammy plays the piano.
  5. Luke Hodgson lives on a real christmas tree farm.
  6. Cam Blackwell introduces himself as a 19 year old lactose intolerant Leo vegetarian who’s obsessed with golden age musical theatre.
  7. Sidni Goodman can talk with a lisp, in a valley girl accent, and if you buy her food she will be your best friend.
  8. Jacob Chapman has a twin sister.
  9. Jasmine Walker ‘s favorite song is “The Christmas Song” when chestnuts are roasting on an open fire.

What is an interesting fact about you?  Share your fact by posting on Theatre and Dance at Wayne’s Facebook page under the post for “9 Days Until A Christmas Carol” and let us know what makes you unique!



Exploring Major Themes of “A Streetcar Named Desire”

We can’t deny that Tennessee Williams’, Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, stands the test of time as an American classic, but we can’t ignore the heavy themes that are spread throughout this timeless work. Check out this video with the cast of “A Streetcar Named Desire”, as they highlight what these themes are, and discuss how they prepared to portray their iconic characters.


Musical Theatre Workshop with Scotty Arnold

Scotty Arnold

Theatre and Dance at Wayne was lucky to start the 2017-2018 season with Scotty Arnold on campus. Hailing from California’s Bay Area, Arnold now lives in New York where he writes music and musicals as a founding member of the Musical Theatre Factory, and has also served on the music teams of over 30 new musicals including Fun Home, Here Lies Love, Murder Ballad, The Last Goodbye, Giant, The Total Bent, The Band’s Visit, and American Idiot. Arnold served as the guest director for our season opener, The Underpants, but also shared his many musical talents with both our graduate and undergraduate students. Theatre students at Wayne had the opportunity to work on a week-long workshop with Scotty, working on his original songs and short musicals.

Third Year MFA Actor, Nick Stockwell, who performed in Arnold’s short musical The Veterans Wife for the workshop, said of his experience “Scotty Arnold wrote some absolutely incredible pieces and this program, in addition to Motor City Cabaret [(the undergraduate participants)], is absolutely loaded with talent. At this point I am no longer surprised to see what my classmates can do with only one week of work.”

Luke Hodgson, a member of Motor City Cabaret also had an amazing experience learning from Scotty, saying “It was fantastic for all of us to have the opportunity to work with such a great talent, and to see each of us grow through the amazing experience.”

Scotty also had a great experience hosting this workshop. “It was invigorating to work on my short musicals with the amazing students at Wayne State. Their eagerness to dive into challenges and lay themselves bare onstage was admirable, and I can’t wait for the chance to do it again.”

“Scotty Arnold showed us that we are all capable ofmaking a product that was unique, genuine, and all around a great time!” – Alex Morrison, Motor City Cabaret

Seeing how much Theatre and Dance at Wayne students were able to grow and accomplish over the course of one week, working with such a talented guest as Scotty Arnold was inspiring for students and audience members alike. Are you interested in exciting and enriching experiences like these? Check out our admissions website to learn more about joining Theatre and Dance at Wayne!

Musical Theatre Workshop Participants

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a Slavic Twist

From Much Ado About Nothing in the Wild West, to an Arabian Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s plays are often reimagined in different settings. Director Lavinia Hart has reinterpreted Theatre and Dance at Wayne’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream as a Slavic fairytale. The play is originally set in Ancient Athens, but changing the setting allowed for creativity and an unconventional style. Designers Fred Florkowski and Mary Copenhagen were tasked with creating a set and costumes which transport the audience into the fantastical world of the play. To establish the Slavic fairytale setting they took their inspiration from the illustrations of Russian artist Ivan Bilibin. His 1902 illustrations of the Tale of Vasilisia the Beautiful, featuring infamous Russian folklore witch Baba Yaga, were particularly influential. The richer earthier color palette, not found in the typical Western fairytale, lends an air of mystery to the mischievous characters. The lighting and sound, designed by students Andrew Cora and Kelsey Nowak, create a mystical atmosphere which complements the nimble, delicate movement choreographed by Biba Bell. Other Slavic inspired nuances, such as a sculpted dragon throne and skull lanterns, bring surprising elements to this familiar story.

Relocating the tale makes for a stunning visual reinterpretation. Take in this unique and beautiful production starting October 12th. Get your tickets at

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