Building Community: Howmet Playhouse

WRITER | NICOLETTE CHAMBERY
PHOTOS | HOWMET PLAYHOUSE

In 1915, a group of individuals involved with the White Lake Drama Club was looking to build a theatre of its own in Whitehall. Drawing on his Chicago roots as a director, Frank Adams teamed with local businessman James Nufer to build a theatre on the site where the local skating rink had recently burned down. The Howmet Playhouse raised its curtains in 1916 after the community succeeded in raising $12,000 for the 10,000-square-foot project. One hundred years later, the Playhouse is about to undergo exciting and extensive renovations to continue its legacy of entertaining audiences from near and far with unforgettable performances.

In the words of managing director Beth Beaman, the theatre’s significance is in its longstanding ability to bring people together. “People come from all over to see their friends and support their neighbors. It’s different than a sporting event. No matter if you see the same show over and over again, it’s going to be different each time. The collective experience is so magical and cannot be replicated.”

Despite having a more technical background, Beaman says she’s always liked performing arts. She met her husband in college doing theatre and eventually became the director of a theatre arts program before joining the Playhouse.

Beaman goes on to say more about the importance of performing arts, sharing, “I think we long for that because we’re so disconnected because of social media. We’ve distanced each other.”

Indeed, it is fair to say that the specific art of theatre requires attention and patience by its very nature. It’s impossible to respectfully attend to a performance while scrolling through emails or Instagram. The experience transports audiences to another time and place, lending new perspectives and truths.

The Playhouse was renovated once before, in 1973, to replace the seats and carpets and to install air conditioning. A lobby was added as well. Since then, however, technologies and aesthetics have advanced. To make the desired changes to the current theatre, the organization has decided to launch the Capital Campaign for the Future, a fundraiser to generate $2.2 million for the renovations project.

The campaign will wrap up in July, just before the summer theatre festival that runs from July through August. The renovations themselves are expected to be completed by June 2018.

These will include replacing the seats and carpeting, updating the rigging (the fly system that changes the scenery between the scenes of a play), and overhauling the stage lights and the piping, which is currently counterbalanced with sandbags.

The Playhouse offers free movie nights sponsored by Carmichael Heating and Air Conditioning–that are a favorite of many families who aren’t able to go to events together as often as they’d like. The theatre also hosts educational events drawing thousands of students from area schools as well as musical performances and poetry readings throughout the year, thanks to sponsorship from Arconic, Muskegon County’s largest industrial employer.

Whether you’re a single person looking for something to do on a night off or a family of five searching for something entertaining on the weekend, look no further than the historic Howmet Playhouse. It offers the opportunity to reconnect not only with the arts but also with those around you.

Howmet Playhouse, 304 N. Mears Avenue, Whitehall Michigan 49461 l (231) 894-4048 l HowmetPlayhouse.org