According to Hal Soper, it all started out as a chaotic race against time. The grand opening of the Planet Ant coffeehouse had been rushed to coincide with Hamtramck’s 1993 Labor Day festival. Ever since the industrial powerhouse, Dodge Main, closed in the ’80s, the annual event aspired to “cheer up” those hit hard by the plant closing. And so the Planet Ant crew found themselves taking a crash course in the caffeination business, not realizing, for instance, that it took an hour for a cappuccino maker to warm up. Of that day, Soper recalls, “We had our first customer ask for a cappuccino and we had to give them a cup of tea instead.”
Ten years later, after a long and varied history as a noted coffeehouse with art and music, and then a tenacious theatrical space, Planet Ant now commemorates its 10 years on Caniff with a Labor Day weekend blowout at the Hastings Street Ballroom, featuring a performance by Detroit-spawned rock ensemble Park, and a screening of the Park film vehicle Garage: A Rock Saga.
It is fitting that after seven years as a “black box” theater and about 40 plays, Planet Ant should choose to celebrate its anniversary by offering a Park reunion, back to please their old fans after a three-year hiatus. The band features such Second City alumni as Chicago-based director Joshua Funk on guitar and vocals and Cleveland Second City musical director Chad Krueger on keyboards and vocals, as well as a bassist often seen backing up local blues chanteuse Thornetta Davis, one Chuck Bartels. Soper says the show is “a reunion of sorts for the Park family,” presumably including some of the more raucous local theater folk who remain champions of the group.
After what’s billed as a “multimedia performance” by Park on Saturday night, Planet Ant offers a Sunday night screening of the Park-centered musical comedy, Garage: A Rock Saga. The movie, adapted from what Soper says is Planet Ant’s standout box-office hit, had an eight-week run at Chicago’s Second City in 2001. After recently shopping around Los Angeles for takers, Soper and company have decided to release it themselves. The film will be available on DVD, and features the music and antics of the band just as their breakup was in the offing. Both events, the concert and movie screening, should provide plenty of music, certainly some humorous theatrics, and maybe even a little reunion drama to boot.
Soper, who owns the building and lives on the second floor, now reflects on the heady days of being the live-in proprietor of a coffeehouse, confessing it proved to be a strain on his personal life. Though the space was originally envisioned as a club without alcohol, the round-the-clock hours attendant on the enterprise finally forced Hal to turn the java stop into a small theater.
And Soper seems optimistic about the future and dedicated to the neighborhood. He reports that Planet Ant received its first grant this summer and plans to put up a marquee, adding, “It’s nice to finally get some recognition for longevity.”
Planet Ant presents Park on Saturday, Aug. 30, and Garage: A Rock Saga on Sunday, Aug. 31, at the Hastings Street Ballroom, 715 E. Milwaukee, Detroit. Doors open both nights at 8 p.m., admission is $10 at the door.Michael Jackman is a Detroit freelance writer. E-mail [email protected]