Ypsilanti's Dreamland Theater is constantly evolving. Billed as "a small theater, gallery and curiosity shop," it's an art space where seemingly incongruous creative elements can get together and mingle. In November alone, the theater will host two separate art exhibitions, puppet shows, comedy and music ranging from folk to lounge rock to electronica.
Dreamland's eclectic schedule reflects the personality of owner, operator and founder Naia Venturi, a woman who likes to keep her mind open to new possibilities. She turned her childhood interest in puppets and performance into a business, opening the theater in 2002. It's the kind of place Venturi always wanted to visit: "a space where artists could come and be themselves and do very creative things, or make a very creative atmosphere." The theater is her personal passion, and an interesting counterpoint to her day job as a biotech engineer. She finds this right-brain-left-brain balance complementary: "I need both, I think in my life, art is probably most important to me but I've always been kind of geeky."
The puppets Venturi builds are not your average cuddly Muppets. They have a funky style, with kooky characters (The Imp of the Perverse) and adult themes (one show featured a Unabomber falling in love with a disgruntled postal employee). The post-Punch and Judy experimentation at the Dreamland continues with November's ambitious presentation "The Raven Project," a spooky puppet play adapted from the work of Edgar Allan Poe. The play sticks closely to the original texts, keeping Poe's words and macabre spirit intact, but ties several different stories and poems together into one narrative. Originally scheduled for a Halloween week debut, a production glitch pushed the show back to Nov. 24-26, offering an appropriately chilling start to winter.
The younger set isn't getting left out, though. Sunday performances of "The Story of Krumpelstilsktin" a Mad Lib-style marionette show for kids, an entertaining interactive experience; the audience is given a script full of blanks before the show, then get the thrill of hearing some of their silly choices worked into the act. Dreamland's loose atmosphere, where formats and artists come and go, does have some semi-regular events that round out its weekly schedule. Weird Wednesdays, an open mic that is truly diverse, can include stand-up, spoken word, music and occasionally a movie, if it's not too long and everyone wants to watch it. Thursdays feature music, with Ghostly International recording artist JDSY on Nov. 9, and soulful rockers the Pin-Ups on Nov. 16. Friday nights are comedy-driven, with the Vegan Meat Locker Improv troupe, creating chaos using audience suggestions, with a rotating cast of stand-up performers. On the visual front, running throughout the month is "Slack-jawed on Woodgrain," an exhibit featuring paintings and collages from artist Robert Fitzgerald, as well as "Scissors," painting, drawings and installations by Connie MacKinney.
Dreamland will continue to run events through mid-December and then will shut down for brief period to move to a new, larger facility in the center of Ypsilanti's downtown entertainment area, with a grand reopening sometime early in the New Year. At the new location, the neighbors will include a fine arts center and the Déjà Vu Exotic Showgirls nightclub, a mixture of the profound and profane that seems to make perfect sense in the world of Dreamland.
Dreamland Theater is at 44 E. Cross St., Ypsilanti. For more information, call 734-657-2337 or e-mail [email protected].
Corey Hall is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]