100 shows and counting

By Allan I. Ross

‘Leaving Iowa’ director celebrates milestone with Riverwalk comedy

A typical community theater show usually takes about two months of work from first rehearsal through closing night. If you take that as your average, actor/ director Michael Schacherbauer has spent 200 months — just under 20 years of his life — pounding the boards or calling “action” for one show or another.

“I had no idea I’d be doing (theater) for this long when I started,” Schacherbauer said. “It’s become part of who I am.”

Schacherbauer, 61, directs “Leaving Iowa,” opening Thursday at Riverwalk Theatre. The show marks his 100th production as either actor or director. Besides some workshops here and there since his first show in 1978, he’s largely self-taught.

“I always have good feedback for my use of space when I direct a show,” he said. “I have a keen knack to (visualize) a show before it gets going. I also enjoy character development, but I’ve found that each actor requires a certain type of direction.”

He said that of those 100 shows, he acted in about 60 and directed 40. He grew up in central Ohio and taught elementary school. Although he acted in high school, he didn’t discover his love for theater until he was in graduate school at Ohio State University.

“I didn’t even know community theater existed,” he said. “But I was hooked.”

His first show was “The Rainmaker,” in which he acted for the Curtain Players, a local community theater company.

Over the years, he got heavily involved in the Ohio theater scene; he even served four terms as president of the Ohio Community Theater Association, during which time he continued acting and directing. When he retired from teaching in 2004, he took a break from theater when he got the opportunity to work as an airline flight attendant.

“I liked traveling, but I only did that a couple years,” he said. “I resigned because I missed theater.”

He moved to Lansing 18 months ago with his partner, Don, to maintain Don’s father’s house after his father fell ill. He fell in with Riverwalk shortly after arriving, performing in his first local show, “August: Osage County,” last winter.

“I like (the theater scene) here — I’ve seen a lot of really good shows,” he said. “But it’s sad the places that have already gone by the wayside. It’s hard in this economy to keep the arts going.”

He said he chose “Leaving Iowa,” a family road trip comedy, because he took in a recent production of it (“I won’t say where!”) and saw some things he thought he could do better.

“It’s perfect for Lansing because it’s this quintessential Midwest show,” he said. “But it’s also just a good break from the weather.”

He doesn’t have his 101st project lined up just yet, but expect to see that Teutonic moniker (it’s pronounced “shock-en-bower,” incidentally) on a marquee soon.

“I don’t have any specific plans to celebrate,” he said. “But that won’t keep me from doing anything if someone suggests something.”

“Leaving Iowa”

Riverwalk Theatre Thursday, Feb. 6-Sunday, Feb. 16 7 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays $14 Friday-Sunday/$10 Thursday/$2 discount for students/seniors 228 Museum Drive, Lansing (517) 482-5700, riverwalktheatre.com

Forming Team Tony

Fundraiser helps ailing local theater director

Two weeks ago, Williamston Theatre’s co-founder and artistic director Tony Caselli, 45, was hospitalized. His family requested that full details not be revealed, but confirmed that he is “fighting a sudden and unexpected illness.”

The Lansing theater community is pretty tight-knit, so word spread quickly. In the ensuing swarm of warm wishes, a unique fundraiser has emerged to help his family

“None of us Michigan artists are rich, and long-term illness can be draining financially and emotionally,” Emily Sutton- Smith, Caselli’s friend and Williamston Theatre co-founder, said. “We’re expecting a full recovery, but it will be a long road. I came up with this idea (but) I had no idea it would take off like this.”

Sutton-Smith’s idea was to splash a photo taken by her husband, John Lepard (another Williamston co-founder and longtime Caselli collaborator), across a T- shirt with the words “Team Tony” blazed across the top in the “Blade Runner” font. The photo was taken on the set of “10:53,” a drama (ironically) set in a hospital waiting room that Caselli directed last year.

“Tony looks like a superhero in it,” Sutton-Smith said. “John posted it as his profile picture and people started copying it like crazy. It went viral.”

The shirts can be bought at booster.com, a website that raises charitable funds through the sale of customized T-shirts. As of Tuesday, 436 had been sold, raising $9,460 for Caselli’s wife and two children. Additional contributions above the $15 asking price are allowed.

“People have emerged from across the country who said he’s affected them in some way," Sutton-Smith said. “We’re anxious to have him back.”

To buy a shirt or make a donation to the Caselli family, go to booster.com/team-tony.