Jeana-Dee Allen and Dylan Rogers
Owners of the Robin Theatre
Jeana-Dee Allen, 33, and Dylan Rogers, 29, are the married couple behind REO Town’s Robin Theatre, a 1917 building they laboriously rehabbed and transformed into a cultural hub of the resurgent REO Town district south of Lansing’s downtown. Since the theater opened in 2015, it has almost instantly turned into a busy and eclectic venue for local and touring performing arts of all kinds, from poetry to folk music and jazz to puppet shows and comedy.
— Lawrence Cosentino
Where are you now in your overall plan for the Robin Theatre?
Jeana-Dee: We’re already at our five-plus-year plan. We’ve recruited national artists to come and perform. A music superhero of my life, Don Flemons of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, came here a couple months ago. It was wonderful. It feels very unreal to be where we’re at right now.
Dylan: We have a unique situation. We own the building, we fixed it up ourselves and we live in it.
How far ahead are you booked?
Dylan: Into June. I can squeeze someone in on a Thursday, but we don’t have a weekend until then.
Have any acts worked out better than you expected?
Dylan: Comedy Coven has done a monthly standup comedy showcase since the beginning. The core group is three 20-something women who live in Lansing. They are kind of like millennial — Jeana-Dee: Grandmas. Dylan: — Internet savvy, New Age wisdom-spouting witches. It’s fun and unique, not only in Lansing, but to the world. We’re proud to have it. Their shows here have gone from just getting on their feet to selling out the theater, for comedy, on a Tuesday night.
Dylan, you almost moved to the Pacific Northwest like many young, creative people who grew up in Lansing. Why didn’t you?
Dylan: I feel like Lansing has great momentum. That momentum, especially in the arts, is going to lead more creative people to be here. We want to provide a space for anybody who has an off-the-wall idea, maybe something that isn’t happening yet in Lansing, they didn’t feel like they had to move to Detroit.
Jeana-Dee: I saw this space as a much larger and extended version of our front porch. This is our home. You can’t ignore it when something is going on downstairs. You hear every shake, people dancing. Everyone’s welcome on the porch.
Dylan: People give a damn. That’s what made us want to stay in Lansing. The Comedy Coven — they had that experience too. They’re young, hip women who are staying in Lansing because they feel it, too, and there’s just going to be more. A lot of folk musicians love performing here, because there isn’t a noisy bar 50 feet away. You can get up and perform your song you poured your heart into where people can listen. At this point, we’re flooded with talented people and it’s only going to get crazier.
How are the two of you different from each other?
Dylan: I learned my work ethic from Jeana-Dee and her family. How deep do we want to go here? I come from a huggy, feely family. Talk about our feelings, hug it out.
Jeana-Dee: Saying goodbye in the Rogers family takes about 10 hours, because we all have to hug each other about three times. I’m from Flint. If you don’t have something, you make it. If you’re feeling sad, too bad, because we’re going to go to work.
Dylan: High-functioning anxiety (points to himself) and calm, strong, skilled (points to Jeana-Dee).
What’s the next phase of your vision for the Robin Theatre?
Jeana-Dee: To have a more curated series. So Dylan could say, “I want four puppet acts, three folk performances,” almost similar to the Ten Pound Fiddle, maybe pick up an odd event here and there, but have a whole series you can publish.
Dylan: I get contacted dozens of times a week. I want to do all of it, but we have to keep it balanced. We’re at three to four events a week on average. Any more than that would be kind of nuts.
Jeana-Dee: I feel like we are almost unlimited because the neighborhood has been really supportive. We never would have been able to finish the upstairs if we hadn’t had a crew of friends helping out. I feel like anything’s possible because we are so fortunate to be in Lansing, where people are willing to work for something and support each other.
Dylan: We’re kind of putting the plane together as we fly.