For director and Howmet Playhouse, ‘Quilters’ is a patchwork of special

Bryan Engler is directing

WHITEHALL — The stage musical “Quilters” has a special place in director Bryan Engler’s history and heart.

And the upcoming production at Howmet Playhouse here will be touched by extra special.

Engler was introduced to Molly Newman and Barbara Damashek’s story of six American pioneer women — a mother and her daughters — whose lives are told through the patches in their quilts when he was a student at Western Michigan University. The school’s theatre department in the mid-1980s presented “Quilters” for the American College Theatre Festival.

“ … I fell in love with it for its theatricality,” Engler said, “and the way the story is told in a non-linear way, with a small number of women playing a large number of roles that include children, men and, at one point, animals.

“I also loved the fact that this is musical that doesn’t shy away from reality. It has moments of complete heartbreak followed by pure joy.”

Those heartbreak and joys will be retold at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4-6 when “Quilters” enters as the latest offering of the playhouse’s 2016 Summer Theatre Festival.

Engler, a Montague native who has a long association with the 100-year-old playhouse, is directing, with music direction by Karen Burek. The all-female cast includes Ann Genson, Erin Mickelson, Tiffanie Miller, Carolee Morat-Castle, Claire Root Benson and Robin Erdman.

A Montague native, Engler is taking his second shot at directing “Quilters.” In 1994 he directed it for Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. His cast were teenagers, which made for some risky business.

“It was risky for high school girls to do, given some of the subject matter of some of the pieces,” Engler said, “but (the people) who saw it had nothing but praise for both the show and what we did with it.”

What the playhouse, which opened in 1916 and this year is celebrating its centennial, is doing with this “Quilters” is making it something of a community experience, beyond the show itself.

Preceding the production, through July 31, is the “Quilted Memories Annual Quilt Show” at Quilted Memories Inc., 9919 Business U.S. 31 in Montague. More than 100 quilts are on display during the free show. The quilt show opened Friday, July 29 and continues from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 30, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 31.

The playhouse also has stitched “Quilters” into Michigan’s Heritage Park Museum, 637 N. Durham.

A “Quilting Demonstration and ‘Quilters’ Musical Preview” will be 2 p.m. Saturday, July 30 and Sunday, July 31. The event will have quilts displayed, quilt demonstrations and a sampling of songs from “Quilters.”

It’s all a nice fit.

“This area has a strong quilting community that I have come to know,” Engler said, “and I wanted to do something that spoke to them. And if we create some new excitement for attending live theatre, then this has been a perfect experience.”

Engler said he told Beth Beaman, the playhouse’s managing director, he wanted to direct “Quilters” at the playhouse, “because it is so rewarding for both performers and the audience.

“‘Quilters’ is one of those rare theatrical experiences that hits on all cylinders It’s funny, touching, instructional, and very human. People are moved by this show and the stories it tells.

“I hope people will leave the theater with an appreciation for quilting and the people that brought scraps together to create something beautiful and useful.”

Individual tickets for “Quilters” are $21 for adults and $17 for students.

For reservations, visit the playhouse’s web site,; or the box office of the playhouse, 304 S. Mears. The box office is open weekdays from 1-5 p.m., and one hour before show times.

Categories: Theatre

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