Ten Years of Theater in the Park: Prosper Q&A with Ed Nahhat

Ed Nahhat became an attorney in 1991 after a career in the theater as an actor, director, and event producer. Ten years after that he got an itch, a theater itch, and started the Water Works Theatre Company in his hometown of Royal Oak. Water Works is a professional theater company that performs Shakespeare in the park for three weeks each summer. And it’s still going strong ten years later.

Question: What is Water Works Theatre Company, and why did you decided to start it?

Answer: Before I became an attorney in 1991, I had been a professional theater actor and director as well as an event producer. So in 2001, after my first ten years of law practice, I decided to start Water Works in my hometown of Royal Oak as a professional non-profit theater company. Water Works would become a unique way for me to contribute to my own community. I believed (and still do) that the quality of life in our community is enhanced by having a place that supports local professional artists; a company that offers first-class professional theater productions close to home, providing job opportunities to local professional theater artists, as well as growth experience for emerging ones. Water Works’ mission is to serve our broader cultural community by providing a place for our talented artists to call home.

Q: Water Works has been around for ten years and that is considered a long time in the theater world. What has made Water Works special in that capacity?

A: Water Works thrives primarily by the high quality, affordability and uniqueness of its signature event Shakespeare in the Park in Royal Oak and the exciting professional children’s performance workshops we offer (KidsAct! and KidsAct! Teen), as well as our new daylight family shows featuring the high energy fun of contemporary Commedia dell’arte. Most importantly, Water Works grows because of the commitment of a dedicated group of volunteers, sponsors, supporters and talented professional artists who all share the Water Works dream.

Q: Over the years how do you think Water Works has impacted Royal Oak and Oakland County Life?

A: Imagine standing under the stars on a summer night after a beautiful outdoor production of a Shakespeare play, while a hundred people stroll past you along a candle-lit walkway toward their cars. They’re smiling, genuine, and thanking you for another great year. Or come back the next Friday evening as the sun is setting on a hundred parents with grandparents and siblings in tow, as they hug each other and applaud after a dynamite outdoor show starring their kids. Then imagine that all of this happens for three weeks every summer, right here in Royal Oak. Water Works has a positive cultural, economic and civilizing impact on the quality of life here that cannot be measured by any survey form or questionnaire.

The only question is: when are you going to bring your family to enjoy it?

Q: How many actors and theater works have passed through the Water Works Company?

A: We estimate that in our first nine years nearly 200 actors and other professional theater artists have worked on this event.

Q: Why Shakespeare?

A: William Shakespeare is the greatest English language dramatist of all time. Sure, his plays are over 400 years old and can sometimes seem dated, but mostly they are timeless works of genius. No one since Shakespeare has been able to match his skill in story, his insight into humanity and his gifted poetry. To do his works well is a high ambition to achieve, and a rare gift for a local audience to receive, especially at such an affordable price!

Q: What Shakespeare play will the company be working on this summer?

A: Water Works plans to announce this year’s line-up on February 26, 2010 at our fundraising event A Mid-Winter’s Tale at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. Look it up on our website www.waterworkstheatre.com. Don’t miss it! (More below)

Q: What goes into the process in deciding what play to perform?

A: It’s a combination of trying to keep it fresh (i.e., did we do two tragedies in a row?) and truly imagining what we’d like to produce this year. After all, the company has to live with its choice all year, so we review and discuss the options carefully. It also has a lot to do with the person chosen to direct the play.

Q: What does it take for the Company to get ready for the performance?

A: Nothing less than year-round planning, recruiting and fundraising. It’s a lot of work, and we are lucky to have a dedicated team of professionals and volunteers who care about keeping us on track. But we could always use more help from professionals and special skilled volunteers. This year we are looking for set and sign builders, as well as marketing and office volunteers.

Q: What kind of services or opportunities does Water Works offer to budding actors and those interested in theater?

A: As a veteran of Wayne State University’s nationally recognized Hilberry Theatre program, our Artistic Director Jeff Thomakos is mindful that Water Works is a place where emerging professional theater artists get the chance to work side-by-side with established pros. That’s why we always have “open” auditions (check the website next month for audition announcements!).

Also, our KidsAct! Program Director Lisa Melinn has developed an exciting and energetic program that encourages the students’ natural confidence and inspires their creative expression. We teach kids of all ages the basics of Shakespeare, safe stage combat, dance, memorization, improv and scene work, all in a fun outdoor summer setting. Since the program began in 2002, many of our KidsAct! students have gone on to succeed in high school and college performing.

Q: Does Water Works have anything planned for their ten-year anniversary? And finally, what are the details for this year’s performance?

A: Water Works plans to announce this year’s line-up on February 26, 2010 at our fundraising event A Mid-Winter’s Tale at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. We hope you can join us as we announce our 10th season of Shakespeare in the Park in Royal Oak. This fundraiser offers a rare onstage reunion of original actors performing scenes from our past shows. You’ll also get to mingle with the actors, staff and mutual friends of Water Works, and enjoy great food, rockin’ music and a little dancing! Doors open at 7:00 pm and a cash bar will be available.

This summer’s Shakespeare in the Park in Royal Oak shows will be 8:00 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, July 22-24, July 29-31 and August 5-7; and at 3:00 p.m. Sundays, July 25, 31 and August 8. Note new Sunday performance time. All tickets are $18 and are good for any show. Bring a blanket or your own lawn chair or have a seat in one of our bleachers!

All tickets are $6 for the daylight family show The Commedia King Arthur by Lane Riosley, and are good for any show. Performances are 7:00 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays July 27, 28 and August 3, 4; and 11:00 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays July 31, August 1, 7, and 8. Please note new Sunday performance time.

Look it all up on our website www.waterworkstheatre.com.