On June 27th, 2020, Dog Story Theater closed its doors. COVID-19 had pushed the organization, which operated with thin margins at the best of times, past its breaking point. At the time, there was no clarity as to when live theater might resume or when audiences would feel safe returning. “We will feel its loss keenly,” the group announced.
While the organization itself wasn’t dissolving, the physical space at 7 Jefferson Avenue was closed, effectively leaving Dog Story Theater nothing but a name. It was a mourned name. Commenters posted heartfelt messages of sadness and support. The words “heartbreak” and “so very sorry” came up again and again. “I just want to cry,” one supporter wrote.
So it went: another pandemic casualty. Or so it seemed; as the world recovered some sense of normalcy, Dog Story board members began looking for a new space. In May of 2023, they found it: 340 State Street SE in Heritage Hill. The city has approved the usage, But in order to make it an effective theater space, and to make it ADA compliant, some modifications to the building are required–and modifications cost money. Help from the community would be needed.
On August 15th, 2023, a Kickstarter campaign was launched. The goal was modest: $15,000, or 30% of the startup costs. The hope was to raise enough to open the doors. If successful, a second phase of the campaign would be launched, one that would provide more seating and allow for aesthetic changes to the stage; at this point, Dog Story hopes to complete its second phase within one to two years of reopening. As of this writing (October 15th, 2023), the campaign has raised $5,500, a little over one-third of its $15,000 goal.
Dog Story opened its doors in 2008. The theater takes its name from a monologue in Edward Albee’s Zoo Story; fittingly, that play would be the first production held in the theater. From the start, it was an affordable venue for theatrical (or theater-adjacent) groups lacking a permanent stage of their own.
Over the years, Dog Story hosted numerous events, including dance performances, live comedy, concerts,film debuts, live CD recordings, and theater.
It served as the venue for Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company, among others. Pigeon Creek, which bills itself as “Michigan’s only year-round, touring, professional Shakespeare company,” was a perfect fit for the venue; the group performs much as groups would have in Shakespeare’s time, without amplification and with minimal stage decor. In Dog Story’s functional, intimate space, audience members had a direct line to what was taking place onstage and were in close enough proximity to see every line in a furrowed brow.
Another mainstay was Dice Tales. A live roleplaying game helmed by GM Brooke Maier (née Heintz), Dice Tales originated as part of a small convention called Geekfest. Geekfest was intended to swell Dog Story’s coffers, or at least pay the rent; it was a one-off. But given the reception it received, the group decided to make it an ongoing monthly event.
Dice Tales live proved to be warm and welcoming, something between a comic radio play and a good-naturedly profane roleplaying session with old friends. The loss of Dog Story’s Jefferson Ave location, and the pandemic itself, meant that Dice Tales went mostly virtual (the group does perform occasionally at conventions and other live venues).
Given the reopening, Dice Tales will be able to return to Dog Story’s stage. Cari Scholten, a member of Dice Tales, said that Dog Story gave her “a peek into a new world. I’m so thrilled to see Dog Story making its comeback.”