Five years ago, a small group of Grand Rapids actors was searching for an intimate, affordable black-box-type space to produce their original works, and they quickly realized there wasn’t anything in the community that really fit what they needed.
Recognizing a viable opportunity, the foursome opened Dog Story Theater as a nonprofit in 2007 to provide a venue for themselves and others with similar needs.
“We don’t actually produce any work,” said Amy McFadden, Dog Story co-founder. “We are absolutely just a venue. We provide the space, equipment and box office services and some publicity. Basically, we are there so that other people can do their art.”
Performers and small scale touring companies quickly took notice, including Grand Haven’s Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company and the improv show The Big-Little Comedy Fest, both of which have produced shows there. Next year, Actors’ Theatre will be producing two second-theater shows at the venue.
After bouncing around a bit, Dog Story relocated to downtown a couple of years ago, and the move has paid off tremendously. McFadden said the increased foot traffic has helped, especially during ArtPrize when even more people take notice of the space. Dog Story becoming a LaughFest venue has also bolstered awareness.
Another organization that took notice of the move was the Downtown Alliance, which awarded Dog Story Theater its “Best Kept Secret” award recently.
McFadden was grateful to be recognized by the Downtown Alliance but acknowledged being “the best kept secret” isn’t the most positive marketing for a theater venue. Hopefully, she said, the award is just one more way for the theater to become less of a secret and more of a well known entertainment entity.
During its time downtown, Dog Story has quickly become an integrated part of the community-theater scene, with many performers taking advantage of the venue’s lower costs.
“We really are a niche,” McFadden said. “The other groups have their own things that they offer the community, and we love all of them. We go to shows at the Civic and Actors’ — we are all part of that community — but we offer a very different thing. People can get started with us. They don’t have to have a lot of capital to get started. They can do their own work, and the community has been absolutely amazing.”
In turn, productions are able to offer audiences shows at an affordable rate, typically between $6 and $12.
During the past year, the theater booked 42 weekends, and going into 2013 it only has eight weekends that are still available, two of which are the Christmas and Fourth of July weekends. Attendance also has grown by 5 percent, which is the theater’s yearly goal for growth.
Dog Story has received support from many individuals as well as the Frey Foundation.
“We are very grateful to be downtown, and we want people to come see shows,” McFadden said.