Sweeping the Porch

York Griffith: Planet Ant Theatre



York Griffith, actor/director; artistic director of Planet Ant Theatre in Hamtramck since 2001; directed "The Adding Machine," starring Robert Grossman, last year's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and last fall's "The Woolgatherer." He's currently preparing for the Ant's May opening of the locally written "Only Fresh Lemons."


A big part of it is that I come from the area. I grew up in Farmington. But another part of came from when I was going to college (at Northern Michigan)- I came home for spring vacation and I went with my older brother to see "The Price" out at the JET. Robert Grossman was in it, and his performance in that production made me think that Detroit was definitely a worthwhile place to do theater. Because I saw there was actually something very valid and good going on in theater in Detroit.

And Detroit has a purity that you don't find in other towns. You know, I'm not saying Eminem's the greatest musician in the world or anything, but I don't think what he is talking about in "8 Mile" could come out of another city. There's a rawness about this city that I don't think Chicago or New York have. There are so many ways that this city is fucked up, but it kind of brings out a pureness and rawness in the arts.

I wouldn't say that was something that I realized when I came here, but it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I lived in Chicago for a while and I always felt that it was missing something... and I think that what it's missing is that rawness. I mean maybe I haven't experienced everything there but it definitely seems like something that Detroit has, that intrigues me and inspires me.


I don't think I would be able to handle a life outside of the arts. I was a pretty quiet kid, and I think I accumulated quite a bit of angst. My parents raised me to appreciate art. So I was in music when I was kid, and painted, and all sorts of stuff, and theater is what I took to. I think it's the most satisfying, just because it encompasses so many different arts, and also because of its temporal nature and the liveness of it really appeals to me.

I think the reason some theater people want to do film is because of the temporal nature of the theater… but it doesn't really matter to me whether (what we do) is caught on tape or not. I think that's what theater has going for it over most of the other arts, that it is just there for a moment, because ultimately, memory is more powerful than putting on a videotape of a movie.

And I think the three-dimensional aspect of it appeals to me: I like creating a three-dimensional piece of art.


The artistic values could be more fine-tuned, here. Honestly, I'm really sort of interested in doing more original stuff. I mean working on this new play ("Only Fresh Lemons," opening in May) has been even more satisfying than working on "Virginia Woolf" There's something exciting about realizing that all those great writers were just people, and we're just people. There's no reason why we shouldn't really find the voices that are around here and try to do something new. I mean the last four of five years - working on all those great scripts has really given us an education in breaking scripts down and seeing how they work. And having that knowledge has really given us the courage to branch out and spread out the artistic vision of this place.

Something that I've realized this season, is that I don't have any interest in being this sort of dictator artistic director that says you have to do things this way or whatever. I'm much more interested in trying to find contemporaries that have a good work ethic and a good theater discipline, but also are more visionary - because I don't think the theater makes much sense with just one artistic vision. It kind of bores me, quite frankly.


I'm very jealous of Canada, in general - their support of the arts, and their appreciation and respect of it. I really wish this town could sort of side with its French name. Detroit's always been so industrial, but I wish it could sort of become a Paris - you know the layout of this town was modeled after Paris. I'd like to see the city's development go in that sort of direction.

I just think it would be nice if artists could be appreciated more here. I'm not trying to whine about it - I mean the process is the reward - but I wish there were other rewards in this city. Maybe just more coffeehouses, you know?

It's kind of corny but there's a quote that's meant a lot to me from Mother Theresa about "If everyone would just sweep their own porch...." That's really simple but if we're doing our little part, knowing that we can't change everything ourselves, but everyone's doing their little part, then who knows?

Planet Ant Theatre
2357 Caniff Ave.
Hamtramck, MI 48212

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