"I'm excited working with these directors and actors," says Zeitgeist founder Troy Richard. "… It takes us to another level."

Richard was glowing about the cast of Zeitgeist's current high concept production - Max Frisch's "The Firebugs," (through - Oct. 12) - which features such young talents as Ryan Carlson, Joel Mitchell, Timothy Campos ("Waiting for Godot"), Alana Dauter ("The Elephant Man") and Lessa Bouchard (who directed "E-Man" at Hamtramck's Planet Ant last year). But he could have been talking about Detroit theater in general.

Over the past several seasons, the number of talented actors working in the area has increased to the point where - even as the number of producing theaters in Detroit has grown - there are finally enough good performers to go around.

While it's hardly the greatest use of talent imaginable, the Gem Theatre's "Shear Madness" boasts an all-star cast of stage vets including John
Siebert, Thomas Hoagland Henrietta Hermelin, Lynnae Lehfeldt, John Hawkinson and recent Hilberry escapee, Matt Sawyer. The show's good - but the cast is better. (Call (313) 963-9800.)

Speaking of the Hilberry, the Wayne State graduate theater company (the only one of its kind in the country) has produced some of the area's biggest stars. After a rough 2001-02 season, an influx of new blood seems to have the theater back on track for its 40th season, with a host of young character actors bringing life to Neil Simon's homage to Chekhov, "The Good Doctor" (through Dec. 7, (313) 577-2972). "King Lear" joins the doctor in repertory there later this month (Oct. 18 - Dec. 14).

Between the old pros and the actors in training is a growing population of professional actors, many of whom are products of acting programs at Wayne, the University of Detroit Mercy and Oakland University. What's gratifying is how many of these actors are carving out niches for themselves here rather than heading for the coasts as soon as they graduate.
The results can be seen at Meadow Brook Theatre, where the cast of the current Agatha Christie chestnut "Witness for the Defense" (Oct. 16 - Nov. 10,  (248) 377-3300) features longtime favorites such as Paul Hopper and Scott Crownover alongside three recent Hilberry alums - Erik Gratton, Sara Cathryn Wolf and Kristopher Yoder - who for the time being are living and working in Detroit.

The stellar group of actors and singers that will take the stage at Music Hall in the Plowshares produced "Sophisticated Ladies" (Oct. 24 - Nov. 3, (313) 872-0279) pays tribute to the music of Duke Ellington and attests to the level of talent that can be found here.

And strong casts of old and new Detroiters have become fixtures at Ann Arbor's Performance Network ("The Spirit House," Oct. 17 - Nov. 10, (734) 663-0681, Chelsea's Purple Rose ("Across the Way," through Dec. 1, (734) 433-7673 and West Bloomfield's JET ("Tommy J and Sally," through Nov. 3, (248) 788-2900).

Perhaps no professional theater has nurtured as many local actors as the Second City-Detroit, which methodically trains, pays, and launches some of the city's best talents. SC-D's newest sketch revue ("Less Talk, Motown," (313) 965-2222) shines the spotlight on six more of Detroit's up and
coming comic actors.

Meanwhile, SC-D alums have played a big role in other local theaters. Several former Second City stars were responsible for the creation of Planet Ant's Improv Colony, the Hamtramck theater's resident improv group, which puts up it's ninth show this month - the Halloween Comedy "Tales from the Script," (through Nov. 3, (313) 365-4948.)

And speaking of All Hallows Eve the Abreact Playhouse will stage its second annual production of the rock 'n' ghoul-fest "Night of the Living Dead: The Musical" at Detroit's newest theater, the Hastings St. Ballroom (through Nov. 3, (313) 870-9002).

Good casts and vibrant theaters mean better shows but they also raise expectations. So we'll call 'em like we see 'em - good, bad, great or lousy. thedetroiter.com theater section features reviews of nearly every show in town, as well as feature stories, profiles of theater artists and an archive of reviews from past seasons that document Detroit's ever evolving theater scene.

Now go see a show!