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News & Press: FOCUS

Focus on Small Business: The Downeaster Theatre

Monday, December 4, 2017  
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Billy Joel, the award-winning singer and songwriter has made his talent known throughout the world. Though the world is full of thousands of fans, one fact that fans may not know about Joel is that his song “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” gave inspiration to Kathryn Willis, 26, to help accomplish what she’s dreamed about doing her whole life - open a theater. And so, The Downeaster Theatre, located in Lansing was born.

Willis developed a relationship with theater at the young age of three and hasn’t stopped loving it since. It has always been this Grand Valley graduate’s dream to open a theater. It’s her noticeable amount of passion, for not only theater but for the arts, that have helped her work from the ground up to make the dream a reality.

“People go further, work harder, sacrifice more to do what they know and what they love,” said Willis.

Most of the tasks that it takes to run a successful theater are handled by Willis, though she is actively looking for more people to add to her team. While she handles the business tasks, she gets to handle the fun jobs as well, such as picking out the productions that are going to play from her theater.

One of Willis’ focuses is to immerse the younger generation into the culture of theater. One of her missions is in making sure that the art of theater doesn’t die.

Willis is devoted to making The Downeaster a haven to those that don’t necessarily fit in. Willis mentioned that both people young and old, need a place where they can feel safe, where they feel valued and where they feel wanted. She wants every person that walks into The Downeaster Theatre to feel like they are home.

Bringing together generations is also a great benefit for the Lansing community. No other theaters in Lansing focus on both a full-adult and a full-youth season, which The Downeaster does, making it unique to the Lansing community.

“This fosters an environment for mentors, being comfortable and feeling like the people around you, understand you,” said Willis.

Willis’ dreams don’t stop with The Downeaster Theatre. Willis has hopes of expanding The Downeaster’s current venue to a much larger space. She also has plans to create unique branches of The Downeaster Theatre, truly emphasizing the fact that theater is different from city to city.

“I’d like to branch out to other cities and do an exchange program with kids,” said Willis. “And have them do a weekend fieldtrip, like ’Oh this is how we do theater here. How do you do theater? Let’s see a show. Let’s talk about our differences and our similarities.’ From city to city. Whether it be from here to Grand Rapids or here to New Orleans or Milwaukee.”

With Willis’ passion and love for the arts, she is paving a way for a brilliant future for The Downeaster Theatre.

Click here to download the December issue of FOCUS.


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