When Jeana-Dee Allen first met Dylan Rogers, he was a college drop-out, living in his car, writing poetry and working at a sandwich shop. She had just finished a stint of organic farming along the east coast and was about to go to Michigan State University (MSU) to get her degree. With Allen’s influence, Rogers ended up returning to school and finishing with a degree from Lansing Community College and MSU, and ever since the two have been inseparable.
“I think that’s a great start to us,” explained Allen when talking about their school experiences. “Similar to your [Rogers’] school experience, we’re just always hustling.”
Hustling is quite an understatement in regard to the number of hats these two wear in the greater Lansing community. The pair is known for their community involvement through their nonprofit backgrounds, their band and their recent endeavor, opening the highly successful, Robin Theater in REO Town.
Shortly after getting married in 2010, Rogers and Allen started The LUVS (Lansing Unionized Vaudeville Spectacle), a band that is comprised of more than 12 members that’s focused on creating shows rather than concerts. The band, alongside the couple’s individual experiences with various nonprofits and community organizations, has introduced the couple to many members of the Lansing creative community and, as a result, have become best known for their involvement in the band.
“I credit the whole LUVS thing to Jeana-Dee 100 percent,” explained Rogers. “When I first met her, I had been playing music before. She would come to my performances and thought it was cool that I knew how to play instruments and things, but she didn’t like the music that I played.”
He decided to create music that he knew she would love, which resulted in the type of music that The LUVS plays.
“It’s sort of this really showy stuff with music and dancers and comedy and puppet shows, dogs even — I mean you name it,” said Rogers.
Now, the band plays a few times a year and is probably most known for their annual holiday show. Despite the success of the band, the two have struggled with separating their identity as The LUVS from their newest endeavor, the Robin Theater.
“We are now Mr. and Mrs. Robin Theater to everyone in the community, but at first everyone knew us as Mr. and Mrs. LUVS,” explained Rogers. Allen agreed, noting that the band has only played at the Robin Theater three times since it’s opening to try to keep that distinction.
The Robin Theater, located at 1105 S. Washington Ave. in REO Town, opened on Aug. 1, 2015, and despite its relatively young life in the community, the space has grown to become the premier location for anything that requires a gathering space. The theater has hosted concerts, performances, pop-up markets, fashion shows and more. It’s currently running around three events per week in the space.
“We didn’t think it would get to this point,” said Rogers. “The thing is, we make sure anytime someone reaches out to the theater they get a response. There’s a reason you like shopping at the mom and pop shops, we are like a mom and pop theater and I think that goes a long way.”
Rogers and Allen credited the theater’s success to that high level of service as well as their community outreach, meaning doing things like opening up the space for a small fee or free to programs and organizations that need it.
“That’s part of our mission,” Allen said. “Because of our nonprofit background we are both pretty good at forming relationships with our community partners. We understand the benefits of working with those community partners and building them.”
As of September 2016, the theater has become Rogers’ full-time job, while Allen works full-time for MSU as the department of forestry’s communications coordinator.
“The theater is my job after my job,” she said. Allen grew up in Flint, Mich. with two parents who were small business owners and three grandmothers who were big influences in her life.
“I had lots of people who were leaders in something, whether it was my grandmother leading 4-H, my mom and her small business or my other grandmother running a farm. I’ve always had people who set goals and got things done. As far as Dylan and I’s partnership and me being the ‘sugar momma,’ as we like to say, it’s something that I never really necessarily thought about, it’s just the way I was,” she said.
Rogers agreed, noting that their marriage as well as their business relationship is one of equality – him depending on her and her encouraging him.
“It seems that I’m playing the role of stay-at-home husband/theater owner by night and weekend,” he said. “Jeana-Dee goes out and works the straight job and brings home our safety net and is also my other half.”
The two attributed both their success as business owners and a married couple to their communication and trust. Rogers often acts as the face of the theater and their band, doing all of the social media, the communications and the events, while Allen helps on the night of events, bringing to the table a set of problem-solving skills and a steadying factor.
“I would say that a huge piece of our relationship and our business is that he has so many ideas and I can organize and lay out schedules for things like running a big event and getting renovations done,” said Allen.
While their success is clear, the two admitted that it hasn’t been an easy road. Building a business with no financial help is never easy, and for this social couple, sacrificing time with others for working on their business has been a large hole that they’ve missed. When asked if they ever regret opening the theater, Allen admitted that it is just about every other day.
“It has been so wonderful and unbelievable,” she said. Rogers agreed.
“The thing is, balancing being a couple and opening a business has been remarkably easy, but I think that’s also because we talk a lot. We go on runs together and take walks in the woods and in almost 90 percent of those exterior adventures we are talking about this space and being successful … but we do make sure we can have coffee for an hour and a half on Saturday morning — to make sure we have time for each other too.”