For many lovers of the arts, theatre often transcends entertainment value to pinpoint certain questions and experiences in the minds of audiences, with their thoughts and hearts moving where the stories may lead them. It’s for this reason that thought-provoking, fun plays produced and performed by Peppermint Creek Theatre Company (PCTC) will never lose their magic.
“Yes, theatre is about entertaining, but I think we’ve also differentiated ourselves as a theatre company that is tackling larger, societal issues,” said Chad Swan-Badgero, founder and artistic director of PCTC, a nonprofit organization located at the Miller Performing Arts Center on Lansing’s south side. “Hopefully, we’re sending people out of the theatre … less tapping their toes and more thinking about the world that they live in and that others live in.”
Back when PCTC was called Peppermint Creek Players, and Badgero was just a simple student the summer before his freshmen year at Michigan State University, the theatre played a single show per summer. Its name was derived from an old creek’s name, which still runs near Swan-Badgero’s childhood home in Mason, Mich. Today, he and Blake Bowen — PCTC’s co-artistic director — have a much fuller schedule; with the roughly eight-month long 2017-18 season listing a myriad of plays and musicals.
“That first year, we did a show at my church. They allowed us to use the space for free since we didn’t have any money,” said Swan-Badgero. “We’ve been a nonprofit for 15 years, but we’ve been producing since 1995.”
PCTC sets their seasons apart with unique themes that encompass a central core between shows. Those themes grow organically; instead of picking a message and narrowing down what fits, leadership at the theatre talks with directors and draws a season’s theme out of the chosen plays. This provides a natural progression of what a theme can ultimately mean for audience members and the relevance of the message they choose to rally behind.
“The way we choose a season is always organic and always fun — frustrating and fun,” said
Swan-Badgero. “Once we choose our shows, we start to think of a theme. Once we have our handful of plays, we try to marry them together and pull out a theme.”
“Ladylike” was last season’s theme at PCTC, a theme that ended up particularly relevant given the rising political climate and increased awareness of workplace abuses against women that have since exploded across the nation. The movement posed an opportunity for PCTC to spark a dialogue within the community: one that wasn’t lost on the two men aiming for that goal.
“’Ladylike’ was really awesome, and our community proved to be hungry for the discussion. That was beautiful to watch, despite the fact Blake and I were two guys thinking to ourselves, ‘Are we allowed to be two guys running a season themed about women?’” Swan-Badgero said. “It helped us to question our role as men … who work with women and create opportunities through the arts.”
While PCTC’s themes are usually intended to pose questions in the mind of theatre goers, the 2017-18 season is more direct in the question its brings to the forefront: “Who’s Leading?” February opened with “The Christians” by Lucas Hnath, a play performed and in partnership with Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing. March will see “The Flick” by Annie Baker, presented in partnership with Lansing Community College.
“Who’s leading when it comes to a relationship? Who’s leading our country? Who’s leading in our technology or our work lives?” asked Swan-Badgero. “Our season themes tend to be questions at some level, and it’s nice to have that overarching theme so that people can look at these questions separately and then see them all as parts of the same whole.”
While these questions are often challenging, PCTC is committed to having a lasting impact on the Lansing community and with that comes disagreements and unpacking beliefs. While a person can’t compromise on every issue or mend every fence, that doesn’t spell the end for a community unless people let it.
“I grew up in a family that was, like, no politics or religion at the table. But, shouldn’t your family be the place where you can talk about these
things? It’s the same thing with your community,” said Swan-Badgero. “Not necessarily everyone every street corner, but … you have to be able to practice empathy.”
PCTC has come a long way, but they recognize there is still more to come for not only them, but Lansing and the mid-Michigan region. They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“We want to be a community theatre. We want to be a theatre that impacts the community and is connected to the community and involves the community,” said Swan-Badgero. “We’re really open to people’s ideas and thoughts on what that might look like.”
To learn more about the PCTC, visit peppermintcreek.org.