Performer Dan Cooney is no stranger to the stage. He moved to New York City at the age of 19 to seek out his dream of performing. After becoming a successful musical theater actor in both Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, he now splits his time between NYC and working at his second passion, The Encore Musical Theatre Company.
Serving as the artistic director of The Encore, Cooney works to bring the magic of Broadway caliber shows and his love of musical theater right into the heart of downtown Dexter.
Cooney first heard about the idea of starting a theater company in Dexter over 8 years ago when he was emailed by former high school classmate, Anne Koch, who saw his face on a Broadway show website.
Koch, who helped found The Encore, now serves as its managing director.
“We went to a Sadie Hawkins dance together,” Cooney said in an interview with We Love Dexter staff on Dec. 18. “We were friends and we were in choir together. Then, I sang at her wedding a few years later.”
Cooney said Koch thought that the formation of a theater company focusing on musical performance theater would be well received in the area, noting that actor Jeff Daniels‘ Purple Rose Theatre Company focuses more on plays and the work of Michigan playwrights.
Cooney, who grew up in Westland, said he was excited to check out Dexter as a prospective town to house the theater.
“On my first drive through, I was blown away (and thought) this is absolutely perfect,” Cooney said.
Before the theater even had a brick-and-mortar building, Cooney said the group performed a test performance featuring Broadway talent at Dexter High School to get a sense of the level of community support and demand for a semi-professional to professional local musical theater.
“I think we sold 400 tickets basically by word-of-mouth in 3 weeks,” Cooney said. “So, it was then that we realized this could work.”
Once the theater company formed as a non-profit organization, the next goal was finding a suitable building to house the performance space. A building formerly owned by Dexter Builders turned out to be the perfect candidate. The former warehouse has now been home to The Encore Musical Theatre offices and stage for several years, with the ability of seating over 120 people at each show.
“We’re here to lift the spirits,” Cooney said. “We’re here to give the gift of theater and music and voice and movement.”
Cooney said while the acting aspect doesn’t change whether performing on Broadway or on a smaller stage like The Encore, the more intimate space of a smaller theater can take some getting used to for performers.
“The actor is performing in the same manner they would in a Broadway house, but what’s really unique and special about The Encore is that you can really feel the people,” Cooney said. “They are right there. You can not only feel them, you can see them. My first couple of times here actually took a little bit of adjusting.”
Cooney said performing in intimate spaces like The Encore is a unique experience for an artist.
“I think that’s one of the reasons that people really love The Encore,” Cooney said. “If the actor is on the edge of the stage, you are 6 feet away. So, you are really in the experience.”
Cooney began to laugh, adding, “And when it’s not going so well, you feel that also and that it’s on you to make the shift. You have a very clear gauge on how it’s going at The Encore.”
The Encore is classified as a non-profit organization. Cooney said he is grateful for Dexter’s enthusiasm for the arts.
“I would just like to thank everybody in Dexter and beyond for their support,” Cooney said. “We’re a charity. We’re literally in service to the community. By supporting The Encore, you’re really supporting the community. When you’re here, it really is our job to just take you away and shift or lift the spirit through theater and music. We have the privilege of doing that through all of the support from the community. It’s so appreciated.”
According to Cooney, every $1 spent on a theater ticket puts at least $3 back into the community. Theatergoers often spend money on meals and drinks before and after performances at The Encore, which is only one block over from downtown restaurants right on Main Street.
Cooney recently wrapped up an Off-Broadway performance of “Heathers,” and had a reading mid-December for a new musical based on the film, “Into the Wild,” called “Alexander Supertramp.”
Each theater season at The Encore traditionally runs from September through August, featuring five to six productions. A film series, storytelling series and concerts to be held throughout the year are also new additions this season. The Encore is currently in its eighth season.
The Encore Musical Theatre Company is located at 3126 Broad St. in Dexter, and can be found on Facebook and Twitter. Show tickets are for sale online and can be purchased by calling the box office at (734) 268-6200.