Drama club continues under guidance of Polito brothers

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ coming March 17-19 to Hazel Park

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published February 26, 2016

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HAZEL PARK — Last year, Shawn Polito stepped down as director of the Hazel Park Drama Club, a position he had held since 2007. He resigned in order to spend more time with his wife and two children, but he continues to be involved as the drama club advisor, and as the producing and technical director. 

Taking over as play director is his older brother, Frank Anthony Polito, who has authored such books as “Band Fags!” which received the 2008 Best Fiction Award from the InsightOut Book Club; “Drama Queers!” which received the 2009 Lambda Literary Award; and, more recently,

“Lost in the ’90s” and “The Spirit of Detroit.”

Together, the two brothers are overseeing the drama club and its next production, “Little House of Horrors,” at 7 p.m. March 17-19, based on the 1986 film starring Rick Moranis.

Shawn played the lead character in the same play at Hazel Park High back in 1994, and Frank was choreographer on the same production.

Frank, who is eight years older and had recently graduated from Wayne State University at the time, would later move to New York City to pursue a professional career in theater before shifting his focus to writing. He has since moved back to Michigan.

For the two brothers, their current work in the Hazel Park Drama Club is the first time they’ve worked together in a theater capacity since 1996. Frank has previous experience directing Hazel Park Summer Drama from 1993 to 1996, working with drama students at the time — including his brother — to put on a musical during summer vacation.

And prior to that, in the summer of 1993, Frank started a summer theater program through Hazel Park Parks and Recreation that featured Shawn and his friends in a musical production of “Grease.” That program lasted four summers under Frank’s direction, and when Frank decided he could no longer come home from New York City, Shawn took over for another four summers.

Fast-forward to the present, and now the brothers are collaborating once again.

“It’s been a great experience working with my brother again,” Frank said in an email. “Growing up, we were always close, despite the eight-year age difference.”

This included Frank taking his younger brother to see movie musicals together, and checking out shows at community theaters and in Detroit when shows would go on tour.

It was Frank’s love of theater that inspired Shawn’s own interest.

“I would see his shows (in the Hazel Park Drama Club) and see how much fun he and his friends had doing them,” Shawn recalled in an email.

“That made me decide that it was something I wanted to do as well. When I got to high school, I immediately joined the drama club, and it became a decision that would shape the rest of my life. I was drama club president for several years, and I was in every show for the course of four years, including many lead roles.”

Shawn himself became drama director when the previous one, teacher Ron DelBello, retired in 2007. When Shawn resigned last year, another teacher in the school district offered to take the position, but then backed out before school started in September. Keeping with policy, the district posted the position on the district’s job board, but after a few weeks no school employees had shown interest, so Frank was offered the job.

“One of the main reasons I stepped up was because I got my start in acting and theater at Hazel Park High back in 1987 when I was a senior,” Frank said. “Before then, there hadn’t been a drama program for about five years. For me this was especially unfortunate, because I wanted to pursue a career in theater.

“Now, 20 years later, I wasn’t about to let the drama program fall by the wayside — just in case there is some student out there with the same ambitions and dreams I had,” he said. “Also, I feel that it’s important for young people to participate in drama, even if just for the fun of it, because it not only teaches them the art form, but it helps them learn responsibility and discipline.”

The drama club presented “Sherlock Holmes in the Hound of the Baskervilles,” a stage adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle novel, this past fall. Now it’s all hands on deck preparing for the final stretch of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Shawn said the new arrangement with his brother works well. Frank concentrates on the creative decisions of the play and the musical, while Shawn continues to deal with financial decisions and technical aspects.

“This position requires much less of my time and allows me to continue working with the drama club that I care so much about, and still give my family the attention they deserve,” Shawn said.

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