Grand Hotel Arts Weekend Presenter Sarah Hendrickson

Today’s guest blogger is Sarah Hendrickson, Instructor of Improvisation with the Michigan State University Department of Theatre. Sarah will be the Saturday presenter for an afternoon workshop and evening performance for the 23rd Annual Arts Weekend. 

Sarah Hendrickson

Entertain You! Improv Workshop & Show

As a native of Michigan, some of my favorite childhood memories are from the long-anticipated annual trips to Mackinac Island with my family. There’s something truly magical about the island and its most famous landmark, Grand Hotel. A place so special, the journey there is, in itself, an adventure. Ferry across a great lake, bike through the historic streets, and ride in a horse-drawn carriage up to the world’s longest porch. The Grand plays hard to get, but once you reach her, you can’t help but fall in love.

Like many young people fresh out of college in the Midwest, I made my way to Chicago. Soon after my arrival, I stumbled upon the art of improvisation. It’s kind of impossible to avoid it in the city where improv comedy, as we know it, was created and cultivated. At first, I adopted it as a tool for survival in commercial auditions where the casting director would instruct, “now throw away the script and make it your own!” This concept was terrifying to me, as I had always been taught to show reverence for the writing and do my actor homework. Make it my own? Yikes.

So, I started taking classes at The Second City, the world’s premier comedy club, comedy theatre and school of improvisation. What started out as a tentative toe dip into the principles of improv, became an immersion into a community of passionate, clever, and lovely performers. I had found my people.

Improvisation isn’t just about being funny. Sure, that helps, but it’s so much more. The entire show is made up on the spot, based on suggestions from the audience, so we need to take care of each other on stage. We do this by listening, saying yes, and building on each other’s ideas. To that end, the fundamentals of improv translate off stage as well.

The next 10 years were a whirlwind of working as an improviser, actress, teacher and producer, touring all over the world. I had always felt a special connection to my home state, and knew that I would return one day. I am thrilled to be back in “The Mitten”, working as an Instructor of Improvisation in the Department of Theatre at MSU, and as an Institute Teaching Artist for Wharton Center for Performing Arts. I am excited to share with my students how improv can connect to people from all walks of life – improv as a performance, improv as a way to generate scripted material, improv as a way for professionals to become better collaborators, introverts and extroverts working together harmoniously… The list is endless.

What an honor to bring my fellow improvisers in from Chicago to perform for the 2017 MSU College of Arts & Letters Arts Weekend. Not only is it a wonderful opportunity for us to play together in a beautiful space for people that support the arts, but I am also able to share with them the beauty that I grew up visiting every summer. I am proud to be a Michigander. I am proud to be an alumna of Michigan State University. I can’t wait to combine these pride points together this summer. Go Green!

Join us for Sarah’s afternoon workshop and evening performance on Saturday, June 24th as a feature of the 23rd Annual Arts Weekend presented by the Michigan State University College of Arts & Letters.

2017 Winter Visit to Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island

The Grand Lady resting during the winter
The Grand Lady resting during the winter on what looks to be a spring day! Behind the facade there is a lot going on. Lets take a look inside.

At the end of February a few full-time employees traveled with Dan Musser, III, President Grand Hotel up to the hotel to see the progress of the construction projects currently going on. After the hotel closes each year around, 25 full-time staff members move from Mackinac Island to Okemos, Michigan four hours south of Mackinac Island to work in the Grand Hotel Sales Office. Come spring those same employees move back up to Mackinac Island where they call home for the other six months. Five full-time employees stay in Okemos all year around.

With two months until opening, most projects were starting to look finished. A few of the biggest projects going on include the reconstruction of the east end of the Front Porch, addition of three new Cupola Suites, and updating and painting furniture throughout the hotel and in guest rooms. 

Annie Farrell, Julie Rogers, Dan Musser, III, Jerry Toney
Annie Farrell, Julie Rogers, Dan Musser, III, Jerry Toney

During the winter someone can travel by ferry from the mainland to Mackinac Island if the water is open (which it was this day) but ferry schedules are very limited. Or you can choose to travel by airplane and land at the Mackinac Island Airport which is what we did. Grand Hotel is approximately 1.5 miles away. Snow was at a minimum the day we traveled so we were not able to hop on a snowmobile which is usually the most popular mode of transportation this time of year. Instead, just like summer, a horse-drawn  taxi picked us up!

Horse-drawn carriage taxi ride from the airport to Grand Hotel
Horse-drawn carriage taxi ride from the airport to Grand Hotel.

 Through the woods we went to greet the many staff members busily working on all of the projects – some big and some small.

 The main entrance this time of year is the back dock which when the hotel is open is where employees  enter and exit to report for work every day. It is also the primary area for all of the luggage that comes in and out of the hotel. Some days over 1,000 pieces of luggage are transferred through the back dock. 

winter back dock
The back dock, which usually holds luggage, is transformed into a work area during the winter.

The flower boxes that line the Front Porch with geraniums are each individually handcrafted along along with other carefully crafted woodworking items. 

Annie Farrell, Julie Rogers, Dan Musser, III, Jerry Toney
Woodworking in progress.
handcrafted geranium boxes
Finished handcrafted geranium boxes.
repairs are being made
All the red carpet is removed and repairs are being made.
Front Porch construction
The Front Porch construction needs to be kept insulated and warm.
Bill, the electrician
Bill, the electrician, working on the new section of the Front Porch.
Reconstructing the east end
Reconstructing the east end of the Front Porch this winter will complete the renovation of the full 660 feet. The west end was completed in 2016.
Front Porch construction
East end Front Porch construction.

The full 660 feet of the famous World’s Longest Porch will be fully reconstructed after this winter. It was taken down to the original wood floor that had not been renovated in 50 years. The west end was done last winter and this winter they are completing the east end which will complete the project. The end will result in a brand new Visqueen flooring from one end to the other. 

Main Dining Room
The Main Dining Room, which is usually the gathering place during meal time, looks a bit different!


Geranium Bar awning
Even the Geranium Bar awning needs a break.

Walking through the hotel this time of year, the air has a chill because it is not heated. As a wood framed hotel, heating the entire hotel is not an option. It would cost a lot of money to keep the hotel heated and for safety reasons it is not recommended.

New furniture from Carleton Varney arrived
New furniture from Carleton Varney arrived!
The Parlor
The Parlor is home to lots and lots of wood waiting to be placed.

Upstairs is where most of the work is being done right now, especially the 4th floor where the new Cupola Suites are being built. But our first stop was floor two where painting and updates to furniture were being made throughout the hallway and in guest rooms. On an average day 10 pieces are restored. They sand the surfaces to paint, then hand paint the detail by paint brush. Jason St. Onge is the head painter at Grand Hotel, and owner of St. Onge Latex and Groove who manages the daily painting projects. He has worked for the hotel since 2005 and a common question he gets every year is  “Will you finish on time?”  Opening day, the doors open and everything is ready to go. Between now and then a lot of behind the scenes work is done, even if it requires working around the clock to get it done in time to greet the first guest in May.  

Caleb hard at work
Caleb hard at work sanding and painting furniture.
Travis is sanding
Travis is sanding every corner getting ready for a fresh coat of paint.
furniture is carefully looked at
Every piece of furniture is carefully looked at.
detail is paid attention to
Every detail is paid attention to.

Grand Hotel green is perfectly mixed and ready.[/caption]
Grand Hotel green is perfectly mixed and ready.

Check-out the crew in action!

We then made our way up to the fourth floor to check out the brand new Cupola Suites are being built on the east end looking out over The Jewel golf course and out to the beautiful Straits of Mackinac. The views are going to be spectacular! 

A view from one of the new Cupola Suites
A view from one of the new Cupola Suites.
Mackinac Straits
A view of the Mackinac Straits. The water is open this winter.
Crews are busy and construction is underway
Crews are busy and construction is underway.
Cupola Suites
One of the Cupola Suites already had drywall up.
sitting areas
Taking a look from one of the sitting areas.

It will only be a few short weeks before Carleton Varney, Grand Hotel’s longtime interior designer will put the finishing touches on these new suites and they will be ready for guests this season! It was exciting to see all of these projects underway and see firsthand how it all comes together. It is amazing the amount of work that goes into making sure America’s Summer Place is in the best shape ever for all of our guests who visit every summer. Six months of the year guests are creating memories, and six months of the year employees are working hard behind the scenes to make it the best it can be!  

We will see some of you very soon! Grand Hotel opens for it’s 130th Anniversary Season, May 4th.