Nontraditional: Pass the Hat Promotions' Catherine Zudak on why she prefers pop-up theater


Pass the Hat Productions' Inside the Rainbow

Pass the Hat's latest pop-up event involves (clockwise from upper left) playwright Emilio Rodriguez, singer-songwriter Jessica Feathers, and storyteller Jill Halpern performing June 1 at Riverside Arts Center's Off Center Gallery as part of its LGBTQ Pride Month multimedia exhibit.

I got interested in pop-up theater over traditional theater when I started writing plays. I’d been involved in theater for decades, but I had no idea how few new plays got produced. Because of the costs involved in putting on full productions, theaters usually produce crowd-pleasing shows. 

Pop-up shows are uber-affordable. I can pull a show together in three weeks or less by inviting new and emerging artists who already have art that relates to the show’s theme. 

I kind of backed into partnering with art galleries for these shows. That was my biggest challenge early on. Finding affordable space. My very first pop-up show was Broken in 2015. It was inspired by an art installation of the same name. Artists Susan Clinthorne and Sally Thielen created a deeply moving piece to honor the victims of human trafficking. I produced Broken as a benefit and the space was donated by Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. Since then, I’ve created shows around sexual assault prevention and awareness as well as gun violence awareness. The latter, The Know Gun Show, I’ve taken on the road, performing at Artomatic in Washington, D.C., in 2017 and Detroit's Swords into Plowshares Gallery last month as part of their exhibit Guns: Artists Respond.

Based on these experiences, I approached the Riverside Arts Center about hosting a pop-up specifically created for the June 1 opening of its LGBTQ Pride Month multimedia art exhibit. Trevor Stone, the manager of Riverside's Off Center Gallery, was very open to it and Inside the Rainbow came to life. This is the fourth pop-up theater performance I’ve produced as Pass the Hat Promotions in the last year. Inside the Rainbow contains all the elements of pop-up that I love. First, it's thematic, celebrating LGBTQ Pride. Second, it involves a variety of artists: playwright Emilio Rodriguez, singer-songwriter Jessica Feathers, and storyteller Jill Halpern. Third, it can be done anywhere! 

One thing I had to rethink from Broken to Inside the Rainbow is how to work with other artists around copyright issues. My original idea was to take plays or short pieces from other playwrights and craft a curated show that could pop-up in multiple venues over years. But artists were understandably concerned about losing control of their work, especially since the pop-ups are free. No one is getting paid.

So, I adapted. Now I have the artists perform their own work for one show only, like Inside the Rainbow. As for The Know Gun Show, I removed the copyrighted material and wrote monologues to replace it. Now, I can pop it up anytime.

I truly believe in the power of art to make the world a better place and to bring communities closer together. Even around divisive issues. But mostly, I love being in the room with performers and audiences. A powerful communion inevitably happens. And shows like Inside the Rainbow help make that communion possible. I feel lucky to be a part of it.

Catherine Zudak is a writer, producer, and storyteller in the Ann Arbor area. 

Pass the Hat Promotions' "Inside the Rainbow" happens Friday, June 1, 7:30-8:30 pm. at Riverside Arts Center's Off Center Gallery, 64 N. Huron, Ypsilanti. An open mic will follow the performance. Contact Catherine Zudak at or visit and Pass the Hat's Facebook page for more information.