Malcolm McDowell Woods

Local theater adapts; shows go on

By - Sep 1st, 2009 03:48 pm
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“The arts have a tendency to be seen as extremely valuable when you are threatened with the loss of them”

— Jane Flieller, co-founder, In Tandem Theatre Company

By Mali Anderson

As the art season opens, theater in Milwaukee is alive and kicking.

Last season, the outlook wasn’t as promising. As a result of economic decline, drama enthusiasts sorrowfully watched as Milwaukee Shakespeare and the Madison Repertory Theatre went dark. On the heels of those theater closings, the staff restructuring at Skylight Opera Theatre was announced, fueling blog posts, dinner debates and stories in the New York Times. All of these painted a grim picture for Milwaukee’s theater reputation.

Yet, as another season opens, it is impossible to ignore the dedicated, strong and talented theater community that resides here. In smaller companies, without the hefty budgets of larger houses, hard work and skill are bubbling to the surface.

“Milwaukee’s theater community is one that prides itself both on the quality of work and the closeness of its professionals. People with hubris don’t last long, but people with hearts larger than their heads do,” says Michael Cotey, Founding Artistic Director of Youngblood Theatre Company.

The Next Big Things

Over the summer several new theater companies have debuted. One of them is Uprooted Theatre Company, an African-American company whose mission statement is to “provide a vital contemporary voice for the African-American community and its supporters through the performing arts.” Another is Youngblood Theatre Company, founded by artists who all trained with the UWM acting program and have a desire to support emerging actors, directors, playwrights and technicians.

Youngblood Theatre Co. from "God Bridge"

Youngblood Theatre Co. from “God Bridge”

“What’s interesting is that I feel like new companies like Youngblood and Uprooted Theatre are riding what I want to call the ‘next wave.’ I think the community is calling for something fresh and something new, and out of that desire has birthed our two companies and others,” says Cotey.

Utilizing spaces as varied as Broadway Theater Center, The UWM Studio Theatre and Landmark Lanes, these up-and-coming companies are producing thought-provoking shows with the grace and talent expected from professional companies.

To support these companies, join their Facebook groups and get on their mailing lists. These tools will keep you informed of upcoming productions, subscription offers and volunteer opportunities.

One More for the Theater

The Alchemist Theatre is attached to the Alchemist Lounge, a bar that provides a stream of revenue that helps pay for productions. The business opened nearly two years ago on Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View. “There are so many music venues in town that are exactly this, why wouldn’t it work for theater?” says co-owner Aaron Kopec.

The cozy funky feel of the lounge gives theater lovers a place to socialize before and after a performance as well as during lounge hours, 4:30 p.m. to midnight. Both the bar and theater provide a relaxed environment that is free of cigarette smoke and pretension. The theater offers an entertaining, solid product in the 36-seat theater.

There is a passion for performing that is palpable at the Alchemist. Enthusiasm combined with quality productions keeps audiences rooting for the group’s success. And you can help with that. “What we’ve been asking people lately is if they could think of us and make us the first or last drink of the night,” says Kopec. You can drink a toast knowing it will help get a script to the stage.

Two years on 10th

InTandem's Tenth Street Theatre

InTandem’s Tenth Street Theatre

In Tandem Theatre Company, a non-profit founded by Chris and Jane Flieller, is launching its 12th season. This will be their second season in the Tenth Street Theater, their permanent home in the Calvary Church on 10th and Wisconsin.

Tenth Street boasts a 99-seat theater and a communal area with art gallery and comfy furniture clustered around a fireplace. Over the past dozen years, In Tandem has produced high quality productions with local talent; actors and playwrights. “In twelve years we have used 19 local playwrights,” says Jane. “We are very happy and proud to be able to nurture talent with the emerging artist,” adds Chris.

Even if a play isn’t the right fit for Tenth Street Theater, In Tandem has found a way to help. The company has opened up the space for playwright readings for individuals working their way into the industry. Emerging playwrights “can get it read out loud, with an audience and get some feedback,” says Jane.

In Tandem’s 2009-2010 season features four plays in the Tenth Street Theater. The space will also be used for teen comedy nights, a cabaret series and is available for rentals.

There is a substantial amount of exciting work happening in Milwaukee to help eclipse the disappointments of last year. Edward Albee, playwright of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” said, “Remember one thing about democracy. We can have anything we want and at the same time, we always end up with exactly what we deserve.”

Audiences have the ability to vote for theaters in terms of ticket sales. Log in to Facebook and become a fan of Uprooted and Youngblood. Have an after-work drink at Alchemist Lounge. See a show at In Tandem’s Tenth Street Theater and consider the benefits of a subscription.

“The arts have a tendency to be seen as extremely valuable when you are threatened with the loss of them,” says Jane Flieller. “And because we have such a plethora of top quality arts groups – not just theater, but dance and music as well as visual arts – in this town, you think it can’t all be sustained, but it can.”

Categories: Arts & Culture

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