Next Act Theatre
For 10 years, we’ve all known where to find Next Act Theatre: In the Off Broadway, the 99-seater on the second floor at 342 N. Water St.
The building was sold, the lease is up and the small company is moving. Next Act will spend 2010-11 as In Tandem Theatre’s roommate at the Tenth Street Theatre. It’s tucked away in the basement Calvary Church — you know, the Big Red Church, 1028 W. Wisconsin Ave. While Next Act produces at the Tenth Street, it will put its office, rehearsal hall and weekday box office in the Phoenix Building, 219 N. Milwaukee St.
Next Act fans will feel at home at Tenth Street; In Tandem’s Chris and Jane Flieller modeled their space after Next Act’s Off Broadway, with a three-quarter thrust stage and the audience on risers. No one in either house is more than six rows from the stage.
The whole theater community will miss the Off-Broadway space, which Next Act frequently rented to other small companies, such as Theatre Gigante.
Help is on the way. Next Act producing artistic director David Cecsarini, managing director Charles Kakuk, and their board and staff are a third of the way through a $950,000 capital drive. The campaign will create a new venue in a vast industrial space at 255 S.Water St. David and Julia Uihlein have pledged $100,000 as a challenge grant; if the company can get to $850,000, the Uihleins will do the rest. Next Act has a 15-year lease with a five-year option at the end of it in the new space, in the old Trans-Pak Corporation crane house. Construction is to begin in January.
“It’s a huge shell with no infrastructure whatsoever,” Kakuk said. “We’ll build a building within a building.”
In this vast space, Next Act will create a larger theater, right? Wrong.
“We’ll carry the Off Broadway design over,” Kakuk said. “We don’t want to lose that intimacy.”
They will, however, add some technical capability and subtract the thick pillars that made for tricky sight lines and audience placement at the Off Broadway. That will allow seating capacity to grow to somewhere between 150 and 172 without losing intimacy. The plan is for four rows on the sides and six to the front. That’s close.
Basically, though, it will be déjà vu all over again as the Next Act audience moves from Off Broadway to Tenth Street to 255 South Water.
Next Act began in 1990, with the merger of Sharon McQueen’s Theatre Tesseract and Next Generation Theatre, which Jane Barclay Mandel had founded in 1985. Cecsarini, 55, was involved in both companies; he was married to McQueen, Tesseract’s founder, at the time. Jonathan Smoots, Cecsarini’s friend and frequent colleague, was Next Generations’ artistic director.
“We had two missions,” Cecsarini recalled. “We did adult contemporary theater and we did theater for kids. It turned out we just confused everybody. And we were playing in Centennial Hall (at the Milwaukee Public Library), which was terrible. We dwindled to a low point and had to shrink way down.”
That was the summer of 1992, when Kakuk, 50, showed up. He had run Pizza Hut restaurants around the country before become involved in rock and pop promotion in Milwaukee and did some marketing work for the Milwaukee Ballet. He had seen the company and liked its work and offered to come on board to run its business side.
He and Cecsarini had office and rehearsal space on the eighth floor at 342 N. Water — the same building they’re exiting now — but their shows were all over the place. They settled into the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Theater for a few years, until they grew from three to four productions per year.
“That fourth show always went searching,” Kakuk said.
Then they thought about the gutted, vacant space on the second floor. It took some persuading, but the building owner let them put on a show in a makeshift theater in 1998. It went very well. They searched and searched for a permanent home and found nothing. So they went back to their landlord one more time. They got a lease for the second floor and built their theater, shop, rehearsal space and office.
In addition to its own productions, Next Act sometimes presents other artists in other venues. John McGivern’s popular Christmas shows, for example, have flown the Next Act banner in recent years.
In 2010-11, Next Act will present McGivern in a non-subscription run of his Home for the Holidays at the Rep’s Stiemke space in December.
“John’s an amazing draw,” Cecsarini said. “He’ll have some new material for the show next year.”
Here’s the bill for the Tenth Street season, show by show with a line or two from Cecsarini:
Four Places, by Chicagoan Joel Drake Johnson, Sept. 16-Oct. 10. “A domestic dramedy about an elderly mother dealing with her two grown children. It’s funny, smart and engaging.”
Big Boys, by Rich Orloff, Jan. 20-Feb. 13. “A corporate comedy about an arrogant boss and his meek, altruistic assistant. It’s one of those scripts that depends a lot on the relationships of the actors.” Cecsarini will play opposite Norman Moses.
A Sleeping Country, by Melanie Marnich, March 24-April 17. “It’s not what you’d expect [from the title]. It’s about a woman who hasn’t been able to sleep for months. She goes to Venice to see if it’s some disease from her Italian ancestry. She meets a countess. It’s a fable about learning to live above and beyond your fear. It’s funny and romantic.”
Subscriptions to all three shows are $60 to $90, depending on the day of the week. Call 414-278-0765 to subscribe. For further information, visit Next Act’s attractive, navigable website.