Tom Strini
State of the Milwaukee Arts

Next Act Theatre

How do you get to Next Act Theatre? Practice practice practice? No. Follow the bird.

By - Aug 31st, 2012 08:05 pm
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microsis-nextactNext Act Theatre last checked in for an overview in June of 2010. The company was just exiting the Off Broadway Theatre, which it had inhabited for many years, and moving temporarily to In Tandem Theatre‘s space in Calvary Church. That interim move gave Next Act a year to raise funds and build a new space, at 255 S. Water St.

The company is about to launch its second season in the new space, an excellent facility that cost just about $1 million to complete.

How’s that working out?

“We’re pleased with the spot,” said David Cecsarini, Next Act’s artistic director. He was a co-founder back in 1990. “People love the theater space and the amenity of the larger lobby. It has that sense of enough — ample and professional, but with the Next Act intimacy preserved. It’s grand enough for Next Act.”

wonderfullife-next-actCescarini said the company’s core audience of 1,550 subscribers had shrunk during the stay at Calvary/Tenth Street Theatre, but rebounded in the first season in the new space.

“We’re about the same as we were two years ago,” he said. “Our goal for next year was to stay flat, and we’re 90% there [on subscription sales], with a promotional push coming.”

In 2011-12, Next Act ran a deficit of about $20,000 on an $800,000 budget. Cecsarini said the budget will remain about the same, but of course he intends to finish in the black in 2012-13.

Cecsarini feels that the size of the overall audience did not reflect the quality of the shows he put on last season, and he didn’t get the rental business he expected in that first year. The facility — which has a full-scale rehearsal stage, sprung floors (perfect for dance), very good tech and comfortable dressings and ample showers — didn’t show up on many groups’ radar last season.

He’s pleased that the Chicago Commercial Collective will open its Upper Midwest tour by renting Next Act’s space. The company will bring Keith Huff’s A Steady Rain, a police drama, to Milwaukee after a successful five-week run in Chicago. A Steady Rain will play at 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 25-28. Tickets will go on sale Sept. 15 through Next Act’s normal channels.

And Phantom Cicada Productions has moved The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) to Next Act, after right-wing agitation got it banned from Lapham Peak State Park, in Delafield. It runs from Friday, Aug. 31, through Sunday, Sept. 9. Tickets are $15 through Brown Paper Tickets,

But the main point of the building is to serve a larger audience for Next Act’s own productions. Cecsarini knows that Next Act inhabits a fairly crowded niche of small-to-medium theater companies in this market.

“It’s hard to get noticed,” he said. “Our branding and identity are inextricably tied to the plays I put on this stage. In our newsletter, I write a little essay called Why This Play? It’s usually a political why.”

He proves his point with the company’s season opener, Microcrisis, Mike Lew’s satire about a shark financier who preys on grace-nextactstruggling Third World entrepreneurs.  The play, coming Sept. 27-Oct. 21, reflects Cecsarini’s passion for economics, an interest spurred by the recession.

“If you don’t bring this stuff up, no one will think about it,” he said. “When no one thinks, that’s how we get what we get. We at least have to try to get the discussion going, if only in our little circle.

Microcrisis is a satire, a slappy, dashy sort of play. It takes place in New York, Ghana, Cambridge and Monte Carlo. It retells the 2008 crisis in microcosm.”

Cecsarini hates sentimentality and regards its absence as a distinguishing quality of his company. At first, his choice of It’s a Wonderful Life as a holiday show (Nov. 15-Dec. 9) might seem contrary to his atttitude. But think about it: What faction, in current American political life, does Mr. Potter represent?

It fits the philosophy, but don’t get the idea that Cecsarini will turn this iconic script into an ideological tract. Next Act will


John McGivern in “Summer Stories.” Next Act photo.

have a little fun with it, setting it as the script of a radio play on a Christmas Eve broadcast in 1957. Radio drama is fading, and this is the company’s last night on the air. It seems the actors playing George Bailey and Mary Hatch might be rekindling an old flame. Mary MacDonald Kerr is adapting the script and adding new material. Vintage radio ads, some Milwaukee-specific, will punctuate the “broadcast.”

Stephen Massicotte’s The Clockmaker will run Jan. 31-Feb. 24.

“Massicotte also wrote Mary’s Wedding,” Cecsarini said. “He has an understated style, and I really love that kind of voice,” Cecsarini said. “It’s like a Grimm’s fairy tale; a clockmaker and this fellow Pierre have an existential interview in the clockmaker’s shop. It’s in a void. The play has an eternal quality. It turns out to be about violence and danger and how to protect someone you love.

“Thematically, this is a faith-based season. The characters place faith in finance, in love and eternity, in each other.”

Faith and commerce meet in Craig Wright’s Grace (April 4-28), as a devout couple goes to Florida to turn a development deal on a string Christian-oriented hotels. The deal meets disaster, which has a way of testing and perhaps bending faith in unexpected ways. And then there’s the muttering guy and his omnipresent laptop in the next condo…

Next Act and actor/comedian John McGivern have had a long relationship. The company will present him in Pat Hazell’s A Kodachrome Christmas, Dec. 12-31, and in Charles Ludlum’s camp classic, The Mystery of Irma Vep, with Norman Moses as co-star.

“Irma Vep is ridiculous and outrageous,” Cecsarini said. “I can be a fun guy. Next Act can be fun.”

McGivern’s shows have been box-office winners for Next Act for years. But McGivern’s own Summer Stories one-man show tanked in May. Cecsarini thinks it might have been all the recall tumult in the spring. But I suspect the problem was less political and more geographical.

Maybe McGivern’s audience just couldn’t find the the new Next Act. After all, it sits beside a stretch of dwindling, industrial Water Street few Milwaukeeans know. A seedy, chain-linked vacant lot is on the corner. South Water intersects with a bending street that changes names (Milwaukee, Young, Pittsburgh) three times in a quarter mile.

TCD is here to help, and not only with a link to a map. Carly Rubach has a video camera. And a bird. Let them show you the way to Next Act Theatre.

Previously on State of the Milwaukee Arts: Present Music, Danceworks, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Milwaukee Ballet, Skylight Music Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Florentine Opera.

Don’t miss anything! Bookmark Matthew Reddin’s comprehensive TCD Guide to the 2012-13 performing arts. Sponsored by the Florentine Opera.




Categories: A/C Feature 1, Theater

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