Hannah McCarthy
Smithereen Productions

Operating in the fringe

With upcoming productions including "Spike Heels" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," the developers of Milwaukee's "TIM (The Improvised Musical)" have some unique work to unveil.

By - Apr 18th, 2013 04:00 am

Cast of “The Improvised Musical” at Comedy Sportz Milwaukee

Members of Milwaukee’s Comedy Sportz team were visiting their improv in-laws at Comedy Sportz Minneapolis in 2009 when they first saw an incarnation of The Improvised Musical. As one, Mary Baird, explained, it was “magic on stage.”

So when the players returned to Cream City, they knew they needed their own version of TIM. The Improvised Musical has been performed every month since 2011. I won’t ask you to do the math, but that’s a lot of shows. What began as a pet project for Comedy Sportz players and other improv creatives has become a huge success.

Now, the minds behind this Milwaukee theater staple have a new project on the horizon – Smithereen Productions. Since the creation of TIM, Jacob Bach (Artistic Director) and Baird (Head Producer) have been saving their profits in order to launch a company that can give other local artists an opportunity to produce new, quality projects – a motive that they finally have the funding to pursue. “We don’t aspire to be one of the theater companies in Milwaukee,” said Bach. “We want to be people who put on great shows. If our season is only two shows at a time, it’s quality over quantity. As long as they’re great shows, that’s what matters.”

Mary Baird and Jacob Bach of Smithereen Productions.

Mary Baird and Jacob Bach of Smithereen Productions.

Smithereen Productions currently has two shows in the works, one of which is opening this Thursday. Spike Heels, by Theresa Rebeck, is a modern interpretation of Pygmalion that tells a tale of love, friendship, power  and the often blurred lines between them. This show uses biting wit and dark humor to tell the story of the uncultured Georgie, her slimy boss Edward, and their mutual friend Andrew, who’s engaged to marry Edward’s ex, Lydia. This four-person performance will open at the Arcade Theater in the Underground Collaborative. In conjunction with Smithereen’s commitment to making their art accessible to the public, the performances on April 22 and 25 are “pay what you can” performances.

"Spike Heels" by Theresa Rebeck

“Spike Heels” by Theresa Rebeck

While Spike Heels is Mary Baird’s project, her other creative half Jacob Bach is currently producing Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Carte Blanche Studio. The play, a cult favorite, is the story of transgender musician Hedwig, formerly Hansel, who left Germany for love and instead found rock and roll. Hedwig and her band are struggling when her tour dates coincide with those of super star Tommy Gnosis, a former lover who stole Hedwig’s songs. These two shows clearly illustrate what Mary made known about Smithereen: “We purposefully operate outside the traditional theater system. … We pick things that speak to our generation. The fringe is important to us.”

Smithereen’s budget goes entirely into the production of shows, so there’s currently no plan to purchase a performance space of their own. But Baird and Bach see this as a benefit  – they are able to rent performance spaces that are tailored to the show being produced, not the other way around. It also gives them greater flexibility with utilizing fellow actors and creatives in the community. “We have an amazing net of people we have accumulated over time,” Baird said. “It’s just as important to put on the things that are fun for us as it is to support the artists who assist us.”

“Spike Heels” opens Thursday, April 18 at 7:30 PM. Performances will take place in the Underground Collaborative’s Arcade Theater at the Grand Avenue Mall (161 W. Wisconsin Ave.) via the Plankington entrance. Performance dates include: April 18, 19, 20, 22, 25, 26, 27. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” opens Friday, May 3 at 7:30 PM. Performances will take place at the Carte Blanche Studios (1024 S. 5th St.). Performance dates include: May 3, 4, 10, and 11. Tickets are $12 and can be purchased online.

Categories: Theater

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