Graham Kilmer

Pabst Theater Group Creates Employee Relief Fund

More than $34,000 has already been donated to support over 200 employees.

By - Mar 19th, 2020 03:33 pm
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Riverside Theater marquee. Photo from the Pabst Theater Group.

Riverside Theater marquee. Photo from the Pabst Theater Group.

The Pabst Theater Group has created a GoFundMe page to raise funds for its workers now that all four of its venues have been shut down through at least May 15th in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The group employs more than 200 people in the Milwaukee area during its shows. These workers include ushers, bartenders, box office representatives, event staff, stagehands and photographers, all of them now without income. Many of these service industry and part-time staffers have been with the theater group for years. Gary Witt, Pabst Theater Group CEO, joined the organization in 2002 and said some of the staff have been there longer than he has.

Witt said the header that currently sits on the Riverside Theater marquee best encapsulates the theater group’s gratitude towards its staff. It reads: “If you love what we do, then you love what they do. Because they are… Pabst Theater Group.”

All four of the group’s venues are shutdown: Turner Hall Ballroom, The Pabst Theater, The Riverside Theater and The Backroom @ Colectivo. In a normal year, Witt said, these venues average a combined 695 shows.

The group is offering a range of gifts for various levels of donations ranging from free tickets and swag to VIP box seats.

Witt said he was “pleasantly surprised” to see the outpouring of donations, adding that it is “heartwarming to see that a concert venue has had such an impact on people’s lives.” At the time of publication, the campaign has raised $34,252 from 315 people.

The Pabst Theater Group was started in 2002 by Witt and his business partner Matt Beringer as the booking and management arm of philanthropist Michael Cudahy‘s Pabst Theater Foundation. In 2016, the theater group split off from the foundation and took responsibility for all the financial risk related to running shows.

This outpouring of support is, perhaps, best captured by a comment left by a former employee when he donated.

Andy Nelson wrote this “THANKS FOR GIVING ME MY START.” “Here’s to many, many, many, more wide-eyed music lovers getting their start with the Pabst Theater Group.”

Nelson worked for the group for 10 years, after that he was the Director of Marketing and Communications for Milwaukee Public Schools and he’s currently the “Hype Man” at Bader Rutter.

Nelson went on: “From stacking chairs at 1am at Turner, to the adventure of putting up posters in the Riverside lobby, to meeting friendly and not so friendly people when flyering countless events, to so many odd jobs like replacing lightbulbs in the Pabst Theater seats, to the wild adventures of WSP weekend, to the ‘normal, tame shows’ always being the shows where something weird happens. More importantly, here’s to the friends you earn along the way.”

Nelson said his 10 years at the Pabst Theater Group were “some of the best times of my life.” He added, “My heart and thoughts are firmly with the folks that keep these cherished places running and full of life. May you be back working inside those walls soon.”

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