Michael Holloway

Rep, Ballet, First Stage Making Masks

A new kind of show business: making nearly 9,000 masks a week donated to hospitals and medical college.

By - Apr 22nd, 2020 05:58 pm
John Houtler-McCoy, Milwaukee Rep's Co-Technical Director, and wife Calissa with over 700 paper masks. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

John Houtler-McCoy, Milwaukee Rep’s Co-Technical Director, and wife Calissa with over 700 paper masks. Photo courtesy of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

The Wisconsin safer-at-home order that has been put into place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has made it virtually impossible for theaters and venues to host their scheduled shows. But for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the show must go on — and the theater continues to give back to its community despite a room full of empty seats.

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater is spearheading a mask-making effort in cooperation with other local theaters, producing nearly 9,000 masks a week that are donated to health care facilities in need. Jared Clarkin, Director of Production at Milwaukee Rep, proposed the idea after employees at the Milwaukee Rep’s costume shop expressed interest in mask making as a way to keep busy.

“We started a small program once hospitals were able to release specifications for their masks,” Clarkin says. “Being a part of a non-profit organization, one of our main focuses is care for our community, and it is really important to myself as well as the folks in the production department that we take care of the place where we’re from.”

Each week, 10 Milwaukee Rep employees work in tandem with employees from First Stage and Milwaukee Ballet to produce between 700-800 masks that are then donated to the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin with an additional 100 masks being donated to Froedert Hospital. Twelve other employees, working at home with their families, use mask-making kits provided by the Saukville-based Rebel Converting to produce over 8,000 paper surgical masks a week for the Medical College of Wisconsin for the school’s students to use. Milwaukee Rep has also gathered unused resources on site that will be repurposed into face shields and donated to the Children’s Hospital and Froedert over the next three weeks.

“Everybody jumped in whole heartedly with this and really came up with some amazing results,” Clarkin says. “The folks that are making these — they’re really grateful to be employed right now and to be able to give back to the community and make a difference in everyday people’s lives.”

Every Monday, two employees at the Milwaukee Rep press a large fabric order and assemble bags that are then delivered to the homes of employees at Milwaukee Rep, First Stage and Milwaukee Ballet by Clarkin himself. In compliance with the stay-at-home order, everyone works on their own bag of masks from the comfort of their homes. On his delivery route, Clarkin also picks up completed masks from the previous week. On Tuesday morning, Clarkin delivers the completed masks to the various hospitals.

“Jared Clarkin is used to coordinating hundred of talented people to bring a vision to life on stage,” stated Artistic Director Mark Clements in a press release. “That is why it is no surprise to me that he proposed this effort and has worked tirelessly to utilize our resources and the resources of other performing arts groups for a common goal of protecting our frontline workers.”

While the Milwaukee Rep continues to give back to its community, the theater itself would also benefit from support. With no planned shows, the theater has pivoted to an online presence, where the artistic and marketing teams have been churning out content on the theater’s Facebook page to help fill the live performance void.

“It’s really changed the paradigm that we operate in, we are an industry that brings large groups of people together, so trying to figure out what the future means for us has been a topic of a lot of conversation lately,” Clarkin says. “It’s really fantastic to see how everybody has pulled together and you can see the best of humanity at a very difficult time.”

To support the Milwaukee Rep, subscriptions are on sale now for theater’s 2020/21 season or donations can be made on the theater’s website at milwaukeerep.com.

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