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Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010

Milwaukee’s Growing Theater Scene

City hosts top-notch productions throughout the year

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Milwaukee is a great theater town. Below is a guide to a dozen theater companies that offer four or more productions a year. Some shows will be serious, others whimsical, but all are worth consideration.

Acacia Theatre Company

ATC holds a unique position in Milwaukee's theater community as the sole presenter of Christian-based theater. From William Shakespeare to Neil Simon, Acacia strives to stage productions that allow Christians and non-Christians the opportunity to view their lives in relation to God. “We present shows that are safe for the entire family”, says business manager Melinda Rhodebeck. “We offer the classics, lesser-known and original productions every season, with many of our works relevant to the Christian faith.”

Alchemist Theater

 “We are one of the most affordable theaters in the city, with a maximum ticket price of $15,” says artistic advisor Eric Aaron. “We produce four shows annually, and rent the space the rest of the year. We don’t really have a typical September—June season,” Aaron says. “In fact, we aren’t typical at all. Our Christmas show will be Rudolph the Pissed off Reindeer, and our Halloween show defies description. Our audience is varied, adventurous and creative—just like us.”

Boulevard Ensemble Studio Theatre

As their website claims, there is no homogenization, no standardization and no "sameness"—EVER. “Our mission is to offer new and re-emerging artists a platform to display their talents,” says Boulevard’s artistic director, Mark Bucher. “In our 25th anniversary season, we are offering our audience what they repeatedly ask for—eclectic and intelligent plays like Evan Smith’s The Savannah Disputation, a work combining religion and heavenly hairstyles.

We individually greet our patrons,” Bucher adds. “We know them by name, and they are the best-looking audience in the city.”

First Stage Children's Theater

Founded in 1987, FSCT has grown into a nationally acclaimed company. With more than 300 annual performances, FSCT has become one of the nation’s largest children’s theaters. “We present high-quality stage work for children and their families,” says marketing director Jennifer Hubbartt. “Unlike other children’s companies, we employ age-appropriate casting and use professional actors and technicians.” Most performances take place at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, with talkbacks after every show. “Our scripts are mostly generated by children’s literature,” Hubbartt says. 

 In Tandem Theatre

In Tandem places emphasis on the connection between the written word and the audience. “We shake it up,” says co-founder Jane Flieller. “We offer comedies, dramas, musicals and new works (19 at last count) with quality as the common thread. We like to present topics that our audiences aren’t familiar with, or perhaps not even comfortable [with].”  In Tandem annually presents an alternative holiday show; this season it’s Scrooge in Rouge. Now three years at the Tenth Street Theater, Flieller says, “We are easy to get to [and] park, and we are a great value.”

Milwaukee Public Theater

 MPT’s purpose is to be accessible, at no cost, to wherever people gather. Diversity is also an aim, which is reflected in the audience as well as the company. Co-director Barbara Leigh explains, “We reach out with five resident troupes, including those geared toward youth, bilingual, special needs and seniors. Last year we presented 1,844 events to over 100,000 people—with 98% of them free to the public.” MPT also produces the popular All City Circus Parade in September.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

MCT was founded in 1975 by local actors with a fondness for literary classics. “It’s about the power of the written word,” says producing artistic director C. Michael Wright. “Everything we offer has literary merit, and the plays we choose are passionate, often bold, sometimes humorous, and always personal.”MCT collaborates with university theater programs to provide performing opportunities and internships. Based at the Broadway Center, MCT offers a 50% rush ticket sale before every performance.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Established in 1954, the Rep is the oldest theater company in Milwaukee. Its Downtown home houses three performance spaces, rehearsal facilities, technical shops and administrative offices.“Our audiences can count on excellent acting, inventive and expertly crafted sets and costumes,” says managing director Dawn Helsing Wolters.With three distinct stages, we can create the perfect atmosphere for any kind of performance—a grand-scale epic or an intense, intimate piece. With 11 seasonal productions plus A Christmas Carol, there’s something for everyone.” 

M.U.T.E.S.

The Marvelous Unspeaking Troupe of Entertaining Scoundrels (or M.U.T.E.S.) is the nation's premier silent film sketch comedy troupe. Taking inspiration from the films of the silent era, The MUTES bring their own original scripts to life, either onstage or as roving festival entertainment.“We are unique not only in Milwaukee, but the entire country,” says artistic director Alice Wilson. “No other company does what we do.” The troupe performs at various city venues, including Miramar Theatre, Turner Hall, movie houses and festivals.

 Next Act Theatre

“Milwaukee has great theater, and every company has its niche,” says NAT’s managing director, Chuck Kakuk. “For us, it’s about mounting socially relevant plays. We don’t lead our audience to any moral conclusion, but rather we emphasize the discussion. We’re also known for customer service. When patrons call, they always speak with me or with Artistic Director David Cecsarini.”NAT will be performing in various venues until their new Fifth Ward theater is ready next year. “We have a slightly abbreviated season, but our new space will definitely make us ‘up-close and personal,’” Kakuk says.

Off the Wall Theatre

Located in a tiny space across from the Pabst Theater, OTW is a small theater company with plenty of moxie. Whether musical or drama, intimacy is assured and innovative interpretations of old classics are common.  Original works, often of a controversial nature, are included every season, and tickets are sold at a reasonable price.  The upcoming season is typically eclectic, with productions ranging from the musical Guys & Dolls to Brecht’s Mother Courage. Artistic Director Dale Gutzman also holds a position with the Odessa Russian Drama Theatre.

Renaissance Theaterworks

RTW is Milwaukee's only women-run theater company. It was founded in 1993 with the mission to offer professional theatrical experience to women, both onstage and behind the scenery. “We have a collection of artistic directors that makes for a uniquely multifaceted outlook,” says marketing director Sarah Hwan. “We offer human stories in which our audience will recognize something in themselves.” Original works, such as the popular Red Pepper Jelly series, are audience favorites. RTW performs at the Broadway Theatre Center, and offers a pay-what-you-can performance.