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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Milwaukee Rep's Mark Clements Looks to the Future

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After 17 years under Artistic Director Joseph Hanreddy, the Milwaukee Rep has found new leadership in the form of Mark Clements. Well into his first season, the British-born artistic director's commitment to Milwaukee seems firmly set for the long-term.

How satisfied have you been with this season thus far?

Well, I'm never satisfied, you know. ... It's never enough. Something like Cabaret [the Rep's main stage season opener]—it's been a very good calling card, because people have enjoyed the show. It's brought people into the building who haven't been in here for a long while. Our renewal rate has been 82% on our subscriptions. ... It's never enough, though. ... I don't expect everybody to like everything, but it's the people's theater and we have a remit to do a very eclectic range of work.

It seems as though you're working less with the Resident Acting Company. Are you interested in maintaining a solid core group of actors?

Yeah, I am. What I'm also interested in is extending that beyond actors. I would like the idea of having designers and actors and writers and directors—people who felt that the Milwaukee Rep was a spiritual home for them. ... Mixing sound on a digital board these days is a skill. We didn't actually have that skill in the local [talent pool]. ... Our sound designer trained two local guys to do it at the level that we need to do it, which is a whole different thing from mixing a rock band. Now we have that skill. So we're doing it, and it's not just in the most identifiable areas, which is onstage. I want to have a pool of people who can play a part.

One of the things I've felt that we wanted to do is to nurture new work. The greatest theaters in this country...are theaters that have a history and a track record for producing new and original works. When I arrived here, there were no outstanding works. ... The only things that had been done were adaptations of things. For me, "new" does not equal "good," but I think there should be an endeavor to be trying to nurture new playwrights. So one of the exciting things that we've managed to do is [secure funds so that in the '11/'12 season], we will commission three new works. And it will allow for two each year thereafter, so there's always a pool of five or six works in the mix. And I sense that we're going to need to get on with this, because those works are either going to take a year [to complete] or they're going to take five years and some of them may not be very good. ... And so we'll have a new writing program, and my plan will be to do a world premiere of a new piece each year.