It’s mid-to-late September. Tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox. There have been live performances announced for the greater Milwaukee area. In addition to a couple of live, in-person shows (and a very cool sounding Milwaukee Opera Theatre/Danceworks thing on the river this coming Autumn) there are quite a few online events in the days and weeks to come. Here’s a look:
Voices Found Repertory has been consistently doing live theatre performances since the outbreak of COVID. This month the group presents a theatre & chill event as a conclusion to their first Build-A-Bard season. The weekly online video series has had various members of the creatives involved in producing VFR shows talking shop about the work they do. The series is wrapped-up this coming Saturday with a staged online reading of Hamlet: one of Shakespeare’s best-loved tragedies on Saturday, September 26th at 6pm. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
Women Laughing Alone With Salad
As September winds-down on the online Small Stage, The Constructivitsts prepare to open an online season with a “Virtual Theatre Adventure” by playwright Sheila Callaghan. Women Laughing Alone With Salad features a really good cast including Rob Schreiner, Sabra Michelle, Paige Bourne, and Liz Ehrler. Inspired by the strange trend of women laughing at salads in stock photography, it’s a contemporary social satire that was published just last year. Jamielyn Gray directs.
The show runs online Sep. 30 - Oct. 4.
For more information, visit the Constructivists online.
Boozy Bard returns to Facebook this month with another Shakespeare Raw-ish production. This time around they're doing Macbeth. A cast of some pretty talented people in both dramatic and comedic ends of theatrical performance are chosen at random to play various roles for a lovingly adapted version of Shakespeare’s original script.
Boozy Bard’s Macbeth marches onto the internet at 7pm on October 7th. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
This coming month, Voices Found Repertorty opens its 2020/2021 season with the virtual performance of a new play by Bloomington, Indiana-based playwright Pharyne Gremore. It’s called Call Me Dracula. Bram Stoker’s classic villain has been analyzed from every possible direction, so it’ll be interesting to see if Voices Found can find some novel life in the most popular member of the undead this Halloween. Dates and specifics have yet to be announced as of this moment. For more information about VFR’s upcoming season, visit their Facebook page.
The Decamoeron Opera Coalition puts together a really promising virtual performance this month in Tales from a Safe Distance. It’s a video collaboration between Milwaukee Opera Theater and ten other indie opera groups all over the country. The show is an anthology series of nine one-act dramas and a single wrap-around story that presumably unifies the rest of them. The series runs online from Oct. 9 - 30. MOT’s offering is Orsa ibernata, (yes: as a matter of fact that IS “hibernating bear” in Italian.) It will feature work written by Composer Elizbeth Blood and Librettist Danny Brylow. Orsa ibernata will be shot entirely outside (in the woods I believe) by talented choreographer (and likely equally talented Videographer/Editor) Christal Wagner. For more information, visit Milwaukee Opera Theatre online.
There’s actual live theatre this month.
On a stage and everything.
This coming month, Village Playhouse in West Allis opens its production of Weekend Comedy. Written by Jeanne and Sam Bobrick and originally published in 1987, the comedy involves two couples: a husband and wife in their 50s and a husband and wife in their 20s. They have both booked the same cabin in the Catskills for the same weekend. They’re both determined to be there. It’s a fun premise for light comedy.
The show takes place on the cozy stage of Inspiration Studios on 1500 S. 73rd St. in West Allis. The show runs Oct. 9 - 18. For more information, visit the Village Playhouse online.
As this IS a show on a small stage during a pandemic, there are a number of COVID protocols involved in attending the show. Check out their comprehensive list of safety protocols at Village Playhouse online.
The Waukesha Civic Theatre presents a cabaret which will be available both online and in person at a reduced-capacity Schauer Arts Center. Director Ryan Albrechtson and Music Director Julie Johnson present Virtual Villains Cabaret: a rogues' gallery of musical theatre just in time for Halloween. October 30th and live-streamed on October 30th and 31st. In-person tickets are $20. Live Steam tickets are $10. All proceeds from the show support the Schauer Arts Center. For ticket reservations and more, visit Waukesha Civic Theatre online.
The presence of COVID is fiercely felt as a month that would normally feature a return to the Milwaukee theatre season is conspicuously missing its usual shows. This is not to say that there isn’t quite a bit that is still going on online. Here’s a look at some of what to expect in the coming weeks as Summer descends into Autumn.
Roasalind with Door Shakespeare
Door Shakespeare missed an entire summer season due to COVID. This month the company presents a virtual staging of a one-act play by the man who first introduced Peter Pan to the world. The play tells the tale of the mother of a famous stage actress who is accosted by a young man who has fallen in love with her daughter.
Rosalind runs online September 2-13. For more information, visit Door Shakespeare online.
...But I’m Just Not IN LOVE with It
The Village Playhouse has been running its annual One-Act Play Festival since the mid-1980s. A tradition that has been going for that long doesn’t simply pause because of a global pandemic. It shifts to a digital stage. And so it is that The Village Playhouse will be hosting a free donations-welcome online performance of playwright Michael Lucchesi’s “...but I’m just not IN LOVE with It”
The performance takes place on National Actor’s Day, Tuesday, Sep. 8 at 7:30 pm on Facebook Live. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.
Creditors with the Fleeing Artists
Kenosha-based Fleeing Artists Theatre had originally planned for the final online show of its summer season to happen in August. After the tragedies of the past month in Kenosha, the group elected to postpone the performance into. September. This month, the group presents an online stage reading of August Strindberg’s tragicomedy The Creditors. Saige Spinney and Adron Duell play Tekla and Adolph--a couple who own a seaside resort. Bryant Mason plays Adolph’s friend Gustav. The intricate interpersonal trinity should work well in an online video conferencing format.
The free performance runs September 11th -13th on Zoom. The show is free. Fleeing Artists will be collecting donations during the weekend for Kenosha’s rebuilding efforts. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook page.
A Prison Made of Light with Theatre Gigante
One of the most reliably good small stage theatre groups in town presents a Zoom-based staged reading of Thomas Haskell Simpson's A Prison Made of Light. "Broadcast to you directly from the outer realms of place," it's described as a playful poetic piece. Mysterious? Yes. Trust in Theatre Gigante. They know what they're doing.
The reading takes place on Zoom on September 16th at 7pm. To reserve a space in the Zoom, email Theatre Gigante: email@example.com.
Moving Stories with UWM Dance
The UWM Dance Department continues to navigate its way through the pandemic with an online performance of narrative dance with work by faculty and guest performers including Maria Gillespie, Daniel Burkholder and Caitlin Mahon. There will also be a film adaptation collaboration with filmmaker Christal Wagner and an original composition by Kiran Vedula.
Tickets for the livestream even are $18. The money from the ticket sales goes directly to supporting student scholarship funds. The show takes place at 7:30 pm Sep. 17 - 19. For more information visit UWM’s Peck School online.
Cafe Mocha Murders
Local playwright Deanna Straasse hosted an engaging drama online last month with a Zoom-based reading of an intimate, little complicated romance. This month she and a number of talented actors bring a fictitious, little coffee shop called The Bean Shack to life in a murder mystery comedy featuring Haley San Filippo, Kara Penrose, Christopher Goode, Melody Lopac and more. Last month’s offering from Strasse and company worked quite well in a videoconferencing format. This month they’re tackling a much larger ensemble comedy that is going to require a hell of a lot of attention to timing and delivery. It’s an ambitious step-up in complexity from last month.
The Cafe Mocha Murders run Sep. 25 and 26. Both performances start at 7:30 pm on Zoom. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
The Quest for Solomon’s Treasure
First Stage goes for something quite ambitious this September as well as it presents the first in its Milwaukee--based mystery series The Quest For Solomon’s Treasure. (Solomon Juneau I presume.) Written by John Maclay, the series follows a group of six kids as they follow clues on a treasure hunt.
The seven-episode streaming series runs September 20 - November 1. The entire series will remain up through May. For more information, visit First Stage online.
Milwaukee theatre continues to reside in little, glowing rectangles as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to roll its way through the local population. Local groups have staged a hell of a lot of Shakespeare, a little Wilde and even some Dickens (among other things.) Last night it was nice to see something relatively new by comparison as local playwright Deanna Strasse hosted a staged Zoom reading of her drama Lovers and the Like. The contemporary romance makes it to Zoom again in a second and final performance tonight. The distinctly contemporary rhythm of Strasse’s drama plays well in the Zoom format in provocative, little evening’s interaction between a few people in a small cast.
Jessica Kennedy and Josh Scheibe play Jo and Gerry Holmes: a young married couple who have just moved into their first place together. When their friend Abby (Octavia Morton) shows-up things get uncomfortable. Abby and Gerry don’t really get along. He leaves. Abby and Jo hang out, talk and drink wine. As it turns out, Jo and Gerry have been together long enough to get married, but they haven’t had sex yet. Abby is understandably concerned that her friend is married to a guy who she hasn’t even had sex with. Gradually things come to light as Abby give Jo pause to consider things which lead to revelations about Gerry that HE is still coming to terms with in sessions with his therapist Dr. Tolmers (played by Melody Lopac.)
Kennedy has her camera in portrait mode. She stands to deliver her lines, which might seem a bit awkward, but she carries it with a sweet grace that speaks to the somewhat playful formality of her character Jo. The character just wants to be nice to everyone else...and everyone else has their cameras in landscape mode. Kennedy stands like she’s ready to help out anyone at a moment’s notice. Intended or not, it’s a nice effect. There’s an appealing vulnerability about the character as brought to the screen by Kennedy.
Scheibe plays a nice guy who might be unintentionally a little too close to the camera. (He’s closer to the viewer than everyone else in the ensemble, but Gerry doesn’t seem to notice.) Intended or not, this is interesting rendering of a guy who seems to be unaware of how close he is to everyone else. He's feeling awful about himself and chooses to try to keep his distance. Scheibe manages some deft complexity in the role of someone who occasionally gets very dark and casually lashes out at people without being entirely aware that he is doing so.
Morton plays an entirely different kind of abrasive in the role of Jo’s friend Abby. Jo and Abby have known each other for quite some time. Given the conversation between them at the opening of the play, it’s a bit difficult to see why. Abby is abrasive and confrontational in a casual, offhanded way that might seem charming if given the right tilt. Morton chooses not to amplify Abby’s charm. Morton plays Abby as unapologetically forward, which DOES carry its own kind of nonchalant charm, but it doesn’t seem quite strong enough to justify a long-term friendship with a nice person like Jo who might prefer to tolerate her from a greater distance.
Lopac rounds out the cast quite nicely as Gerry’s therapist, who casually offers nonjudgmental insight into his personal issues. Lopac plays to Dr. Tolmers' professional concern with a very fluid and natural appeal. Tolmers’ approach to therapy is an open, respectably distance non-authority figure. Lopac plays the role as a pleasant, professional warmth on the edge of Scheibe’s restlessness. Without Lopac’s distinctive appeal, the therapy scenes might feel a bit weak.
Though Strasse renders some very thoughtfully-compose characters, the story lacks a whole lot of forward momentum. There IS a central conflict that drives the drama. Jo and Gerry are married couple that haven’t quite had sex. As there’s no real sense of outside pressure for them to do so, there’s no compelling sense of direction for the drama to navigate. Jo and Gerry aren't in an unloving relationship. There's no abuse or anything like that. This isn't a great concern. Some people take longer to get into a physical intimacy than others. Scenes fitfully shift forward as revelations slowly come to light. While the lack dramatic propulsion might run the risk of being downright annoying in a darkened theatre, Strasse’s drama makes for remarkably strong drama for the live video conference format. There isn’t a huge ensemble. Rarely are more than two people talking at once. Scenes gradually render a slow and steady intimacy building between a young married couple. It's a story of calm, relaxing emotional depth in and around the edges of a casually COVID-prompted evening at home.
Deanna Strasse’s Lovers and the Like opens itself online once more tonight, August 15th starting at 7:30 pm. It’s a free performance available through Zoom. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
Theatre continues to develop in and around Milwaukee in the Age of COVID. July is winding down and giving way to an August which shows some promise in and around the edges of local Milwaukee-area outposts on the internet.
Wednesday Milwaukee Chamber Theater stages a live staged reading of a moern verse translation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. The staged reading online allows certain traditions to be casually brushed aside...most notably that of the ages of the leads. The two lead roles feature easoned professionals well-known to the Milwaukee theatre scene. Jonathan Gillard Daly plays Romeo to Flora Coker’s Juliet. It’s a rare opportunity to hear a couple of actors with decades of stage experience casting light into young love.
The staged reading of Hansol Jung’s translation of Romeo & Juliet is directed by Marcella Kearns. The reading takes place on Facebook and YouTube at 7pm on July 29th. For more information, visit Milwaukee Chamber online.
Waukesha’s Fleeing Artists Theatre will be presenting Shakespeare this month as well. The group presents a video presentation of The Winter’s Tale directed and edited by Lyric Simonson. The show runs July 31 - August 2. The show is being presented both via Zoom and Facebook. For more information, visit Fleeing Artists online.
A few years before he published Psycho, horror writer Robert Bloch lived in Milwaukee. As it turns out, he also lived on Brady Street. Late next week, Allison Jornlin’s American Ghost Walks-Milwaukee takes attendees through a tour of haunted Brady Street. A ghost tour is its own kind of live theatrical experience that should be all the more spooky with attendees in masks following a trail of ghost stories. It’s not theatre, but it IS live storytelling. And if it’s going to feature a socially distance audience in face masks it might be the only way it could possibly be responsible while COVID continues to take its toll on Milwaukee.
The Saints and Sinners of Brady Street takes place on August 8th at 7:30 pm. For more information visit the American Ghost Walks online.
Local playwright/actor Deanna Strasse has a play. She’s going to be hosting a staged reading of the play live and online complete with talkback. So it’s just like a regular small stage show...only it’s available wherever you have a glowing rectangle that connects to the internet. Jessica Kennedy and Josh Scheibe play Jo and Gerry: a couple who have been married for six months. Things aren’t perfect between the two of them. Things quickly come to light in Strasse’s comedy Lovers and the Like. The virtual staged reading has two performances: August 14th at 7:30 pm and August 15th at 7:30 pm. For more information, visit the reading’s Facebook page.
Smaller theatre companies have been hit particularly hard by the COVID pandemic. Local small stage company The Village Playhouse looks to keep its cozy, little West Allis foothold this month with its first ever Monologue Competition Fundraiser. 10 members of the Playhouse perform monologues online in prerecorded segments from 6:00 pm last night through 6:00 pm next Monday, July 13.
Admission to the competition is $5. Viewers can then vote for their favorite actor by donating the The Village Playhouse through a link under their video. Each actor has a different personal fundraising goal. The patron who donates the most money will receive a flex ticket which is good for six tickets to any production once the theater opens again.
I was able to watch 8 0f the 10 monologues. (Two weren’t available last night.) A program of monologues is performed in front of a blue curtain for a stationary camera. The rhythm of a program like this can feel a bit like sitting through a session of auditions. The periodic requests for donations to the Village Playhouse make it also feel a bit like a telethon as well.
There ARE moments that dive into something deeper than the format. Amy Wickland performs Walter Ben Hare’s A Leap Year Leap with a jitteriness that is well-suited to an early 20th century woman rehearsing a proposal to a man. Derek Jacobs is a man caught between trying to remember the chaos of a life in the military and trying to remember a woman he once met in Playing Solitaire. On the surface, it’s a simple recollection, but the nature of the monologue and the way Jacobs speaks the lines make for an interesting bit of storytelling when one considers that the character speaking the words may be an unreliable narrator. Thomas Zuelke takes the program into a dark, little corner with a quick bit cold, affectless villain monologue from the CBS TV show Person of Interest. It’s an interesting departure from much of the rest of the program.
My favorite of the eight available monologues had to be Joanna Langworthy’s performance of a piece from her turn as Jennie Malone in The Village Playhouse’s production of Chapter Two by Neil Simon. It’s difficult for any actor to launch straight into a deep and heavy explosion of dramatic tension, but Langworthy has recently spent quite a bit of time with Jennie Malone for The Village Playhouse and she has no difficulty taking a 6-minute walk with the character in the interest of raising money for a struggling theatre company.
The Village Playhouse’s Monologue Competition continues through July 13. For access, visit the Village Playhouse online.
An already unstable post-winter has bled right through a full season of COVD. A pandemic mixes with calls for long overdue equality and a complete re-thinking of the way the police are allowed to operate. Welcome to July of 2020.
Digital Bardery in the Age of COVID
The local small stage continues to pause as one of the largest multiplex chains in the state opens some of its doors for the summer. Local shows that had been previously announced continue to recede into the future. Optimist Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park program recently announced the postponement of its production of Romeo & Juliet to the summer of 2021. Nevertheless, the Optimist has got a host of things planned for the near future including a mysterious project that they’re calling “No Holds Bard.” Not to be outdone by Optimist’s wordplay, Voices Found Repertory has been posting a series of behind-the-scenes videos that it’s calling the “Build-A-Bard Workshop.” (...sigh...) Don’t let the name fool you, though...this has actually been a really fun series that’s looked at the nature of producing a small-stage show. Every Monday, Voices Found’s cleverly charming Education and Hospitality Director Hannah Kubiak and the Skull of Yorick introduce an in-depth look at a different aspect of production. (Kubiak and the skull evidently had yesterday off.) The first episode had Company Manager Sarah Zapiain discussing the first considerations when beginning work on a production. The second episode had set designer Michael Cienfuegos Baca talking about scenic design. The series continues every Monday on Voices Found’s YouTube Site. Part 4 goes live on July 6th.
ALSO local rehearsal-free theatre company Boozy Bard continues its online shows this month with Shakespeare Raw(ish?):Much Ado About Nothing. The show goes very, very live at 7:00 pm on July First. The group had departed a bit from its standard unrehearsed format last month with a videoconference-style broadcast of Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Musical Danger with Milwaukee Opera Theatre
With an impressive cast moving through a fun, pulpy action story, Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Doc. Danger and the Danger Squad is one of the more enjoyable bits of online fare to come out of local theatre groups online since the pandemic first came into town. The impressive cast includes Briana Rose Lipor, Carrie Gray, Stephanie Staszak, Becky Cofta and more. The series is updated weekly every Thursday. As of this post, the first two episodes are available.
Milwaukee Chamber In A Rectangle
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre collaborated with Chicago’s Three Crows Theatre this past month for Zoom-based reading of Milwaukee playwright Liz Shipe’s A Lady In Waiting. The Robin Hood comedy that focussed on Maid Marian as action hero made a surprisingly well-produced transfer to Zoom. Directed by Jennifer Vosters the reading included the talents of Anna Cline as Maid Marian, Jonathan Wainwright as the Sheriff of Nottingham and Josh Krause as Robin Hood. Once a gain, Kelly Doherty shows a great deal of depth and comic poise in a role that she debuted with Theater RED back in 2014.
Visit The Mesopotamian Underworld Live Via Facebook
This month, Milwaukee Chamber presents an online reading of Eric Schabla’s Reign/Fall. Set in the legends of ancient Mesopotamia, the reading features Allie Babich as the war and love goddess Ishtar journeying into the underworld to visit her sister. Her absence from the realm of the living causes upheaval in a reading which also features Cassandra Bissell as Ereshkigal--queen of the underworld and Elyse Edelman.
Cassandra Bissell as the ruler of the underworld? (So cool.) She’s been memorably impressive in a couple productions in recent memory. I loved her as a highly influential astrophysicist for Next Act and charismatically heroic Sherlock Holmes in Door County. She's a perfect fit for the role of a goddess.
Like Lady in Waiting, Milwaukee Chamber's online reading of Reign/Fall will be presented on Facebook. The show starts at 7pm on July 8th.
COVID-19 continues to keep theatre seats empty as the dormant Milwaukee Theatre community enters June. One of the classiest, coziest little small stages in Milwaukee has become a victim of the pandemic as Matt Kemple announced earlier today that the Underground Collaborative is no more. The has been a flood of condolences appearing n Kemple's Facebook page. The UC will be missed.
Outdoor summer theatre is usually quite vibrant in and around Wisconsin. This is typically Shakespeare’s time of year with quite a lot going on in some of the most enduring comedies and dramas in the history of the stage brought to life beneath no earthly roof. Unfortunately, American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Door Shakespeare in Door County and Optimist Theatre here in Milwaukee are all in various states of postponement and cancellation. This is particularly disappointing as outdoor theatre might have been the one potential for live, in-person performance this coming summer what with indoor gatherings still being a reckless proposition.
For the time being, local theatre groups continue to provide work, live and otherwise, online. Here’s a look at a few things debuting this coming month of June, 2002.
Troilus? & Cressida?
Boozy Bard Productions has been hosting a series of fun evenings of breezy Shakespeare online. Actors’ roles are generated at random from a hat and all read from an abbreviated version of the script from the comfort of their own homes. No telling who is going to end up as what until the evening of the performance.
Boozy Bard’s Andrea Roedel-Schroeder was working on an adaptation for next week’s online staging of Troilus and Cressida when she realized that she didn’t like the title characters. She consulted with collaborator Jeremy Einehcner and well...they’ve decided to throw-out the main characters entirely. So it’s a play about the background...a drama about the Trojan War drawn from Shakespeare’s drama.
Troilus and Cressida (without Troilus and Cressida) will go live online June 3 from 7 pm -10 pm on Boozy Bard’s Facebook page. (Boozy Bard posted a very cool, little video of Roedel-Schroeder talking to Nicole Allee about the bits of the script that have been left out...pseudo-kinda-sorta Drunk History-style. It’s really, really fun hour.)
Waukesha Civic Theatre will be presenting a program featuring some impressive musical theatre talent. The program has talented singers performing works that they never would have been cast in. Directed by Ami Majeskihe free virtual cabaret will feature such talents as Mark Neufang, Becky Cofta, Ben Tajnai and more.
MisCast: A Virtual Cabaret takes place June 6 from 7:30 pm - 10:30 pm on WCT’s Facebook page.
53212 Presents is hosting a series of interactive dance sessions on Zoom and Twitch. People can join in the party on Zoom or watch via Twitch. Interior spaces are reclaimed in a virtual place featuring live music by Colorado-based electronic musician The Red Side. Denceteria runs from 12 - 1 pm (CST) on June 6 ,13 , 20 and 27 this month. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.
Monday Morning Workshops
It’s been fun seeing local theatre talent get the kind of spotlight that it might not normally be allowed in a full production. (Back in April Outskirts Theater Company had a couple of videos featuring hair and make-up artist Gemma-Louise Fitzsimmons working on a very classy head of hair known as Ingrid. It’s a really fascinating couple of videos...even for a bald theatre critic with no inherent interest in hair design.)
Voices Found Repertory has recently announced that it will be posting a series of workshops to its YouTube channel. Every Monday morning VFR will post a new video on its YouTube channel. Given the level of talent connected with VFR, this should be an edifying look at various ends of theatre from the people who make it happen.
Big Fish Live Stream
This might be the first local multi-performance show to be scheduled since Safer at Home was announced. Waukesha Civic Theatre will be live-streaming two performances of the musical adaptation BIG FISH. The fully-staged show had to be shut down due to the outbreak. Cast and crew return to the theatre for a pair of live performances June 27th and 28th. More information will be posted to the Waukesha Civic website as it becomes available.
Doc Danger: Radio Edition
Jason Powell’s pulpy, weirdly cool Gilbert & Sullivanesque sci-fi adventure is brought to audio in a special “radio edition,” which is being produced by Milwaukee Opera Theatre. With characters inspired by various heroes from the golden age of pulp adventure, Powell’s adventure lends itself remarkably well to radio theatre format. The first episode of the new series is being brought to the internet. The series will consist of four weekly episodes that will “air” between June and July. Exact dates have yet to be announced. For more information on the project, visit its fundraising page on Mightycause.
I can relate to what Milwaukee Opera Theatre’s Jill Anna Ponnasik posted on Facebook last week.
I mean...it’s been over a month since I’ve seen a live theatre show in a live theatre. I can only imagine how difficult this is for actors and performers on the local small stage. I see the Facebook posts, but I can only imagine what it’s like for them.
The Safer At Home Order continues to offer new challenges to the Milwaukee theatre community. It’s upended a lot of work and imposed a virally-induced early end to the 2019-2020 Milwaukee Theatre season. Theatre continues, though. This past month has featured a lot of really interesting work that has migrated online during a time of pandemic.
A couple of the single best-produced local theatre videos were released in conjunction with the presumed date of Shakespeare’s birth.
The American Players Theatre has delayed its season. APT has had some interesting activity on YouTube. James DeVita read some Tennyson yesterday. On Earth Day, James Ridge showed viewers around his yard. The Spring Green-based group posted a deeply moving Shakespeare mash-up on the 28th. It’s a well-edited fusion of many APT voices in the intimacy of home environments.
Closer to home, Mad Rogues teamed-up with Nō Studios and actors who have worked extensively for nearly every Shakespeare-producing company in Milwaukee to put together a staggeringly diverse one hour Bard & Bourbon Shakespeare Birthday Happy Hour. Mad Rogues’ Artistic Director Bryant Mason hosts actors intimately performing Shakespearian excerpts for the camera. There’s a hooded Grace DeWolff reading Sonnet XXX in the rain before a wall of cream city brick. Maura Atwood is similarly hooded in an endearing face-to-camera performance of some lines. of Juliet. Rebecca Farr reaches for something altogether more tragic in HER reading from that play indoors in front of a night sky tapestry. Maggie Marks performs "To be, or not to be" by way of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn as performed with a Cabbage Patch Kid-style doll (a strangely captivating bit of work.) The one hour, which is posted below includes all of this, The Summit Players, Schmitz & Giggles, Boozy Bard, gender-swapped Taming of the Shrew performance and more. It’s an enjoyable survey in local theatre from behind a glowing screen.
The video looked to raise funds for the Imagine MKE Artist Relief Fund, which is still looking to raise funds for local artists. For more information, visit Imagine MKE online.
Elsewhere online, Boozy Bard wrapped-up its Sickly Days only shorts series with its own cleverly patchwork group of readings from Shakespeare and others. Nick Firer struck an Alistair Cooke-like pose in a large, comfy chair beneath a large plush tiger as he exhibited contempt for a couple of Shakespearian sonnets. David Kaye performed a bit of monologue from Moll Cutpurse with drink in hand outside while performing at an interior camera viewing him through a window. Clever stuff. Andrea Roedel-Schroeder gave one of the sharpest Shakespearian sonnet performances of the month with a well-executed 2.5 minute performance. Roedel-Schroeder also posted a couple of really cool short story readings or Kaye’s Quarantine Variety Hour. Small stage talent has been providing some great short person-to-camera performances this month. Local actor Mark Neufang talks baking, Matt Zembroski plays the piano, Nicole Allee talks bout Gnome attacks and more. Quarantine Variety Hour still has a great many slots for Facebook Live video streaming channel.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Browsers
Having made it through a slightly shaky first run at the beginning of the month with As You Like It, Voices Found Rep hosted a fun reading of Julius Caesar on Twitch featuring an honorable Jessica Trznadel as the doomed emperor Caesar, Maya Danks as the cool conspirator Brutus and the crisply articulate Sarah Zapiain as Marc Antony. Full-cast Shakespeare by video conference probably doesn’t SOUND that engaging, but a sea of faces appearing onscreen actually fits the Caesarian feel quite well. The full performance is available on Twitch free of charge.
There are a couple of locally-written plays that will be performed online tonight. Pharyne Stephney-Gremore’s Built of Ivory is a drama about a biracial college student who must derail her ambitions in the interest of looking after her dying mother. The online performance, which features Raven Ariele and Kilian Collins, starts at 7:30 pm. There’s another performance on May 30th at 7:30 pm.
AND in just a few hours from when this is posted (at 7pm), Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and Theater RED will present a live online reading of Angela Iannone’s The Seeds of Banquo. The drama of Edwin Booth should make for a deeply casual evening of drama at home.
Milwaukee Chamber Theatre also hosts a regular Monday Morning via Facebook Live with Michael’s Monday Morning Musings--Milwaukee Chamber’s Artistic Director Michael Wright offers an inside look at some of the things going on at MCT. Past guests have included Director Micheal Cotey and Associate Artistic Director Marcella Kearns. Actors Sam Douglas and Ian Toohill appear on the series in the weeks to come as well as Samantha Martinson (a remarkably talented actress in her own right who is serving as MCT’s Education Associate) and Actress/Educator/Dialect Coach Raeleen McMillion.
COVID-19 has shut down every show in town. Every. Single. Show. Even the multiplexes are down. Local small stage theatre types are performing before little cameras in kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and home offices all over Milwaukee. It’s an opportunity to look at some VERY off-center work being done by local performing artists. Sadly, Liz Shipe’s live radio performance of The Adventures of Alvin Tatlock had to be canceled, but there’s still a lot of stuff going on out there with local performers. Here’s a look at some of my favorites that are available now and/or coming-up soon:
Sickly Days Shows with Boozy Bard
The traditional Boozy Bard show has a lot of people congregating around in a tap room or a microbrewery or some such performing shows vastly unprepared with little to no prep time. This is perfect for the days of Stay Safe at Home in Milwaukee...save for the whole ”congregating together” thing. Boozy Bard’s Jeremy Eineichner and company are going to be performing a regular stay-at-home version of their show on Facebook. Shows run Tuesday and Thursday nights starting at 7 pm. The communal nature of theater may not be there, but since liquor stores are considered essential and therefore immune from Wisconsin's Safer at Home, audience members can settle-in and drink along with the microbrew of their choice while supporting the local small brewery of their choice.
Outskirts TheatreCo. will be presenting a series of five locally-written ten-minute shorts via Livestream on Friday, April 3rd starting at 7:30 pm. What are they going to be? We don’t know yet. Script submissions for the show are still open until 11:59 pm tonight.
Forge Theatre Co.
One of many shows that had its run cut short, Forge Theatre Co.’s locally-written comedy Not Today has posted a multi-camera video of the entire show from beginning to end complete with ‘70s TV-style rolling credits at the end. This is a fun comedy. Evidently shot entirely onset at Urban Harvest, it’s a pleasant reminder of what going to a small stage show can feel like.
Tarot is a performance art that’s done on THE smallest stage. When it’s done right, Tarot is its own kind of performance art that taps cleverly and poetically into thematic apperception and the universality of the human condition. Local reader Skully Sati has a sharp sense of rhythm and poise about her readings as evidenced by her work done on her YouTube channel. She’s totally captivating. She’s also recently done her first Facebook Live show.
Cooking with PANdemNICK
Milwaukee actor/funnyguy Nick Firer has been posting regular Facebook Live cooking segments from his kitchen. There’s nothing explicitly scripted here...just one guy in his kitchen cooking stuff while talking about it. Watching a normal cooking show feels unsettling. PBS, the Food Network and other bigger outfits don’t seem to grasp how artificial it feels. A kitchen made to look domestic on a TV soundstage? It’s as disturbing as it is unnatural. Cooking With Nick is far better. It’s just one guy and a camera with a live feed from his actual kitchen, which ends up being so organic that it’s practically hypnotic.
WQVH, the Quarantine Variety Hour
Whether it’s David Kaye with a guitar, Andrea Roedel-Schroeder reading Neil Gaiman, Michael Timm reading Douglas Adams or anything else, Kaye’s Facebook group is an interesting scroll through various locals and others passing time until the Virus has strolled-on to other places. (Roedel-Schroeder has mentioned plans to do daily readings from Night Vale’s Faceless Old Woman, which would be really cool.)
This is largely a podcasting group, but I love the YouTube component and sometimes find myself hanging out with it in a corner window while I get other work done. It’s been nice to have the opportunity to catch-up on this YouTube channel that wasn’t specifically inspired by the Coronavirus. It’s a podcastLocal actors and comedy people sit around like figures in DaVinci’s Last Supper engaging in weird role-playing games (with the All-Arcadians) or reading from old Choose-Your-Own Adventure books (with Turn to Page Fun) or...my personal favorite: engaging in bookclub-style discussions about wildly inappropriate juvenile and YA fiction with Who Let Me Read This?
It’s getting kind of scary out there. Sometimes the best theatre for a moment of crisis is lightly refreshing social comedy. That’s exactly what Forge Theater manages with the premier of Not Today. Directed by Jake Brockman, a talented, appealing cast delivers a genuinely funny script to the stage that’s been written by David Stein and Hannah Mitchell. Two couples and a couple of others meet in a cozy domestic setting for a wedding anniversary dinner. Things predictably go wrong. Things inexplicably go right. It’s a fun 90 minutes of light comedy without intermission. It’s a new script. A couple of writers (sort of) had a chance to hang out with a piece of writing they wrote about a group of people hanging out together. So it’s a party, but nothing fancy. You don’t have to dress-up or anything like that. Go to the bar at Urban Harvest. Get a beer and head in to the theatre to see the show.
Settle-in for the show and you’ll get to know the living room of one of the characters before she shows-up onstage. Scenic Designer Amy Sue Hazel has managed the tricky task of making a very small space on a small stage feel cozy and lived-in. It’s a living room. There’s a doggy bed, framed pictures of Disney characters, a few owl-themed knickknacks and a few Harry Potter novels. Not far from a trio of white, ceramic owls recreating the three wise monkeys there rests the ashes of a beloved pet named Guinea Weasley.
The living room decor comes courtesy of Claire. Casually dazzling Stephanie Staszak is sweet and earnest as Claire—a veterinarian who has decided to get a little ambitious and make beef bourguignon for the occasion. She’s had problems with cooking in the past, but she’s totally confident about her ability to host an anniversary party for her friends with her live-in boyfriend Byron.
Seth K. Hale is sweetly unhinged as Byron—-a man with far deeper concerns than the fate of the beef bourguignon. He hopes to propose to Claire. He’s so wrapped-up in his own nervousness that he’s totally oblivious to the fact that doing so during a challenging anniversary get-together might not be the best idea, especially after what he did at the couple’s wedding one year ago.
Appealingly affable April Paul plays Jo, who was particularly upset about Byron’s behavior at her wedding. Paul has a warm confidence about her in the role. She seems totally at home playing a very responsible and caring person. Send Jo out for beer and she’ll come back with beer and Gatorade. (She’s just that cool.) Paul is perfect for the role of a woman who is perfectly suited to the impending motherhood that she and her husband announce very early-on in the comedy.
The father-to-be is the other half of “Team J.” (Husband and wife met in high school chemistry class and have been inseparable ever since.) Ben Yela taps into some comically restless energy in the role of Jack: a man on the verge of a major life change that he may not be totally ready for. Yela and Paul have a cute familiarity about them as “Team J” that adds considerably to the openly social atmosphere onstage.
There are a couple of others showing-up for the party. Actor/playwright David Stein tactfully plays a friend of Jack and Byron--a guy named Tommy. Tommy owns a bar. He’s straining under the yoke of his injured mother who constantly calls him. The guy could have come across as a sad sack, but Stein plays to the inner complexities of the character. He may hate getting calls from his mother, but he’s not exactly turning his phone off. And he may be lonely and not actually pursuing anything in the way of a relationship, but he IS a small business owner and likely very busy and stressed-out. Nevertheless, Jack and Byron are really, really concerned about Tommy’s sexless sex life and want to do something about it. Tommy would prefer to relax.
What is a party without the unexpected? Kyle Conner plays Jimmy--an old, dear friend of Claire’s who happens into the party in a rather unexpected way. Conner is great fun as a totally together guy who serves as a vibrant splash of wisdom looking-in around the edges of life in a group of semi-neurotic people--most of whom are complete strangers to him.
It’s a great group of people to spend 90 minutes with. Every so often there’s an exceedingly social comedy like this the comes along that is SO comfortable that it scarcely feels like 90 minutes. On some level it didn't even fee like theatre. On some level it feels like they’re people I just met. I just kind of...expect to see the characters around town at coffee shops and grocery stores and things. I KNOW I won’t. And that IS a little disappointing. They’re only there onstage for an hour and a half. It’s a really fun 90 minutes, though.
Forge Theater’s production of Not Today runs through Mar. 28th at Urban Harvest Brewing Company on 1024 S. 5th St. For ticket reservations and more visit Forge Theater online.