Marcus Center’s outdoor summer KidZ Days series rounded out its season yesterday with a performance by Kohl’s Wild Theater. The eco-conscious theater group is funded by a partnership among Kohl's Cares, the Milwaukee County Zoo and the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. In addition to regular performances at the Milwaukee County Zoo, they do touring shows. This year they rounded-out the KidZ Days series with an outdoor production of A Tale of Two Hemispheres.
Written by New York-based actor/writer Nicole Greevy, A Tale of Two Hemispheres is a solidly entertaining introduction to the concepts of conservation and sustainability for kids. In the first part of the story we get a tale of the northern hemisphere introducing the concept of carbon footprints. The second tale has a story of the southern hemisphere teaching kids about the importance of sharing and sustainability. Kohl’s Wild Theater has been around for a while. Any theater program runs the risk of losing some vitality as the years go by. Talent filters-in. Talent filters-out.
Judging from the closing performance of KidZ Days this year, Kohl’s Wild Theater hasn’t lost anything over the years. A Tale of Two Hemispheres solidly held the attention of my six-year-old daughter from beginning to end. KWT veteran Emmitt Morgans was joined by recent Carroll University grad Ami Majeskie and recent addition Jason Nykiel from Chicago.
A Kohl’s Wild Theatre show engages from the start. Kids might be cued to shout STOMP every time a carbon footprint is presented or maybe help steer a pirate away from environmentally unsustainable greed. Right away the kids in the audience are given audience participation assignments, the overall premise of the show is introduced and the story emerges. A Tale of Two Hemispheres opens with a Emmitt Morgans as a filmmaker learning about shrinking habitats from Jason Nykiel as a charming, hungry polar bear and Ami Majeskie as a plucky, assertive tundra swan. Greevy gives the two animals kind of a fun rapport that engages kids on a social level beyond the educational fare. (Throughout the short, they refer to each other as Cygnus and Ursus, which I thought was quite cute.) Nykiel and Majeskie do a good job of capturing the friendship of a couple of animals in danger of ending-up in a predator/prey relationship.
There’s a lot of information wrapped-up in a KWT show. The cast always manages to present it in a way that isn’t too daunting or overwhelming. Yes: there is global climate change and unsustainable use of the planet’s resources, but there are things that we can do NOW. It’s important that kids get taught this early. Kohl’s Wild Theater does an excellent job of introducing kids to these concepts.
Kohl’s Wild Theater continues to perform its season at the Milwaukee County Zoo through Labor Day. For more information, visit Kohl’s Wild Theater online.
At month’s end, Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Theater RED will present a two-performance staging of Marvin Hamlisch’s A Chorus Line. The show features a cast including some really iconic names in local theatre: Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s C. Michael Wright, Theater RED’s Marcee Doherty-Elst, The Boulevard Theatre’s Mark Bucher, UWM Peck School of the Arts’ Jenny Wanasek. Big names from local theatre companies are joined by some of the most recognizable names in local musical theatre including David Flores, Karl Miller and Karen Estrada. In addition to this, the cast includes Milwaukee theatre icons like Bill Jackson, Angela Iannone and a number of those just establishing themselves like Zachary Dean and Stephanie Staszak and Joe Picchetti.
Really, just listing the names is exhausting. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to put a show like this together. Thankfully I don’t have to imagine. Stage Director Jill Anna Ponasik agreed to answer a few questions about the show for The Small Stage.
You seem to have come out of nowhere to put up a production of a beloved Broadway musical on a Sunday and a Monday with a cast featuring some of the biggest names in local theatre. How did this show come together?
Yeah…I can see how that might seem strange. This production evolved in two ways.
First: Marcee Doherty-Elst mentioned to me that she had been hatching a dream about a production of A Chorus Line that would feature artists mostly over the age of 40. Something in that idea hooked my imagination, so now there were two people in Milwaukee who wanted to do A Chorus Line with actors mostly over the age of 40. After that, we knew our two organizations would be working together on the project, it simply became a question of how.
Second: Over many conversations, Marcee and I began to generate a cast of artists that felt compelling given this material. We let our minds wander through our personal Rolodexes of artists we admire, and individuals who might have a specific poignancy or sparkle to bring to a certain role. Then we asked them if they’d be interested in working on this. At MOT, we often approach things in this “backwards” way. First locating a cohort of artists interested in working on something, and then finding dates and a venue. So, we sent the cast an array of dates, created a spreadsheet of who could be available when, and then programmed the production to occur on the two days in which everyone could be there. If it sounds crazy, it’s because it is. It’s a ridiculously time intensive way to create an event. But it means you can gather this spectrum of talent in one place for a couple nights at the end of August.
A CHORUS LINE is the type of musical that seems to have a uniquely personal connection for everyone. What's your relationship with the musical been like prior to working on this production?
This is something I am learning! I honestly didn’t realize when we embarked on this project, just how deep its roots are. This material means A LOT to the artists in the cast, and on the creative team. I grew up with A Chorus Line. I remember coming home from high school, dropping my book bag by the piano, and belting out “Nothing” in the living room until my mom came home from work. And yes, I played Cassie my senior year of high school.
With such a large cast working on such an iconic show for only two performances, the experience of working on this thing must feel significantly different from other shows you’ve worked on in the past. How much time to you get to spend working on the show? How many days will have passed from beginning work on the show to the final bows at the end of the evening on Monday, Aug. 28?
Well yes and no. Though it is certainly not the same, this project has a close cousin in the way that we assembled 1776. That too was an iconic American musical, with a gigantic cast. And we performed it once, on book, at Turner Hall. We’re emphasizing different things here, but some of the building blocks are the same.
For 1776, we had exactly 11 hours of rehearsal. And we had exactly one day in the space (load in, cue to cue, performance, and load out all in the same day!). In this case, we have each artist for a total of 14 hours of rehearsal (what a luxury!), we are rehearsing on stage at Cardinal Stritch, and we have two performances. When producing this way, the vast majority of preparation occurs outside of rehearsal. There are a thousand hours of strategizing, and meeting, and strategizing some more for the gift of spending one week working together. When we begin rehearsals on Monday of next week, all of the structure for the production will be in place, and we’ll essentially be sprinting together toward the performance. It’s exciting to watch experienced artists work in this context because it encourages bold choices and the immediate following of first instincts. There is precious little time to edit, so the work takes on an adrenaline infused improvisatory energy.
So, technically speaking, we will have shared one week together working on the show. But, it has been well over a year in the making. After we closed 1776, Paula Suozzi and I exchanged emails in which we realized it had been three years since Paula proposed working on the project, and the single performance. Three years…for one night of theatre! (And it was totally worth it.)
It’s quite a cast. It’s kind of staggering to tally-up all of the shows that everyone in this production has been a part of. It must be really difficult not to feel like nearly everyone onstage is being crowded-out by...everyone ELSE onstage. How collaborative has the process been with everyone involved?
I know, right? It never occurred to me to worry about anyone being crowded out. One of the questions Marcee and I asked ourselves early on was this: “In a piece that is fundamentally about rejection, where hundreds of dancers are whittled down to 17, and then to just 8, is there a way that we can look at the piece with a spirit of inclusion? Can we assemble a cast that looks and feels like a representation of our community, so that it becomes more about coming together than about being split apart.” That’s how we ended up with a cast that includes so many artists from so many backgrounds.
The deepest collaboration has been organizational, between MOT and Theater RED, beyond that, though we have not yet gathered the whole team in person in the same space, conversations have been flowing between cast members and the creative team for months. And useful ideas have come from many sources.
A few years back a Broadway production of A CHORUS LINE came to the Marcus Center. It struck me just how massive the auditorium was and how vacant it all felt. The show is essentially an amped-up musicalized audition story. There’s real passion in that. It got lost in a space the size of the Marcus Center. Here you’re working with a 400-seat space at the Nancy Kendall Theatre. There’s much greater intimacy. How does that intimacy factor-into the way you’re directing the show?
Oh gosh, how I wish I could take a time machine and be in the first audience to see the first preview of A Chorus Line at The Public. I can only imagine what that must have felt like. As originally conceived, A Chorus Line is a pretty raw story, about real people, building lives in the theatre. I don’t think that I would have a whole lot of interest in seeing it in an amphitheater. For us, a 400 seat theatre is a very large space! So I’m worried about that dulling the direct relationship between audience and artist (We often perform just a few feet away from our audiences). I know that we’ll be making choices to make the distance between performer and audience as close as possible, emotionally and otherwise.
Milwaukee Opera Theatre and Theater RED’s production of A Chorus Line makes its way to Cardinal Stritch’s Nancy Kendall Theater Aug. 27 and 28. For ticket reservations and more, visit Brown Paper Tickets online.
Irish Fest is this weekend. Serious drama is performed at Milwaukee Irish Fest. (Really) Yes: there is Irish folk music and traditional Irish dancing. (My daughter is performing with Kinsella.) There is limerick contest. There’s also a contest for freckles. (Another for red hair.) But there’s also theatre.
Theatre under a tent on the Henry Maier “Summerfest” Festival Park works pretty much like one might expect. It's difficult to imagine a venue more challenging for serious drama than a tent on the Summerfest grounds. There is an open atmosphere. People file in and out over the course of a performance. Baselines from bands and chatter from passing attendees can be heard from elsewhere as the play rolls on amidst somewhat crude amplification. Finding the right play for just such an atmosphere is a tricky proposition. A couple of the companies performing this year are offering performances of deep and deeply conversational dramas that should be interesting in the outdoor festival atmosphere.
Milwaukee Irish Arts will be performing its staging of Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem. A recent production by the company had Joan End, Libby Amato and April Paul play three generations of women living in contemporary Dublin. I reviewed a staging of the performance at the Irish Cultural Heritage Center for the Shehperd-Express online this past May.
It’s a touching drama of three women told from three different perspectives. There was a real intimacy on the stage of the ICHC. The same drama will take-on a different quality performed under a tent at Irish Fest will give the drama more of a casual atmosphere. Audiences filter in and out as three women pour their hearts out through three talented actresses.
There’s some profoundly personal stuff being delivered here in and amidst the baselines of various Irish bands and the passing chatter of other festival attendees. You may not hear everything. You may not feel the full power of it all, but casual drama of three people going through a difficult time in their lives makes for an altogether different kind of experience at an outdoor festival. The drama takes on a completely different quality in a festival atmosphere juxtaposed against the visceral impressions of so many other people.
Little Gem alternates with performances of Sebastian Barry’s Fred and Jane...a conversation between two nuns about a life in service of the church, which should be an interesting fit for the Fest.
The Bangor Drama Club isn’t from Maine. It’s actually a group from Northern Ireland. In addition to a space in Bangor, Ireland, they have a group that tours around the world. They’re bringing a few shorts to the fest this year.
Brian Friehl’s Lovers is a pairing of one-acts that will be performed in alternation throughout the festival. Winners has a couple of teenaged lovers studying on a hill. They’re trying to study, but they’re distracted. They’re expecting a baby. Kind of an interesting dialogue to see under a tent. That short alternates with Losers--a drama about a couple of middle-aged lovers who aren’t quite so lucky. Both Winners and Losers alternate with the group’s staging of A Galway Girl by Geraldine Aron. That drama has a couple reminiscing about an entire life together.
Three generations of woman and three pairs of lovers come to inhabit a stage tucked away amidst the mead, the ale, the raspberry mead, the dancing and folksongs at Irish Fest. Here’s the schedule:
(partly sunny. High: 78° Low: 66°)
Lovers: Winners presented by Bangor Drama Club
Fred and Jane presented by Milwaukee Irish Arts
A Galway Girl presented by Bangor Drama Club
Little Gem presented by Milwaukee Irish Arts
(partly sunny. High: 77° Low: 66°)
A Galway Girl presented by Bangor Drama Club
Fred and Jane presented by Milwaukee Irish Arts
Lovers: Winners presented by Bangor Drama Club
A Galway Girl presented by Bangor Drama Club
Little Gem presented by Milwaukee Irish Arts
(partly sunny. High: 80° Low: 66°)
Lovers: Winners presented by Bangor Drama Club
Fred and Jane presented by Milwaukee Irish Arts
A Galway Girl presented by Bangor Drama Club
Lovers: Winners presented by Bangor Drama Club
Little Gem presented by Milwaukee Irish Arts
All of the above performances take place in the Theatre Pavilion at Meyer Festival Park. For more information, visit Milwaukee Irish Fest online.
This weekend local funny guy Patrick Schmitz presents his latest Shakespearian parody The Comedy of Othello (Kinda Sorta). The heady drama of Shakespearian tragedy is leavened with Schmitz’s trademark light comedy peppered with pop cultural references in the intimate space of the Next Act Theatre with a sizable cast. Shakespearian complexity is firmly anchored in Schmitz’s sketch comedy atmosphere for a light couple of hours at the theatre. There is casual costuming and a few props, but little else to get in the way of the central comedy.
DeAre Jett is substantially charismatic as the title character. He’s got great gravitas as the powerful central character. Jett has a crisp wit about him, but largely he’s there to be a physical presence around which all of the rest of the comedy orbits. He does a good job bringing the necessary gravity to the stage. Jett shows real potential for something of greater nuance comedically and dramatically...a potential which also echoes through the performance of Andrea Watkins in the role of his wife Desdemona.
Towering Marcus Beyer cuts a lean and powerful form as the scheming villain Iago. If called on to bring the darkness, there’s no question that he could. Beyer has a deep voice and a potentially sinister presence that occasionally casts shadows across the stage, This IS a Patrick Schmitz show, though. The comedy never has a chance to get all that dark. Thankfully, Beyer is quite talented comedically. He does quite a bit with the comedy of frustration. It’s an imperfect world that Iago is forced to live in and Beyer summons quite a bit of humor from the heart of the character’s frustration.
Beyer is allowed some brief flashes of complexity, but the vast majority of the script’s complexity rests on the shoulders of Beth Lewinski in the role of his wife Emilia. Lewinski is a Milwaukee comedy veteran who has experience which has come to match her talent over the years. She can do as much with the humor of idle moments as she can with the more sophisticated and subtle ends of the plot. The script seems to hand her 90% of the task of being the responsible adult of the cast. As difficult as that must be in a light comedy about lies, murder and ambition, Lewinski makes it look easy. It’s so cool to see her in a role like this.
It’s also really cool to see Nicolo Onorato show-up in the play. I’ve seen him pop-up in the odd show here or there every once in a while over the course of the past ten years or so and I’ve been impressed every time. Here he’s playing Iago’s heroically guileless accomplice Roderigo. Onorato is overpoweringly likable as the nice guy who is totally oblivious to the fact that he is being taken advantage of.
Schmitz’s script can sometimes feel a bit too anxious to fill every moment with punchlines. The script is at its best when Schmitz is setting-up situations that allow actors to bring the comedy. (There's a great talent in that. It goes way beyond writing witty punchlines.) Milwaukee comedy veteran Robby McGhee makes a tremendous impact with almost no time onstage. Jake Woelfel manages to do something very similar with a role which was designed to be comically ancillary . . . a bit that Schmitz added-into the mix which comes really close to being almost...unreasonably clever. Woelfel plays Pete Benson--a spear carrier who is scheming for something larger. (You've got to figure...this is Shakespeare, so even the spear carriers are going to get wildly ambitious, right?) Of course, the spear carrier is doomed to obscurity like us all. It’s a sharp comedic idea that could make for much more interesting comedy in more of a central role, but . . . that’s kind of the point of a comedically ambitious spear carrier in a show like this. He’s destined for marginality but like all of us he wants more. A comic existentialist hero dropped into an otherwise silly light comedy. Funny stuff.
There are a hand full of isolated moments that aspire to the kind of cleverness of the ambitious spear carrier. Roderigo mentions to Iago that he’s going to go home during intermission...doesn’t have much of a role in the second half anyway. Iago has to get him to stay through intermission because he still needs to use him as a pawn. Breaking the fourth wall is often a throwaway gag, but here it kind of becomes a bit of a challenging conflict to overcome right before intermission. Elsewhere in the script, Schmitz uses a breaking of the fourth wall to advance audience sympathies for Iago as Lewinski expresses concern over his frequent soliloquies. She lets him know as gently as possible that he needs to be there for the rest of the characters onstage...not just the audience. I love the depth that adds to the characters of Iago and Emilia. Too bad there wasn’t more of that kind of complexity...but then...this IS Shakespeare cast through the lens of light sketch comedy. Too much depth would kind of defeat the purpose. It’s nice to have it there, though...and it’s nice to see Schmitz returning to the stage for another weekend with a satisfying comedy.
Patrick Schmitz’s The Comedy of Othello (Kinda Sorta) runs through Aug. 12 at the Next Act Theatre on 255 South Water St. (There’s one more performance left at 7:30 pm tonight.) For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.
Sam Shepard’s 1983 stage drama Fool For Love saunters onstage at the Alchemist Theatre this month. OutLaw Artists’ production of the drama has Marissa Clayton and Evan James Koepnick as a couple of lovers meeting in a run down hotel in the desert. We get one hour in their lives together. It’s one hour onstage for characters, actors, script and audience. The story settles-in. By the time it has fully asserted itself, it’s already over. One hour of drama. It’s a satisfying hour.
The Four People in the Center
Marissa Clayton and Evan James Koepnick interact through the script with May and Eddie: a couple of characters who seem to hate and love each other. In the course of an hour, the two characters lovingly rip the hell out of each other. Overt and subtle hostility weave in and out of each other as we find out about them, how they know each other and how they feel about each other. It’s really complicated stuff that Clayton and Koepnick do a really good job of developing for the stage. There’s a real synthesis between the two actors and the two characters that’s interesting to watch. Clayton is impressively balanced: vulnerable in her aggression and aggressive in her vulnerability. Kopenick plays with his character’s desperate need for dominance with the slow, steady determination of a junkie who knows he’s going to get his fix. Things tumble together and shatter apart beautifully by the end of the hour.
Director Benjamin Wilson has fostered a really organic interaction between the actors that allows for some subtle imperfections here and there. The southern drawl is carefully crafted between both actors, but every now and then there’s a word or pronunciation that feels a bit too midwestern. The flow of aggression and affection between characters feels quite vivid, but every now and then there’s something that hits a bit forced beyond what the characters are trying to present to each other. We get little glimpses of the artifice beyond and within characters, actors, intention and execution that slides a bit out of synch before snapping back together beautifully. A couple of actors portray a couple of characters portraying a couple of people they’re trying to be. There are overlapping artifices that keep everything smooth, fluid and fun for the entire hour regardless of where attentions and intentions might lie.
The Old Man
Ron Scot Fry plays the old guy on the side who May and Eddie have brief encounters with. He’s not really married to Barbara Mandrell. His insistence that he feels like he's married to her draws questions into the narrative of the backstory that make for an interesting exploration into the nature of truth in biography. Fry’s simple appearance as a man who isn’t actually there holds an earthbound magic of casual mystery about it. Fry isn’t imposing. He holds a shadow’s charm in the background that occasionally haunts into the foreground. It's an interesting approach to a character who sometimes plays like a dark, ominous god in the background of a production. Fry gives the character a much-needed fragility that goes a long way toward cutting down on the overwhelming power of Shepard's aggression.
The Other Guy
Thorin Ketelsen plays a nice, unassuming local guy who knows May. He swings by thinking that he’s taking her to the movies. He’s wrong. Ketelsen is excellent in the nice guy role...he may tower over everyone else here, but he’s got such an unassuming presence about him onstage. As an audience, we’re seeing the world through his eyes...maybe he just wanted to go out with her to the movies in 1983...maybe go out and see A Night in Heaven, Yentl or Terms of Endearment and ended up getting an entirely different kind of story.
The Cars Outside
Decent lighting and sound design are so often overlooked. So often as an audience we’re doing a lot of work imagining that sounds in a stage play are actually going on in the world of the play. We shouldn’t have to do this...especially in a tiny, little intimate studio theatre like the Alchemist. Between the lighting by AntiShadows LLC and Aaron Kopec’s work on Surround Sound Design, there’s a really vivid feel to cars outside the hotel room. A car pulls-up and...it actually kind of FEELS like a car has pulled-up in a world beyond the backstage area. Honestly, it's a very subtle difference between that and simply cramming audio of a car and glaring lights beyond the curtains, but what Kopec and AntiShadows have managed here is a very cool effect that adds a very sharp atmosphere to a beautifully drab set that's been developed by Evan Crain and Marissa Clayton.
OutLawArtists’ production of Fool For Love runs through Aug. 19 at the Alchemist Theatre on 2569 S. KK Avenue. For ticket reservations and further information, visit Alchemist online.
The distinct style of classic of German cabaret in the early 20th century is best-remembered by modern audiences from the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret. The era of that musical and its distinctive atmosphere lives-on in Schmutziges Deutsche Kabarett--a show with a long history that includes performances in Los Angeles. The “dirty German cabaret,” makes its way to The Best Place Tavern this month. Local performer/choreographer Amanda Marquardt stages the next Milwaukee-based performance of the show in the most appropriate venue in town. Marquardt took some time to answer a few questions about the show for The Small Stage.
It’s a retro-inspired show fashioned after a Weimar-era German cabaret. There was a lot of wild energy in those shows as I understand it. What can audiences expect from Kabarett? Obviously there will be dancing, but what about the dark humor and political humor that characterized the era? What else can we expect?
Schmutziges Deutsche Kabarett was spurred from the question: What would it be like if you could go to the Cabaret inside the musical “Cabaret”? In the musical, the audience sees a handful of songs that take place in the Kit-Kat Club, but certainly not enough to fill a whole evening of entertainment. For most folks (myself included), that is the best part of the musical, so I thought how can I make more of that?! The audience shouldn't expect to see what the Kit Kat club would present, we don't specifically have a Sally Bowles, a male emcee, etc.
Besides book-ending the show with bits and bobs from the musical itself...what lands in the rest of the spaces? Often after the show I get the comment how people love that I took songs like “Just a Gigolo” and “Mack the Knife” and made them sound old. Those songs are in fact older than their swinging counterparts made popular by Louis Prima and Bobby Darrin, respectively. Schoner Gigolo is an Austrian song that predates WWII and is a sad tale of soldiers coming home after WWI and receiving little support as they work themselves back into their daily lives. They have nothing but their uniforms and medals, and turn to what some may deem less than desirable means to make ends meet. Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (which evolved into the swinging standard Mack the Knife) is of course a dark ballad from Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera. So, enough of the nerdy bookish references.
You’d mentioned doing this show over the years. It’s evidently been nominated for Multiple Los Angeles Weekly Awards. The Best Place is pretty far from L.A. What’s the history of the show?
One of the LAWeekly nominations we received was for Best Comedic Performance by a talented and tiny (4'10") actress named Jonica Patella. She performed a captivating and hilarious striptease as the Fuhrer to a Nazi march. This political aspect is no longer in the show, as it is an act that was built very specifically for her. I flew her out the first time I produced the Kabarett in Wisconsin, but it couldn’t be worked out this time. The other awards we were nominated for were Best Director of a Musical and Best Musical Ensemble. I’m quite proud of our nominations. We were a scrappy little show that got an honorable nod. We were also featured on the cover of the LAWeekly the week of the awards, and that’s pretty darn cool. I got to see my dancers and my face strewn across that sprawling city for a whole week.
The political thing. We have quite the political situation currently in our country, and a deep divide. I toyed with the idea of popping in some current political humor, but upon reflection decided I would rather give the audience a brief reprieve from it, and left pointed political commentary out of it. “Leave your troubles outside,” etc…
The show has been performed in small theatres, comedy clubs, night clubs, an underground ale house, the Scottish Rite Center here in Milwaukee and once even in front of a garage at a big house owned by an Angeleno friend of mine. I’m not sure how many performances over the years…one day I should count. I’ve had an army of lovely dancers. Myself included we have had four songbirds, and four hosts. I switch off between the roles, and have even danced in my own chorus as a Kabarett girl. This time around, the lead female vocalist shoes are filled by my theatrical muse, Miss Kate Sarner. I've had the pleasure of creating with her for the last 4 years, but this will be the first time we share the stage. Expect piles of fun and tangible energy. She's a hoot, not to mention her golden pipes! Each incarnation of the show is different, but still embodies the spirit of playful sassiness. There are a few songs that are always included in the show, for example Lili Marlene, (which I always dedicate to my late sister), but it's never the same show twice.
The show is referred to as being “Weimar-inspired.” Presumably this means that you’re not doing specific Kabaret bits that had actually been performed in Germany in the early 20th century. How much is the show inspired by the era and how much is it a departure from that era?
I call the show “Weimar-Inspired” because I obviously have not seen a true Weimer era cabaret (if only I could go back in time) and can only glean so much from research. Over the years the content of the show has changed a bit in terms of which songs and jokes are used, but it always lands in the realm of German, old-timey, and a little bit saucy. The show may be "schmutzig" but I would be proud to play it in front of anyone's grandma!
Sunday night is an interesting time to be diving into a wild mood...right before the traditional work week. Are there further performances planned in the near future?
Sunday worked for the venue, myself and my songbird. There's also always a lot going on Friday and Saturday nights and I'm hoping that having the show on a Sunday evening we can expect to see more of our theatre and musician friends in the audience, as they are less likely to have their own shows or gigs. It seems like Best Place will be a perfect for for us, and if all things go well I hope to bring it back here again!
Schmutziges Deutsche Kabarett will be staged on Sunday, Aug. 20 at The Best Place Tavern on 901 W. Juneau Ave. For ticket reservations and more, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.
The Second Annual Milwaukee Fringe Fest rests somewhere near the end of the month. One of the shows to be featured on the festival this year is a new one by local playwright/actress/theatre person Liz Shipe. The Incredible Adventure of Alvin Tatlock is a brief, little adventure set to appear at the Todd Wehr Theatre on an early Sunday evening.
In the past you’ve written (among other things) a swashbuckling pirate play, a series about Sherlock Holmes and a rather cool holiday show featuring Jack Frost, Father Christmas and a beautiful Krampus. Now with ALVIN TATLOCK you move on in the direction of a bibliophile named...Alvin Tatlock...who finds himself pulled into an adventure. What’s the inspiration for the story?
The inspiration really comes from my old roommate and friend. She is a great lover of books in a way that really inspired me. We also lived together for 10 years and she recently moved out, I wanted to write something as sort of a tribute to her. I think it's a show that she would very much enjoy. I've also not really had the opportunity to do small cast shows and that was something that really appealed to me at this point in my career. Even though the show, hopefully, will feel relatively big I wanted to get back to basics and really have some fun. Also, I've been wanting to to a show with Fringe Fest since it started and this year I had the time, so it felt as good a time as any to take a chance on something new.
How long is the play...and how long have you been working on it?
The play runs just under and hour; 56 min (Fringe rules). I've been working on it since early March. We've had a bunch of table reads and we're really kind of pushing it quickly or at least that's what it feels like. However, I look back and all three Sherlocks for the Bakers Street Trilogy were written in two weeks, give or take, so this isn't quite as harried.
The graphics posted to promote the debut of the show suggest high adventure. There’s real romance in high adventure. Typically that romance is associated with bigger budgets. You’ve got one stage and a small budget for a single performance. (Just one performance.) How do you bring across that sweeping sense of adventure suggested in the promotional stuff?
Bryan Quinn plays a Narrator character that we use to set the stage. We use his monologues to set the stage almost as an underscoring. For a Fringe Festival there was no way we were going to be able to have the sets, lights, and sound to create a sweeping adventure but I think we've come up with some really imaginative ways that the audience will really respond to. We're asking them to imagine with us, a little like what we did Jack Frost. In a theater setting, I think it's more impressive showing what you can do with almost nothing. Looking at improv shows is a great example, setting a scene with words and pantomime is something that I've wanted to play with for a while.
There are three guys in this show. (Just three guys.) In the promo copy you’re making reference to Irma Vep and the stage comedy adaptation of The 39 Steps. So it’s just three guys...but how many characters? And how distinct have you been able to make them for the show?
There are 3 guys in the show and me. I didn't put myself as a feature on the poster because I don't like seeing my name everywhere on the promotion, but in hindsight I should've because I've had comments like that pop up over the last few weeks. Sean Duncan plays the title role of Alvin Tatlock, I play a self described Adventurer and Dilettante named Gertie Pike, Bryan Quinn plays the Narrator, and Bobby Schmeling plays 5 different people over the course of the play. I would say all of Bobby's characters are really unique, but that's because Bobby is a brilliant character actor. I knew what he could do so I was able to create parts that are really tailor made for him.
Vep and The 39 Steps were...comedies. How comic is this comedy? Is it screwball spoofery or are we looking more at something sharp and witty with its heart in serious adventure?
I think the show is very funny, which is almost always a credit to the actors for bringing some really amazing work to the table. After almost every show I've ever written people say something to the effect of, "I was surprised how funny it was." This show is definitely a similar tone to some of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who with a bit of Monty Python thrown in; there's a ticking clock, high stakes, and some good humor.
And Duncan, Quinn and Schmelling...what has it been like working with them?
It's great! Sean was the first on board and really helped me through the development process. He was an amazing sounding board for figuring out how many actors, the type of story, what was doable in the time frame. Bryan Quinn is absolutely one of my favorite people to work with, of the nine shows I've written, seven of them have a part for Bryan Quinn. He's such a smart actor and comes with so many ideas it's so nice to have him there. Bobby is also a dream, he doesn't have a ton of time outside of his day job, but had been wanting to create a part for him for years and I finally had the right opportunity arise.
Just one performance...just three guys (and you.) Just one adventure. Is it safe to characterize it as a brief glimpse of something that might expand into something else later?
I am hoping to use Fringe as a spring board for this show. Sometimes the only way for me to get a show rolling is to put a definite deadline on it or it's too easy to put off writing. I really like the idea of create a show that travels well and could either potentially go to other Fringe Fests or schools or a small tour. I'd like to push this show further one day, but for right now we're just concentrating on creating the best show for Fringe that we possibly can.
The Incredible Adventure of Alvin Tatlock will be staged at 6:15 pm on Sunday, Aug. 27. For more information about the fest, visit it online. For further information about the show as it becomes available, visit its page on Facebook.
(You know what else is cool about Liz? She’s is also working on a podcast which is specifically set-up to mock Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog. It can be found at the Goop Pod online.)
Next week, Boozy Bard Productions presents its latest Shakespearian journey as it presents All’s Well the Ends Well. For the past few years, the group has been bringing a breezy approach to classic theatre to the Best Place Tavern in the Historic Pabst Brewery. Actors arrive at the venue the day of the performance having familiarized themselves with the script. Actors are then paired with characters at random. Actors are allowed 5 minutes to get into character, grab a drink and the show progresses from there. It’s a fun approach to that which is all too often taken all too seriously. (Even in comedy.)
Jeremy Eineichner is perhaps the most responsible for the show. He answered a few questions about the show for The Small Stage.
You’ve been doing these shows for kind of a long time. How many shows have you done at the Best Place Tavern?
Ok, so we did Mackers* first back in October of 2014; then in 2015 we did a 9 season show with “Much Ado”, “Shrew”, “Julius”, “Tony and Cleo”, “Titus”, “Midsummer”, “As You Like It”, “Merchant” and Mackers again; an 8-show season in 2016 with “Hamlet”, “12th Night”, “Henry 8”, “Richard 3”, “Tempest”, “Winter’s Tale”, “Measure for Measure” and Mackers a third time; and this is our 6th show this year with “R+J”, “Much Ado” again, “Coriolanus”, “Comedy of Errors”, “Julius” again and now “All’s Well”. So 24. Unless you want to count individual performances, then it’s 72. But if you’re talking plays themselves then it’s 20 plays. Math! It’s fundamental!
It’s an historic place. It may not look as impressive as the Pabst Theatre, but it’s one of the oldest performing spaces in the city. Do you ever look around and feel weird about performing light comedy in a space that goes back to the late 1800s?
It is a bit of a trip at times. It’s such a gorgeous space and I am a bit of a low-rent chump. I often feel like I should have been turned away at the door. I remember when we first started as a company, just doing workshops and stuff and we were working in a 4th floor walk-up in a warehouse. We weren’t able to gain traction there and it looked like the project was going to be DOA. It was around this time that Josh [Bryan of Cabaret Milwaukee] asked me “Have you ever been to Best Place?”. I said that I hadn’t and that the name sounded a *bit* on the nose, but I’d check it out (I didn’t have much going on that afternoon and could have used a beer). I walked in and as soon as I saw the room the wheels started turning in my head. My zeal had returned. After I had all but given up, I instantly thought “I am doing this show here no matter what it takes”. So we arranged a meeting and the rest is history.
As far as, like, do I feel uncomfortable performing this material in this sort of space, not at all. Yeah, the Brewery dates back to before this city was even a city; but these plays were old when the Brewery was new. And while the venue is beautiful, it is still a beer hall; so we may as well perform accordingly.
Who is in the cast for this month’s production?
I don’t really like to advertise who is performing. One, I honestly often don’t know the full lineup until the day of (It’s a pretty loose format show so it’s kind of whoever’s available, plus stuff happens and at the last minute we may need to do some replacing). Two, the cast changes every night so it’s kind of complicated to do so. Three, I feel the show is bigger than any of its individual performers; I honestly don’t even like how much attention I get in connection to it (I’ve taken to hiding backstage and letting one of the performers do the MC work these days to try and combat this). I’d say if you think you know someone is going to be in it, your best bet is to ask them.
This month you’re doing ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL Shakespearian romantic comedy stuff. I think of it as being really, really light comedy. You’ve done really heavy drama in this format for Boozy Bard in the past. How is it different working with light comedy over a heavier drama?
There is definitely a different energy to the tragedies than the comedies. I think there’s generally a greater familiarity with the tragedies than the comedies which may affect it somewhat. But even when we do the heavy drama, it’s still tempered with a light-heartedness. It’s kind of hard to avoid some silliness when you’re working in the format we are. We kind of pride ourselves on never taking it too seriously. We play it straight when we have to but still get fun when the opportunity allows. The comedies, however, already have the fun built in so there isn’t as much...let’s say “coloring outside the lines”. Also, as previously stated, odds are the audience isn’t going to be as well versed in a comedy as a tragedy, so we need to stay on point to keep things on track. This isn’t to say that the comedies are any less fun, plus there are way more dirty jokes in the comedies and that’s always funny.
If I’m not mistaken, you’re pretty much hammered into a Monday through Wednesday thing for these shows. This makes it kind of difficult to make it to the show for those of us who work day jobs on those evenings. (ahem.) Why Monday through Wednesday night?
The short answer is, no one else was. I understand the schedule doesn’t work for everyone, but there are plenty of people who can’t do weekends due to service jobs and the like. There wasn’t really any option for them to go out and see something so I decided “Why not?”. Plus, it allows performers who may be otherwise occupied (you know, with performing) on weekends to be a part of this as well. You can only see so many shows if they’re all Thursday-Saturday between 7 and 10 with a Sunday matinee. I’m not interested in trying to slice that pie further (because I will lose) so I decided to go brave the wild frontiers of weeknights. It was, admittedly, rough getting started. Everyone tried to convince me that it was a bad idea to go with weeknights, but I had a gut feeling. And then we started getting a fanbase. People started coming, and then those people brought other people, and so on and so on. I don’t know if it would be different if I’d stuck to a more “traditional” schedule, but I wouldn’t trade what we have built.
I would imagine that this approach to staging Shakespeare gives you a rather unorthodox relationship with the playwright. What have you learned about Shakespeare, theatre and life in general from taking this approach to these classic works?
It’s interesting that you put it that way, because I’d argue that it was more my experiences in theatre and life in general that led me to this format. I’d taken all of my best and worst experiences and used them to inform how I decided to approach this show. When I was first kicking around this idea, I decided to embrace the fun side of Shakespeare’s work. I figured, there are enough people diving deep into the serious end of the pool; let’s give them something else. This isn’t to say that there’s anything wrong with being serious, I just decided to embrace the fun side of it. And the “unrehearsed” side of the equation came from the idea of trying to wring the most amount of show from as little work on behalf of the performers as possible. Not everyone has time to show up for weeks of rehearsal for only a few shows. But, if all you have to do is show up and read, it’s a lot more manageable.
As far as what I’ve learned *from* doing this, the biggest lesson is to let go of control and let other people in. When we first got started, I did everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) outside of actually performing in it (which I still did from time to time when someone flaked out). It quickly drove me to the brink of madness and I do not recommend it. But I lingered on like this for a while, trying to keep dozens of plates spinning at all times. Eventually, it came to the point where I either had to give in to the people pressuring me on all sides to let them help, or completely burn out. And ever since I can’t believe I tried to do this alone for so long. I am incredibly grateful for the help everyone gives.
Boozy Bard’s production of All’s Well That Ends Well runs Aug. 14 -16 at The Best Place Tavern at the Historic Pabst Brewery on 901 W. Juneau Ave. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook Events Page.
*(In case it’s not obvious that’s a...term of endearment...for Macbeth)
It was a pleasure seeing Bad Example's enchantingly anarchic production of Coraline the Musical. I’m reviewing the show for the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express along with a write-up on Dave Hendrickson’s Beyond Flesh & Blood.
I only get 300 words for a print review. There’s a lot that doesn’t have a chance to make it into a (hopefully) cohesive 300 words of analysis. This is particularly true of weirdly chaotic show like Coraline. Yes, I’ll have a chance to talk about how much I loved Madeline McNichols as a heroic, young girl bravely standing-up to a disturbingly menacing Kendall Yorkey as her Other Mother, but what about the puppets? What about the stuffed dog? And what’s on that t-shirt she’s wearing anyway? There are so many fascinating, little details that don’t have a hope of making it into 300 words here is a little of what didn’t make it into the review in no particular order:
Coraline runs into ghosts of children looking to be saved. They’re cold and they’re freezing and they’re played by puppets that have been designed by Josh Perkins, who has done work with Angry Young Men Ltd. The puppets are tiny, little things that need protecting. Perkins has done a remarkable job of making them profoundly vulnerable. They tremble like frigid, ragged little muppets from beyond the grave. Your heart goes out to them. You want to snuggle with them or lend them a blanket or something. I love those puppets.
The dog: As Miss Forcible, Zachary Dean handed me a stuffed dog early-on. (Thank you Mr. Dean.) I like to sit in the front row...several people in the front row were handed stuffed dogs. It’s a nice touch. I found myself petting the thing and scratching behind its ears over the course of the show. It’s not for everyone (and there wouldn’t be enough to go around if it was) but those plush dogs added to the crazy energy of the atmosphere. (Thanks again Zachary Dean for handing me the dog at the beginning of the show.)
Samantha Paige and Edward Lupella are really good at being disinterested: Paige and Lupella play Coraline’s mother and father. It’s nice to see Paige onstage again. When she’s not playing a Martian and he’s not playing Other Father, they’re onstage looking at actively distracted by work-bearing screens. They manage to make disinterested characters seem genuinely interesting. That’s not easy.
Hey--that’s a Led Zeppelin T-Shirt She’s Wearing: Original artist Dave McKean had her wearing a relatively nondescript white shirt. The stop-motion animated film had her wearing stars. Costumer Nikki Martich has Coraline wearing Chuck Taylors, blue denim bib overalls and a t-shirt. It works. McNichols looks suitably kid-like. She even manages to make a t-shirt and overalls look heroic, though I can’t really explain why. I didn’t notice what was printed on the t-shirt she’s wearing underneath the bib overalls onstage. The promo pics quite clearly show that the shirt has a classic Led Zeppelin logo on it. I’m okay with this. Coraline should wear a Zeppelin t-shirt. It works for me. She’s a cool kid. This is a fun show. It should be Zeppelin.
Bad Example Productions’ staging of Coraline The Musical runs through Aug. 13 at the Tenth Street Theatre on 628 N. 10th St. For ticket reservations, visit coralinemusical.brownpapertickets.com. My comprehensive review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express.
Next week OutLawArtists presents what might be one of the first productions of a Sam Shepard drama to open since the playwright’s recent death. The company’s Fool For Love is the second production of the acclaimed 20th century drama to open at the Alchemist Theatre in recent memory. It’s the story of a couple of lovers who meet again in a desert motel in 1983. The show’s producers/lead actors Evan Koepnick and Marissa Clayton recently answered a few questions about the show.
Beyond the relationship between the characters, Shepard delivers a lot of background on these characters to the script. There’s a hell of a lot of character work to crunch through on this show.
The role of producer is something very new for both us. Everyday we come home from work and have 3 hours to be producers. We have dinner and then drive straight to rehearsal to be actors for an additional 3 hours. After rehearsal we have to equally split our time between producer and actor going over business proposals, going over lines etc., before we retire to bed and start the routine all over again come morning. There are definitely challenges with each title, however it is something we are both passionate about and having a partner during this process helps with the motivation.
Thankfully you have a director like Ben Wilson (of the late Youngblood Theatre) to help frame it all. How have the rehearsals been going?
Rehearsals have been one of the best parts of this entire process. Everyone comes in ready to tackle whatever lies ahead. We all know when to joke and when to create. Ben has an eye for motivation behind characters and words. There is a continual open dialogue between the actors and Ben both individually and as an ensemble. Ben is a delight to be around. His intelligence is mesmerizing and aspiring.
The drama has been staged before at the Alchemist, so I’m familiar with how well the space works with this particular drama. It’s one of the smallest stages in town. What’s it like working with a show set in a small hotel room that’s being staged on a space smaller than the hotel room?
In our minds, The Alchemist was the only place to do this show. If we would not have gotten The Alchemist, we wouldn't have done this show. This space is so intimate and doesn't hide anything from the audience much like our production.
You’re also working with Ron Scot Fry and Thorin Ketelsen. What’s it been like working with them?
Ron Scot Fry is a gem. He has a vast wealth of knowledge for all things theatre not to mention his humor is contagious. We thought "The Old Man" would be a wonderful challenge for Ron, a character that in past might not have fit his "type". Thorin Ketelsen does not show any signs of a "recent graduate", his maturity and dedication can fool even the greatest of veterans. He is able to delve deep into the work and is not afraid to ask questions.
My understanding is that this is OutLaw Artists’ first show. Are you planning on doing regular indie shows under that name in the future?
We would like to stress that OutLawArtists is not a theatre company. We are a production company and artist collective. In the future there is a possibility of producing more plays as well as other art forms such as film and fine arts.
OutLawArtists’ production of Fool For Love runs Aug. 10 - 19 at the Alchemist Theatre on 2569 S. KK Avenue. For ticket reservations and further information, visit Alchemist online.