Holiday Theatre Online
It’s weird entering the Pandemic Holidays. It was exceptionally strange rolling through Thanksgiving with my family and then...NOT having some sort of a Christmas or Holiday show at the Brumder or the UC or...anywhere else. Nevertheless, there ARE quite a few alternatives to live theatre making it to the internet from Milwaukee this month. Here’s a look at a few options.
Tomorrow night, Milwaukee Public Theatre and Quasimondo present the story of a tiny cookie company that is taken over by a large Conagra-style food corporation. An overworked, understaffed regional manager struggles to find a way to market a small, local brand for national distribution. The collaboration is a part of a series of staged readings being presented via Zoom. The cast includes some really, really cool people including Barbara Leigh, Kirk Thomsen, Jessi Miller, Posy Knight, Andrew Parchman and Jenni Reinke. According to the promo copy, “this hilarious and poignant piece explores consumer culture, workplace discrimination, and the importance of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).” Cool. The reading takes place on Zoom on Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 pm. For more information, visit the show’s page on Brown Paper Tickets. “Order” the free tickets via BPT and you’ll be sent a link to the Zoom for the show.
The Milwaukee Rep is providing a free online version of its popular adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Evidently back in 2016, The Rep recorded the production of Mark Clements’ adaptation of Dickens’ classic. Though it’s substantially less accomplished than the Joseph Hanreddy/Edward Morgan adaptation which preceded it, Clements’ interpretation could be a lot of fun as seen from the comfort of one’s own private home version of the Pabst Theater. The show is available for free online December 1 - 24. In order to get a free link to the video, go to the Rep’s registration site and fill out the form. Links will be mailed to those registering with the site.
Voices Found Repertory is hosting Mission: Audition--a series of audition workshops this month. The group has put together some really good shows in the past. In addition to the occasional show that’s posted online via Twitch, the group has been keeping busy with lots of little events in and around the edges of the internet. The latest is a series of auditions workshops on three consecutive Sturdays this month. Dec. 5--Hannah Kubiak and guest provide feedback on 2-minute auditions from Shakespeare and classical theatre. Dec. 12--Jessica Trznadel and guest do the same for 2-minute auditions of contemporary/modern audition work. Then on Dec. 19--Sarah Zapiain and guest host a Musical theatre audition workshop. All workshops take place in the afternoon. It’s $10 for a 20 minute time slot. For more information, visit Mission: Audition’s facebook events page.
It’s been interesting to watch the range of different responses to COVID in local theatre. Not too long ago the Sunset Playhouse had an audio drama fundraiser featuring a classic script from the golden age of radio. This month, the Village Playhouse presents a live The Little Women Radio Show. Louisa May Alcott’s beloved novel is adapted into a classic 1940s radio show that will be available for viewing Dec. 10 - 31. The show stars Hannah Kubiak, Savannah Miracle, Christine Hoehn and more. The show is free online with a suggested donation of $10. For more information, visit Village Playhouse online.
And there’s a little spot of Shakespeare this month online as well. Boozy Bard presents a Shakespeare Raw(ish) production of the classic Hamlet. The show is performed entirely over Facebook Live in online conference-style. Who’s going to play which roles? AS always, chance and circumstance are the casting directors in a production of the classic tragedy which taps into the heart of chaos to hopefully pull out something beautiful. The show takes place free online on Dec. 16. The show starts at 7:00 pm. For more information, visit the show’s Facebook events page.
Patrick Schmitz--the author of Rudolph the Pissed-Off Reindeer stages an all-new reindeer-based comedy this month. This time it’s a murder/mystery comedy. Santa and his reindeer crash. They soon realize that the crash...was no accident. Now they must work out who it is who caused the crash as they find themselves killed-off one-by-one. Will they find out who is responsible before it’s too late? Sounds like a fun premise for a comedy. The show will be staged online with three different performances: December 18 and 19th at 7:30 pm. There’s also a matinee on December 19th at 2:00 pm. For more information, visit Schmitz & Giggles online.
A Drama of Belief and Disbelief
The trip out to Next Act Theatre happens over the opening credits. There’s a drive through a Milwaukee night followed by entry through the lobby past concessions and into the theatre. There in the darkened theatre David Cecsarini stands in darkness. The camera approaches him. He gazes into the camera and suddenly the location shifts to Gethsemane United Methodist Church in Pewaukee. That church serves as the set for Next Act’s production of playwright Lucas Hnath's The Christians. It’s a very organic production of a drama that explores a church’s search for identity in the face of intellectual and philosophical change.
The play opens on a sermon by Cecsarini as Pastor Paul. Cecsarini radiates a warmth about him in the role of a man who questions the exclusivity of the church. He tells the story of an honorable person who has died without believing in Christ. He doesn’t believe that the person in question went to hell. He asserts that one does not have to believe in Christ to avoid damnation. He knows this is revolutionary talk. Precisely HOW revolutionary it is becomes apparent after he finishes his sermon. Andrew Muwonge is charismatically resolute as Associate Pastor Joshua, who Paul freely welcomes into an open debate about the church in front of the congregation after his sermon.
Though he cannot refute Paul’s logic, Joshua believes in his heart that Paul is wrong. A vote is held. The majority side with Paul. Joshua must leave the church to pursue his beliefs, but all is not perfectly at peace with the church’s new direction as Paul finds out over the course of the rest of the drama.
The first disharmony that Paul is confronted with comes in the form of a meeting with church elder Jay (Rick Richter.) The church elders are completely behind Paul, but they’re concerned with how quick he was to let Joshua go. A conversation follows about a possibility of a schism that may result from Joshua’s departure. Richter navigates his way through a very sophisticated political conversation with careful attention to the intricate gravities of the situation.
The second disharmony approaches Paul in the form of a dialogue with a congregant named Jenny (played by Emily Vitrano.) She’s a single mother who has questions. Joshua is forming his own church and there are congregants who are leaving. A man that she had been dating had gone off to that church and left her with uncertainty. Vitrano treads a careful path through the concerns of a woman who is looking for answers. She's also looking for a reason to stay with a church that seems to have alienated some of its congregants.
The final disharmony comes in the form of a conversation with his wife Elizabeth. Marti Gobel glides through an intricate and articulate conversation about Paul’s sermon. A conversation between husband and wife mixes with that of a congregant and her pastor. It’s a complicated talk on very intimate politics between two people who have been sharing a life together without necessarily sharing a spiritual understanding.
Director Edward Morgan has done a good job of bringing stage actors into the frame for a very compelling theatrical video presentation. The mood and motion of the drama feels very fluid for its entire 83 minutes. Passionate statements made in casual conversation are delivered by microphone in the church as voices reverberate through a vast space. The frequent cuts from intimate conversation to church oratory could seem a bit disconnected. Under Morgan's direction, those moments are edited together in a way that feels very natural...firmly rooted in the emotionality of what’s being said.
As good an actor as Cecsarini is onstage, it’s really nice to see him in action as a screen actor. The conversation between Paul and elder Jay allows for a few close-ups that amplify subtle nuances in Cecsarini’s performance. In the comfort of an office set he can speak just above a whisper. The screen may lack the intimacy of Next Act’s space, but it allows for a different kind of immediacy for Next Act. For audiences that have been going to see Next Act shows for years, this is a bit of a revelation. It's deeply satisfying to see the same energy that makes a Next Act show so distinct put in the service of drama inside a glowing rectangle.
Next Act’s production of The Christians is available through December 23. For more information, visit Next Act online.
Playwright Qui Nguyen adapted her acclaimed contemporary drama She Kills Monsters for online performances. It’s an appealing, emotionally-engaging story of an older sister getting to know her late sister through fantasy role-playing. This month First Stage presents a production of the drama. Though the script was designed for live online performances on videoconferencing platforms, First Stage has developed a really sharp pre-produced presentation of the show featuring an all-kid cast including brief semi-animated segments and cool synthesizer music cues. Recommended for kids in high school or older, the drama is a tightly-produced, entertaining, little hour.
Maggie Stubbs reaches into some very deep emotional territory as Agnes--a girl who is curious about her late sister. She discovers a Dungeons and Dragons adventure that her sister had been writing at the time of her death. Unfamiliar with the game, Agnes contacts Chuck: someone familiar with the game who serves as her game master (played by Max Larson.) Heading into the adventure, Agnes is surprised to find out that her sister Tilly is there in the form of Tillius the Level 20 Paladin. Maya Thomure shows heroically tender nuance as Tillius/Tilly. The adventure is a quest to find Tillius’ soul, which has fallen into the possession of the immortal five-headed dragon Tiamat. Tillius leads Agnes into a sword-and-sorcery gaze into the psyche of her younger sister. Charles Elliott lends a compassionate confusion to the cast in the role of Agnes’s boyfriend Miles who is trying to understand the importance of her search for her sister.
Director Coltyn Giltner has done a good job of getting an all-kid cast together for dramatic complexity in a series of scenes that had been pieced together from single-camera shots of individual actors. It’s difficult enough for any seasoned actor to deliver real emotional dialogue alone directly into a camera. More than merely managing this challenge, Giltner fosters an environment that brings out some really compelling performances from a rather sophisticated ensemble of characters that represent aspects of a late girl’s psyche. The action of the drama can be a bit awkward in places, but the dramatic rhythm of the story is maintained from beginning to end. Aggression, love and a range of different emotions are modulated quite vividly by a cast of young actors.
Costuming is limited. Just enough to suggest an elf, a paladin, a demon, a couple of cheerleader/succubi and a few other elements that come into play in the course of the story. Backgrounds are simple and domestic. Nguyen’s distinct mix of high school drama and fantasy adventure plays out in an enjoyably compelling hour and 12 minutes of video. The mix in the script is a little clumsy at times. Some of what Nguyen is exploring claws its way at the fantasy setting in a way that feels a bit disingenuous. The script doesn’t really engage with D&D in a way that really embraces its complexity. Giltner and company pull the script out of stiff sentimentality throughout...firmly rooting the drama in organic, heartfelt emotion.
First Stage’s production of She Kills Monsters: Virtual Realms is available through Nov. 22nd online. For more information, visit First Stage online.
Parenthood is complicated. As strangely miraculous as raising a child can seem, it’s one of the single most common things in the world. All people start out as smaller people. There are people there who watch over them as they get bigger. We generally tend to call these people parents. It’s simple, but it’s complicated. It’s also really difficult to infuse any sense of genuine insight into this process. This winter, Cooperative Performance Milwaukee presents a surprisingly deep, little video package on the topic. Embodied Truth: Finding Ways to Move Together. It’s a mixture of dance, spoken word and candid first-person stories that packs one hell of a lot into a beautifully concise, little half-hour package.
Creator/Directors Daniel Burkholder & Kimani Fowlin have assembled an earthbound, domestic footage of a diverse group of dancer parents from the Milwaukee area. Black, white, straight and gay parents talk about firsthand experiences parenting that weave back and forth in and out of elegantly simple dance moves that have been shot in deliciously familiar residential Milwaukee settings. In addition to personal narratives, there’s a poetry of abstract emotions, hopes, dreams and anxieties that filter through the program.
Videographer/Video Editor Chad Speed allows the music, dance and narrative more than enough space to breathe on its own without rigidly over-rendering the presentation. Black and white title cards introduce each segment. All the light comes from the sun. All the passion and compassion come from within as dancer/performers reflect on the nature of raising kids in gorgeously organic moments of reflection.
Burkholder and Fowlin have pointed Speed’s lens in just the right direction for a locally-produced video short. Parenthood has been explored exhaustively in film and video over the years. What’s the draw of one more half-hour on the topic? It’s the immediacy of it all. Burkholder and Fowlin may not have the immediacy of the live stage for their performance, but they DO take full advantage of the opportunity to firmly root the program in Milwaukee. The program offers an opportunity to spend a little time with friendly familiar strangers who are all experiencing the same aspect of life from many, many different angles that are all firmly planted in the same city.
Parents dance to the elegantly delicate pulse of music by Alvin Hill in minimalist movements in as traffic casually passes by on the street beyond in a placid Milwaukee mid-day sun in the warmth of early autumn. The dancers are local parents who talk about experiences they’ve had...from prejudice and racial segregation to the tragic complexities posed by a simple cap gun in the wake of the Tamir Rice shooting to video games and beyond. It’s all deeply emotionally engaging work told in living rooms and in residential back alleys and along trails in and around greater Milwaukee.
Cooperative Performance Milwaukee’s Embodied Truth: Finding Ways to Move Together is available on demand through February 7 on Vimeo. For more information, visit Cooperative Performance online.
More in November
COVID continues as the Milwaukee theatre season continues to carve its way towards what would have been a busy November under normal conditions. There are a few more shows coming up in the days and weeks to come.
Cooperative Performance Milwaukee launches an original work online this month that’s been devised and directed by Daniel Burkholder and Kimani Fowlin. Emodied Truth: Finding Ways to Move Together explores the nature of parenting through the lenses of gender and race in an online video dance that also features spoken word and storytelling. The show runs as a pre-produced video-on-demand that can be streamed via Vimeo. The show is available from November 13 - February 7th. The show was originally presented in Spring of last year during a one-week residency at the Kenilworth East Gallery. There’s background on the show and a 2.5 minute preview video available on Burkholder’s website. For more information on access to the show, visit Cooperative Performance online.
The Skylight Music Theatre opens its live staging of Ashman and Menken’s planty apocalyptic horror musical comedy just in time for the pandemic. Audience members will gently settled into a socially-distanced Cabot theatre to watch the whimsical end of all humanity to out botanical extra-terrestrial overlords. Yeah...I mean...there’s a story of romance in there, but the ending of the musical is particularly poignant in the current climate. As the above graphic states, the show runs Nov. 13-Dec. 27. For ticket reservations and more, visit The Skylight online.
UWM’s Peck School of the Arts is staging a live in-person concert staging of a musical. Working: A Musical is drawn from the writings of Studs Terkel. It’s a celebration of the lives of the American working class. Adapted by Stephen Schwarts and Nina Fasao, the show features songs written by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers & Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor. It’s a socially distanced production. Masks are required. The show runs November 19th - 22nd at the Jan Serr Studio Theatre on 2155 N. Prospect Ave. (It’s the top floor of the Kenilworth Square East Building.)UWM’s Peck School of the Arts is staging a live in-person concert staging of a musical. Working: A Musical is drawn from the writings of Studs Terkel. It’s a celebration of the lives of the American working class. Adapted by Stephen Schwarts and Nina Fasao, the show features songs written by Craig Carnelia, Micki Grant, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mary Rodgers & Susan Birkenhead, Stephen Schwartz, James Taylor. It’s a socially distanced production. Masks are required. The show runs November 19th - 22nd at the Jan Serr Studio Theatre on 2155 N. Prospect Ave. (It’s the top floor of the Kenilworth Square East Building.) For more information, visit the show's Facebook Events page.