Bill Hirschman: The post-Chicago odyssey to Milwaukee was a stunning surprise for those of us who had never been there and might even have been dismissive. Anne Siegel gave us a whirlwind tour of a fraction of the city’s theatrical community that was impressive to say the least. Yes, the visit occurred when much of the actual production activity was literally out of town, but the visions that the artistic directors shared with us and the extensive tours we were given whetted our imaginations. In particular, the co-op paradigm of the Broadway Center – like Theater Wit in Chicago — is an intriguing model for economic survival for medium and small companies.
The Milwaukee Rep operation is what really qualified for the adjectives stunning and surprising. In a breathtaking structure housing a large deep thrust auditorium, a wide black box and a cabaret space, the company mounts 12 shows with a $9.6 million operating budget, a full-time staff of 40-50 people plus a seasonal staff of 200, not to mention housing enviable costume, prop and scene shops. Most importantly, it presents a wide range of fare that reflects its mission that believes the term entertaining is not mutually exclusive with thought-provoking work.
Ten Chimneys was, as advertised, a bucolic, inspiring Eden filled with fascinating theatrical mementos; more Swedish-themed furniture, bric-a-brac and wall coverings than a Husmanskost festival; and a peaceful aura that obviously helps its status as a modern day retreat for theater professionals in its various professional development programs. It was worth the entire trip, although I don’t even want to think about Scandinavia for another year.
We also enjoyed a tour of the exhaustive and exhausting Harley-Davidson museum, which was theater of its own sort; a truly incredible collection of French poster art including Toulouse-Lautrec at the Milwaukee Art Museum on the lake; and for those who stayed an extra day, a concert by Idina Menzel. Of course, there was the networking on the bus and the train, plus the en masse dinner conversations, including an I-can-top-that sharing of our experiences meetings actors backstage in their dressing rooms.
We were exhausted after more than a week of non-stop theater and meetings in both Chicago and Milwaukee, but profound thanks to Jonathan Abarbanel, Anne Siegel, Kerry Reid and Kelly Kleiman for a rewarding and eye-opening trip.