theatre

Talley’s Folly A Success!


Talley’s Folly at SummerStage just opened last night, but the positive reviews are already pouring in!

“Better than Phantom!”

– My grandma, who had just seen the Marcus Center’s production with my mom the night before

“That was really good honey. We’re so proud of you.”

– My mom, who suspiciously did not reference the show’s quality in comparison to Phantom

“This is my favorite part!”

– Random guy during a silent, tender moment one minute from the end of the show

A giant, heartfelt THANK YOU!!! to all who joined us on opening night!

Performance #2 begins tonight at 7:30 pm on the SummerStage grounds at Lapham Peak State Park in Delafield, WI (1 mile south on Hwy C off exit 285 on I-94). It drizzled a bit this afternoon, so if you’re coming to tonight’s show, plan on bringing lawn chairs, or if you’re planning on sitting on a picnic blanket, you may want to bring along a tarp to lay down beneath it.

Click here for full details.

Talley’s Folly Opens TONIGHT at SummerStage!


It’s finally here! Opening weekend of Talley’s Folly at SummerStage!

As long as I’ve known our director, Dustin Martin, he’s been talking about wanting to direct this show. After years spent hearing him praise the piece, there was part of me that started to feel like it was my dream too – even when I didn’t know a thing about it except how much he loved it.

Then I read the script in college, and that was all it took: I was officially hooked. Fast forward *mumble mumble* years and here we are — opening weekend at last!

Talley's Folly

I’m especially excited to be sharing the stage with Phil Stepanski for the first time. Somehow in our making the rounds through various local theatres we had yet to ever work together. Finding ourselves  now in a two-person show we’ve surely made up for lost time!

Area theatre-goers may remember most recently seeing Phil as Gary in WCT‘s Spring production of Noises Off!, and Soulstice Theatre‘s Follies earlier this Summer. He will be appearing as Max in WCT’s Lend Me A Tenor later this Fall. Congratulations on your continued success this season Phil!

Some things to know before you go:

About the show: “Set in July 1944, TALLEY’s FOLLY is the story of one evening in the courtship between two unlikely lovers. Matt Friedman (Phil Stepanski) is an accountant from St. Louis and has come to rural Missouri to woo Sally Talley (Ruth Arnell) in her family’s dilapidated Victorian boathouse. Through persistence, charm, and humor, he courts her despite her fears that her family would never accept him. But for romance to bloom, each must work through their innermost secrets together. TALLEY’s FOLLY won both the Pulitzer Prize and New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play of the season in 1980.”

Dates/Times: Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm;  July 24 through August 9, 2014

Location/Directions: Lapham Peak Unit – Kettle Moraine State Forest, W329 N846 County Highway C, Delafield, WI 53018

  • Take I-94 to exit 285 in Delafield, WI (20 min west of Milwaukee); there will be a brown state park sign on I-94 signaling your exit.
  • Turn right (south) off the exit ramp onto Hwy C.
  • Follow Hwy C straight for about a mile.
  • The entrance to the park will be on your left.

Tickets: $17, $15 for Seniors and Students, $7 Youth. Can be purchased online, or at the park starting one hour before the show.

(The park requires a $5-per-vehicle entrance fee (normally $7) for all vehicles without a WI state park sticker.)

About the space:

  • The park sprays the stage area for mosquitoes every Thursday during the run, but bring your own bug spray too just in case!
  • The seating space is an open, grassy area, so bring a chair or blanket to sit on.
  • Arrive early and bring a picnic to enjoy on the lawn or at the tables under the SummerStage pavilion tent! There will also be a food truck on site.
  • Guests are free to bring in wine and beer, and additional beverages (including wine and beer) are available at the concession stand.
  • There is a bathroom in the building by the parking lot, and port-o-potties at the stage area.
  • The walk from the parking lot to the stage is a short one, however a shuttle will be available to transport anyone unable to make the walk.
  • If recent weather has left you cool in the evenings, don’t forget to bring along a jacket or lap blanket!
  • If it should begin to drizzle, the show will continue. So if it looks like the sky may turn, bring along a jacket/hat/enchanted cloak just in case.
Welcome to SummerStage!

Welcome to SummerStage!

How To Fill A Winter


I’m having one of those “so much has happened since my last update that I feel too overwhelmed to even try to cover any of it, let alone all of it, so I’d rather just not even try” moments.

D’oh.

So here’s my list-y attempt at sharing some of what’s been important in my life since my last post:

Sunset Playhouse - Murder on the Nile

Sunset Playhouse – Murder on the Nile

1. I closed a play. Murder on the Nile at Sunset Playhouse. Gosh what a swell group. I’ll be working with one of my MotN castmates in my next show, I Hate Hamlet

2. I auditioned for a play. I Hate Hamlet, also at Sunset Playhouse. I was cast as Deirdre. I’ll (hopefully) post something or other about it here. At some point. Maybe.

Oh God I’m such a failure at this blogging thing lately oh oh…

3. I auditioned for another play. Talley’s Folly at SummerStage, an outdoor theatre in Delafield. I was cast as Sally. I plan on Instagramming the crap out of the rehearsal and run process. The practice hall and performance space are just so cool.

If you don't watch the show, this will mean nothing to you. Feel free to ignore it; I promise I won't mind.

Meaningless if you don’t watch Hannibal. Feel free to ignore it; I promise I won’t mind…

4. I watched Hannibal an unhealthy number of times. I didn’t start watching Hannibal since my last update, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before so here I am. Mentioning it.

Basically: It’s lovely. I mean – it’s kind of horrifying, yes, in that it centers around a guy who eats people… – but don’t let that fool you. It is truly one of the most beautiful shows on television right now. The writing, the visual aesthetic of it all (from the cinematography to the set decoration to the costuming (!!!) to the way the food is displayed (no kidding)), the directing, the performances — it’s an incredible piece of work.

They’re three episodes into Season 2 right now, but for it to really mean anything you’d have to watch Season 1 first. It’s available through Amazon Prime, and then the three most recent eps are available to watch through NBC.com.

Oh man. Just thinking about that show makes me smile. And that’s saying a lot given that it’s, you know, about a people-eating serial killer, right? I’ve watched all of Season 1 six times now, and have no doubt Season 2 will fare much the same for me.

Plus: It stars Mads Mikkelsen. I’m sorry, but there’s just no topping that guy. Like — jumping between stuff like After the Wedding to Valhalla Rising to The Hunt to Hannibal? That’s just — naw dude. You’ve got to like this guy’s approach to the craft of acting. You can’t not.

5. VIKINGS! Speaking of shows I’ve recently started watching, I’m also really digging the History Channel’s show Vikings. It’s worth checking out as well before they get too much farther into their second season.

6. I attended WMSE‘s Rockabilly Chili Cook-Off Fundraiser. Wow, dudes. I ate so much amazing chili that day. No future chili-eating experience could ever compare. I went with some of the kids from Radio WHT, which of course made it extra fab.

My birthday gift from my friend Bob. My friends know me so well.

My birthday gift from my friend Bob. My friends know me so well.

7. It was my birthday on Wednesday! Oh gosh, you guys – this year was just– it was The Birthday That Kept On Giving.

The Saturday before my birthday, my friend Jenny hosted a Supernatural themed party at her house, complete with show-themed decor, and a dinner of burgers, fries, onion rings, and beer. There were games (SPN trivia, and “Pin the Demon In the Devil’s Trap“), episode viewings, and most of the gifts were SPN (or Hannibal! woohoo!) themed.

The Friday after, a bunch of other friends met up at my buddy Spence’s house for games and pizza and couch-sleeping and it was a blast I’mma just tell you.

Then today, my sibs came over with their families (minus my sister-in-law, boo :\) for mom’s homemade pulled pork sandwiches, par broiled ribs, and a homemade ice cream cake. It was *sniffle* magical

8. We got a nice list of roofs to bid on at work. This makes me happy. Not the way that homemade ice cream cake or Supernatural themed birthday parties make me happy, but certainly a kind that is still very much worth feeling. I’m spending the week helping put together bid packages (something that always takes longer than I estimate it will take; you’d think I’d’ve figured that out by now), and daydreaming about road-tripping to the farther job locations if the proposals come through. *dreamy sigh*

9. I went to the gym. I went an embarrassingly small number of times so far this winter, but I did go – and that’s crazy hard for me (because that is the breed of doofus that I am) – so I’m kinda happy about that.

So yeah, man – all told it’s been a pretty sweet coupl’a months.

Time to get in some reading and then hit the sack. Up bright and early tomorrow to spend the day with friends. Yeah – on a Monday. So stoked.

Happy Spring everybody! :D

Thoughts From Backstage


Updating from the women’s dressing room at Sunset Playhouse, mid-Act II for Murder on the Nile.

The ladies of "Murder on the Nile," L to R: Carrie (Louise), Paula (ff), Me (Kay), Deanna (Christina), Julia (Jackie)

The ladies of “Murder on the Nile,” L to R: Carrie G. (Louise), Paula G. (ff), Me (Kay), Deanna S. (Christina), Julia S. (Jackie)

What a happy, fabulous, funny, friendly, delightful group of women. I’m so pleased! I’M SO PLEASED!

I can’t imagine a life that does not involve spending months at a time with friends and strangers-who-become-friends, all directing our focus on solving the murder of a fictional socialite. Would I cruise the Nile circa 1936 with these ladies? You bet your Baedeker I would.

Twelve Angry Men at Sunset Playhouse


Last week I attended First Call for Sunset Playhouse‘s upcoming production of Twelve Angry Men.

A Reader’s Guide to the Above Statement:

  • I attended: I had Friday night free, and when I walked into the theatre and sat down nobody kicked me out…
  • First Call: The actors’ first on-set rehearsal. At Sunset the show’s volunteers are invited to watch this rehearsal to get an idea for the sort of help needed backstage, etc. for the production.
  • Sunset Playhouse: A vibrant community of theatre lovers working together successfully to create a fun story-telling experience.
  • (A few past Sunset posts here on Locutus of Blog: Sunset Playhouse Q&ATwerpshire Hathaway, a defense of community theatre;  and “I got a river of life flowin’ outta me” wherein yours truly bloodied her own nose.)

The man behind the curtain is one Mr. Matt Daniels, the same dude behind Sunset’s heart-cockle-warming production of Tuesdays With Morrie, and its spooky dram-rom-com Prelude To A Kiss. An actor, director, and teacher he is busy all over the place here in Milwaukee. Click those links to check him out! I got to see his Assistant Director, Katherine Duffy, as the lead in Sunset’s Sweet Charity this past summer and I mean to tell you that girl is an absolute riot. Her delivery, her timing– loved it! It’s exciting to see such a talented pair teaming up to work on this powerful drama.

It was great seeing a few familiar faces in the production team when I arrived. Since what I saw was a rehearsal I didn’t get to experience anything in the way of lighting, sound, or costumes, though I am very much looking forward to seeing what their respective designers have got cooked up for this one. Alan Piotrowicz’s and Jan Pritzl’s award winning lighting and sound design (respectively) in previous Sunset productions assure me the twinkly and tinkly details I missed last week are ones I can very much look forward to when I finally see the whole thing put together. And I didn’t know Jennifer Allen even did costume design, so that was really a special treat to see her listed in that role!

Exploring Koren Black and John Hemingway’s set before the First Call run.

The stage management team on the other hand… Oh where to begin?! Antoinette Stikl and Debi Mumford are rascals, and can only be described as mad as a couple of March hares, and probably flammable. They’ll lure you in with a hug hello, a few jokes, and boundless patience. But don’t be fooled! It’s all just part of their plan. And when I know what that plan is I’ll be sure to pass it along. Unless it’s just a plan to give hugs, tell jokes, and be patient, in which case: *points upward a few lines* You’re welcome. Also, props mistress Erica Ziino and I may or may not have become engaged, and planned out a road trip honeymoon, after First Call. I just hope fellow props mistress, Beth Bland, isn’t jealous. (We promise not to hit the road ’til after the show closes, Beth!)

The real draw for me on this show, though, is the cast. What a group this is. I could try to tell you how sorry I am that I can’t be up there acting alongside this group of lovely fellas, but you couldn’t believe how much I would mean it. What a fun group, this is. What a cast!

Foreman- Dustin J. Martin: Dustin and I go way back, and I’ve always known him mostly as a director. He introduced me to theatre proper, encouraged my love of acting, and taught me again and again the value of professionalism in every aspect of the craft; so of course whenever I get to see Mr. Director trod the boards it’s especially fun for me. One of the things that was particularly cool about seeing Dustin in this show was seeing him apply his own direction to himself. It was a bit like spending years listening to your parents describe how they used to hold you and rock you when you were a baby, and then finally getting to see them cradling some other child in their arms. You always believed their stories, but watching them live those stories is a different experience altogether. It adds so many adverbs to the tale that you never knew were missing.

Juror 2- Scott Jaeger: I knew Scott from his backstage work for show after show at Sunset, but it wasn’t until their production of The Underpants a few years back that dude finally auditioned to work on the lit side of the stage. Happily for all of us he seemed to enjoy the experience, because he has hit the stage several times since then, and frankly he’s just as charming on stage as he is off stage. There’s this pleasant, affable realism to his performance as Juror 2. It provides such a welcome island of contrast to some of the other jurors’ sound and fury, and I think that is exactly what this role requires.

Juror 3- Dan Esposito: It had been years since I’d last seen or read this show, so I forgot how abrasive this character is. This man’s noisome vitriol is that of a sad old man faced with the prospect that his anger at others is unfounded, his opinion unwanted, and his pain unmourned. Like all bullies he demands control and attention, yet deserves neither. For most of Dan’s scenes I found myself cringing at such a realistic portrayal of a heartless, broken man descending into uselessness, but at the end I cringed only that there are really people out there who could treat others this way. This is truly the saddest role in the show, and Dan does a remarkable job inhabiting it. I’d never seen him perform before, but I can absolutely see why he was cast here. Mr. Daniels has a clear eye.

Juror 4- Michael Chobanoff: I first met Michael in December of 2006 when we performed in Sunset comedy Jake’s Women together. Of every actor I’ve ever worked with, Michael seems to jump most consistently from comedy to drama, comedy to drama, comedy to drama. If I had my druthers I’d stick to thoughtfully chuckle-inducing pieces time after time, but this guy just really owns his own comfort with walking both sides of the fence. There is a strong, grounded air to his performance in this show, balanced with the kind of approachable reason Juror 4 cannot do without.

Juror 5- Jared Kuehn: What else can I say? I like this guy. He’s sweet, he doesn’t upstage, he doesn’t steal laugh lines, he’s memorized on time, his choices are clear and believable, and here on this stage of larger than life personalities his low-on-the-totem-pole character holds his own in every one of his scenes. We’ve only worked together once so far (Sunset’s 6 Degrees of Separation last season), but I hope to do so again. I just really like this guy.

Juror 6- John Roberts: I first saw John in Sunset’s Social Security a couple of years ago and oh! Oh! I died! Every time he appeared on stage I sat up in my seat, not wanting to miss a single twitch or sigh. This role here was quite a departure from that one. John brought a thoughtful intelligence to his portrayal of Juror 6, layering him in a detached toughness as a guard against all the poverty and hard work he’s lived through so far. He’s no threat until he threatens – – and I like that, because that is life.

Juror 7- Matthew J. Patten: I’ve been saying it for years and I’ll say it again: This guy is my favorite character actor both to work with, and to watch on stage. He has a tremendous gift for making real people interesting, and interesting people real. He also has a preference for comedies so I was initially surprised he was trying out for this show, but now that I’ve seen what he had in mind for Juror 7 I can’t picture anyone else in that role. Dude knows what he’s doing, doesn’t mug, doesn’t upstage, doesn’t horn in on other people’s time to shine, and makes memorable moments out of lines and activity that could easily have been missed entirely. Plus he walks and chews gum at the same time repeatedly throughout the show, so, you know, hats off to that.

Juror 8- Randall T. Anderson: I trust any stage that has this guy on it. This role must ground the entire piece, must set it in motion, keep it rolling, and catch it on its final descent. You don’t have to like Juror 8- though that helps- but you do have to believe him, and Randall gives the audience the opportunity to do both. I’ve watched this actor shine in comedies, dramas, and musicals, and from the other side of a shared microphone with Radio WHT (much to my own delight). He is ever the gentleman, ever the professional, and ever The Guy you want on your team to keep things afloat with you when the waters get choppy, and to enjoy the ride with you when the waters are smooth.

Juror 9- Doug Smedbron: He’s a sweetheart, Doug is. And somewhere out of all that he pulled up real force, a real “growl” for Juror 9. When he speaks he is standing even when he is sitting down, with a portrayal that commands respect from the other jurors in the room. I found his speech after his first “not guilty” vote particularly compelling.

Juror 10- Gene Schuldt: Juror 10 is a despicable, racist, loud-mouthed jerk. Gene, on the other hand, is an amiable, open-hearted, loud-mouthed actor, fight choreographer, Chicagoan, and professional Santa Claus. Hearing 10’s ugly words in Gene’s voice, and seeing 10’s quaking rage on Gene’s face was unsettling to say the least. As an audience member I felt sick hearing 10’s racism boil down farther and farther into a general “fear of otherness,” and as a friend I had to keep fighting the impulse to interrupt Gene’s rant to tell him he should be ashamed of himself! Good thing I remembered it was all just an act before jumping up and ruining the show. ;)

Juror 11- Ralph Frattura: Ralph’s was the only name on the cast list I didn’t know. I’d never met the guy, never seen him perform, but I figured if he was up there with the rest of these lugs then he must be the right man for the job. And wouldn’t you know it: He was. His behavior was real, his choices made sense, and– God love him for this– his accent was neither hokey nor inconsistent. I don’t attend shows like this one to see cartoons, to see caricatures. I attend them to see what Ralph did in his portrayal of Juror 11: He created a man with a unique perspective which he supported fully and which I bought entirely. Thanks Ralph.

Juror 12- Spencer Mather: This guy… Let me tell ya’ something: This guy is all right. I am so glad he and his wife decided to get involved at Sunset a few years back, and that they both loved it enough to keep on coming back. There’s not much they haven’t been a part of there, from working in the office to acting in shows to serving on the board. Watching Spencer is great, working with Spencer is great, talking shop with Spencer is great. But I digress. *ahem* Watching Juror 12 is great, working with Juror 12 sounds great, and talking shop with Juror 12 is also probably pretty darn great. Spencer’s 12 is easy-going but distracted, and while he cares enough about the case to have opinions about it,  the ad man in him seems intent on going with whichever vote sells to the biggest audience of his 11 peers. When he finally took a stand I cheered inside because this was a guy I couldn’t help but like, so I wanted to see him on the right side of justice.

The show previews this Thursday, October 25, at 7:30 pm. Show dates, times, and ticket* prices are all available by clicking here to view the production’s page on the Playhouse website. From there you can also get the goods on other upcoming Sunset fare, like next week’s 3 Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue Musical Mainstage show, or their mainstage Christmas production of A Christmas Story.

If you make it out to Twelve Angry Men at Sunset Playhouse I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below. Until then, happy theatre-ing!

_______________________
*A quick note before you buy your tickets: Due to the nature of the set- trying to fit twelve grown men around a long table, the bottom of which is four feet up in the air on a stage- visibility is poor in the first four rows or so of the center and side sections. So don’t you go reading this post and then buying tickets in those rows, now. Not after I took the trouble to warn ya’! ;)

Wayward Sunsets


I’m not entirely sure why people searching* for reviews of Prelude to a Kiss at Sunset Playhouse are being brought here since (until now, of course) the title of that show hasn’t been mentioned on this blog.

I mean, I do talk about Sunset Playhouse from time to time, and I did write about auditioning for that show, and the word “review” appears all over the place. But I don’t think I ever mentioned the title of that particular show anywhere here. I did a site search and everything and it came up empty… Did I miss it somewhere?

Regardless: Who am I not to give the people what they want?!**

People of the World! Wandering Searchers!
I am here to serve as your Google-go-between
when the Mighty Goog fails you!

I saw the show myself this past Thursday and wish Susan Loveridge had gotten a nod in the ExpMke review (it’s the only one out at the moment) because she was a lot of fun in it too. But then- that’s Susan for you. The show itself was quite enjoyable with some excellent performances, particularly from the show’s three leads. Stop out if you can.

*One of WordPress’s cooler features is that it provides statistics on what pages readers are viewing, what links they’re clicking on when they arrive, what links they clicked on to bring them to the blog in the first place, and what search engine terms they looked up that brought them by. Don’t worry, though- it’s not totally creepy. I can’t see who is doing the searching, or even their IP address.

**LMGTFY

Twerpshire Hathaway


I love me some community theatre. I’ve been acting in it, and loving it, for seven years this July. Sometimes it’s (amazingly, movingly) great, and sometimes it’s (agonizingly, painfully) terrible.

But so are kids and that doesn’t stop people from having ’em.

From time to time I run into folks who aren’t as fond of community theatre as I am. Folks who aren’t as fond of it, and who like to share that lack of fondness verbally. Dissing the interests of others is, I mean– that’s kind of weird, right?

Sometimes these- and other- people ask me why I do community theatre instead of “real theatre,” as they so charmingly put it. And they don’t know it, but more often than not this question makes me want to shake them by the face.

See, it’s kind of like this:

An image you may find amusing if you like your numbers aggravating.

Let’s say you’re somebody who digs numbers. You dig numbers, so you go to college and major in Seven or Avogadro or Counting or something. You graduate, maybe even with a 4.0. (See? I know some numbers too.) Then you go out and apply for a job at companies that like people who like numbers- insurance companies, accounting firms, grocery stores (cash registers, duh)- and then you sit back and wait for the interview requests to start pouring in.

In the meantime, people you know- well meaning idiots who love you- say things like:

“Berkshire Hathaway employees make tons of money using numbers. You should go work there.”

Oh? I should, huh? Okay, well I’ll do that then. Throw on the ol’ Willy Fioravanti, walk in through the front door, and sit down at the first desk that strikes my fancy.

Ah, but you know it doesn’t really work that way. You don’t work places that are great simply because they’re great and you want to work there.

So you snap back to reality. You snap back to the interview calls tying up your phone. Except that they’re not tying up your phone. The real calls are few and far between, and often non-existent from the Big Guys. Maybe it’s because you’re good at pi but bad at 11. Maybe it’s because your plus signs lack professional polish. Or maybe it’s because they’re just not looking for someone right now who does what you do.

So you gratefully accept the position at Mom and Pop’s Bean Counters, even after a friend (read: “friend”) let’s fly some doozie like:

“Mom and Pop’s Bean Counters? I hear they’ll take anybody. You should at least be working at Aunt and Uncle’s Legume Talliers. Their receptionist’s phone has way more buttons.”

Numbers made relatable.
© We Sign

But you don’t let it get to you because you’ve met Mom and Pop. You’ve interviewed with them over burgers on the grill. They are awesome and chill and professional and dependable and the commute is practically walkable.

So you don your Kohl’s shirt-and-tie-combo-pack, head on in to work, and enjoy the fact that the day ends at 5 pm no matter what, that you are awesome at using numbers in order, and that Pop brings the basset hound in on Fridays.

It’s not that you no longer want the Berkshire Hathaway paycheck or prestige. It’s just that those things don’t appear to be in the cards for you, no matter how many times you apply.

But!- and here’s the important part: You can still be a totally rockin’ counter of things someplace else.

Aw yeah. Look at you all countin’ up in there. Right on, right on.

So, back to theatre where those kinds of assumptions and statements are just as absurd as they are in the “working” world. Back to:

“The Rep is a great theatre. You should act there.”

(Responses to which are almost always followed by “It can’t be that hard to get in,” and “You must not be trying hard enough,” all, incidentally, based on the totally erroneous premises that 1) this is the only theatre in town where one could possibly want to act, and 2) once again all you need to get into a place is the desire to get into it.)

And back to:

“XYZ Community Theatre? I hear they’ll take anybody. You should at least be acting at ABC Community Theatre. Their ushers have nicer name tags.”

But you don’t let it get to you, because screw them anyway. You’re fine. It’s fine. It’s all fine. And a lot of fun. And the source of some of your greatest memories and friendships and experiences. And you make people laugh there. And you make them cry. And you get to play parts you’d never be considered for at places that offer direct deposit. And you get recognized at places like the Vitamin Shoppe and it weirds you out. And you get reviewed in the paper and that weirds you out too.

And even though it doesn’t pay, and even though the hours are long, and even though you still get asked condescending questions in an unintentionally insulting fashion– you still love it. You wonder why you feel like you’re always being asked to justify your participation in it, but that’s fine too because by now you’ve gotten pretty good at that. You’re still fine. It’s all still fine.

And then?

And then you blow a community theatre audition.

That.

And then you fear that friends who don’t respect community theatre will make some well-intentioned but totally humiliating comment about the situation and mid-blush you’ll have to come up with some kind of response because they’re your friend after all and you can’t just ignore them even though it’s so awkward blowing it for something they look down on, while not really being totally awkward because you were there and you know the other auditioners were solid, and yeah you mind that you weren’t cast but you also kind of don’t because sometimes that’s just how it goes so it’s fine and all but still upsetting and at least now your weekends will be free, though really that just gives you more time to worry that you’re getting too fat for the parts you want to play which doesn’t really matter too much yet because at least you’re still in your 20s even if only for a few more months but even that is all good because “30 is the new 20” and you love how that sounds because… it’s got numbers in it and… you know I always… wanted to pretend… I was a mathematician…

I forgot where I was going with this.

In conclusion: If you’re going to ask a question, try not to be an jerk about it because you never know how many run-on-sentences you’re up against.

*twitch… twitch…*


Two things which are currently ticking me off:

Oh oh oh wait! The ferrets just did cute, wriggly, ferret stuff! :D Slightly less ticked off now, but I’m sure I’ll work my way back up there as I write; no worries!

1) My (fading, happily) memory of the Danny Gokey look-alike in the silver sedan by the Goodwill in Waukesha this afternoon.

So I’m at a stop light, right? And it’s just me and this other car in front of me and we’re in the left turn lane, right? So the left turn arrow comes on and I can see the guy in front of me is just kinda lookin’ around, taking in the sights, whatever. It’s a gorgeous fall day so I totally understand. Lost in his Autumnal reverie he doesn’t realize the light has now been green for three seconds. (I counted.)

So I give ‘im a little “Beep!” on my horn. A “Beep!” so short and high pitched it sounds like I’ve traded in my Toyota for a Tonka. The kind of “Beep!” people give when the light has turned green, several seconds have passed, and the person at the front of the line hasn’t moved. I didn’t invent this particular beep, folks. It’s been around since before my time.

So I beep, dude looks up at the light, and makes the turn. I follow suit.

We’re driving along and he gets into the right lane while I stay in the left, and he starts to slow down. We’re both still a few miles over the speed limit though, so I figure he’s just a speed-limit-conscious driver.

We’re nearing my turn to get to my apartment so I put on my turn signal and slow way down as I enter the left turn lane. At this point punk ass Danny Gokey wannabe LAYS ON HIS HORN AND PULLS IN BEHIND ME, TAILING ME- HORN STILL BLARING- UNTIL I MAKE MY TURN, AT WHICH TIME HE SWERVES OUT TO MY RIGHT, COMES ALMOST TO A STOP TO MATCH MY SPEED, AND GIVES ME A GRIN AND A TWINKLE-FINGERS WAVE BEFORE SPEEDING AWAY.

What. An. Aaaaaass.

I don’t know why that got to me as much as it did. I kind of hope he’s like that all the time so he has more opportunities for it to come back to bite him.

Ass.

2) Directors.

The following didn’t happen to me. It’s just my delayed reaction to a conversation I had with a friend a long time ago about something that happened to them with a director I’ve never worked with. It only ticks me off when I think about it. And right now I’m thinking about it. Except I’m thinking about it with a lot of run-on-sentences and excessive back and forth between the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person, so um– sorry for any confusion. :S

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"Pompous Bastard" by Tanner Morrow (Click to see his other stuff; very cool)

If you act… well… and a lot… and a director pats your head with platitudes suggesting you ‘keep auditioning’ and not let it ‘get you down’ when they don’t cast you in a part you didn’t want but which they continually insisted upon you, it is both annoying and insulting.

Didn’t they listen when you said (repeatedly) you weren’t interested in the part? Didn’t they figure maybe you know better than they do about what you like enough to make it worth the commute, the rehearsal time, and giving up a month of weekends? (Particularly if it’s a part you’re not getting paid for: you’d sure better at least enjoy it.)

And– they have your resume! They can see you’ve been acting for years. So maybe by now you’re used to the “sometimes you’re cast, sometimes you’re not” dynamic. Right? Maybe by now you’re adult enough to not throw in the towel after their rejection, even if they don’t encourage you to ‘buck up little soldier’ as though you were some pouting middle schooler. I mean– just guessing here.

*pffft* Based on how many people are like this I sure do!

Don’t directors  realize how pompous it sounds when (in the absence of the right kind of relationship) they try to coach actors in things like the golden morality of ‘branching out’ in the roles we’re willing to play? Surely the fact we’ve been doing this for years gives us some insight into what parts we are and are not interested in, no? Or into what kind of parts are worth branching out for?

And I’m not talking about actors who just don’t know what they’re capable of, or what they enjoy. I’m talking about experienced actors who can say with total certainty “I am in no way, shape, or form interested in playing this particular part,” and about the kind of directors who can’t accept a “No.”

You will not woo me with “top billing.” You will not entice me with reassurances about how it’s “The Lead.” Do you think I don’t know these things already? And do you honestly believe all that matters to every actor is having the most lines?? It doesn’t matter if I’d totally rock at a role if playing it would make me regret getting involved in the first place. Are souls really so cheap?

And maybe the director is right; maybe the nay-saying actor would be ideal for the role in question. But once an actor has to beg or insist about it, then casting becomes more about the director’s ego than about getting the right person into the role.

Actors! Stop playing parts you hate out of some misguided sense that it is a sign of artistic maturity! (Enormous, totally respectable exception: Paying gigs for working actors. Y’all dudes are kinda stuck taking whatever comes up in that regard, but it’s an admirable kind of stuck. I applaud your commitment and your flexibility.)

“The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.” James Baldwin

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Wesley in his favorite sleeping position

Hm. Guess I’m more philosophically peeved about that second one than I’d realized…

Okay, that was it. Those were my two lousy, stinkin’ things. And I’m already feeling much better.

Isn’t writing therapy great?? We should all have blogs.

Blogs, broccoli and granola in our bellies, and ferrets fast asleep upside down in giant, homey cages in our living rooms while the final episode of Xena plays on our TVs.

Wesley just woke up to scratch. Okay: Full un-ticked. ;)

Short-Sleeved Gill Tee


Welcome to my Nothing post. It’s here to remind me to write an *actual* blog post about Waukesha Civic Theatre‘s upcoming production of “Crimes of the Heart,” running February 5-21, 2010, which I am in and about which I have written far too little given how seriously rockin’ it’s going to be.

For shame, little Ruth. For shame. So now every time I see this post– oh the guilt! How it will eat away at me!

Until I write that real post. And delete this one. Ta-da! In the meantime: Vvvvvvlog.

ETA: Waukesha Civic Opens ‘Crimes of the Heart’
Russ Bickerstaff

The last full month of winter opens with a pair of local productions that explore the strange convolutions of human passion and the lengths to which people will go to pursue happiness.

On Feb. 5, Waukesha Civic Theatre opens its production of Beth Henley’s 1980 dramatic comedy, Crimes of the Heart. It’s the story of three adult sisters who reunite in Mississippi and confront the dark paths along which their hearts have led them. A larger-than-usual group auditioned for the show, resulting in a very promising cast. Donna Daniels plays the oldest sister, Lenny, who has been looking after their grandfather. Ruth Arnell plays the middle sister, Meg, who has returned from Los Angeles after a faltering singing career. Jenny Kosek plays the youngest sister, Babe, who shot her husband because she “didn’t like his looks.” Mark Neufang will direct the show.

Waukesha Civic Theatre’s Crimes of the Heart runs through Feb. 21. …

ETA: Dark Comedy On The Edge of Milwaukee
Russ Bickerstaff

The trip out to Waukesha is a bit further than I’m used to going for a show. I don’t make it out that far for a show, but as there was nothing else opening this weekend and there were people involved in this production who have done work I’ve seen elsewhere before, I was looking forward to the long journey west. …

Director Mark Neufang introduced the show opening night. The initial feel of it is very reminiscent of the type of fare that wouldn’t be entirely out of place on stage in a suburban theatre with a generally older demographic than one might find attending studio theatres in town. Things progress and we meet playwright Beth Henley’s three Magrath Sisters—the first of three shows to open in the next couple of weeks featuring three sisters.  Ruth Arnell, Donna Daniels and Jenny Kosek play the three sisters… a cast that has developed a really good rapport to connect-up with a very cleverly-paced Beth Henley dialogue. Between the three lead actresses and a really stylish Michael Talaska set, the production quickly becomes one of the best dark comedies to hit local stages this season. There’s Jenny Kosek at the end of the play dragging a lighting fixture behind her. And she’s contemplating the oven. And it’s a really funny, really darkly comic moment. Much of the action leading into that moment was executed really well. It’s not what I expected out of a trip to Waukesha. It’s well worth the trip.

Waukesha Civic Theatre’s Crimes of the Heart runs through February 21st. A full review of the show runs in this week’s Shepherd-Express.

ETA: Four Shows With Three Sisters
Russ Bickerstaff

My wife’s two sisters came over yesterday. The three of them were in the kitchen making cookies as I worked on bits of writing that I was attempting to get done. The three sisters motif was particularly strong this weekend, as my wife and I had also attended a show about three sisters the previous night. It’s a motif that’ll be carried out on a number of stages in the next few weeks. …

Now through February 21st, Waukesha Civic Theatre presents Crimes of the Heart— Playwright Beth Henley’s award-winning comic drama about three sisters meeting-up in a small hometown in Mississippi. My wife told me that the dialogue was quite true to what conversations between three adult sisters are like—particularly when the three are all talking at once. The three actresses in question (Ruth Arnell, Donna Daniels and Jenny Kosek) may not have a real strong family resemblance between the three of them, but the rhythm of the rapport between the three of them feels very authentic.

The Jello Covered Grapes Annual Volunteer Choice Awards


Sunset Playhouse‘s Annual Volunteer Choice Awards were last night and everything about them made me feel so proud, so utterly delighted, to be connected with such a fabulous network of people. But before I begin delivering my run-down of the evening’s events I must first share my amazing new culinary discovery from the reception for those of you who can’t abide reading more than a paragraph or two of blogs: Tim Gensler’s much discussed and highly sought after…

Jell-o Powder Covered Grapes

grapesAccording to Gensler, one of Sunset’s resident Jacques-of-All-Trades and chef extraordinaire for the evening’s appetizers, you take the grapes, right? And you get ’em a little wet– not too wet or they get all clumpy– and dust them with Jell-o powder; cherry for the red grapes, lime for the green. Pop ’em in the fridge or the freezer for about an hour to get them to firm up a little, and voilà: A tasty summertime snack guaranteed to get a hundred+ people asking “what those little grape looking things are” and then coming back for seconds, and thirds, of “whatever the heck they are.”

“Let’s go out to the lobby…”

Sunset’s special night officially began at 6pm with a wine/ beer/ soda bar in the lobby, catering to some of the choicest mingling this actress is likely to experience until next year’s awards show. Everywhere you turned was a person, a conversation, a memory which served as a brilliant reminder of why this room was filled with all these people in the first place: We love creating theatre together.

What a place!

(And thank you thank you thank you to Jean J. and Chuck U. for the wonderful conversation and the extremely kind words. You warmed my heart more than you can possibly know!)

The Awards Ceremony…

…got rolling at 7pm with a song from Vasiliki Fafalios, an area high school student participating in Sunset’s “Rising Stars” program. It sounded like no one in the audience realized she was so young until we were told as much after her delightful rendition of “You’re the Top,” at which time the audience was filled with whispers of “She’s in high school?!” I’m fairly certain it’s a good sign when you leave an entire audience shocked by your age in the wake of your obvious talent.

Next on the stage was MC Ken Smith, presumably given the honor because he has the best beard on the Board of Directors. Hey: When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. He introduced Inge Adams who was to present the award for Best Supporting Actor. It went to David Kaye for his performance as Tim Allgood in Noises Off, but unfortunately dude wasn’t there to receive it. I made sure to give him what for on Facebook as soon as I got home, though, so that’s all taken care of.

Cindy Zauner then floated onto the stage in a lovely… in a colorful… in… in– well in just a joltingly godawful mess of a bridesmaid’s dress to sing “Always A Bridesmaid” from I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change! As though I didn’t have enough reasons for being terribly disappointed in myself for not seeing that show, I can now add this little number to my list of reasons to kick myself for missing it. Cindy was too stinkin’ funny. The audience ate her up.

The only award one can give when dressed in something so, so, so terribly unattractive is, naturally, the award for Best Costume Design, which went to Sue Fromm for her work on Escanaba in da Moonlight. Rock on, Sue! Besides being one of the sweetest people on Sunset’s volunteer roster, she’s also quite the talented hand at dressin’ folks it would seem. She certainly got my vote.

Social Security: S. Loveridge, B. Krah

Social Security: S. Loveridge, B. Krah

Bryce Lord, director of this Spring’s Social Security, had the opportunity to present the award for Best Supporting Actress to one of his own: Bonnie Krah. I could fill an entire blog entry with praise for Bonnie, but I would no doubt lose the few of you still reading due to the length of it, so I’ll leave it at this: Bonnie Krah was hands down the best choice for this award. She gave a fantastic performance and the voting could not possibly have gone any other way. Bonnie was also not in attendance, much to my dismay, so I shall have to rib her good naturedly for it the next time I see her before proceeding with my usual Bonnie Accolades.

Another musical number to keep things hoppin’? Don’t mind if I do! Kyle Breitzman performed “Luck Be A Lady” because he figured, as Ken Smith shared with us, “It’s short, easy, and relevant.” Smart fellow, that Breitzman. Smart indeed.

Brenda Gravelle, last year’s recipient of the Unsung Hero Award, presented this year’s to Sue Fromm, who you may remember from such awards as Best Costume Design. Way to rake ’em in, Sue. There’s a lot of heart and a lot of drive in that woman. An asset to any company and dearly appreciated by Sunset.

Best Lighting Design went to Marty Wallner for Escanaba, presented via a flip tablet by Erika Navin, winner of the Ruth Arnell’s Annual Best Glasses Award. Marty really pulled off some pretty neat effects in this one that were hopefully as much fun for him to put together as they were for us in the audience to watch.

Escanaba: R. Zimmerman, A. Lien, J. Bloomingdale, M. Patten, G. Villa

Escanaba in da Moonlight: R. Zimmerman, A. Lien, J. Bloomingdale, M. Patten, G. Villa

Mark Salentine’s remarks on the importance of sound design in theatre, a fun little giggle-inducer to remind us all how much we truly depend on ringing phones and Jan Pritzl, was delightfully punctuated by Matthew Patten, the presenter of the Old-Timer Award to Inge Tiberius Adams. Wait- scratch that. Make that the Newcomer Award to Andy Lien. Lien swears up and down he hasn’t acted since high school, but his spot on comic timing and delivery in Escanaba sure do make a body wonder. Terrific actor, friendly guy, can grow a decent beard; Lien’s a gem and Sunset’s all the better for having found him.

More music? Bring it on! The fourth song of the evening was from next season’s Mid-life! The Crisis Musical, with Mark Salentine and Doug Jarecki as Mary DeBattista’s hapless, helpless would-be lovers. There’s something so charming about a woman who can maintain artistic composure and powerful breath support while straddling a park bench…

Jacquelyn Ranallo and Lena Tomaszek went home with the No Small Parts Award from Anne Gorski for their contributions in I Love You… It was kind of a cute award to see given as the adorable Tomaszek had been the one actually handing out all of the evening’s awards. It was nice seeing her finally get to hang on to one!

Doug Jarecki and Jason Powell were up next with a little improv game (the Alphabet Game, for the curious among you) to entertain the troops, who were duly entertained. Incidentally, JASON POWELL’S HILARIOUS ORIGINAL MUSICAL COMEDY INVADER? I HARDLY KNOW HER! OPENS AT THE ALCHEMIST THEATER ON SEPTEMBER 10, 2009, which is cool.

Same Time...: C. Gamino, S. Hughes

Same Time…: C. Gamino, S. Hughes

Doug was also there to present this year’s Best Actress Award to a very talented young woman, Sarah Laak Hughes, for her performance in Same Time Next Year. This was another show I did not get to see, but having seen Sarah’s work elsewhere I can only agree wholeheartedly with the vote on this one as I’m sure she was teriffic in the role. Not to mention the mad props you’re almost duty-bound to give to any actor who survives a two person show with their sanity so graciously intact.

The Best Actor Award, presented by Mary DeBattista, went to Matthew Patten for his performance in Escanaba and I figure there’d’ve been a bona fide mutiny had he not won for his work in that show. You want a brilliant character actor? This guy’s the real deal, and he works flatullance-joke-loving audiences like a charm. And no, they did not let him keep the red long underwear.

An Awards Night tradition I was glad to see continue was that of Mark Salentine delivering a review of the season as a whole to the tune of a well known song from a musical. This year’s review, to the tune of “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, allowed us to reminisce together about the joys of Sarah Laak Hughes, and the pain of patrons who are shocked at the idea that infidelity might make its way into a plot. Ah theatre.

A Sunset original, the Rudy Award, is presented every year by Rudy Miskowitch to a volunteer who goes above and beyond the call of duty to bring the season’s productions to a whole new level of quality through their hard work and dedication. This year’s recipient was Marty Wallner, a man who embodies the phrase “to know ‘im is to love ‘im.” Congratulations Marty!

Escanaba: J. Bloomingdale, A. Lien, M. Patten, R. Zimmerman

Escanaba in da Moonlight: J. Bloomingdale, A. Lien, M. Patten, R. Zimmerman

The biggest award of the night, Best Show, was presented by Sunset’s new Managing Director Jonathan West, he of bow-ties-and-blogging fame. The top three nominees were Those Crazy Ladies in the House on the Corner, Escanaba in da Moonlight, and Noises Off. And the award goes to: ESCANABA IN DA MOONLIGHT!

I couldn’t see this award going anywhere else. If Sunset could remount one production to present year after year with the same direction, actors, and set, it would have to be this one. Featuring an absolute dream cast under the delightful direction of Mark Salentine (and my God do you see the costumes and the set in these pictures?! Gorgeous!), this was far and away my favorite show of the year and a true testament to the professional quality theatre one finds at Sunset Playhouse.

Another “Rising Star” at Sunset, high school student Allie Babich, brought the awards ceremony to a close with a performance of “Stars and Moon” which I heard one audience member say brought tears to his eyes. When people tell this young lady “You’ll go places, kid!” I sure hope she knows they aren’t just whistlin’ Dixie. Beautiful voice, lovely presentation. Thank you Allie.

Reception

Tosa Jazz, directed by Donna Kummer, serenaded the audience into the studio theatre for a swingin’ reception. One thing for which you can always count on Sunset Playhouse is a delicious, buffet style spread at every event they host. Last night’s was no exception, and yes I went back for thirds. Oh and happy anniversary to Jim and Susan Loveridge! Y’all were so cute out there on the dance floor.

Music, dancing, food, wine, art, friends, laughter. We who had the opportunity to enjoy such things together on a warm, summer night should be thanking our lucky stars. And for those still looking for such a place of their own, well it’s real easy…

You take 94 West from Milwaukee and get off at the Mooreland Rd. North exit over by Brookfield Square Mall. Hang a right on Bluemound, a left on Elm Grove Rd., and a right on Wall St. Sunset Playhouse will be on your right. Shouldn’t miss it. ;)

Catching the moon in their hands


"Fame" at Sunset Playhouse - Photo by Mark Frohna

"Fame" at Sunset Playhouse - Photo by Mark Frohna

Saw “Fame” at Sunset Playhouse the other day. If you know me at all you know I’m a huge fan of Sunset and a supporter of all they do, but I’m gonna level with you on this one: I’m kinda glad I saw it for half price. I laughed, I clapped, I had fun, but $10? That’s about right.

The show has some really nice things going for it, namely that it features genuinely young actors playing genuinely young characters. There’s something that’s always struck me as a little false about seeing a 26 year old try to deliver the energy of a 15 year old, so it was nice not having to sit through that charade in this production.

The downside to using younger performers, of course, is that you run into a lot more “young actor pitfalls,” ie. singing through the nose, substituting faux nervous laughter for introspection and development of empathy, turning off your face until it’s your turn to talk and then firing up the pearly whites. You could see a lot of potential in some of the performers, but the lisps, the front-talking, the VERY HEAVY presentationalism (even for musical theatre), the waiting-til-it’s-their-turn-to-talk, the frequent looks into the audience… Some very nice, genuine efforts, but some of them really have their work cut out for them.

Because some of the folks involved in the show are fairly young (or maybe they just make me feel old?), I’m only going to name names for the parts that really stood out for me in a positive way. Not that these were the only good folks in the show, but a few other standouts also have some significant “they were good, but…” statements attached to them in my mind that I couldn’t not include as qualifiers, so I’d just as soon stick to the positives. ‘S’nice? ‘S’nice.

Deidra Fabian (ensemble): You want actors like this in your ensemble. Loads of energy, beautiful smile, but never act-y, never scene stealingly hyper. You know the kind I mean, right? This girl was lovely and fresh and fun and a fantastic support to the production. Keep it up, Deidra. You’re doing exactly what you should be doing.

Ashley Levells (Mabel Washington): I’d watch this young woman in anything. Always in the moment, original, fun, energetic, but with a clear understanding that she’s part of a cast and not in a one woman show. Though Lord knows she could be. Great soloist. Her big song was easily (far and away) the best number in the show. And her non-verbals? Funny as hell.

Cameron Meilicke (Nick Piazza): Either this guy *is* Nick, or he just really nailed this production’s interpretation of the character. Gave a charming performance, very sweet voice, and some of the better acting moments in the show. I like this guy.

Samantha Moyer (Grace “Lambchops” Lamb): Maybe it’s because I know a girl whom this character reminded me of a great deal, but I couldn’t get enough of this kid. Just cute as a button, loads of energy, another team player. Seemed very comfortable in whatever she was doing, and you can’t teach that.

Mary Rodgers (Miss Esther Sherman): I don’t envy actors playing teacher roles in shows like this one. People go to see the kids dance around and sing on lunch tables, not to feel the frustration of the adults monitoring those tables during their free period. Mary really worked that dichotomy in her favor, however, by keeping her scenes strong, and her songs memorably performed. She was an endearing respite from the chaos, and never once fell into some of the more common traps actors tend to fall into when playing parts significantly older than their actual age.

"Fame" at Sunset Playhouse - Pic by Mark Frohna

"Fame" at Sunset Playhouse - Photo by Mark Frohna

The production also benefited from the beautiful work (as always) of artists Michael Desper (Scenic Designer) and John Dolphin (Lighting Designer). Everything on the set worked; you could see everything you were supposed to see, there were construction surprises built in to even the simplest scenes, and half the set was made from styrofoam and pool noodles. Where I come from that’s not just art- that’s genius. The lighting on the set was bright and colorful without looking like you’d walked into a disco. Some really beautiful mood effects were created without loss of visibility, and the multitude of cues kept things fun, moving, and alive. As for the costumes? I hope you understand the compliment in this statement when I say the costumes made me not mind the prospect of 80s fashions making an even stronger resurgence into the general public in the near future. Yes: they were actually that cute.

As of right now there are four performances left; this Thursday the 6th at 7:30, Friday the 7th at 8:00, Saturday the 8th at 8:00 and Sunday the 9th at 2:00. I’d recommend it for anyone with kids who are into the whole High School Musical/ Jonas Brothers/ Miley Cyrus thing, but I’d suggest you leave the very youngest ones at home as some of the language and topics covered are, well– they’re accurate for high school aged kids, which means there might be a few more curse words and pelvic thrusts than you really want to bring you 7 year old around for. I guarantee it’s cleaner by a long shot than the upcoming movie version will be, but something about seeing pelvic thrusts live makes them all the more jarring and slightly giggle inducing…

Click here to read Express Milwaukee’s mini blog review of the show, and here to read the Waukesha Freeman’s review.

Incidentally, I just realized this Mark Frohna guy who took the above pictures (which I yoinked from Sunset’s Facebook page) is the same guy who did my friend Libby’s new headshots. I don’t know what his rates are, but if you live in the Milwaukee area and you’re looking for headshots you should check this guy out. Libby’s pics turned out gorgeously, and while I attribute a huge percentage of her headshot success to the fact that she is a beautiful woman and any picture taken of her is bound to look great, what this Frohna fellow supplied skill-wise is no small shakes. You can check him out at frophoto.com.

But wait! There’s more!

Since my last post I went to the Renaissance Faire, bought a beautiful new corset, got my credit card number stolen, watched about 15 travel DVDs from the library, dreamed I ran a writers’ retreat visited by a couple whose race kept changing, and finally began saving my CDs onto my hard drive. As it is 11:27 pm on a Monday night, however, I am going to leave it to you to just imagine how exciting each of those topics would be were I to extrapolate upon them here.

Two more reasons to love Waukesha, WI


Would that all houses were purple and sunflowered!

Would that all houses were purple and sunflowered!

I’ve always enjoyed living near the heart of downtown Waukesha, WI, particularly in the week and a half it’s not covered in snow. It’s just such a casual, charming, friendly little town, and for all the complaints I’ve heard- and uttered- about how confusing it can be to navigate when you’re not used to the area, I even love the streets.

I’m a big fan of the direction the town is taking as it cleans itself up, brushes the dust off its dancing shoes, gargles a little mouthwash. It just feels safer, cleaner, and fresher than it did before. I have to say, though, that the one thing I wonder about is how a town this size can support so many coffee shops and art galleries.

They’re all great, don’t get me wrong, but you can’t walk a block without tripping over some quaint little someplace or other where you can grab a cup of joe (delicious, accompanied by friendly service) or buy a local resident’s latest foray into abstract painting. Some places even let you do both. And every time I see one of these places I think: Who the heck is around to drink enough coffee to keep each cafe viable? Who the heck is around to buy enough art to keep each gallery viable? This is Waukesha for crying out loud, not the Third Ward or Cedarburg! I know it’s changing, but is it changing quickly enough for these places to make it when they’re competing in such close proximity?

And then? I heard another coffee shop was moving into town. I couldn’t believe it. Even more unbelievable was that it was to be set up in the purple flower house on St. Paul Ave. where another coffee shop had just gone out of business last year. As nice as it is as a consumer to have the extra variety, I just couldn’t imagine what this place could offer to make it worth walking a block off the main drag for, especially in the exact place another coffee shop had failed.

But folks, I’m here to tell ya’: It’s worth walking a block off the main drag for.

Cafe de Art

136 E. St. Paul Ave., Waukesha, WI 53186

The name of the place is Cafe De Arts and if you like coffee (or tea, or sandwiches, or salads, or desserts, or colors, or free wifi, or Turkish people) you are hereby assigned to check this place out. You owe it to yourselves. Really.

I stopped in this afternoon around 1 to see what the place was all about and was immediately struck by the warmth of the decor. The thickly painted wall art, the custom made doors and tables, the reds, oranges and yellows of the decorative fabrics, all set off by the natural beauty of sunshine and a fresh breeze, made the environment so welcoming I knew it was a place I could easily stay all afternoon.

While reading over the wall menu I was approached by the woman who would soon take my order. So charming, very pretty, all smiles. We met by the dessert case and I asked if the baked goods inside it were made there on site. She told me she makes them herself right there in the kitchen and then went over each one with me, giving me the names- none of which I could pronounce outside of “baklava“- and main ingredients.

I hadn’t been planning on ordering anything to eat, but the feta and parsley stuffed pogaca (pron. pogasha) on the top shelf looked too delicious to pass up so I ordered one to accompany my chocolate and vanilla blended mochaccino.

While waiting for my order I made myself comfortable on one of the leather couches by the flat screen TV which at the time was playing Turkish music videos, one of which was this video by the adorable Turkish pop star Yalin. Isn’t he cute?! The woman I’d spoken with before, who I later learned was Gulten Munzur, wife of owner Ayhan Munzur, soon brought out my pogaca and coffee and I was instantly in cafe heaven.

My drink was strong; very flavorful, very rich, very drinkable. It lacked the “coffee bitterness” I’m accustomed to, without tasting as though the bitterness was perhaps still there but masked by sugar and flavored syrups. As a testament to the freshness of the ingredients and the fact that they had no fancy additives to hide behind, I found myself having to swirl my cup once or twice to mix things back together a bit. And the pogaca, which I’d expected would be cold and flaky, was actually warm and quite soft much to my delight. It’s like a very moist roll that looks like dense bread but tastes like fresh feta cheese. And the glazed top was more than just a nice visual touch– it was delish.

7821_M_W_300.png

A commercial coffee roaster similar to the one at Cafe de Arts

As I was finishing up, Gulten came by to ask how everything was and I could only tell her it was wonderful. Ayhan soon came around to tidy up a table two other patrons had just vacated and also asked how I’d liked everything. We chatted a bit and he was just so personable and friendly it would’ve been impossible not to like him as instantly as I’d liked Gulten.

He asked if I had seen their roaster on my way in and when I said I hadn’t he brought me up to the front of the cafe and showed me a machine I’d’ve sworn was part of an old locomotive refurbished to decorate the living room of a steampunk afficionado. I don’t know how I managed to miss it when I first arrived. It was this enormous black and gold… thing which he was clearly quite proud of and which really was quite impressive.

He went through the process with me of how the roasting is done, showing me the small, green coffee beans as they appear before roasting, how the hopper is filled, how the temperature is controlled and varied to alter the strength of the roast, and a handful of the final product. Amazing. I told him if he ever decides to sell the beans dipped in chocolate I’d buy their first pound.

And in case you were wondering, you can purchase (non chocolate covered) pounds of their coffee beans for somewhere in the neighborhood of $9. (Don’t quote me. I’ll get the actual price and update here soon.) Another ‘variety is the spice of life” part of the whole gig is they import their beans hundreds of pounds at a time from all over the world, and roast them fresh every couple of days so you’re never drinking last week’s brew.

They’re celebrating their Grand Opening (link is to Facebook event page) this Tuesday, June 30th, from 6 – 9 pm and I am definitely going to be stopping in. If you live in the area this place absolutely must make it onto your “must visit” list; I cannot recommend it highly enough. And since they’ve just opened recently after moving here from Turkey-by-way-of-New-Hampshire I cannot recommend highly enough that you visit sooner rather than later to be part of jump starting this promising addition to the local small business community. I get the impression they already have a loyal customer base, which is not at all surprising, but they really deserve your patronage too. No foolin’.

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After my impromptu guided tour of Cafe de Arts I headed across the Waukesha State Bank parking lot to check out “The Cemetery Club” at Waukesha Civic Theatre for their 2pm pay-what-you-can performance. Sunset Playhouse put on this show last season and I heard it was wonderful but wasn’t able to make it, so I made sure not to let it pass me by again. Especially not on an afternoon when I could name my own ticket price!

The entire experience was absolutely engaging. Director Brian Zelisnki pulled together a remarkable cast of delightful and talented actors who connected so dearly with their characters it truly felt as though they were living out each moment for themselves on that stage.

G. Chmiel, F. Klumb, J. End

Chmiel as Ida, Klumb as Doris, End as Lucille

Joan End’s “Lucille” was loud and funny and wild, and just perfectly drunk enough in Act II that you had to wonder what was really in the tea props. One of her closing scenes had tears rolling down my cheeks it was so touchingly well played. I hate crying in public, but in that moment there was no stopping me. Thank you, Joan.

Fran Klumb’s “Doris” was  humanly solid, comedically smooth, and professionally real. She has this great way with a line where you’re so floored for a moment by her timing and delivery that you can’t even laugh right away because you’re too busy thinking “Wow!” She was perfectly cast in that role. Loved her.

Gladys Chmiel’s “Ida” was a particular treat for me as I am quite the Gladys Chmiel fan. It was all I could do, all anyone could really do, to keep from wanting to run up on stage and hug her throughout the show. Her performance was so tender, her focus so devoted, her dancing so cute, that I cheered for her all the way. Gladys never disappoints, and this show was no exception. Brava, friend.

Supporting this central threesome were Doug Smedbron as “Sam” and Rhonda Trickey as “Mildred.” I’d only ever seen Doug in “Social Security” and “Season’s Greetings” at Sunset Playhouse so I was excited to get to see him in something with a little more stage time. His portrayal of Sam was perfect. Just perfect. Cute as a button without being schmaltzy, cautiously dedicated without being detached, and believable believable believable. I can’t work with him soon enough.

Rhonda’s “Mildred” only appeared in one scene, but watch it and tell me you had any idea she hasn’t been playing roles like this for years. She balanced giggly, oblivious flirtatiousness with respectful stage sharing like a pro. This was her first play ever, but you’d never know it. No rookie hamminess, no “backting.” Good on ya’, Trickey. Keep acting.

Good on all of ’em, really. One minute I was laughing out loud, the next I was gasping in shock, leaning in for more, or brushing away enormous tears. I only wish I could’ve seen it sooner so I could’ve encouraged more people to check this show out for themselves. There are still two performances left, but one starts in 12 minutes so I’m thinkin’ this blog won’t be directing anyone out to Civic for that one. But if you’re free for their closing performance tomorrow, Sunday June 28th at 2 pm, do attend. It’s guaranteed to please.

And I’m guaranteed to be late if I don’t wrap this up and head out soon! Such is the life of a busy Waukesha socialite. ;)