Backstage Pass: Milwaukee Repertory Theater

Last week I had a chance to take a special behind-the-scenes look at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.  So here’s a proverbial backstage pass or a look behind the curtain into all that makes up the Milwaukee Rep.

The Milwaukee Rep which opened in 1954 is celebrating its 65th season.  While visiting the Rep I learned about its origins and how it moved and grew along with the Milwaukee theater scene.

Back when I was in college, I attended a few concerts at the Miramar Theater on Oakland and Locust.  I had no idea that this was the original home of the Milwaukee Rep!  The Rep resided in this space from 1954 to 1968.  I also learned that as the theater scene in Milwaukee grew, so did The Rep.  In 1968, The Rep moved into the 504-seat Todd Wehr Theater in the new downtown Performing Arts Center.  Then again, in 1974, The Rep converted a small warehouse space into an additional 99-seat theater as they continued to grow and develop.  Finally, in 1987 The Rep moved into its current space at 108 E Wells St. near Milwaukee’s City Hall.  In this location, you will find three amazing performance spaces owned by The Rep and right next door you’ll find the Pabst Theater which partners with the Milwaukee Rep each year for its annual production of A Christmas Carol.

While visiting The Rep last week I had a chance to see each of the unique performance spaces that make up The Rep.  Each of these spaces is super unique and provides a very unique theater-going experience.  I’m looking forward to experiencing a show in each of these venues this season!  Here’s a quick peek into each of these spaces…

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The Quadracci Powerhouse is the largest space seating up to 720 patrons and will kick-off the Rep’s 65th season in September with the hit Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, In The Heights.  This space is very unique for a couple of reasons.  It’s not a traditional theater space as the audience sits around 3/4 of the stage.  It also does not have a pit for the orchestra.  Up until a few years ago The Rep typically did not perform musicals.  It was under Artistic Director Mark Clements and Managing Director Chad Bauman’s leadership that The Rep introduced musical theater into its seasonal line-up so the pit sits at the back of the stage rather than under it in typical pit orchestra fashion.

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The Stemke Studio is the Rep’s black box theater which seats up to 205 patrons and can be reconfigured in many different ways in order to provide the best theater experience for each production.  Each show’s seating arrangement is configured differently so if you visit the Stemke Studio multiple times you’ll never have the exact same vantage point.  If you follow this year’s season at the Rep you’ll even be able to experience a production done in the theater in the round style in this particular performance space.  I’m excited for my first visit to the Stemke Studio for The Rep’s production of Guards at the Taj which opens at the end of September.

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The Stackner Cabaret is where you can experience dinner and a show which is a perfect venue for a date night or a night out with friends. The Stackner Cabaret just underwent a $1.75 million renovation and I’ll be attending a sneak peek on September 5 so stay tuned for an upcoming blog post with more details on that space and its recent renovation.  If you’re interested in seeing the newly renovated space for yourself, be sure to check out Songs for Nobodies which is the first production in the new space and kicks off at the beginning of September.

Featured Photo: Hard hats!  Since this is still a construction zone I can’t show you a sneak-peek just yet…stay tuned!

 

In addition to touring each of the performance spaces I also took a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of The Rep.

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Once backstage you’re greeted by tons of props, costumes, dressing rooms, and photos from many of the past Rep productions.

 

 

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As you keep going deeper into the underbelly of The Rep you’ll find all of the shops – the costume shop, prop shop, paint shop, and carpentry shop.  Almost everything you see in a Milwaukee Rep show is made at this facility.  The Rep employes 420 people throughout the season.  Although the Rep is no longer a resident acting company everyone who works within each of these shops is a resident of the Milwaukee Rep for the entire season.  On any given day you’ll find 13 full-time employees working in the costume shop alone!  Here’s a peek into each of these shops…

Costume Shop

 

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Prop Shop

 

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Paint Shop

 

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Carpentry Shop

 

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Other than being completely blown away with each of these shops and performance spaces I became an even bigger fan of The Milwaukee Rep while on my special backstage tour.  The Rep is incredibly cognizant about picking productions that tell unique stories and are diverse because they recognize that Milwaukee is an incredibly diverse city and it is important to celebrate that diversity and share that with others.  The Rep puts on over 700 performances in a given season and serves over 200,000 patrons.  It’s incredible that for a city the size of Milwaukee that not only do we have such an amazing, world-class theater in our midst but that this theater is able to serve so many with its craft each year.

If you haven’t been to a production at The Milwaukee Rep I’d highly encourage you to take a look at their upcoming season.  They have a great line-up in celebration of the 65th anniversary and I’m sure there is a show for you amongst the ranks.  I’ll be attending each of the productions and sharing my experiences on this blog so be sure to stay tuned as the season gets underway.  Additionally, I’ll have the opportunity to attend some other special behind-the-scenes events to be sure to check in as I’ll be sharing additional sneak peek’s into some of the upcoming performances and you won’t want to miss it!

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