Carte Blanche Studios to add cafe to the creative mix
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In 2007, Jimmy Dragolovich, a professional actor, director and filmmaker, founded Carte Blanche Studios. Originally, the company was located inside a building on First Street in Walker's Point, but later moved to its current location, 1024 S. 5th St.
After living in New York for many years, Dragolovich returned to Milwaukee with a plan to create a multi-purpose creative space that would host gallery events, theater productions and live music. In the past few years, he, along with business partner Adam White, has worked tirelessly to bring his vision to fruition.
Dragolovich and White were friends and fellow graduates from the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. They teamed up in 2008 and since then have completely renovated the Fifth Street space that was once a foundry, doing much of the work themselves and with the help and support of longtime artistic friends.
"When Jimmy and I decided to build this place, all of these people we have known for years came out of the woodwork and helped us. This is a place that has been built from scratch by artists and it shows," says White. "People who come through comment on what a great vibe we have in here, and I think it's because of all of the artistic effort and because so many people helped us."
Today, the building is home to a theater, gallery, lounge and soon, a restaurant, cafe and gift shop, too.
The cafe, called Cafe Bizarre, will open in mid-November and will offer espresso and coffee drinks, along with sandwiches, salads and paninis. To start out, the restaurant / cafe will be open for lunch from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and in the evening from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Free wifi will be available.
The lounge is currently open on weekends – as long as there are customers – from 5 p.m. to bar time. Also, on Monday nights, the Carte Blanche lounge features a comedy night and on the third Thursday of every month a Vaudeville-esque variety show with a Harry Houdini-inspired host takes place.
Extended weeknight hours will start when the restaurant opens.
Carte Blanche Studios will also soon have a fresh juice bar with alcoholic and non-alcohlic drinks, and a gift shop is in the works as well. The shop will sell Carte Blanche merchandise, along with magic-related items and a photo gift service that will allow people to get personal photos on mugs, mouse pads, ornaments, shirts, etc.
White owns a similar business in West Bend called Isis Photos and Gifts. Extending this service to Carte Blanche Studios will, hopefully, help attract business and wedding events to the space as well.
"We have an 8 by 10 foot projection screen, a nice sound system and an LED projector so this would be a great place to have a business event or a wedding," says White. "We're trying to create the full package here, so people can come here for all sorts of events."
White has a strong history in acting and began his career at the Bristol Renaissance Fair. He went on to work with a Shakespeare company in Chicago and, last year, he directed his first show at Carte Blanche, one of the two adult plays written by Shel Silverstein.
"I might do the other one next year," says White.
In the past three-and-a-half years, Carte Blanche has produced 25 shows featuring both professional and non-professional actors. Casting calls are usually posted on Facebook, Bunny Gumbo and Craigslist.
"We're pretty much constantly in rehearsal or production," says White.
Dragolovich, who has a bachelor's in theater from the California Institue of the Arts (CalArts), serves as the producing artistic director for Carte Blanche. He directs most of the shows, including the upcoming Milwaukee premiere of "Reefer Madness: The Musical." This show runs from Nov. 4 to Nov. 20 and tickets will cost $20.
"It's a wild play. I have been wanting to do it since we started," says Dragolovich. "Four years later, we got the rights and are doing it."
Samantha Paige choreographed the performance – she is also in the show – and Lisa Golda is the vocal director. Primary cast members include Milwaukee actors Michael Traynor, Emily Craig, Clayton Hamburg, Karissa Lade, Chris Jones and Derek Woerpel.
The Carte Blanche theater accommodates 75 people. "It's an intimate space," says White.
Although there is much focus on theater, the goal of the studio is to encompass all of the arts under one roof. Connecting with other neighborhood groups is important to both of the owners and they have been involved in quarterly Gallery Nights.
Dragolovich and White have invested a lot of themselves, and their savings, into Carte Blanche Studios.
"Jimmy and I have both sacrificed greatly. I put my life savings in this place and Jimmy has been working essentially without pay for three years. He has given up many of life's general amenities that many people take for granted. It has been a large risk for both of us," says White.
And yet, the investment has already paid off: White met his wife at Carte Blanche when she showed up to audition for a performance.
"She was auditioning for our very first show and I walked into our bar and she was standing there talking to someone who is now our friend and I stopped dead in my tracks and thought, 'that's the girl I'm going to marry,'" he says. "And then I thought that was absolutely crazy."
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