If you start listing things you want to do where there is a risk that the rewards might not be quite what you hope, starting a theater company might be right near the top of that list.
But that doesn’t make any difference to Jim Farrell, whose long-time love of the theater takes a new twist this year with the birth of The Splinter Group, a fledgling troupe that will stage three plays during its inaugural season at the Marian Center on the South Side of Milwaukee.
Farrell, 51, has a long and impressive resume in the theater. He’s been a development director, a fundraiser, an actor, a playwright, a producer, a director, an audience development coordinator and is the current fiancé of Nifer Clarke, who is just about my favorite actress in Milwaukee. They are getting married Aug. 18 at the Skylight Music Theatre, where they met.
With a background like his, Farrell would seem a natural to run his own theater company. But it is a task filled with peril and he is going into it with his eyes open.
"We are going to do three plays the first year and see if we can develop an audience," he said recently over coffee at Alterra. "I think we’ve got a wonderful space at the Marian Center and we’re going to stage plays that are going to be a little edgy for Milwaukee."
The season opens Sept. 20 with "Kimberly Akimbo," a play by Pulitzer Prize winner David Lindsay Abaire. The play tells the story of the most dysfunctional family you could imagine. It’s about pain and sorrow and a little bit of hope as well, and it is likely to attract a healthy audience. It’s not an unknown play, but it’s not been frequently produced in Milwaukee.
Farrell is a very nice man and, unlike a lot of dreamers, he brings a lot of juice to this endeavor. He’s got a pretty clear vision of what The Splinter Group should be.
"Lots of people in the Milwaukee theater community want to do something a little edgier, something that has a little teeth," he said. "All theater starts because people want to flex their creative muscles."
Farrell will hold auditions next week and he’s gotten over 100 headshots and resumes from hopeful actors.
"When we make it to the second season I want to begin to offer contracts to actors," he said. "But for the first season, I’m going to give them a stipend. Something to help them with gas money and stuff like that. I’m really happy about the turnout for the auditions. I was worried I’d be sitting in a room all alone for three days."
Farrell understands, perhaps better than most, the difficulties in starting a theater company. He holds a master's degree in performing arts management. And his experience as an actor gives him a healthy view of that side of any production.
I know people who say that Milwaukee has too many theaters now, that the audience isn’t big enough to support all of them. To that I say: there is always room for good theater, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if The Splinter Group delivered.
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