By Mike Sandler   Published Oct 24, 2005 at 5:19 AM

{image1} Home to rock shows, open-mic poetry readings, and big band extravaganzas, the hip and distinguished Miramar Theatre is an outstanding -- if not underrated -- venue.

But with the recent trials and tribulations, the fact that Miramar managers Bill and Pamela Stace keep the place running is impressive. Last February, Bill made a public plea for financial support. While some friends responded, few people acted, and the Staces had to sell the theatre to a landlord. Being rent-free was a cost-cutting move that had to be made.

"We were losing money," says Stace. "We were more idealistic, and tried to run more theatre-style shows."

According to Stace, a three-week show can cost "about $30,000." With another $20,000 set aside for substantial advertising, the expenses can be crushing. A small venue like the Miramar simply cannot compete with those numbers. Area venues like the Pabst Theater and Milwaukee Theater have larger seating capacities and big-time advertising budgets. Besides being able to attract rock acts -- David Bowie and Joe Satriani have played both theaters in the last year -- the Pabst and Milwaukee Theater are home to various ballet and orchestra performances. Do these facts discourage Stace?

"Not really," he says, "those places, along with Shank Hall and the PabstCity idea, are different kinds of venues. I don't view them as competition, we're all in this together."

Stace envisions better things on the horizon. He calls the past eight months an "eye-opener," and the Miramar now has an improved business plan. With a new emphasis on concerts, the 400-seat, smoke-free theatre is becoming more and more profitable. The idea is to keep plugging along and schedule as many concerts as possible. The shows are easy to schedule and do not cost very much to advertise. The math is simple: more concerts plus low overhead equal more money.

Plus, the adjacent Mirabar will soon to be open for happy hour. Just through the lobby, the small watering hole, decorated with acoustic guitars and a piano, gives off a cozy, "Cheers"-like aura. The prices are reasonable, the wait is minimal, and it is a quaint place to have a conversation.

Another unique aspect of the Miramar Theatre is its upstairs recording studio, Walls Have Ears. Stace runs the studio, where former local bands The Promise Ring and Citizen King have laid down tracks. With an intimate, seven-room studio and the 2,500 sq. foot theatre, bands have a choice as to which environment they would like to record in.

Bill and Pamela seem to be taking the experience in stride. They have never managed a venue before, and the business has its ups and downs. But they are not giving up. Eventually, Bill and Pamela would like to buy back the Miramar, so it can be theirs again. The times can be trying, but it seems to make the good experiences that much sweeter. Pamela sums it all up with this saying: "There's nothing better than a good country song, and nothing worse than a bad country song."

The Miramar's Web site is