By Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor Published Jan 13, 2011 at 9:01 AM

Theater companies mount productions for the enjoyment and edification of audiences. They want to move us, amuse us or even provoke us. Performing for no one is obviously pointless.

But sometimes a show is a personal catharsis for those in it. Private growth, self-knowledge or problem resolution can be the happy by-product of pouring your heart and soul into a play.

Youngblood Theatre Company is looking for something perhaps greater than all of that in its upcoming remount of "Red Light Winter." It hopes for an exorcism.

Founded by five UWM theater graduates, Youngblood was only seven months old last January when it was abruptly faced with a situation few theater groups experience. The company opened the highest profile production of its short life, Adam Rapp's edgy drama "Red Light Winter," on Thursday, Jan. 21.

The storefront Alchemist Theatre in Bay View sold out the first three nights of the scheduled run, and after the Saturday performance actor Andrew Edwin Voss dropped into a late party in a friend's East Side home. A verbal confrontation suddenly turned violent, and the unarmed Voss was stabbed with a kitchen knife under a left rib.

The blade cut an artery that connects his heart to a kidney, and he lost consciousness within 30 seconds. If the knife had entered his body at a slightly different angle, it would have severed the artery, and the actor would have died almost instantly. His lung would have been punctured if the blade had taken a slightly higher path.

As it was, Voss lost half the blood in his body by the time paramedics raced him into the Froedtert Hospital emergency room. His heart stopped while he was in intensive care following the first of three surgeries.

A nurse saved Voss with swift CPR. One kidney and his spleen were ultimately removed.

Youngblood artistic director Michael Cotey was asleep at home when he was awakened by a phone call between 4 and 5 a.m., a few hours after his colleague was attacked. Cotey and several others involved with the theater company rushed to Froedtert and quickly decided to cancel the rest of "Red Light Winter's" well-sold engagement.

Voss didn't have an understudy in the three-actor show, but more importantly the tightly-knit group couldn't imagine continuing performances while one of its members was fighting for his life.

The next chapter of this story is about how the Milwaukee theater community rallied around Voss and Youngblood. A hastily arranged benefit event at the Alchemist, featuring donated performing talent and a silent auction, raised almost $6,000 to help the 27-year-old actor compensate for lost wages and other expenses. He is a manager at VIA Downer restaurant.

Renaissance Theaterworks co-founder Raeleen McMillion, who teaches theater at UWM, established a bank account for donations for Voss. Youngblood planned to remount "Red Light Winter" after Voss recovered, and the Skylight Opera Theatre offered to hold the show's set in its storage facility.

"There were so many uplifting things that happened. Knowing how everyone came together, it softened the impact of the stabbing," Voss recently said while chatting in a Third Ward coffee shop. He was especially encouraged when he was cast as Ferdinand in Optimist Theatre's Shakespeare in the Park production of "The Tempest" while he was recuperating.

"I can't tell you how much that helped a guy who was lying on a couch," explained Voss, who spent nearly two weeks in the hospital and lost a month of work.

Emotionally depleted by the turn of events, the Youngblood folks cancelled their next project, the world premiere of a play written by company co-founder Benjamin James Wilson, but then came back with well-received productions of "Spirits to Enforce," a different Wilson work titled "Drive Me to Arson," and "Freakshow." Now Youngblood is eagerly looking forward to opening the remount of "Red Light Winter" next Wednesday, Jan. 19, with the same cast that appeared in the piece last January -- Voss, David Rothrock and Tess Cinpinski.

The play, an unsettling love triangle and study of friendship, is again being staged at the Alchemist Theatre. "We had to use the same recipe, it had to be at the Alchemist," Voss says.

Voss is a very promising young actor whose strength is a compelling physical presence onstage. He possesses an animal magnetism reminiscent of a young Brando or Presley.

Asked if the stabbing changed him, the actor said, "I had always walked around the world feeling indestructible. There has been a physical change in me.

"For the first time I realized what it is like to be helpless, to be vulnerable, to be completely reliant on other people. I was stuck in bed with a tube that fed me and a tube that took things out of me. The only thing I could do for myself was breathe."

As harrowing as the experience was, it could make Voss a better theater artist.

Speaking of "Red Light Winter," he said, "This remounting is really exciting and meaningful. I can't wait for it to open. I can't wait to have it back.

"But I want the remount to be the end of all of this. After we've finished this play, we've done our job. This won't come over us any more."

Bill Theisen reenlists at the Skylight

The good news of the week comes from the Skylight Opera Theatre, where it was announced Bill Theisen will remain in the artistic director position through the end of the 2012-13 season. The company is also restoring the job to full time status.

This move continues the Skylight's return to stability and normalcy after the chaos and tumult of the summer of 2009. Theisen noted in a statement that when he completes the new agreement he will have served nine years as the company's creative leader, and he will be ready to move his career in other directions. He is in demand as an actor and director around the country.

Credit must be given to the Skylight board and managing director Amy S. Jensen for making this happen. They have done their jobs, and now it is up to the public to support the company through ticket sales and donations. That is absolutely necessary for the company to sustain the high level work Theisen will be doing.

Damien Jaques Senior Contributing Editor

Damien has been around so long, he was at Summerfest the night George Carlin was arrested for speaking the seven dirty words you can't say on TV. He was also at the Uptown Theatre the night Bruce Springsteen's first Milwaukee concert was interrupted for three hours by a bomb scare. Damien was reviewing the concert for the Milwaukee Journal. He wrote for the Journal and Journal Sentinel for 37 years, the last 29 as theater critic.

During those years, Damien served two terms on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, a term on the board of the association's foundation, and he studied the Latinization of American culture in a University of Southern California fellowship program. Damien also hosted his own arts radio program, "Milwaukee Presents with Damien Jaques," on WHAD for eight years.

Travel, books and, not surprisingly, theater top the list of Damien's interests. A news junkie, he is particularly plugged into politics and international affairs, but he also closely follows the Brewers, Packers and Marquette baskeball. Damien lives downtown, within easy walking distance of most of the theaters he attends.