This past October, the Milwaukee Shakespeare theater company announced it was closing the book on productions after nine successful seasons in the city.
Artistic Director Paula Suozzi and Managing Director Carrie Van Hallgren said the closing was a result of insufficient funds, after the Argosy Foundation, a private family foundation founded in 1997 by John Abele, cut the amount it gave the company in the form of a grant.
Although the theater company received support from granting organizations such as UPAF and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as private foundations, Suozzi and Van Hallgren say it was not enough. The company closed in the middle of its 2008-09 season, which was to include runs of "Henry V" and "Othello" in early '09.
"(In) the days following the announcement, we were flooded with e-mails and painful phone calls worried about what we (the staff) were going to do," says Kristin Godfrey, now a marketing director for The Skylight Opera, which is helping to organize Shakes Wake, this Sunday, Dec. 14 at a rehearsal hall in Bay View, 3073 S. Chase Ave., building 28, suite 800.
Because Milwaukee Shakespeare's demise felt like a sudden, untimely death for theater-lovers, a committee of volunteers got to work on planning an Irish wake for old Bill's local legacy.
Visitation with the Milwaukee Shakespeare staff begins at 5 p.m., with mingling, toasting and roasting at 6 p.m. People are invited to bring food, drink, chairs and musical instruments. All are encouraged to wear black.
"Let's face it -- the world is a different place than it was a few months ago," says Godfrey. "On Sunday we will remember that we shared something special. This will be last time to thank our patrons, volunteers and artists for that experience."
It's a difficult tribute for everyone intimately involved, but when asked about the future of Shakespearean theater in Milwaukee, Godfrey says she remains optimistic.
"To be perfectly honest, I haven't given up. Nor have the vast majority of the actors in this town, a good number of our staff, donors, subscribers and friends, and people I never even knew were interested in Shakespeare. I know that if and when the medium revives, it will be grassroots to begin with and will need a lot of community support and outcry.
"(A) complete loss of Shakespeare theater would be a tragedy to the community in terms of education and opportunities for students as well as draw of acting and theatre talent to Milwaukee. I look forward to the days that I will once again be able to enjoy Shakespeare on Milwaukee stages."
If interested in attending, RSVP to Noel Henebury-Farmer at email@example.com by Dec. 11.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”