In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Andrew Edwin Voss (left), David Rothrock and Tess Cinpinski in "Red Light Winter" (PHOTO: Megan Peters)

Healing the wound at Youngblood Theatre

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.

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merton | Jan. 13, 2011 at 9:22 a.m. (report)

I was lucky enough to see Red Light Winter last year -- it was AMAZING.

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