In Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Robby McGhee is the artistic director of the exciting All In Productions.

All In Productions' youngsters making a mark in Milwaukee theater

The Milwaukee Rep has a managing director and artistic director, as well as a cast and crew for each play committed to the production.

All In Productions also has a managing director and artistic director, as well as a cast and crew for each play committed to the production.

After that, there is not much these two theater companies have in common.

The Rep's history can be measured in decades. All In's can be measured in months. The Rep has 41 people on its board. All In has five. The Rep draws talent from all over the United States. All In draws talent from Lincoln Memorial Drive all the way to Highway 100.

I could, and do, make an argument that the sensibilities and on-stage performances of the two companies are much more similar than they are different.

Alex Scheurell is the managing director of All In, and Robby McGhee is the artistic director and spiritual guru of the tiny company, which snuck onto the theater scene in December 2014.

All In's first ever production, "The Last Five Years," was so good, it was shocking. I was sitting next to Julie Swenson, the wonderful and highly-respected artistic director at Renaissance Theaterworks, and she looked at me and called it an evening of "magical theater."

It was the start of a dream shared by two wannabes.

"Alex and I were roommates always talking about our hoop dreams of starting a company, and in 2001, it was opening day for the Brewers," McGhee said. "Alex woke me up and dragged me to his computer. It showed he had won a quarter of a million dollars playing online poker.

"A month later the government shut down the games, and he couldn't get his money. Eventually he got some, and it was enough to start a theater company. We were off and running."

All In was born out of community theater and has now produced five plays since that opening two years ago. It will hit the boards again with "Wild Party," which opens Sept. 2 under McGhee's direction.

"One of the things we pride ourselves on is our commitment to local talent," McGhee said. "We want to be a place where local people can get work and not feel like they have to leave Milwaukee."

Using the word "work" may be slightly hopeful. Nobody makes much money. The company pays a stipend to everyone involved in a production, except for McGhee, who is an employment recruiter, and Scheurell, who sells insurance.

McGhee has proven that, given his lack of experience, he has a smooth and sensitive touch to directing. He is both restrained and bold, and seems to be both willing and anxious to give his actors room to play.

"'Wild Party' is an example," he said. "This show has a lot of sex in it on the stage. We were in the second week of rehearsal, and I didn't want to wait until the week before the performance. Most of these people have never worked with each other. So in rehearsal, I told them that all of them were going to make out. I had them change partners every two minutes. Making out and groping and grinding. I think they are going to be ready to deliver a great show."

"We do plays that people want to do. Right now, we want to do three or four shows a year. One thing is though that we don't work with people who aren't willing to work. People who gave bad reputations. Milwaukee is a small town, and we all know who those people are."

All In recently got its non-profit status so it can go out and raise money like other companies do. The fundraising kicks in Aug. 24 with an event at This Is It on Jefferson and Wells. Information is available here.

"I'm 31 now," McGhee said. "I guess when I look ahead to when I'm 40, I'd like to do this as a full-time job. I want others to feel that they can find work with us in a space we can call our own. We are on our way to making it happen.

"We are pretty determined to go about this the right way," he said. "We aren't here to fall short. We are all in."

So far, this company has proven that it is unafraid of risk and is determined to live up to the high standards the other companies in Milwaukee have. Everyone who loves live theater ought to be rooting for these young people.

Speaking of young people

Over 100 young people turned out for open auditions for the 41st edition of The Milwaukee Rep's "Christmas Carol."

With the hopes of being a Young Scrooge – or, if they get really lucky, Tiny Tim – all of the kids learned a dance routine and had a chance to sing a bit of a favorite Christmas carol. The kids ranged from 5-17 and came from all over southeastern Wisconsin.

Even after seven and a half hours of work, director Brent Hazelton said he loved the process.

"We're looking for kids who are enthusiastic and take direction well," he said. "Consistency is key in any professional live theater performance, and that is no different when casting a young performer. We were lucky to have a really great group turn out this year, many first time auditioners and several returning friends. It's going to be fun to watch them perform on stage in our new production of 'A Christmas Carol' this holiday season."


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