Two Door County performing arts groups operate with new management this summer
Sturgeon Bay – The performing arts have been steadily expanding in Door County during the past 20 years, and two organizations are operating with new management this summer.
Door Shakespeare began in 1995 as an American Folklore Theatre project in collaboration with Blue Circle Theatre, and when AFT spun it off into an independent group four years later, Suzanne Graff and Jerry Gomes, a married couple, poured themselves into running it for 13 seasons. They resigned their positions, Graff as executive director and Gomes as artistic director, in December, and Door Shakespeare is being led this year by a new team of theater artists.
The Third Avenue Playhouse sprang to life in 2000 in a vacant old cinema, the Donna Theatre, in downtown Sturgeon Bay, and it has offered sporadic programing since. Two theater artists with Broadway experience, James Valcq and Robert Boles, assumed management of it last fall, and TAP is now producing its first summer season of professional theater.
The Door Shakespeare change was unexpected and caused the company's board to scramble to mount productions this year. It hired Ross Dippel, whose long resume includes acting credits with the Milwaukee Rep, American Players Theatre and the Utah Shakespearean Festival, to be interim artistic director, and he is supervising the productions of "As You Like It" and "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)" that are running in rotating repertory this summer. The season runs through Aug. 12.
As in the past, the shows are being staged outdoors on the Bjorklunden garden estate in Baileys Harbor, where the company can accommodate up to 190 persons per performance.
Dippel has brought a number of high-profile state theater artists to Door County for their Door Shakespeare debuts. Angela Iannone is playing a duke in "As You Like It," not the first time she has portrayed a male Shakespearean character.
Former Milwaukee Rep resident director Norma Saldivar, who runs the graduate-level directing program at UW-Madison, staged "As You Like It," and American Players Theatre veteran Drew Brhel directed "Complete Works."
Company manager Terese Boeck was running the corporate side of the company until April, when the board turned to Amy J. Ludwigsen, a Chicago-based actress and administrator whose family lives in Door County, to be the new managing director of Door Shakes.
Ludwigsen was a 16-year-old intern at American Folklore Theatre in 1999, and she returned as an actor and assistant stage manager in 2001, 2006 and 2007. She holds a master's degree in classical and contemporary text from the Royal Conservatory of Scotland, and her extensive acting experience ranges from the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Utah Shakespearean Festival and a residency at the Globe Theatre in London to more than a year on "All My Children."
The actress has produced Equity workshops in New York, and she was a marketing and administrative associate at the Porchlight Music Theatre in Chicago when Door Shakespeare called. "I quit my job, bought a car and got here June 2," Ludwigsen said during an interview in her office.
"I have always wanted to do this (run a theater company) in Door County."
Ludwigsen said Door Shakes is not in financial crisis. "This is not a make or break season for us." Ticket sales actually increased last year.
But management kinks need to be ironed out. Ludwigsen wants the company to have a greater presence in Door County in the off-season, and she has identified the need to rebuild the Door Shakespeare board, which once had 13 members. Only five persons are currently on the board.
Those improvements would assist fund raising.
Beyond that, she is looking to consolidate administrative, rehearsal and storage space in a single Baileys Harbor location that would include a public area and box office. Ludwigsen's plan would raise the company's profile and allow the troupe to organize its costume inventory to facilitate rentals to high schools and colleges.
Graff and Gomes are raising their two children in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, where she acts and he is a senior project manager for a small software firm. They spent summers in Door County, but running a theater company from 350 miles away the rest of the year was a Herculean task. Graff also had to deal with a serious health issue last year.
"Door Shakespeare was grossly underfunded, and grossly understaffed as a result," Graff said during a phone interview. "That put a lot of pressure on the people who were there.
"And there were management and organizational issues. We hit a wall."
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The story was about PROFESSIONAL theater at TAP.
Regarding the phrase, "[TAP] did not produce shows on its own", I would just like to mention that TAP did indeed produce at least four shows a year on its own community group called TAPWorks; my husband and I were the main directors there since 2006 and often acted onstage there. Some of the shows we were responsible for were "Stepping Out', "It Had To Be You", "Barefoot in the Park", "The Odd Couple", "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" (twice) and "On Golden Pond" (also twice). We also ran TAP's summer theatre kids camp for 6 weeks each summer from 2007 through 2011 - 5 days a week, 4 hours a day, culminating in a book show that ran a 3-4 performance weekend each summer. However, since we were not paid to do any of this, we are not considered professionals, but the shows were rehearsed, directed, and produced just the same. TAPWorks used other directors as well, and they put on Tuesdays with Morrie, It's A Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Our Town, The Gin Game and The Good Doctor, among others. Thanks for allowing me to set the record straight. Renee Kujawski, Sturgeon Bay, WI.
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