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Shakespeare in Milwaukee endures via Optimist


Optimist Theatre

Milwaukee theatre is nothing if not abundant. It seems as though new theatre companies are emerging every week, and with all the overlapping run dates, it’s difficult to see all the quality productions that are available to attend. And for a town of this size, that’s something to truly appreciate. Not to mention that good parking is always available. Just try to find the same scenario in Chicago.

With the recent demise of Milwaukee Shakespeare, and without making the journey to American Players Theatre in Spring Green, there aren’t many places for Milwaukee theatergoers to get their professional Shakespeare fix. Enter Optimist Theatre. Beginning this summer, Optimist Theatre is bringing Shakespeare to the park for all Milwaukee to enjoy. The Tempest will be directed by Optimist Theatre Artistic Director Ron Scot Fry and star Milwaukee Repertory Theater actor James Pickering as the usurped magician Prospero. Free to all who attend, The Tempest will run June 18th - 27th and be performed in the courtyard of Alverno College.

Optimist Theatre began in 1992 as a touring company called Midwest Children’s Theatre. In 2008, acknowledging a growth in their company and having a desire to produce Shakespeare in the park, Midwest changed its name to Optimist Theatre and dove head-first into the process. “We had originally hoped to collaborate with Milwaukee Shakespeare because the most successful [Shakespeare in the park] companies in the U.S. all seem to have a great partnership with the local “indoor-Shakespeare” company. Unfortunately, this all happened at about the same time that Milwaukee Shakespeare folded,” says Managing Director Susan Scot Fry. However, via the intimacy of the Milwaukee theatre community matrix, Optimist is still finding a way to collaborate with some of Milwaukee Shakespeare artists, namely Tom Reed. Tom Reed and Quasi-Productions produced Henry the Fifth last year, thereby putting a successful if bittersweet closure on Milwaukee Shakespeare. A teacher at Alverno and a venerable Milwaukee actor, Reed is playing the role of Caliban in The Tempest as well as performing the duties of Optimist Theatre’s new Associate Artistic Director. Also in the cast, as Ariel, is the ubiquitous Angela Iannone.

Producing Shakespeare free for the public does not come without some cost. In addition to receiving a Creative Communities Grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board for the production, Optimist Theatre will hold a fundraiser this Saturday, January 30th. They’re calling it Brave New World as an homage to the first Shakespeare in the park production. Complete with silent auction and entertainment, Brave New World looks ready to shine. For $35 dollars you can support a worthy cultural cause and be entertained by an eclectic line-up of performers.

The silent auction, among other items, will include spa packages from Gaia Micro Spa, Irish dance lessons from Sean Beglan– formerly of Riverdance, airline tickets, actor Tom Reed will cook dinner in your home in full costume, and local celebrity James Pickering will record his voice on your home answering machine. Both cash and credit cards will be accepted for silent auction bids.

Entertainment highlights of Brave New World include Philip Earl Johnson– who is described as a European clown with a dash of American bravado, The Jeanna Salzer Trio, actress-comedian Ann-Elizabeth Shapera as Jayne the Phoole, and a preview of the original music score written for The Tempest. As both an auction item and entertainment, Milwaukee artist Dwellephant will be creating an original work of art during the evening’s events. Visit Dwellephant’s website at  The evening will be emceed by writer, comedian, and sketch comedy artist Patrick Schmitz.

Admission to Brave New World is $35.00 per person ($20.00 per person is tax-deductible). The evening begins with a reception at 7:00 p.m. and entertainment beginning at 8:00 p.m. at Alverno College’s Teaching, Learning and Technology Center, 3400 S. 43rd St.

Tickets are available via email at and on their website at They are also accepting payment at the door. If you are unable to attend, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible donation through the company’s website, and help make Shakespeare in the park a reality for all to enjoy.


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