Friday, October 30, 2009

Thank You

As we go into some of the final performances of Picnic, I wanted to take a few moments to say thank you. It has been such a joy to perform with our wonderful cast every night and for such great audiences. You all have been generous, giving and active participants every night. It makes doing what we love so much more rewarding, knowing you all are enjoying yourselves. Thank you for taking this journey with all of us. Truly, without loyal theatre goers such as yourselves, where would we be?

Thank You,


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Reviews Are In

Hi Everyone! I am Michelle Grimm and I work in the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre office part time as the Audience Development Coordinator. Since we haven't heard from anyone in awhile because they are busy in performance, I thought I would post all the reviews so you could see what the press has been saying! It seems like all the hard work has paid off. Well, here they are!

Shepherd Express

Third Coast Digest

Waukesha Freeman

Milwaukee Magazine

Russ Bickerstaff’s Express Milwaukee Online Blog/review

Friday, October 16, 2009

Opening Night!!

Hey all...just wanted to check in before the opening! I've been here for about 2 hours now...I am feeling great and I can't wait for you all to see the is truly a wonderful piece of theatre! I have a superstition that I've followed since my first show 3.5 years ago...I walk to the theatre for every opening night! So today was a bit of a long walk, but it's no good messing with took about an hour...very relaxing. I hope you all love the show and thank you for following our show on it's journey, and supporting this wonderful theatre! Cheers,

Another Openin'...

Here we are! It is Opening Night and we have made it to the next chapter in PICNIC: the run of performances. Everyone has been working very hard, and after last night's Preview performance are excited to open the show and to continue to share their artistry with an audience.

There is a line in the show where Mrs. Potts exclaims, "I think we plan picnics just to give ourselves an excuse. . . to let something thrilling and romantic happen to us-", and there is no better sentiment than this to describe the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre on the verge of their run of PICNIC. The groundwork has been set, and now the depth and beauty of the characters told in William Inge's Pulitzer Prize-winning play will be felt by all who attend the performances.

The journey is just beginning...

Fight Choreographer

"I love fight scenes" Mark Weinberg exclaimed many times throughout our talk, and his creative energy and fondness for stage combat proves infectious. Mark, a fourth degree black belt karate instructor and UW-Milwaukee Theater Professor has been teaching for 36 years. A self-taught fight choreographer, he has coupled his vast theater teaching and directing experiences with the knowledge and discipline of his karate achievements to create exciting and memorable fight sequences for the stage.

Many details have to be minded when staging a fight, including first and foremost the safety and abilities of the actors. The goal is to create realistic looking movements that do not cause the audience to be worried for the safety of the actors, but allow them to believe the action that is seen.

For PICNIC, Mark needed to create fights that were appropriate and reasonable for the characters that were involved. They needed to be 'quick and simple' in look and able to be done on surfaces that were not flat, including on a large dirt mound and on the steps of one of the back porches that is featured in the set design. While the sequences are not long, they took much practice to make them appear natural, and Mark asks the actors to rehearse the fights before every performance to keep them consistent.

While it was challenging at times to split his time between UWM, rehearsals, and the Black Belt Leadership Academy that he owns in Wauwatosa, Mark has enjoyed the pleasure of working on PICNIC and the collaboration that he has been able to do with Michael Wright and the actors, who did a great job of modifying the movement to make it their own. Furthermore, he has enjoyed working with his wife, Jenny Wanasek, who plays Flo Owens in PICNIC. Not only will the time, talent, and training that Mark has dedicated himself toward be apparent, but his strong sense of family and collaboration will be unmistakably discernable through the work that he has created.

Backstage Beauties

Here's a shout-out to the lovely ladies that are working hard to keep the backstage orderly and efficient. . .

Eva Rebholz is the Stage Management Intern for PICNIC. A UWM student, she has worked many hours in assisting the Stage Manager in the organizing and setting up of furniture and props, keeping the rehearsal hall orderly, giving the actors line notes during rehearsals, and doing an assortment of jobs that need to be done. She has been an invaluable asset to the production.

Kat Danielsen is the Deck Chief, and she makes sure that everything onstage and backstage is properly set, clean, and safe for the actors. It is her duty to see that everything functions efficiently and timely backstage to ensure that every performance runs smoothly. She must always remain calm under pressure and be resourceful to correct or tend to a wide range of backstage demands.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Long days journey into preview!!!

Last night went well! I was really happy with the feedback we got from the audience. I felt a bit more tense than usual, but I am confident and excited. The Cabot Theatre is a tricky space to try and fill with your voice, and were a few scenes Michael wanted to look at today with Michelle. But Max and I had a great work session, and found some cool things that I think will help! I just listened to my interview on ...I missed it at 10:30am , because I thought it was on at 11! Oh well, check it out on the WUWM web site, it's pretty fun! I think we are expecting a full house tonight, and I can't wait...This has been so much fun...I really hope you all enjoy it! I must leave now to prepare plus I'm hungry and haven't eaten all day...adieu!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

First Audience

Hey...It's been a couple days since I've last written, but I was trying to think of something to keep me from getting nervous about tonight, and I thought I'd write a few lines. Tonight is our first audience and it couldn't come at a better time. I'm feeling great about the show and cannot wait for the injection of energy and life that an audience brings. This is it...this is what we have been waiting for. Nothing beats a live audience and it is as true today as it was 4 years ago when I first stepped onto the stage at UWM. Tonight we learn what's working and what's funny...what I really love about the first audience is that we can just play...and feed off their energy and really soak in what they're giving us. I could keep writing but I've discovered writing about being nervous doesn't I am going to go sit alone in a dark room! Ha ha, not really...but I am excited! Hope to check in soon...wish us luck!

Scene & Re-seen part 3

Here is a third look at the scene that we have been following since the read through. In this clip, the actors are onstage for the first time. The scenery is not finished and there are no costumes or set light cues used during this first run in the space. The actors are focusing on their physical spacing and filling the Theater with their voice and presence. A large adjustment needs to be made from the rehearsal space to the stage, and this rehearsal was set up to allow everyone the time to become comfortable in the performance space.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Emily on The Morning Blend

PICNIC cast member (& MCT blogger) Emily Vitrano was interviewed on TMJ4's The Morning Blend today. If you missed it, you can check out the segment online:

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Properties Designer

Meghan Savagian, the Properties Designer for PICNIC, is kept very busy in her roles of hunting for props and decorating and dressing the stage.

The process for Meghan begins with research to understand the types and style of props that are needed for the production. She works closely with the scenic designer to make sure that they both have a coherent vision. For PICNIC, many props are needed, including a bottle of Moonshine, a Lady Baltimore cake, a bicycle, and furniture that is appropriate for a 1950s setting.

In order to be successful as a properties designer, you have to have a little knowledge of a lot of different things. Meghan's interests and experience has provided her with the skills needed to be a success. Her career as a student began at UW-Milwaukee where she studied music. An elective in mask-making led her to change majors and pursue technical theater. She gained experience in prop design with Milwaukee Shakespeare before going on to build props with the Big Apple Circus Production Co. While she enjoyed painting pinstripes on balls, working on 15 foot puppets, and accidentally parking Donald Trump in with her props van at Trump Tower, she also worked for other productions in New York before coming back to Milwaukee and working with the MCT on several productions.

For her work on PICNIC, Meghan has enjoyed the 'nice, stream-lined, and realistic' props that she needed to hunt and gather. Since she was able to find and utilize items that are from the fifties, she also appreciates the stories and collective history that is told by these artifacts. She is fond of the family of talent that has come to be a part of her experience within the Milwaukee Chamber Theater and the range of productions of which she has been an integral contribution.

Scene & Re-seen part 2

Here is another look at the scene that we last saw in the read through. The rehearsal hall has been arranged to give the actors a sense of what the stage setting will eventually be. It is important that the actors wear rehearsal skirts, aprons, and shoes that will give them a feeling for what the actual costumes will feel like. While the rehearsal setting is very different from what the stage will look like, focus needs to be placed on timing and characterization to make the transition to the stage as easy as possible.

In the next post we will see the scene as the actors perform it onstage for the first time.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Movin' Out

Today we move from the rehearsal hall to the performance space, the Cabot Theatre. Everyone will have to adjust their blocking and timing on the stage as it is much different from the rehearsal space, but it is exciting to see the scenery and to be working in such a beautiful venue.

The set construction crew has been working nonstop to make sure that everything is ready for the actors, and the set is looking amazing. Each day new elements will be added to the rehearsals-sound, lights, costumes- and it is great to see it all begin to take shape.

In PICNIC, the character of Millie sketches another character, Hal. After each rehearsal, the sketches have been posted to showcase Millie's 'Art Gallery', and it is now time to say goodbye to the collection. If you look closely, you can really see the artistic development throughout this rehearsal process...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Feeling Good

Last night's work through went really well. I'm not sure if it's the anticipation of being in the theatre space on Friday, but I feel like we are ready to be on the stage and have things to climb, run, jump, swing, sit and lean on!! Michael's ability to direct continues to amaze me. We have a strong sturdy foundation poured and the frame is built, so this week becomes about the details, filling the moments in the play that we have discovered over the past two weeks, and finding new ones. There a few beats that I feel I haven't found completely, but I trust Michael and I know we will get them ironed out.
Overall I am impressed with our progress.The dancing has been a journey!! When I was young my parents would take ballroom dancing lessons and we had so much fun when they would come home and teach us the steps. So when I considered the dancing that Hal does in the play, I wasn't worried at all...Ha Ha..Boy-o-Boy! Let's just say I have a new appreciation for "Dancing with the Stars." It has been a challenge, but Tony is wonderful and I'm having fun!
We have a run through tonight and hopefully we can take a peak at the stage. Everyone should read the Cue section of the Journal Sentinel this Sunday for interviews with Michael and myself as well as pictures of the fateful dance rehearsals. Also Bill Watson and I are doing a radio interview on WUWM tomorrow...which will air next Thursday. I'm on my way to rehearsal (not literally, but I'm about to leave.) ...gotta go early and practice my dance moves... Stay tuned...Bye!


Costume Designer

An important factor to any production that gives credibility and integrity to the script and aids the actors in forming their characters is costuming. For PICNIC, the person in charge of the costumes is Louella Powell. While her progression to costuming has not been direct, she had always worked with and around clothes before making costuming her profession, currently at UW-Milwaukee where she is on the faculty.

Louella's history in costuming began when she started dressing her cats up at age 7. Later, she earned a degree in Psychology and worked as a manager for a clothing store. She credits her interest and study of psychology to be a boon in figuring out the personalities of the characters that she clothes, particularly in PICNIC where the characters need to be believable as real people. Later, she became fascinated with costumes and began to make them for the Ice Follies in Anchorage, Alaska, leading her to earn a second degree in Theater and Design. She went on to work for Caspar College and the Utah Shakespeare Festival before moving to Milwaukee and working for the Milwaukee Rep and later UW-Milwaukee.

Her role in the production process starts with reading the script and doing research on the particular period and location that the play takes place in. Then she begins to gather all possibilities of clothing, hats, gloves, shoes, aprons, and any other clothing accessories that she might need, and she begins the long process of fitting costumes to the particular characters who will wear them. This is followed by alterations and repair to make the costumes suitable for the run of the production as well as guidance with hair and make-up.

Louella has particularly enjoyed her work on PICNIC due to her fondness for the time period, the 1950s, in which it takes place. She has been challenged by working with such a large cast of characters that needed very particular 'looks' depending on their social classes and interests, but the process has given her a chance to include her students at UWM, giving them a hands-on vantage point of the realities of life in the theater. This type of insight is not easy to come by, and her students will have the opportunity to view a final dress rehearsal to see all of the fruits of her labor in action on the stage. What they will see is the result of a strong commitment to the integrity of the time period that will delight audiences with authenticity and style.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Joan Darling is Really Smart

My senior year of college, Joan Darling came to do a workshop with the theatre department on acting. She was a fabulous character; huge round glasses, bright red lipstick and a personality to match. At the end of the session she turned to us and said, "We owe them who we are and what happens to us." To this day, even as I type those words, I have to take a pause. They have so much weight. So much truth.
At the time, I didn't fully comprehend what they meant. I just remember nodding my head and thinking, "Wow. Yes." And now, almost four years later, I am finally beginning to grasp the weight of those words.
Picnic is such a beautiful play for so many reasons. It is beautiful in it's hope, in it's despair, it's humor and it's sadness. Mostly, though, it is beautiful in it's characters and it's story. Who we are. What happens to us. I have to say, as an actress, it doesn't get much better than this. Every day I come to rehearsal and revel in what I get to do. I have the privilege of being with this young girl on her journey into womanhood. I have the privilege of living her firsts. The kind of firsts we dream about.
And as I spend time reveling and playing every day, Joan Darling keeps coming to mind. Because this story is so incredible, so beautiful, so real. Because I believe in this story and these characters, I now understand just how much we owe you. Just how important this is not only because theatre is our passion and we love to share it, but because this story must be told. It must be shared.
I hope you will join us for our journey. I hope you will fall in love with us, fall out of love with us. Hope for us, cry for us, live and breathe with us. I think I can speak on behalf of everyone and say, we can't wait!


Rehearsal Recap

The second week of rehearsals is through, and there has been much accomplished. The whole play has been blocked and rehearsed with careful attention to all details. Mark Weinberg came to rehearsal to teach some effective moves for particular scenes that required his expertise in stage combat. The dance sections of the play were also rehearsed and the busy week ended with a run of the whole show for the production and technical teams.

Sound cues, including dance music, car horns, explosions, and a very important train whistle are continually being refined and added to rehearsal to make sure that their timing is consistent and precise. It is always a little humorous at this point to hear cues that may not be timed quite right and to see an actor, for instance, arrive into the scene before his car is later heard approaching. These things will all be smoothed out this week.

Costumes are being fitted and tweaked as are props, and everyone is gearing up for the load-in into the performance space that will occur very soon. It is full speed ahead...

For your enjoyment, I will include this clip from the movie, PICNIC. While the movie had some questionable casting and took great liberties with the original play, altering it quite a bit, it was very popular when it first appeared in 1955, and earned two Academy Awards. Here is a little music and dance by Ernie Higgins and his Happiness Boys to give you a taste of the times...

Saturday, October 3, 2009


At the start of the rehearsal process all those involved in the production were given a resource guide that provided information on PICNIC, including biographical information on the playwright, William Inge. There has been much written about the life of Inge, and he spent a great deal of time in his life talking not only about his work, but his ambitions as a playwright. The following are some quotes that I have found very pertinent to finding the deeper meanings of PICNIC and to provide understanding of the nature of its complex playwright.


"I wanted to write a play that took place in the sunshine"
"When I was a boy in Kansas, my mother had a boarding house. There were three women school teachers living in the house, and they were nice to me. I liked them. I saw their attempts, and even as a child, I sensed the sorrow and the emptiness in their lives, and it touched me"

"What I have wanted most to do is to present the lives in PICNIC with all the warmth and humor and fondness and dismay that attended me when I recalled them. In such tranquil lives, I have found the 'mysterious quiet' that precedes a Kansas cyclone"


"My path in the Theater is to find all that I can in the human lives that I know and are available to me- and find the meanings in those lives secondarily, rather than take a theme and work in the characters secondarily."
"I hate a play that tells me what to think. I have to leave my characters for the audience to make their own judgements of."

"All my plays represent something of me, some view of life that is pecularily mine that no one else could offer in quite the same style and form. Success, it seems to me, would be somewhat meaningless if the play were not a personal contribution."

"I regard a play as a composition reather than a story, as a distillation of life rather than a narration of it."

"I compare a play to a journey, in which every moment should be as interesting as the destination. I despair of a play that requires its audience to sit through two hours of plot construction having no reference outside the immediate setting, just to be rewarded by a big emotional pay-off in the last act."

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Well, I just finished all my scenes, and I have to say it feels pretty good. Tonight was difficult, more so than any other, because it was the first time visiting some of these very heavy and layered scenes at the end. I am so proud of this cast, and incredibly excited to feel the whole play conected for the first time this weekend. So far everyone has been really supportive, and I feel a great sense of collaboration...In every rehersal process that I've been through, there has always been a certain day that I get home and realize that everything will be okay, and the show will piece together. Tuesday was that rehersal for me, we went back over acts 1 & 2 after a day off and they felt a little better than we left them. This is by far the earliest I have ever gotten that feeling, sometimes it doesn't come untill the dress rehersal!! The rest of this week will be used to deepen the scenes in act 3 and get ready for our first days in the space!! Time to go, I'm getting a ride because it's raining too hard to ride my bike!! Ciao,

Scene & Re-seen part 1

Today's post is the first in a series that will track one scene from PICNIC through the whole production process. The following video clip is from the first read through:

Soon we'll follow this scene and view it as it has been blocked in the rehearsal space.