Wednesday, November 15, 2017

MCT Board Member Profile: Debbie Patel

by Max Seigle

Debbie (on right) joined the MCT board shortly
after her husband Jamshed (left) ended his tenure.

I was born in Minneapolis, and went to Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. After college I moved to Washington D.C. to attend law school at George Washington University, and then a job at the law firm of Foley & Lardner brought me to Milwaukee. I practiced law there for several years, after which I practiced law part-time on my own, and shifted careers to arts management, with leadership roles at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Milwaukee Children’s Choir. 


I started attending plays with my husband Jamshed, who was on the MCT board for nine years. And when I worked at the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, our office was in the office right next door. 


By the time Jamshed’s board term was up I was quite engaged with MCT. I felt the quality of the plays kept getting better every season and appreciated the company’s mission. I joined the board in 2011 and love live theatre even more now. 

Each season, my husband and I sponsor a production in the Studio Theatre. It is usually a show that is more cutting-edge, adventurous and not as well known. I don’t want to just see the classics. I want to see some new things that are well done. We ask friends to the show on a Saturday; some attend the matinee, and some attend the evening show, and we all come together in between for a dinner Jamshed and I host in the Skylight Bar & Bistro upstairs. One of the best parts of that experience is having our artistic director, Michael Wright, come and speak with our guests about the show. It’s kind of like our own private “Talk Theatre.”

MCT does a regular “Talk Theatre” program before some of the Wednesday matinee shows of the season. I started going to those shows with a group from the Woman’s Club of Milwaukee and we enjoy hearing from Michael Wright and some of the show’s artists.


MASTER CLASS during the 2014-2015 season was a favorite because I’m a singer.

MCT put on an incredible adaptation of GREAT EXPECTATIONS back in April. More recently, I thought DEATHTRAP was well-done and loved seeing FRANKIE AND JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE after recommending the show to staff.


James Ridge in UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL (2012-2013 season) was incredible. I’m also a big fan of Marcella Kearns and her performance in MOONLIGHT AND MAGNOLIAS (2007-2008 season) was a showstopper. She was also great in FRANKIE AND JOHNNY in the current season.


Well, Marcella with her banana in MOONLIGHT was special! But generally, for me, it’s the quality of the performances that are special. The shows keep getting better every year, and our reach into the community gets ever deeper. I especially love the work that we do with local high school students in the Young Playwrights Festival every year and our partnerships with First Stage. It’s wonderful to see how we are encouraging the creative talents of our younger generations and giving them a chance to find their own voice. 


I am officially retired now, and like most retired people, I’m finding myself busier than ever. I’m what I would call a “professional volunteer.”

Before retirement, I practiced law in Milwaukee, until switching to arts management. I was the first Executive Director of the Milwaukee Children’s Choir and spent about eight years in that position. MCC’s founder and artistic director, Emily Crocker, helped so many young people learn how to use their “original instrument,” and assisting in that effort was very gratifying. I spent almost a year running the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra as an interim Executive Director. And now I sit on arts boards! 


I love to sing! I’ve been belting tunes since I was three, sang through high school, took a break during college, and then sang at a piano bar during my law school years. I am currently a member of the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. I love being part of a community of singers, performing exquisite repertoire, and having the best seat in the house – on stage – with the incredible Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

I am also an avid genealogist. I am the Registrar for the Milwaukee chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and I write a family history blog. I encourage everyone to explore their family tree, you may be surprised what you find there. And while you explore, you get to reexamine history in a very personal way and discover things about yourself that you didn’t know before. 


My new favorite place is Tre Rivali, the restaurant in the Journeyman Hotel in the Third Ward. I think the food is delicious. I’ve never had a bad meal there. They have a great artisan cheese plate and the Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert is out of this world!


I love to visit Madison. We go there regularly to visit my daughter. With my interest in genealogy, I also like to visit the Wisconsin Historical Society’s library on the UW campus. In the summertime, my husband and I like to visit Spring Green and see shows at the American Players Theatre. We also try to get to the Shaw Festival in Ontario each summer, and combine it with a visit to Jamshed’s Canadian relatives.

I have lots of fond memories taking my daughter camping in Two Rivers. It’s special for me because I grew up camping with my parents. To date, I’ve camped in every state in the country except Alaska and Hawaii. (I probably should add that I slept through Rhode Island.)


As I mentioned earlier, I sing with the Milwaukee Symphony Chorus. I am also on the board of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. I just finished nine years of service on the board of Chorus America, the North American advocacy, research, and leadership development organization that advances the choral music field.

My passion for genealogy drew me to the Milwaukee Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and the joy of hunting for dead people led to my joining a few other lineage societies. I am also an active member of the Woman’s Club of Wisconsin and enjoy the programs and camaraderie I find there.


I think I can narrow it down to three main points. First, MCT produces really fine quality work. The shows never disappoint and the people we invite uniformly praise the acting and recognize that it’s good theater. Second, MCT is “locally grown” using Milwaukee talent on and off the stage. And finally, MCT has deep roots in the community with more than 40 years in the local theatre scene.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Buffalo and Milwaukee: Same City, Different Lake

by Marcella Kearns

Spending a long autumn weekend in Buffalo, New York, I was looking forward to vanishing into a city I’d known as a college student — checking out old stomping grounds, covering new ground as Buffalo has been reinventing itself, and, most importantly, catching up with dear friends. Getting away from Milwaukee for a few to refresh myself after a few packed months. Saturday morning’s agenda with my hosts: farmer’s market, stroll, coffee shop.

Who knew "Smallwaukee" stretched
all the way to Buffalo?
Of course the manager at Tipico Coffee was from Bay View.

While good friends Alex and Jess did the WSJ crossword puzzle and sipped a cup of coffee roasted by Ruby Coffee Roasters (which happens to be based half an hour from Stevens Point), I found myself seeing double.

When I first moved to Milwaukee a few years after graduating from college, I joked to someone that Buffalo and Milwaukee were actually the same city — just on the other side of a different lake. My words had come back to haunt me. This getaway was turning into a step through a mirror.

While Sadie from Bay View served me coffee, I started the list. Feast on it, Milwaukee. We’ve got a twin sister only a hop away.

Best Bars

In 2016, Esquire published their choice of the 18 best bars in America. Founding Fathers Pub in Buffalo made the list, primarily for its incredible devotion to presidential history. (Closing the bar back in the '90s, sometimes we’d land a free shot if we could answer five questions about Grover Cleveland or Theodore Roosevelt.)

Though the Safe House wasn’t on that list, both that local quirky bar-to-which-you-take-out-of-towners and Founding Fathers made BuzzFeed’s 2015 “19 Bars in America You Should Drink At Before You Die” as #18 and #19, respectively. Additionally, Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge in Milwaukee did take Esquire’s #1 spot in 2013.

Speaking of the Presidents…

Look, we're famous!
President William McKinley was shot in Buffalo at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in to the nation’s highest executive office right up the street when McKinley passed. In 1912, while campaigning under the Bull Moose platform, Roosevelt was shot inMilwaukee. Fortunately, his eyeglass case and the thickness of a copy of his speech folded in his pocket impeded the trajectory of the bullet and spared him.


Buffalo's "Majik Man"
Milwaukee’s favorite team, the Green Bay Packers, have won four Super Bowls. While I was in college in the '90s, the Buffalo Bills went to the Superbowl four times in a row. (Okay, so they lost four times in a row. This one’s a stretch. But their fans rival Packers fans any day!)

More? Buffalo native Donald “Majik Man” Majkowski was starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers when he was injured in a game against the Bengals in 1992. Coach Mike Holmgren replaced him with a young Brett Favre, and the rest is history.

The Wright Connection

The Martin House Complex, one of seven Frank Lloyd
Wright masterworks in the Buffalo area.
Milwaukee may boast C. Michael Wright as one of its most prominent artists, but he is Buffalo born and raised!

Oh, yeah, there’s that other Wright as well… Buffalonian Darwin D. Martin invited Frank Lloyd Wright to bring his vision to Buffalo after Martin visited Oak Park, Illinois and saw Wright’s work there. Now, the Martin House Complex serves as a tour highlight of Wright’s work in Buffalo —while Milwaukee boasts the American System-Built Homes. (And has anyone seen the recently installed highway signs for the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail on I-94?)


In 2001, Milwaukee’s Coo Coo Cal topped Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles Charts with “My Projects.” This was Milwaukee’s first splash on the national scene in one of contemporary music’s hottest and richest genres. Buffalo, however, has the latest big news on that front: Conway and Westside Gunn of the duo Hall N’ Nash made Buffalo music history this year as the first local rappers to sign with a major label — Eminem’s Shady Records.

Both regions can claim plenty of names, however, in a wealth of other genres. To name just a few, Buffalo can claim Brian McKnight, the Goo Goo Dolls, Ani DiFranco, and Spyro Gyra. The Violent Femmes, Al Jarreau, Woody Herman, and the BoDeans hail from our region.

Urban Park System

Buffalo's Olmsted parks were originally designed around
one large parkand two smaller ones closer to
population centers, linked by "park ways."
Frederick Law Olmsted and partner architect Calvert Vaux created the first urban park system in Buffalo in 1868 after his success with Central Park in New York City. The Olmsted Park System in Buffalo would come to span 850 acres, 6 parks, 7 parkways, 8 circles, and 4 pocket parks and took about 30 years to complete.

Olmsted brought his concept to Milwaukee in 1893. Our own Riverside, Lake and Washington Parks were his designs (along with the idea of a shore drive which would eventually become Lincoln Memorial Drive).

The Great Lake Effect

It's sort of scary how perfect that parallel is.
Milwaukee is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, the third-largest of the Great Lakes, while Buffalo’s on the shores of the fourth, Lake Erie.

Erie does a number on Buffalo’s weather patterns, though. Their lake effect snow accounts for an average annual snowfall double that of Milwaukee’s.

Segregation and Potential
This one’s nothing to boast of, but it’s a commonality. 24/7 Wall St.’s most recent calculation of the most segregated cities in the United States (July 2017) confirmed, sadly, what we already likely knew. Both the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis area as well as the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls region fell within the top 16 (with Milwaukee at #11 and Buffalo at #7). While Buffalo fell within a statistic that includes only four cities — a city in which 80% of white people live within predominantly white neighborhoods — Wisconsin and Milwaukee specifically, as late as 2016, held the regrettable distinction of being the “worst state for black Americans” based on education and income potential.

Yet… Travel + Leisure’s 2017 list of America’s Friendliest Cities featured both Buffalo, which earned the #1 spot, and Milwaukee, which came in at #10. I wondered if this reader-contributed ranking could be read with hope: there’s a lot of work to do towards inclusion, equality, and civil rights—but, at least self-perceived, there are people in both towns with the right potential to achieve better conditions for all. Perhaps.

Actors’ Origin Stories
Buffalo Bob hosted Howdy Doody from 1947 to 1960,
not even letting a heart attack get in his way
(he just recorded in his basement until he could
go back to work at NBC Studios).

The following list is by no means comprehensive, but both cities can boast being birthplaces of a host of well-known and well-loved actors. Bob Smith (also known as Buffalo Bob Smith), host of The Howdy Doody Show, was born in Buffalo. So was voice actor Don Messick (Scooby-Doo), Jeffrey Jones, Katharine Cornell, and David Boreanaz.

On the flip side, Gene Wilder, Jane Kaczmarek, and NFL defensive lineman-turned-actor John Matuszak (Sloth in The Goonies) all hail from our region, along with Spencer Tracy and Pat O’Brien, who were classmates at Marquette University High School before they went on to major roles on the silver screen.

Smaller Bites

Speaking of the Jesuits
Marquette University, a Jesuit institution sitting just outside the heart of the downtown, has its parallel in Canisius College in Buffalo, which sits right on Main Street and the city’s subway line.

Buffalo (42.8864° N) and Milwaukee (43.0389° N) sit less than one degree apart. (Check out the map!)

From Milwaukee’s Basilica of St. Josaphat to Buffalo’s Our Lady of Victory, you can bet both cities are ready for the Pope to visit and hold mass.

I could go on. In fact, sitting at Tipico Coffee that day, I did. I even pestered Sadie from Bay View for the reason why she moved to Buffalo from Milwaukee three years ago.

“I came for adventure” was her reply. Adventure indeed — arguably one that’s merely through a looking glass.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET, by Tom Dudzick, is a spirited comedy that centers on the Nowaks of Buffalo, NY, who have been the self-appointed caretakers of a shrine honoring the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary to their family patriarch - but this Christmas, daughter Ruth wants the real story. This perfectly timed holiday tale is about believing in the bonds that tie a family together.

So who are the Nowaks anyway? Let's find out! Take a look at our four featured actors, and their characters, who will be appearing on the stage at the Broadway Theatre Center's Studio Theatre. See you at the show!


Raeleen is very happy to be spending the holidays working with one of her favorite theatre companies! MCT audiences may remember her as A Lady of Letters in TALKING HEADS, Mrs. Potts in PICNIC, and Martha in OCTOBER BEFORE I WAS BORN. She has also served as a dialect coach for several productions at MCT, most recently, FRANKIE & JOHNNY IN THE CLAIR DE LUNE. And she teaches the subjects Acting, Voice & Speech, and Dialects over at UW-Milwaukee's Peck School of the Arts! Happy Holidays!

As Clara, the matriarch of the Nowak family, Raeleen will be playing a confident woman proud of her family's legend and instantly defensive should it be called into question. What could never be in question is her love for her three children, even when she thinks they're wrong. Maybe especially when she thinks they're wrong.


Greta Wohlrabe feels incredibly blessed to be making her MCT debut. Locally she's appeared at the Milwaukee Rep in productions of VENUS IN FUR (co-pro with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park), CLYBOURNE PARK (co-pro with Arizona Theatre Company), THE MOUSETRAP, CABARET and A CHRISTMAS CAROL. She's also appeared in Spring Green at American Players Theatre, in TWELFTH NIGHT, TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, THE CRITIC, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, THE TEMPEST and SKYLIGHT, in which she was named the Best Performance in a Play for 2012 by the Wall Street Journal. Greta has a MFA in Acting from Purdue University and a BA from Wheaton College in Massachusetts and is an alumna of the Eugene O'Neill National Theatre Institute.

As Beverly, the eldest child in the Nowak clan, Greta will be playing a confident, competitive woman with a passion for bowling. She is stubborn when it comes to the family legend, but she loves her family and is a fierce protector of its traditions.


Kat is delighted to return to MCT, where audiences may recognize her from the 2013 Young Playwrights Festival. Kat hails from Milwaukee and holds a BA in Theatre Arts from the University of Minnesota. She is an aspiring Renaissance woman who acts, directs, builds, composes, sings, plays, teaches, writes, organizes, dreams, schemes, and creates. Kat is grateful to Michael and the rest of the MCT family for the opportunity to play alongside this wonderful cast.

As Ruth, the middle child, Kat will be playing a strong-willed, aspiring writer and actress seeking out the real truth behind the family legend. After all, she's writing a one-woman play about it, brought on by a deathbed confession that changes everything.


Josh Krause is delighted to return to Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, where he was last seen as Pip in GREAT EXPECTATIONS. He recently completed the 2017 Apprentice Program at American Players Theatre, where he appeared in A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, CYRANO DE BERGERAC and A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE. Josh received his Master of Fine Arts in Acting from Indiana University and is a teaching artist for the Milwaukee Rep and Sunset Playhouse.

As Jimmy, the baby of the Nowak family, Josh will be playing the easy-going brother and son who is always ready with his toolbox when there are things that need fixing. But there's more to Jimmy than his toolbox and the family legend. He's a blue-collar worker with a secret of his own.