Tuesday, July 10, 2018

MCT Board Member Profile: Dan Schley

by Max Seigle

1. WHERE ARE YOU FROM?

I grew up in Bayside and went to Nicolet High School. Being from an urban area, I was interested in experiencing life in a more rural setting for college. I headed out east to Colgate University in upstate New York. I majored in math but studied a bit of everything in the liberal arts school, including theatre. I took some acting and set design classes.

After college, I returned to the Badger State and bounced around different parts of Wisconsin — Madison, Eau Claire and Boulder Junction. I returned to the Milwaukee area with my wife in 1983 and we married the following year. We have two adult sons and currently live in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Milwaukee.

2. HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT MCT?

I first learned about MCT through my son, Patrick. He was involved in theatre growing up and had the opportunity to audition for a role in a MCT play. They were looking for a young prince for THE WINTER'S TALE by William Shakespeare.

Later on in my life, my wife and I started to going to more and more theatre around Milwaukee, including MCT. Their shows were always our top favorites — they surprised us and provided some magical moments. We loved the plays so much that MCT became the first theatre company we bought a subscription to.

3. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO JOIN THE BOARD?

I joined the MCT board about four years ago. At the time, I was wrapping up board work with some other organizations and wanted to find a theatre company to get involved with on a new level. I thought about which theaters in town would draw my heart and MCT came to the top. At the time, I really came to realize what an incredible community of theatre artists we have in Milwaukee — both on stage and behind the scenes. Our city is rich because of these artists that live here and MCT is a company that always gives them work — that’s very important to me. Those who have made a commitment to our city are the ones we should commit to.

I also admire MCT’s Artistic Director, Michael Wright. He is so brilliant in his selection of plays.

4. FAVORITE MCT PLAYS
This past season was really remarkable. MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET was one of the most beautifully written pieces I’ve seen. Every single word in that show mattered and the ensemble cast told the story so well.

THE BROTHERS SIZE is a play I don’t think I’ll ever forget. The writing and rhythm of the show was so different from what I’ve seen before. I was also impressed with the physicality of the actors. I was honored to be able to see the show twice!

5. FAVORITE ACTORS

James Ridge is one of my favorite Wisconsin actors. He was incredible as Bryan in THE FEW in 2017, and equally strong as the librarian in UNDERNEATH THE LINTEL in 2013. Both of those productions were in MCT’s smaller Studio Theatre where it’s amazing to watch such incredible talent, like Ridge, perform so close by.

Kat Wodtke is another one of my favorites. She recently played Ruth in MIRACLE ON SOUTH DIVISION STREET. I really like watching her because of the way she brings out her characters. She does it in a quiet way — she’s not bursting on to the scene but rather there sharing, supporting and guiding. You also sense a real control of the stage when Kat is performing. You feel like you’re in the presence of someone important telling the story.

Marcy Kearns could be reading a phone book and it would be entertaining! Every time she takes on a role, you know you’re in for a treat.

6. SPECIAL MOMENTS/ACHIEVEMENTS THAT STAND OUT AT MCT

I was really proud of the partnership we had with Milwaukee’s First Stage company on GREAT EXPECTATIONS in 2017. The young performers from First Stage had the opportunity to shadow the actors in the show during their rehearsals and watch them perform. What was even better was the chance for the First Stage actors to put on an understudy performance of GREAT EXPECTATIONS in front of their mentors. I saw it in the Cabot Theatre and they blew the walls off that place! This was a life-changing experience for some of the kids who’ve decided to now pursue acting as a career.

As a board member, we have the chance to attend the first rehearsals of every show. These are some of my favorite experiences at MCT — I don’t think I’ve missed one in the last three years! At these rehearsals, you are kind of like a fly on the wall getting a chance to see the actors come together for the first time and begin their process as an ensemble. It’s not a finished product by any means but it’s amazing to see the actors present when some of them have never even met before! You also get to hear from the stage and costume designers about their roles and how they came up with their ideas for the show. To sit there and see everyone delve into the play is kind of like magic. Then, it’s really neat to be able to see the show three to four weeks later and observe the transformation from start to finish.

I am also part of MCT’s committee planning the annual gala, Cheers to Chamber. It’s just a lot of fun putting on a big party to celebrate the excellent work of MCT.

7. WHAT DO YOU DO PROFESSIONALLY?

I am a residential real estate appraiser. I’ve worked in the field since 1986. I started out joining a firm with my uncle and cousins and now operate my own business based in the West Vliet Street neighborhood of Milwaukee. I enjoy this line of work because every day is different. I also love the architecture of homes. I’m a huge fan of the Arts and Crafts era of American architecture where you can really see the hands-on creativity that went into the houses. Lastly, I enjoy having my own business and the flexibility it provides for my family life.

8. WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN? ANY HOBBIES?

Seeing plays probably tops the list for me and my wife. Just this past season, we saw 110 plays in Milwaukee and other parts of Wisconsin. This passion for theater goes all the way back to my childhood. I have lots of good memories seeing plays with my family. I remember the first touring show I saw — THE SOUND OF MUSIC at the Pabst Theatre.

9. WHERE TO EAT BEFORE A SHOW?

Two of my favorite places are right around the corner from MCT. The whole concept of a butcher shop/restaurant at Bavette La Boucherie is magical to me! The food is fabulous and the staff always gets you out on time when you’re heading to a show. I also like Charlie’s — great people there, its quick and efficient and the food always tastes good!

10. FAVORITE WISCONSIN SPOTS

My wife and I have a home along Spring Lake near Mukwonago. It’s a small, no-wake, quiet lake with cottages built in the 1920s. Its kind of like going to BRIGADOON — you feel like you’re in a whole different world. It’s my happy place!

Camp Manito-Wish up north in Boulder Junction has been close to my heart since my childhood. I went to camp there and later joined the staff for seven years. My kids went there, too, and I’ve sat on the camp’s board. This camp played a huge role in the person I am today. It is where I learned how to live in a community, how to push myself beyond my limits and how to take support from others. I can’t wait to return there this summer to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the camp!

I love Door County, too. We often stay along Kangaroo Lake in the center of the county and enjoy theatre during our time there.

11. ANY OTHER ORGANIZATIONS YOU ARE A PART OF THAT YOU ENJOY AND WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT?

I love being a part of the Washington Heights Neighborhood Association. This is the neighborhood where my wife and I raised our family and currently reside. Over the years, I’ve taken on multiple roles to support the association, including a seat on its board. Not many people knew about this part of Milwaukee when the association formed in the early 1990’s, and we worked really hard to spread the word about it. I wanted to shout from the mountain tops that we have a great neighborhood here!

I’m also involved in the West Vliet Street Business Association. I opened my real estate appraisal business there in 1996. At the time, there wasn’t much activity going on —it was pretty much a desert. Today, it’s a much different picture with a thriving business district. If property comes on the market or someone moves out, there is usually someone “nipping at their heels” to invest in this area. We are also starting to see business owners live in the neighborhood as well. We have a phenomenal cake designer and she lives upstairs from her store. It's kind of like what they did in the 1920s!

I’ve also been involved in Hope House in the Walker’s Point neighborhood of Milwaukee. It’s a non-profit organization supporting the homeless and providing them valuable services, like healthcare and adult education, to help turn their lives around. While I’m no longer on the board there, the organization remains dear to my heart. The Hope House staff are remarkable and truly treat every person who walks in the door with the dignity every human deserves.

12. BACK TO MCT: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE IN THE AREA TO KNOW ABOUT THIS THEATRE COMPANY WHO MAY NOT BE FAMILIAR WITH IT?

What stands out to me is the consistency of the high quality production value of MCT. I can’t think of a time where I walked out of a show and felt it was just OK. The experience is always captivating and memorable.

The chance to see some of Wisconsin’s best actors in our Studio Theatre is another real treat at MCT. It’s amazing to be so close — like ten feet away — to such talented artists! It’s an experience that would be hard to find in bigger cities, like Chicago. And being so close to the action, it’s hard to hide — you're going to be part of that show!

Monday, April 9, 2018

On Mystery, Currents of Change, and DOUBT: A Conversation with C. Michael Wright

by Jarrod Langwinski

Jarrod Langwinski: Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s mission is to bring great stories to life. What is it about DOUBT, for you, that makes it a great story? 

C. Michael Wright: I love that it’s an issue play. I love that we meet people with two dramatically different viewpoints. Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn are sort of dramatic opposites in their beliefs, especially in how to raise children, how to guide the parish—specifically, those that are more vulnerable than they. Father Flynn wants to embrace the community, wants to lead with his heart; she’s much more strict and ‘by the rules’ and works more through her head. They both have very valid viewpoints, but I think it’s a very great question to pose to our patrons: how do you treat others and how do you make other people accountable for how they treat others? Because that’s the big issue: Sister Aloysius suspecting Father Flynn of some sort of improper behavior. She’s not certain, but she questions even his attitude toward the young people he works with. She feels like it’s dangerous that he is too soft, too open, too warm, that he’s inviting problems. I also think that Shanley, the writer, placing this in 1964 gives us a sort of a microcosm of how the world is changing. The Catholic Church is changing at this time, but it’s also an example of how the pendulum’s swinging from a post-war era to free love. 

DOUBT director C. Michael Wright
It’s a wonderful picture of two disparate viewpoints and people trying to make other people accountable… but what’s really important too, for today, is that we are all judging each other’s permissiveness in sexual situations. It’s the era of the “Me Too” movement, and there’s that great reflection on how do you know, when you suspect something’s going on? How do you make that jump of knowing rather than just suspecting, and how do you make people accountable for their behaviors? Especially authority figures. So I think DOUBT has great resonance for today, even though it’s a play about 1964 and about the church. It’s also about the way we live our lives and how we judge each other. It’s always great to be aware and be alert and be just and fair to each other.   

JL: You were talking about the environment of the 1960s a bit, really during a time of great change socially, politically, etc. What can audiences today learn about the sociopolitical environment of the play and its ties with religion? 

CMW:  Well, because it’s the Catholic Church, it’s the time of the Second Ecumenical Council where things get dramatically changed in the church. So it’s very specific, and that’s why Shanley is so great in creating this very specific environment where a definite change was happening. Father Flynn represents this next generation of beliefs and behavior, but he’s also got this backing of the whole Catholic Church; whereas Sister Aloysius is holding on to old rules, which makes her almost defunct and allows Father Flynn more leeway in how he can push forward with his own… I don’t want to say political agenda; we don’t know what his behavior is. But we know he wants to embrace this new era of the church. I think what Shanley’s doing is having us look at how the nation was changing at the same time too. Father Flynn is an example of the changing times of our nation. He starts the play talking about John F. Kennedy’s assassination, so we immediately know where we are in time. The nation was hurting and vulnerable, so almost anything’s possible. I think that’s what Shanley is trying to say, that when we are vulnerable, we are at our most open and accessible but also at our most dangerous. 

JLThis production concludes your current season, titled “The Mysteries of Life.” I was curious what the inspiration was for that statement and how that helped you decide on choosing DOUBT.  

CMW:  Well, to me, DOUBT is a mystery. There is this mystery of “Does this priest have a secret?,” and if he does, “What is that secret?” And Sister Aloysius almost becomes a detective trying to solve that mystery. I also like that the Catholic Church is full of mystery; or at least it used to be, less so now. I grew up Catholic, and I was an altar boy, so all of that in the play I remember. I remember the mystery of the priests, the sacraments, and even the architecture: the sacristy, the little room where they hide the wine, the communion wafers, the vestments. And I think people preferred when it was mysterious because you didn’t have to explain everything. Once you start opening stuff up then doubt just keeps growing.  

JL: You don’t immediately just have answers. 

CMW: Right. Because in some ways keeping it mysterious makes it easier to believe. But once you really start looking at everyone’s place in the church and in the world even, the mysteries go away, dissolve. That’s what I’m fascinated by in terms of choosing “The Mysteries of Life” as the season—different ways to look at what is mysterious in their [the characters’] world.   

JL: I feel like even the origins of theatre are partly about explaining the mysterious or attempting to at least bring light to the mysterious, to talk about it. So much of Greek and Roman theatre is about exploring mythology. So this is a very contemporary look at what is mysterious and what are the questions we have. 

CMW: Right. And theatre itself is mysterious, you know? Sometimes it’s fun to explain and let people in on the magical process of creating theatre, but sometimes it’s nice to keep the mystery, keep the distancebecause it’s easier to weave a tale, to seduce—which is a lot of the play, too. It’s very easy for Father Flynn to seduce because he has that power, that father authority figure, and he’s part of that mysterious world of the church. 

JL:  When did you first read the script or see the play? And has your opinion of the play changed as time has gone on?   

CMW: I saw the play on Broadway. I saw the original production and I loved it but felt that there was a coldness to it. And it wasn’t until recently, the past couple years, that I’ve gone back and re-read it because I remembered really liking it. Now I love it because I don’t think of it as a cold play at all; there’s a lot of heat there and some of that has to do with how our times have changed. Now that we’re in this era of confusion and lots of accusations—everybody’s a target for everybody else—it makes me realize how much like animals we are. And we almost have to be like an animal and always be ready to be attacked or ready to attack as you’re trying to protect yourself and others. We talk a lot in rehearsal about the animal in these people. You have to really be careful in our world. It’s a dangerous world. I don’t believe in evil people, but I believe that there’s evil in the world and that we have to watch out and take care of each other. So I’m realizing how much heat there is in the piece and I’m enjoying exploring that. Because I think really exciting theatre has sparks, has heat, has fire.  

JL:  And I know you’re still in the midst of rehearsal (at the time of this interview), but even so, what can you tell us about the process or some of the discoveries you’ve made as a group?  Getting to dive into this play together? 

CMW: I have a great cast, and a great design team. I mean truly, everyone is at the top of their game right now. One thing it started with was scenic. We tried to create a beautiful world, rather than a cold environment. Just like we talked about with magic, I want to seduce the audience with this beautiful world. We have this great stained glass window that’s going to be gorgeous and we’re also playing with not having moving pieces. When I saw it on Broadway, it was all on wagons and you would go from one environment to the next and then it would disappear. We have it all visible at all times. You see four different locations simultaneously. We decided to do the opening with Father Flynn at the pulpit and Sister Aloysius at her desk at the same time: he’s in focus, but she’s sort of replaying his sermon in her head as she’s at her desk. So immediately we’re introduced to these two figures, but he’s looming above her and we see the power he has over her world. That was really fun in terms of design to explore. 

Also, because they’re all in uniform, they’re all in black, we tried to get enough color in the environment so it’s not just a black, black, black world. And the actors, they’re just so great. We’re trying to find just the humanity in it. They’re all great at listening to each other and exploring, they understand the framework, but every one of them is open to discovery every day. We do lots of talking about it, but we also do lots of playing within it. The big thing we’re all learning is that the play is beautifully structured; there aren’t many pauses, there are very few ellipses or dashes, it’very spare and compact and economical. So we’re trying to really honor that, really make sure we’re not indulging what’s not on the page. I do think Shanley is a wonderful playwright, and this is definitely his best work.   

JL:  So, I was wondering, how have your own beliefs about faith shaped the way you view a show like DOUBT? With your Catholic background, did that have an effect on how you viewed it, or was it more of a separate entity? 

CMW: Probably separate. I left the Church in my teens, and I think I view the play less through a Catholic lens... I don’t really feel the play is about the Catholic Church so much as that that’s just the environment Shanley creates to tell this story. I think it’s about how we protect each other and stay on the alert but also don’t lose our humanity. To me, that’s the most important thing I think, in life, is to not lose that sense. Basically we are all good, but there is evil out there, and we are capable of evil and that we have to somehow stay on top of all of that—watch each other, not judge each other too harshly. But we do have to judge each other... Who do you want to hang with? Who do you want to follow? Especially when you’ve got authority figures who are telling you extremely different things. Think about how our political parties right now are so disparate. These two individuals [in DOUBT] represent two different communities of people, and you have to decide: can you listen to parts of both? Or do you need to make a strong choice and follow it? Because I think we all are looking for leaders: who to listen to, who to believe in, who to trust.  

JL: That’s a very important distinction to make, such an interesting context. Religion does still affect a large portion of people’s lives, but at the same time it’s a lot more subjective now than it was before. People are less afraid to feel one way or another or more likely to have their doubts.  

CMW: Less limitation. 

JL: Yes, it’s less of a “this is what my parents thought and I’m following that.” 

CMW: We can pick and choose how much of each person’s theories we believe in, with free will. 

JL: So for my final question, with DOUBT rounding off the MCT’s 2017-2018 season of “The Mysteries of Life,” has there been anything that has shaped your perspective going into next season, 2018-2019’s “A Time for Risk”?    

CMW: I usually think each season has almost its own play. Its own series of five plays becomes its own offering, and then you take a break and go into a whole new world. I feel like we’re completing one whole chapter and about to go into another one.  

What I tend to do is collect lots of plays on my shelf and then decide how I might build a season around maybe three of them that have similar themes. Sometimes the theme just evolves on its own. “The Mysteries of Life” was more about embracing theatre as… theatre magic. You know, very little to do with contemporary angst. “A Time for Risk” is more about how we’re all at this brink and need to make strong choices right now. Some of next season’s plays are love stories, with people just kind of opening their hearts to each other, but all are about people who are brave and courageous enough to push forward, take a chance. 

JL: It’s almost as if “The Mysteries of Life” was about questioning humanity and questioning ourselves, then “A Time for Risk” is now about, after self-discovering, making those choices and not looking back. 

CMWI’ll accept that! 

DOUBT runs Thursday, April 12 to Sunday, April 29 in the Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway. Tickets can be purchased in-person at the box office, via phone at 414.291.7800, or online. Visit milwaukeechambertheatre.com to learn more!