Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Thoughts from a First Rehearsal

by Mariah McGavin
MCT artistic intern Mariah McGavin will be
working with director Marcella Kearns
and the SHERLOCK team throughout the summer.

One of the things they tell us in writing classes is that every play you read and write is a blueprint. A map for everyone to follow. As a playwright, you lay ground rules, words, and some actions, but a lot of it is up to a team—lighting designers, costume designers, directors, and actors, among others—to figure out the rest. That’s the beauty of theatre—it takes a lot of hands and minds to make something great, and there’s no exact way to do it. 

And as much as I like this analogy, I’ve always thought it was a bit funny, too, since blueprints seem so mathematic, cold, and rigid, and the act of writing and interpreting seems to be a little less pretty, calculated, and strict. We get ideas and scribble them on the closest piece of paper. We wake up in the middle of the night with a breakthrough. It’s not as pretty or simple as a blueprint seems to be.

Yet that’s the main thing I was thinking of when I sat in on the first reading for SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY. It was exciting, since so far it has been one of the only times I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a professional rehearsal. 

Images on the page become more than
just a "blueprint" as artists and designers
explain their motivations and ideas.
Leading up to this, every time I looked at lighting and set designs or read research, all I could think about was the analogy of the blueprint. And I could almost envision it in my mind — people reading what seemed to be “just words,” but being able to conceive water-colored lighting designs, sets that feel like a telescope with each unraveled layer, and transitions inspired by the zoetrope and Debussy. When design presentations happened at rehearsal, themes of truth, light, and honor all came forward — all of which were ideas that were never really stated by Katie Forgette, the playwright, but were instead felt, observed, or inspired by those who read the play. With each new idea, this piece of work began to feel less and less like the rigid idea of a “blueprint,” and more like something else.

At the beginning of rehearsal, director Marcella Kearns talked about the meaning of “ground truth,” a term that refers to discovering what the heart and soul — two words she was explicitly clear to use — of the matter at hand really is. She said this play focuses on truth and honor, things we seem to be struggling to have a sense of more and more every day. 

And as funny as it sounds, you hear truth and honor during the read-through — a collective gasp or laugh when something is revealed. A slight noise when the audience realizes a character is more honorable than they initially gave them credit for. Throughout the play, we yearn for the truth of the matter and wonder who we can trust. We see who is really honorable. We realize that there’s more to everyone and everything than meets the eye. We collect everything we see, hear, and observe to try and discover the truth.

Beyond that, I discovered things that came to life in a different way when people read them. Though I’ve read the play several times over, I laughed at things that I hadn’t laughed at before, and I was pleasantly surprised with how things were played when I wasn’t sure how they were going to be played. With each quip, I could confirm that Oscar Wilde was always the wittiest person in any room. With every exchange, I could feel the chemistry that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson had as a result of working together for years. Even before the reading started, Marcy had pointed out that “there’s a generative friction that results when someone requires us to be better,” and I could feel that in the play. I could feel how enemies were challenged with each discovery that Mr. Holmes made, and I could feel how Mr. Holmes himself was challenged with minds as great as his. And while you laugh, you’re also constantly on your feet, well aware that you can never be certain who or what to trust. You can feel the build up to big reveals. You feel the shock at a reversal. You feel the play working up to something, although you might not know what it is yet.

That’s a lot to take away from a “blueprint.”

When I talked to Marcy during the act break, she noted the positive (action based) character choices that people were making, instead of reading something in a negative (non-action based) way that it could be interpreted as in print. Though Marcy was talking about character choices, my mind went to tarot. 

In tarot, The Star can stand for
inspiration, transformation and optimism - a
perfect image for the first day of rehearsal!
Cards in tarot (especially the major arcana) typically tend to either be positive (action) or negative (non-action). They have intricate designs, and any tarot reader will tell you it can take years of patience and energy to fully understand the meaning of the cards. After seeing the design presentations for set, costume, and lighting, and hearing the actors, I’m starting to think that perhaps instead of thinking about plays as a “blueprint,” maybe I could think about them a little bit more as a tarot card. While they may leave the outline for something, they also hold so much emotion, feeling, themes, and thoughts for us to interpret. 

While we erect tangible things from a play like costumes, props, and set pieces (which for this production, by the way, are amazing), we also erect intangible things—thoughts, feelings, impressions, and so much more. Both are invaluable and proof that so much can come from a piece of text.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

MCT Board Member Profile: Dan Schley

by Max Seigle


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.


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.


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.

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!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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!