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In 2022, when Cody Estle heard Next Act Theatre was looking for a new artistic director, he asked everyone he knew in Milwaukee’s theater community one question: “Why do you see shows at Next Act?” A theme quickly stood out in the answers, “Because they do thought-provoking work.”
“It’s not a theater that puts on fluff,” says Estle, 34, who had been the artistic director at Chicago’s Raven Theatre since 2017. Next Act’s reputation convinced him to apply. “I think it’s a really exciting time for Next Act, and a really exciting time for Milwaukee,” he says. “There’s a buzz here.”
Out of 53 applicants, he got the gig and took over as artistic director in December, stepping into the shoes of David Cecsarini, 68, who is retiring after 30 years in the role. “[Cody’s] passionate, tremendously inquisitive, thoughtful,” says Cecsarini. “He has a strong combination of pragmatism and belief in the magic of theater.”
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During December and January, Estle and Cecsarini worked side by side. Every day, Estle sat down with Cecsarini for an hour to ask questions about what it takes to run Next Act. “The man is extremely generous,” Estle says. “I feel like I can take everything that he has done and can build on top of it.”
On Jan. 27, Cecsarini officially retired as artistic director, Estle stepping fully into the role. Estle has his sights set on commissioning new work for Next Act. “I want to tap into local writers to tell stories that Wisconsin individuals can see themselves in,” he says. While his focus is on the new, he’d also like to incorporate revivals of past plays into upcoming seasons.
“There is a rich art scene here,” Estle says. “One thing I’ve noticed is that if someone’s a subscriber at Next Act, they’re also a subscriber at the Rep, at the Chamber, at Skylight, and they go to the symphony and the ballet. There’s a really dedicated audience here that loves all these institutions. … That’s really refreshing to see.”
Culture by the Numbers
Last season, the Milwaukee Rep put together 467 costumes for just 10 shows. That’s a lot of wigs!
Cody Estle’s Spring Arts Event Pick
The Mountaintop by Katori Hall
APRIL 21-MAY 7, MILWAUKEE CHAMBER THEATRE
“Katori is one of the most prolific playwrights living today,” Estle says. “This is a fantastic script and is going to be directed by my extremely talented friend Mikael Burke who
is a Chicagoan.”