Meet More Bettys!
When Suzan Fete started Renaissance Theaterworks in 1993, she was 34 years old, working as an ICU nurse and pregnant. Fete, an actress, had moved to Milwaukee from Cleveland four years earlier with her husband. When she wasn’t working at Mount Sinai, she immersed herself in the city’s theater scene. She soon realized how few of the plays being produced were written by women, which led her to realize how few women were directing those plays or holding any leadership positions at all in theater companies.
“It started to dawn on me that women weren’t given the same opportunities as men,” Fete says. “My friends and I, we decided – as you do when you’re young – that we could start our own theater.”
Fete and four other women – two of whom were also mothers – founded Renaissance Theaterworks together. The company was dedicated to putting on plays written, directed and performed by women.
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“It’s hard to feel seen if no one knows your story,” says Fete. “History is determined by who decides whose stories are told. … Over time, it affects the culture of the whole country.”
Fete spent her first eight years at Renaissance, where she serves as artistic director, still working as an ICU nurse. The theater remained lean those years, sharing spaces with other companies, holding meetings in the founders’ houses, and keeping budgets low. But by 2001, its scope had grown enough that Fete left her nursing job to focus full-time on Renaissance.
Now, after three decades, Renaissance remains Milwaukee’s first and only professional theater company founded and run by women – and it has become a major force in the city’s arts scene. In 2012, Fete helped launch the BRINK New Play Festival, promoting new work by Midwestern women playwrights, and the festival has since grown to showcase many talented new voices. By 2020, Renaissance shows were selling out so frequently that the company moved to a new, larger theater in Walker’s Point in 2021.