Milwaukee Fall Arts Guide 2019: December

As fall shifts to winter, A Christmas Carol is a given. Theater, art shows and more this month in fall arts.

By Lindsey Anderson, Matt Hrodey, Adam Rogan and Liz Johnson

Can’t-Miss Events This Month

Christmas in the Basilica with Bel Canto

“Memories really inform what they expect to hear at Christmas services or Christmas concerts,” longtime Bel Canto Music Director Richard Hynson told Wisconsin Public Television in 2012. That mindset informs the group’s music choices this year too, largely taken from traditional Polish carols that’ll echo inside the cavernous 1901 church.

Dec. 13-15 at The Basilica of St. Joseph

“Ben Shahn: For the Sake of a Single Verse”

Lithuanian artist Ben Shahn read Bohemian poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s only book, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, in the 1920s. The tale – which touched on Rilke’s impoverished life in Paris – inspired these 22 lithographs. They were printed in 1968, one year before Shahn died in New York City.

Through Dec. 15 at Haggerty Museum of Art

Photo courtesy of Haggerty Museum of Art (Ben Shahn Art)

“Lenore Tawney: Mirror of the Universe”

Lenore Tawney (1907-2007) was an innovative fiber artist who invented new looms and used natural light as an element within her tapestries. This exhibition features works by Tawney (like the entrancing Cloud Labyrinth, which takes up an entire gallery) and other artists whom she inspired.

Through March 7 at John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Prometheus Trio Winter Program

Having held residence at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for 20 years, this group provides easy access to classical music in an age that oft neglects the genre. This month, the trio becomes a quartet, with MSO flutist Heather Zinninger Yarmel playing a flute-centered composition from Joseph Haydn and a more recent piece from American Elliott Carter.

Dec. 2-3 at Wisconsin Conservatory of Music

What It Takes to Be a Scrooge

Jonathan Wainwright doesn’t look a thing like Ebenezer Scrooge. At 50 years old, Wainwright is lean and muscular. And he wore a colorful tank top (instead of a cloak and top hat) when he sat down with MilMag over the summer.

He doesn’t act much like Scrooge either. Talkative, with a friendly demeanor, Wainwright comes off as very much the opposite of the crotchety miser who has become synonymous with humbuggery. But he’s exceedingly familiar with the character all the same.

From Nov. 26 to Dec. 24, Wainwright will star in his eighth-consecutive production of A Christmas Carol at the Milwaukee Rep. He spent four years as the optimist Bob Cratchit and is about to start his fourth as Scrooge.

We spoke with Wainwright in advance of the show to ask him how he approaches an iconic role like Scrooge, and his career more broadly.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brosilo
On being an actor:

A lot of actors are introverts. That’s why we do what we do. It gives us a way out.

On other shows he’s in this season:

I’m doing West Side Story … I’m playing a non-singing, non-dancing cop. That’s the job for me. It’s not that I can’t sing, but I’m not a musical theater singer. That requires a very specific voice. I’m more of a campfire, guitar folk singer.

On the enduring relevance of A Christmas Carol:

It’s important. It’s more important than a lot of shows that people go to. One, because it’s a tradition. Two, because it’s a special-family-night-out kind of thing. So you have to give your heart to it … there are people like this out there in the world, and what if you could turn them?

On Scrooge’s Essential Scrooge-ness:

Scrooge doesn’t screw people over. He just collects his money. He doesn’t cheat people. Scrooge is a straight-up businessman. He’s just cold … You look at a guy like Scrooge, he didn’t necessarily come from money. He built his way up. … He didn’t have to close his heart like that, but he did. And then when he lost the only other person in the world who was sort of like him – Marley – that showed [him] something, how easy it is get used to being alone.

Photo courtesy of Michael Brosilo
On keeping his energy up over the course of a 36-show run:

It’s hard not to be energized when there’s a thousand people walking into the Pabst and you’re dressed like Charles Dickens. That’s another little fun thing about the script – I start off dressed as Dickens and do a little quick change into Scrooge.

On working over the holidays:

It does sort of become your Christmas. But in that sense too, I don’t know what I would do without it at this point. It’s been eight years.

On what it’s like to revisit the same show year after year:

I’m always excited about it. I’m always eager to see everyone – to see how many of these kids have returned … the kid who played my first Tiny Tim is now playing Young Scrooge. That kid works more than I do.

On the rehearsal process:

Because we’ve been doing a remount for the last three years, with a lot of the same people, they cut down the rehearsal time. This year we have two and half weeks before we’re in the theater. So no time at all. It’s honestly a little scary. But it’ll be fun. I want to get on the stage as soon as possible.

I enjoy the performances more than the rehearsals. Some people enjoy the rehearsals more than the performances. You hear that about sports all the time. Some athletes really dig practice. Some athletes don’t feel like doing it. I know it’s necessary, but at some point I just want to do it.

On what he watches to unwind:

I’ve never liked awards shows … I’m an actor who’d rather watch a basketball game … I like Giannis because he’s honest. He’s been so humble, but hungry.

On finding new audiences:

I find that most theaters have trouble getting young people in the seats. Too many theaters’ subscription lists have been dying. That’s been the goal of Mark Clements since he got to the Rep – bringing a new audience into the theater.


More to Explore

Black Nativity

Black Nativity offers up a twist on the classic Christmas pageant rendition of the nativity story. Written by Langston Hughes, the play tells the Christmas story via gospel music and African American scripture and poetry. Director Malkia Stempley says that current social issues have influenced each year’s performance.

Dec. 5-15 at The Marcus Center

“Rosemary Ollison: Prosperity in a Million Scraps”

Rosemary Ollison is a self-taught sculptor and textile artist, working largely with repurposed thrift store finds; her exhibit at the Sculpture Garden includes duct tape sculptures and a 19-foot leather quilt.

Through Dec. 8 at Lynden Sculpture Garden

The Winter’s Tale

This production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale is brought to you by the students of First Stage Young Company, a program that provides high school students with a college-level theater education. The genre-bending The Winter’s Tale begins with the story of two feuding kings and resumes 16 years later with the love story of their children.

Dec. 6-15 by First Stage at The Marcus Center

The Nutcracker

The Nutcracker has been a Christmas essential for decades; the Milwaukee Ballet first performed it in 1977, and the program has only grown since. Five years ago, the company made this classic accessible to a wider audience with its sensory-friendly production, designed for people with autism or other sensory disorders.

Dec. 7-Dec. 26 by The Milwaukee Ballet at The Marcus Performing Arts Center

More Fall Arts Guide

“Fall Arts Guide” appears in the September 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning September 2, or buy a copy online.

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