Having closed his Boulevard Theatre space in Bay View, Mark Bucher begins a second act as traveling Gypsy, going from theater to theater to stage his plays.
Growing up, were you the kid putting on skits in your neighborhood?
I would stage things in my head, type up plays on my mom’s old Remington 1930 typewriter – wish we still had that! – and re-enact movie scenes by myself. My brothers and I used to relive bad Hollywood B horror flicks on Saturday afternoons. Such innocence, when you thought the horrors in life were so clearly marked.
Who were your influences?
My mom, Annie, who was a great talent in her own right. Born slightly ahead of her time and a little too late in the movie industry, Mom was in the comic ballet. Her dad was actually in vaudeville. She went out to California to try and make it. When that didn’t work out, she came back and helped out with the Boulevard Theatre.
Why did you close the Boulevard Theatre space?
There were many deciding factors. We succeeded in our mission. We, the Boulevard, contributed mightily to the Kinnickinnic Avenue renaissance. We transformed the neighborhood into a thriving business district. And now the neighborhood … they vote with their dollar for what they want to support. And currently, in this gestation, this neighborhood wants restaurants, wants fine drinking establishments. But they may not see the value in live performance as much as this neighborhood once did. Even 10 years ago, we were playing to sold-out houses. And now we’ve sort of served as a template for many other local theater groups. There’s more competition, harder-to-grab audiences.
Will the traveling Boulevard Theatre be changing its content?
We’ll be like a Johnny Appleseed, making mini-transformations of spaces people didn’t know about but were curious. When you’re a curious person, you go see things. Curiouser and curiouser. I do know I will never own a space again.
What have been the biggest changes in Milwaukee theater?
The biggest changes have been so many small ones, you know, like a death by a thousand cuts sort of thing. The biggest positive change is that the local economy has benefited from the growth of theater here. As a pioneer of the Milwaukee storefront template, I know from firsthand experience that one, just one, successful theater company can inject a local neighborhood with interest, appeal and focus to reinvigorate the immediate neighborhood and initially provide the charge to light the rocket of urban renewal.
And the less-than-positive changes?
Milwaukee has not maximized the potential of this under-reported industry, which has as much long-term and far-reaching economic clout as any sports franchise or Disney touring show. Milwaukeeans – artists, media, patrons – ignore the jewels strewn in their path to pay uber-dollar for a touring concert, a bus-and-truck tour or an act which promises a laser show. Our own great-grandfathers and great-grandmothers worked a six-day week and still found time to found and fund immigrant opera companies, theaters in their own native tongues, and beer gardens which did not, I assure you, resemble a drunken street brawl. Rather, they featured both popular and highbrow music, local bands, dancing and communication. We have everything here in our own artistic garden, but we treat it as an exile of Elba and not the Eden it might become.
Is theater a dying art?
Theater is a rebirthing art. So it dies and is reborn consistently – in different formations, in different formats. It’s constantly being reborn. We saw about five years ago a flurry of different theater companies. Some of them are no longer around.
How do you feel toward critics?
There is no such thing as constructive criticism. Real criticism doesn’t use the pronoun I. Real criticism is based on science and logic. Ego is not logical.
What can theater-goers do better?
Read the review after you see the play. Read the play before you see it. Read!
Do you ever see yourself retiring, or are you doing a “life sentence” of theater?
Morph. I want to evolve and devolve. More acting; I would love to do more coaching, critiquing.
What’s your new show?
The latest production, RX, will be a Milwaukee premiere. It is a romantic comedy written by Kate Fodor with a female protagonist. The play takes a fun poke at the pharmaceutical industry, but also asks some thought-provoking questions about reality and the placebo effect – in medicine and relationships.
Condensed and edited from a longer interview.