Will Milwaukeeans Still Be Able to See Plays, Performances and Art Openings This Year?

Local creatives are adapting as the fall arts season approaches.

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Normally, Milwaukee-area theaters and performing arts groups spend their summers preparing for their fall seasons: casting shows, organizing rehearsals, publicizing their new lineup. This year, unfortunately, many have been stuck sitting around, watching the news for coronavirus updates. Waiting.

“This is a devastating moment for the field,” says Chad Bauman, executive director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. “I think, when this is all said and done, the live entertainment and performing arts sectors will be among the most impacted.”

Like many local theaters, the Rep has delayed its season start date [to late November] as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. And Bauman says that the company is ready to make other changes as well: timed entries, socially distanced seating, virtual viewing options.

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Even so, there’s still a chance that the theater may be forced to push its season start date back even further, or cancel some of its shows entirely. “The bottom line is that if we see a resurgence, we may not be able to open up again even with those precautions,” Bauman says. “People come first to us. The safety of our artists, our patrons, our staff, is our top priority.”

The Rep’s situation isn’t unique. Many performing arts groups are facing similar dilemmas. And other types of arts organizations are struggling, too. Concert halls have been closed since March. Museums have only recently begun reopening their doors to in-person visitors. Countless artists and other creatives are out of work, some with little reason to believe that they’ll be able to return to their jobs soon.

In the meantime, local creatives are taking, well, a creative approach to their work, looking for ways to continue producing new, innovative work while still practicing social distancing.

Debra Loewen, founder of the Wild Space Dance Company, choreographed a series of dances designed to be performed outside, in front of a circle of patrons’ parked cars (and she’ll be offering audiences another chance to see them Sept. 16 and 17; visit wildspacedance.org for more information). Boswell Book Co. owner Daniel Goldin has moved his popular author events over to Zoom, allowing locals to stream conversations between authors scattered across the globe from the comfort of their own living rooms. First Stage streamed an original work, A Kids Play About Racism, for free in early August.

And when it’s finally safe to gather in large groups again, we look forward to seeing our city’s arts professionals unleash all the creativity they’ve been bottling these many months. It’s going to be a spectacular show.


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s September issue.

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.