By Mary Boyle
Live theatre, among all of the things hit hard by the pandemic, was hit very hard, as it truly requires an audience sitting close together in front of the stage to reach its full affect. Traditionally, live theatre is not filmed for mass consumption; it is so rarely done that Hamilton may have been the first filmed live theatre performance even the most ardent theatre supporter has seen. Over the course of the pandemic, many companies worked to use both film and, with some success, zoom to continue their craft, with the goal being to return to live theatre as soon as possible.
Thankfully, most of our local theatre companies are fully reopened as we near the end of this year's season, and Forward Theater in Madison is one of them; however, they are also one of the few companies who understood that the filmed version of a live theatre performance might still appeal to some audiences, and may have the additional affect of broadening their audience base. Their last production of the season, Russian Troll Farm: A Workplace Comedy by Sarah Gancher, may be viewed from wherever you have a screen and an internet connection and, though it's still not quite the same as being in the audience, it's the next best thing (and you don't have to dress up or find parking).
Directed by Jennifer Uphoff Gray, Forward's Artistic Director, Russian Troll Farm is a story of one possible version of the events that led up to the 2016 presidential election in the United States. The story takes place at the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, a real organization run by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, where we meet some of the employees: Egor (Casem AbuLughod), Steve (Andrew Rathgeber), Nikolai (Scott Haden), Masha (Cassandra Bissell), and their supervisor, Lluba (Sarah Day). Their job? To get Donald Trump elected in the 2016 presidential election in the US through the use of fake social media accounts and propaganda. Under the watchful eye of Lluba, Egor, silent and diligent, is driven to meet his quotas and win a microwave, while Steve is loud, obnoxious and convinced he is "rescuing Russian culture from Western corruption." Nikolai, meanwhile, takes a different view and can't help but feel that his storytelling work is an art form. Their office life changes when a new employee, Masha, a former journalist who believed in telling the truth, joins their ranks.
Like THE AMATEURS earlier this season, Russian Troll Farm is filmed in front of a live theatre audience, so you are experiencing it as they are in terms of sound, but it's as if you had the best seats in the house because you get a closer view. Audiences need to know that there is a lot of strong language in this production; you will be comfortable with the "F" word by the time you are done, if you weren't already. By and large, the play is a comedy with plenty of laugh out loud moments, but there is an undercurrent in the show that isn't funny, at all. In part, this is because the playwright is trying to not so subtly demonstrate the lack of certain freedoms in Russia that we take for granted, here, but also because the playwright is suggesting that Russian propaganda is solely what caused Trump to win the 2016 election, which makes the play, itself, feel a bit like propaganda.
Forward Theater is known for choosing culturally relevant productions that create important dialogue and conversation, which is something I truly respect about them. I see a lot of live theatre, and plenty of it that has made me uncomfortable, which can be a good thing. We all need to take a close look at our beliefs and assumptions, now and then. This play made me uncomfortable in a very different way, though. The production, from a technical standpoint, was great: the actors all delivered amazing performances; the set design, costumes and lighting were all very good; but, in our country where everyone is increasingly divided, particularly by political lines, this play seemed to increase that divide instead of seeking to bridge the gap. Ultimately, the audience will need to be the judge of that; to judge it, you need to see it.
RUSSIAN TROLL FARM: A WORKPLACE COMEDY runs through May 8th at The Playhouse at Overture Center, located at 201 State Street in downtown Madison. Tickets may be purchased online at www.ForwardTheater.com or by calling 608-234-5001. Purchase digital tickets for the filmed version here.
About Forward Theater
Forward Theater Company is a not-for-profit professional theater company founded to provide exceptional theater experiences for area audiences and give professional actors, designers, and directors an artistic home in Madison, Wisconsin. Forward Theater was founded on a commitment to the civic and cultural life of our community and works to support area artist, theater students and Wisconsin playwrights. Forward Theater Company is proud be a resident organization in the beautiful Overture Center for the Arts, providing opportunities for artists and audiences to explore great dramas and provoke conversations about the issues that matter the most. We are proud to partner with groups like Wisconsin Wrights, Overture Center for the Arts, the University of Wisconsin , Madison Department of Theatre and Drama, American Players Theatre, The Wisconsin Story Project, Wisconsin Public Radio, Dane County Libraries, the Wisconsin Historical Society, and Milwaukee Chamber Theatre to bring exciting, engaging, and challenging theater experiences to an ever increasing audience.
By Mary Boyle
When my children were young, we heard the story about a little girl named Alex who had cancer. Alex spent most of her young life with doctors and in hospitals; she knew that they needed money to fund research to help find a cure, so she decided to help them. Because she was just very young, the way she decided to help them was by having a lemonade stand. While it may seem a futile gesture, word about Alex's lemonade stand grew fast. Alex made a lofty goal: to raise one million dollars for childhood cancer research. Her and her family hosted the first Lemonade Days, where people from across the country held lemonade stands to help the cause, and in 2004 they did it: they raised one million dollars. Shortly afterwards, Alex passed away. She was only 8 years old.
After my children heard that story, they wanted to hold a lemonade stand for Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, so we held a stand of our own during Lemonade Days for two years in a row, and it was a great experience. When people hear Alex's story, they are inspired to help, so I was very excited to hear that author, actor, and Resident Playwright at First Stage, James DeVita, had written a play about Alex, which is making its World Premier here in Milwaukee. The play is called THE AMAZING LEMONADE GIRL, and it is as amazing and powerful as the little girl who inspired it.
DeVita, a core member at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, has been seen on many a Milwaukee stage, and so has his writing; in fact, his brilliant play, A MIDNIGHT CRY, was also a World Premier with First Stage in 2014. Both plays are a testament to what Youth Theatre can be: stirring, emotional and fearlessly tackling tough subjects, such as slavery and death. While this topic, on the outside, may seem too heavy for a young audience, I would argue that it does exactly what live theatre was designed to do: to create empathy; to help guide audiences through these tough emotions by allowing them to experience those emotions through the characters on the stage. Please don't think that you need to have a child with cancer, to know a child with cancer, or to have any close contact with cancer to benefit from seeing this play; while people in those situations will very likely find this play to be therapeutic, this is a play for everyone.
Directed by Molly Rhode, THE AMAZING LEMONADE GIRL features an adult cast of three of Milwaukee's favorites, including Rick Pendzich and Karen Estrada, who were just recently in The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors with First Stage, and James Carrington, who families may remember as Gerald the Elephant from Elephant & Piggie's "We Are In A Play!" with First Stage First Steps. The role of Alex is double cast and played by Pietja Dusek in the Blue Cast and Maia Scherman, of Grafton, in the Purple Cast. There are two other young performers in each cast, including Andrew Kindler and Nala Patel, who is from Mequon, in the Blue Cast and Sanaiah Hibbler and Liam Jeninga in the Purple Cast.
I cannot lie: you are going to want to bring tissues with you for this one. This play will break your heart, but you must let it, because we think we already know the story of Alexandra Flynn Scott and we think it's all bad, but that isn't true. Near the beginning of the play, the actor who plays Alex explains that everyone has a story and all stories have the good and the bad; telling all the good or all the bad doesn't do the story justice. There is a lot of bad in the beginning of Alex's story, but her story didn't end when she left this place – her story is still being told: with every play, with every lemonade stand, with every child who has been helped by the research that ALSF has funded. The story just keeps getting better. Best of all, anyone can be a part of it.
THE AMAZING LEMONADE GIRL runs through May 15th at Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water Street in Milwaukee. Tickets start at $21 and may be purchased at firststage.org or through the Marcus Center Box Office, in person at 929 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee, or by phone at (414) 273-7206 or toll free at (888) 612-3500. The number for TDD (for deaf and hard of hearing patrons) is (414) 273-3080.
Special events for THE AMAZING LEMONADE GIRL
Pay What You Choose Performance: Friday, April 29, 2022 at 7:00 p.m.
Pay What You Choose tickets are available on a first come, first served basis with a minimum suggested donation of $5 per person. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. on the day of the performance. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early. firststage.org/events-tickets/tickets-offers/pay-what-you-choose/
ASL Interpreted Performance: Sunday, May 15, 2022 at 4:00 p.m.
This performance will be sign language interpreted for patrons who are deaf or hard of hearing. Assistive listening devices are also available at the Todd Wehr Theater. firststage.org/plan-your-visit/accessibility/sign-language-interpreted-performances/
Sensory Friendly Performance: Saturday, April 30, 2022 at 4 p.m.
A Sensory Friendly Performance with accommodations for families with children on the autism spectrum will take place on Saturday, April 30 at 4 p.m. Sensory accommodations include lower sound, house lights up, a quiet area staffed by an educator experienced with the care of students on the autism spectrum and other developmental differences, and more. Tickets for Sensory Friendly Performances are $10. Order by phone at (414) 267-2961, weekdays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. to reserve tickets. To learn more visit: firststage.org/plan-your-visit/sensory-friendly-performances/.
About First Stage
First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves nearly 2,000 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012) and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF). firststage.org
The first Earth Day was April 22nd, 1970, and it was the beginning of the modern environmental movement. The passage of the landmark Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and many other groundbreaking environmental laws soon followed. Twenty years later, Earth Day went global, mobilizing 200 million people in 141 countries and lifting environmental issues onto the world stage. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world, but you don't have to participate globally -- there are many ways to do it locally!
To kick off Earth Day in Oz, Traditions on the Green is hosting Earth Day at the Mequon Public Market on Sunday, April 10th from 11:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. Enjoy a water bar, live music, prizes, and kids can take home a pea plant.
The Mequon Nature Preserve has a whole week of Earth Day events, beginning with two events for young children: a screening of the movie The Lorax on Monday, April 18th at 10 a.m. and followed by a craft, hike and storytime for kids at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, April 19th. Wednesday, April 20th, as part of the Brown Bag Lunch Series at MNP, Kat Erickson, Professor at MATC, will present "Environment is Where We All Meet: The Beginning of Human Connection to the Earth." On Earth Day, Friday, April 22nd, anyone ages 12 and up can participate in a Land Restoration Work Day at MNP.
The Milwaukee Riverkeeper has their 27th Annual Spring River Cleanup from 9- noon on Saturday, April 23rd in locations all over southeastern Wisconsin, including Grafton, Saukville, Newburg and Fredonia. Milwaukee Riverkeeper provides the gloves, trash bags, and amazing FREE T-SHIRTS, and you provide the hands and energy to pick up the interesting and sometimes bizarre trash that finds its way into our beautiful river system. Afterwards, attend Rock the Green at the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee for live music and more.
In Port Washington, the WJ Niederkorn Library is hosting a Native Tree Giveaway from 9 a.m. - noon at the library and 1-4 p.m. at upper Lake Park.
In Saukville, Riveredge is hosting an Earth Day Summit for Teens on Saturday, April 23rd from 2-5 p.m. Groups and organizations are encouraged to sign up, but individuals may, as well. Also in Saukville on Saturday, dumpsters will be available for a Spring Clean Up at 649 S. Main St. between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Residents may drop off one large piece of furniture, carpeting, small amounts of construction debris, one box spring and mattress and appliances such as air conditioning units, microwaves, dehumidifiers, dishwashers, ovens, refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers and water heaters. They cannot accept cardboard, batteries, waste oil, paints, liquids, hazardous waste, recyclables, lawn waste, iron, tires, concrete, bricks or electronics, such as computers, monitors, printers, or telephones with video displays.
It's not exactly for Earth Day, but Ozaukee residents should know that Ozaukee County will also have a Community Recycling Event on Saturday, April 30th at Firemen's Park in Cedarburg and the Ozaukee Land & Water Management offers the Clean Sweep Program on May 14th from 8 a.m. - noon at the Ozaukee County Highway Shop, located at 1221 Hilltop Drive in the Town of Cedarburg. This program allows residents a chance to properly dispose of hazardous waste, old tires, electronics, and appliances. There is a $20 registration fee per vehicle for hazardous waste, but registration is not required for other items, though some disposal fees may apply.
Happy Earth Day, Oz!
Whether you're looking for a place for Easter Brunch, the best local places to fill your Easter Baskets, or for a chance to meet the Easter Bunny, we've got you covered!
Port Washington has their annual Hippity Hop Easter Egg Hunt and Downtown Treat Hop on Saturday, April 9th from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. Kids 12 and under and their families can join in the egg hunt, get their photo taken with the Easter Bunny, participate in a Story Walk or Sing Along at Upper Lake Park anytime between 10 a.m.and noon. Then, "hop" to downtown Port, where many of the local businesses will be handing out additional treats between 11 and 1 p.m.
On Saturday, April 9th, Grafton Park & Rec has their 28th Annual Egg Hunt at Centennial Park. Pictures with the Easter Bunny will available between 12:30 and 1, and the hunt will begin at 1 p.m. sharp — don't forget your basket!
Adults can join in on a Festive Easter Candy Class in Cedarburg on Wednesday, April 13th from 6-8 p.m.
Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson are having an Easter Egg Hunt in Thiensville on Saturday, April 16th from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Belgium will have their Easter Egg Hunt at Heritage Park, 11 a.m. sharp, on Saturday, April 16 for children 10 and under. Bring your Easter Baskets and meet the Easter Bunny!
Saukville will have their annual Easter Egg Hunt at Grady Park on Saturday, April 16th from 10 a.m. - noon.
Easter Brunch is a time-honored tradition, yet they're harder to find in post-pandemic Oz. In Saukville, The Bog is having an Easter Brunch in The Barn between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. In Port Washington, the Singing Salmon Saloon is having Easter Brunch on Sunday, April 10th from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. with hot ham and rolls and photos with the Easter Bunny, himself.
If you're in need of Easter Candy, you're in luck! Amy's Candy Kitchen and Ashley's Confectionary in Cedarburg have great selections. Sweet Trio in Grafton and The Chocolate Chisel in Port have plenty of chocolate bunnies to go around, as well. In Mequon, you want to check out the Cocoa Tree Confectionary.
Happy Easter from Ozaukee Living Local!