Opportunity is knocking for Optimist Theatre in the form of a $20,000 challenge grant. If we meet this challenge, we can provide free Shakespeare in the Park for thousands of people in the greater Milwaukee area.
Can you help us open the door? We need to raise $11,600 to make this dream a reality and we can do it with your help.
Why - Let me tell you a little story
Marquette University sponsors a chapter of this thing called Upward Bound. The kids they try to attract to this program are on the edge. Low income, many from the inner city, these are students whose parents never pursued higher education – so family support is hit or miss. In Milwaukee, most of these kids are African-American.
The goal of Upward Bound is to turn these young people into first-generation college students. It’s a great program.
During our first season of free Shakespeare in the Park, the lady who coordinates group activities for this Upward Bound chapter noticed what we were doing. But, because it was Optimist Theatre’s first year, she had no idea what to expect. Would it be any good? How would her students react? Most of them had never experienced live theatre, much less Shakespeare.
Still, she took a chance... and brought a group of about 80 Upward Bound students to see THE TEMPEST. That night, the kids were restless. They got up during the performance and went to the bathroom. They texted. They giggled. They chatted.
About half-way through, something happened. It was quiet. Faces all turned toward the stage. Fidgeting was practically non-existent. Was it the island’s magic?
After the last whisper of story died and Prospero made his exit, after a full-breath nanosecond of dead silence, the first person on his feet for a standing ovation was an Upward Bound student.
I know all of this because I was standing at the back of the house the entire show. And crying.
When everyone filed out of the courtyard, there was a generous blending of colors. Black, white, chatting, smiling and, yes, turning cell phones back on. A number of people chatted with people they didn’t seem to know – including some Upward Bound students. A shared experience.
I guess it was a good idea.
They came back the next year for TWELFTH NIGHT and the third season for MACBETH. By then, many of the students had read the play ahead of time. It didn’t even matter that the Upward Bound students seeing MACBETH were part of their Math and Science group.
It didn’t matter – and yet it did. It mattered in all the best ways.
Apparently, we aren’t the only ones who think so. Optimist Theatre is on the cusp of a new chapter. We’ve been invited by the COA Youth and Family Centers, one of Milwaukee’s most venerable community organizations, to move to their park. Imagine! Performing free Shakespeare in the Park in a public park in the middle of Milwaukee. In a brand new, beautiful amphitheatre on a hill. A hill which just so happens to offer one of the best views of our downtown city skyline.
BMO Harris Bank has offered us a $20,000 challenge grant. If we meet this challenge, we can produce free Shakespeare in the Park for thousands more people – including our Upward Bound kids.
By the way, we’re going to do AS YOU LIKE IT. It’s time for some great comedy.
Will you help?
Risks and challenges
"All the world's a stage..." But, outdoor theatre can be challenging. We are subject to the vagaries of weather, mosquitos, and costumes covered in grass stains.
Since we aren't performing in a space specifically designed for theatre, we also have to build everything from scratch, rent most of our equipment and figure out how to make our entrances and exits with no backstage.
One of the blessings of Shakespeare in the Park being free to the public is that we aren't dependent on ticket sales. If a show rains out, people can come another night.
Being a professional company, we carry event insurance and workers comp insurance. Accidents may happen, but we aim to recover.
The worst thing that could happen is that our host park decides that Shakespeare in the Park isn't a good fit. Honestly, we can't see this happening, but if it did, we would have to move.
Happily, we have an excellent relationship with several local colleges and with the Parks Dept, so there are a number of places we could move to. Since Shakespeare in the Park happens so early in the summer, we would also have time to arrange for a new performance home.
Beyond these challenges and considerations, Optimist Theatre is filled with imaginative, resourceful, professional theatre people whose hearts are in the right place. You can never anticipate everything that can go wrong in a production, but experience helps overcome most obstacles.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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