Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: American Folklore Theatre will change name


PHOTO: “Windjammers” was the new offering on the American Folklore Theatre 2013 summer season at Door County’s Peninsula State Park amphitheater. AFT photo

GREEN BAY, Wis., (WFRV) – Stutlemoew Theater.

That’s my offering for the new name for American Folklore Theatre.

The company has announced it will change its name in 2015, and it has started ramping up toward that by taking name suggestions from the public. The deadline is Friday, Feb. 14, to toss your choice into the hat. More on that and my choice(s) later, but first:

The troupe is a major summer attraction at Door County’s Peninsula State Park near Fish Creek. Its original musicals are seen by tens of thousands of people. Performances are outdoors and subject to the whims of weather. The latrines are outhouses. The audience sits on wooden benches. There are bugs. And still people come, night after night, for three months in the summer (and to shows indoors in fall).

The attraction is seeing a musical comedy – live – that has some connection to Door County or Wisconsin and is put together by the troupe in a professional manner.

The company’s press release says, “Over the past 25 years, AFT has evolved from a story-telling and concert-centric ensemble to a full-fledged theater organization that primarily focuses on the creation and presentation of original full-book musicals. Some of its shows, such as the hit comedy ‘Guys on Ice,’ have been performed in dozens of theaters coast to coast.”

It’s likely there will be some resistance to the change. People familiar with the troupe know what it’s about. The problem lies elsewhere, in the creative world that AFT taps to find new pieces to present. The troupe introduces at least one completely new, full show each season. With its standards, that’s become a daunting task.

- Jeffrey Herbst, artistic director: “Our mission has not changed in any way. We will continue to produce original family-friendly musical theater that celebrates Midwest culture. The new name will better introduce the company to the next generation of patrons and creative collaborators and will better communicate and celebrate who we are and the art that we create.”
- Dave Maier, managing director: “The name ‘American Folklore Theatre’ communicates connotations about our focus that are no longer accurate. In some important subliminal ways, the name can even work against us – particularly in attracting new audiences and potential collaborators that are unfamiliar with us. Our unique mission and creative ‘pipeline’ depend on attracting new artistic collaborators that ‘get’ who we are and what we do.”

- Frederick “Doc” Heide, co-founder: “People who aren’t familiar with us may assume ‘folklore’ means we’re a bunch of amateur banjo pickers in suspenders singing to kids about Paul Bunyan. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’re fully professional. Our shows are original book musicals about Wisconsin culture that enthrall people of all ages. We know this change may be hard for some of our fans, and hope they understand that it’ll help keep us vital and relevant for decades to come.”

The company started as The Heritage Ensemble almost 45 years ago, founded by the University of Wisconsin. The group reorganized and changed its name to American Folklore Theatre when it separated from the university and incorporated as a non-profit performing arts company in 1990.

Herbst: “We’re at a stage in our development similar to 1990, when we transitioned from ‘The Heritage Ensemble’ to ‘American Folklore Theatre.’ It’s again time for a new name that doesn’t hold us back – that helps us succeed. So, after much careful thought – and some nostalgia – we know it’s time to take this significant step.”

The company says its board of directors, management, cast, crew and outside advisors have been kicking around the idea of changing the name from American Folklore Theatre for seven years. It’s that much of a “wrasslin’” match. To be sure, the final choice – by committee – will be more “wrasslin’.”

“Will it be by sword or gun?” I asked playfully of marketing director Holly Feldman.

She laughed as she said, “Theater sword.”

The company says it has strong contenders for a new name, but it wants to see what the community can come up with, too. You never know, something brilliant may be out there. Send your suggestion(s) to Holly Feldman at hfeldman@folkloretheatre.com through Friday, Feb. 14, 2014.

The name will be changed in the 2015 season, and the company will continue as American Folklore Theatre through this season. The new name is expected to be announced around Memorial Day this year.

The winning entry will win… maybe an ice cream sundae.

“There is no grand prize,” Feldman said.

If that’s the case, I really have nothing to lose with my offering of Stutlemoew Theater.

The company is looking for a name that’s distinctive. Stutlemoew certainly stands apart.

The name shouldn’t be close to that of any other theater troupe, to avoid confusion. There’s no other Stutlemoew Theater.

The name should reflect what the company and its mission are about. Stutlemoew does, but it needs an explanation. It’s an acronym – drawn from the first letters of words. The words: Wisconsin’s Enduring Original Musical Theater Under The Stars. That’s Weomtuts, but that really sounds phony. So I reversed the letters to Stutmoew. That is awkward, so, since I was doing what I wished in the first place, I added “el” for “extra letters” (reversed) to create Stutlemoew. At least that sounds like somebody’s or some thing’s name.

BY THE WAY, the outfit should be called Theater with an “er” on the end, not “re.” I’m sick of seeing American theater companies as Theatre. The American spelling is the “er.”
We kicked the British out 237 years ago. The British can have their “theatre.” We should be “theater” – American – in every situation. The only troupe around here that seems to believe that is Green Bay Community Theater.

I have other suggestions.

My straightforward, non-goofy one is Wellspring Theater. That suggests a fresh source, as a fresh source of creativity. The phrase “of Wisconsin” could be added. Then it could be WOW Theater.

My thought process also kicked around other possibilities.

- Wemahot – Wisconsin’s enduring musical and historical outdoor theater (but the “outdoor theater” suggests movies).

- Owl Theater – Outdoor Wisconsin Lollapaloozas. There are owls in the park, at least.

- Whatever the name is of the Scandinavian goddess of theater under the stars, being that Door County has strong Scandinavian roots. I’d look it up, but I can’t find my Scandinavian-English dictionary.

- Gnarhootwhoopwhoopcarflooeyclunkcarbunkle – kind of coughed out. People will say, “Excuse me?” And then you can tell them everything: “That’s the name of a theater company in Door County, Wisconsin, that puts on original musicals outdoors in the summer in an amphitheater with huge pine trees growing in and around the stage.”

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV at 6:45 p.m. Thursdays and every other Sunday between 6 and 8 a.m. (usually around 7:45 a.m.)

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