Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: A peek at how one community theater keeps its audience engaged

Critic At Large

Green Bay Community Theater

Recent talkback for cast of 2019 Green Bay Community Theater production of “With This Ring.” (Warren Gerds screenshot)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – Community theaters in Northeastern Wisconsin are struggling to see through the dense fog caused by the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

None has mounted a full, live, in-person, full-capacity production since March 2020.

A rich history has been stopped in its tracks.

A few community theaters have put on shows with limited-capacity audiences and streamed the action to home viewers.

Mostly, these troupes that have been around for decades and have a following have invented ways to connect by Internet to their patrons and anyone else they can interest.

Notably, Green Bay Community Theater since fall has regularly come up with online offerings.

In the latest one, president of the board Dave Zochert briefly waxed philosophical. A businessman with a taste for theater, he said something along this line: Coming into the position of president, his first thought was, “Oh great, just what I need, taking over in the middle of a crummy pandemic. Some future in that.” But then a thought came: “You can lead the theater through this.” That is a very general interpretation of his passing observation.

Here is what Green Bay Community Theater came up with in segments moderated by theater manager Patricia Grimm (mostly) and Dave Zochert via, click on current season:

+ “Scenic Design” with April Beiswenger, held Sept. 17.

April Beiswenger is on the theater faculty of St. Norbert College and is also a visual artist.

+ “Costume Design” with April Beiswenger. Held Sept. 24.

+ “Post-Its, Pencils & Paperwork! The Basics of Stage Management” with Erin Gerard and Chad Bishop. Held Oct. 1.

Gerard and Bishop are involved behind the scenes in area productions.

+ “Director’s Panel Conversation” with Craig Berken, Kristi Skrinska and Dave Zochert. Held Oct. 8.

The three have directed for Green Bay Community Theater, and the segment includes many open conversations.

+ “Lighting Design for the Stage” with April Beiswenger. Held Oct. 15.

+ “Actor’s Panel Conversation” with Lyle Becker, Lina Green, Bill Sergott, Jami Thompson and Eric Westphal. Held Oct. 22.

+ “Death and Beauty” with April Beiswenger. Held Oct. 29.

+ “Post-Its Talkback” with actors and director. Held Nov. 19.

Post-Its” was a virtual production by the troupe.

+ “The A, B, C’s of Make-up for the Stage” with Christopher Russo. Held Dec. 3.

Russo is a long-time professional make-up artist.

+ “Cornered by Robert Patrick Talkback” with actors Kathryn Schroeder and Eric Westphal and director Sandy Zochert. Held Jan. 28.

Cornered” was a virtual production by the troupe.

+ “With This Ring Talkback” with actors and directors. Held Feb. 18.

Recording available soon.

Each of these sessions is a window on areas of expertise or personal experiences in live theater. Many engaging moments and much valuable information can be found. Often, participants answer questions from the online audience. Some sessions last more than an hour. They are packed.

Since September, Green Bay Community Theater produced two small-cast play productions online. While the productions are no longer available, talkbacks tell a lot of what went into them.

Bonuses along the way were on-demand viewings of Green Bay Community Theater productions of “Thanksgiving on Serendipity Lane” from 2017 and “With This Ring” from 2019. These were opportunities for an online audience to see a full, recorded performance of a play as it played out in front of a live audience. Kathy Treankler, who performed in both, sponsored the original recordings along with the showings via a distribution system.

Showings were possible with approval of the playwrights – Kathy Campshure of this region for “Thanksgiving on Serendipity Lane” and Joe Simonelli of New Jersey for “With This Ring.”

The Zoom-like talkback for “With This Ring” was a happy evening for cast members and director Dave Zochert.

Most were online from the Green Bay area, but cast member Leah VanLaanen participated from Alaska, where she moved in the meantime.

“With This Ring” consists of four scenes featuring a couple in each. One of the interesting comments in the talkback was how cast members liked the videotaped version because they got to see other scenes in the play for the first time because they were backstage for the original.

Also, the cast talked among itself about liking to do a sequel. As they spoke, it came out that Joe Simonelli’s situations are so tight, that a sequel would be impossible.

Kathy Treankler noted she had presents for each in the cast.

The talkback captured the camaraderie that so many casts develop. In a sense, the COVID-19 pandemic helped expose that to a wider audience.

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