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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: A rarity: Door County theater spills out its 2020 story publicly

Critic At Large

Third Avenue Playhouse

Report image.

STURGEON BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – In this unusual time for the performing arts, the professional Third Avenue Playhouse offers a first for Northeastern Wisconsin – an inside look at the theater’s decisions of 2020 and its outline for the future.

On the website, four key figures with the company present a one hour, 22-minute presentation that amounts to an annual report in a public format.

Third Avenue Playhouse has especially earned attention in the last nine years with the arrival of Robert Boles and James Valcq, who were hired as co-artistic directors. They came with a bundle of performing, directing, composing/creating and teaching credits. James Valcq is the more connected to Wisconsin and the Door County performance/creative scene.


Moderating the review is noted Sturgeon bay glass artist Jeremy Popelka of the board of directors.

A theater with a “cosmopolitan effect” such as Third Avenue Playhouse “really changes the reputation of a place like Sturgeon Bay,” Jeremy Popelka says along the way.

The arts bring another personality to a place, he says.

Robert Boles recounts New Year’s Eve of 2019. “We were on a big high” after a successful year, he says.

In the first months of 2020, subscriptions and donor action were on a roll, says managing director Amy Frank.

What soon happened was “heartbreaking” she says.

Robert Boles details the preparations for the season, the arrival of COVID-19 in mid-March and the cancelations of productions in waves.

The entire season had been cast, and prime interns had been selected, Robert Boles says.

Soon enough, the future was envisioned with the next possible play opening in March 2021. “We knew that in early July,” Robert Boles says.

At times in the report, James Valcq and Robert Boles are tearful – James Valcq about his throttled creativity, Robert Boles about the fulfilling opportunities Third Avenue Playhouse provides for him.

Jeremy Popelka speaks of the “earthquake” that has swept across the theater scene.

James Valcq says, “But our business is still going, as much as anything is going. We’re not in danger of folding, and that is huge. We have so many colleagues in the theater who are just done, colleagues who run theaters. This is to say nothing of actors and designers whose jobs are from show to show. And musicians. Some careers are ending because of this. So we have much to be grateful for.”

Throughout the report, the generosity of patrons is noted.

And later James Valcq amends his statement. If generosity cuts off, “we may cut off, too,” he says.

The board of directors is spoken of often – as a force.

The board made a commitment to keep on the payroll Robert Boles, James Valcq and Amy Frank and – remarkably – Jon Ginnow, who had just moved to Sturgeon Bay to become the theater’s production stage manager and technical director.

Woven into Jon Ginnow’s role is another remarkable facet of the year for Third Avenue Playhouse – a multimillion-dollar renovation project. Jon Ginnow’s expertise helped in planning the renovation, Robert Boles says.

“It’s going to be a beautiful facility,” Robert Boles says.

Completion is expected by June or July 2021, Amy Frank says.

During the report, the participants detail how the building space of the former Donna Theatre is being adapted and/or improved.

A reference is made about “making a carriage from a pumpkin.”


Amy Frank and Robert Boles speak of three scenarios for the opening of the theater – 25 percent capacity, 50 percent capacity and no audience but livestreaming.

“The hardest part (is) how long is it going to take for our patrons to feel comfortable coming back to the theater?” Robert Boles says. “It’s going to be a while.”

For the near future, Third Avenue Playhouse will bring back its winter play reading festival, calling it “Playworks 2021” and extending it as far as needed into the season.

Spanning widespread plays read by widespread talent, the readings will be performed live. The reason, Robert Boles says, “(Is) at least everybody is all there at the same time, and something’s happening, and you’re taking part in it.”

In development, James Valcq says, is “Door County Stories” highlighting “the lives of members of the community, having them tell their own stories in their own words.”

The series will initially be presented online and eventually expanded to bring it to the stage, James Valcq says.

Much more is in the report, which reveals the kind of brains and heart that go into theater.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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