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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Thoughts on this and that from 2019 in area performing arts

Critic At Large

Including powerful moments

Entertainer Frank Hermans stands at the door of a historical practice facility that was destined for demolition in 2019. (Warren Gerds)

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)

Nothing stays the same as change. And so it was in 2019 on the performance scene.

Looking back, the changes below – and more – are things that immediately come to mind in my experiences for the year.

Saying goodbye to Frank’s headquarters.

For nearly 15 years, Let Me Be Frank Productions show troupe of Green Bay rehearsed in what was the most phenomenal “practice field” in the history of the National Football League.

The performers worked up their songs and dances on a floor that was a carpet gridiron meant to represent that in Lambeau Field, which was across the street.

The floor was in the former Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, which was adjacent to Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena.

When the arena was demolished to make way for a new expo center, so went the “practice field.”

It was eerie talking with troupe namesake Frank Hermans in the remnants of what once was as a memory spot for thousands of Hall of Fame visitors and then a wholly unique rehearsal space… right next door to the arena where I saw many concerts.

Two links:

https://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-new-expo-center-means-history-will-vanish-for-green-bay-show-troupe/.
https://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-extra-reflections-on-brown-county-veterans-memorial-arena/.
Frank Hermans with sign in former Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, which was demolished in 2019. (Warren Gerds)

In with the new.

+ In Door County, Northern Sky Theatre built a new headquarters to consolidate its efforts in creating all-original musicals, including an indoor theater. The theater facility is a big deal for the company. In summer, Northern Sky Theater puts on original musicals outdoors in an amphitheater in Peninsula State Park. Performances are always susceptible to weather. The company plans indoor performances in the new theater in summer and other seasons. In sum, the region has a new theater facility. For the kickoff, gracing the Barbara and Spencer Gould Theater as the premiere production was the Packers-lovin’ “Dad’s Season Tickets.” Link: https://www.wearegreenbay.com/critic-at-large/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-review-dads-season-tickets-is-a-winner-plus-in-fish-creek/.

+ Props and set backdrops made of cardboard for original plays: That’s the deal for the new Cardboard Theatre in De Pere. The cardboard stuff is clever, and the plays have been tongue-in-cheek fun. In sum, the area has a new theater troupe based in improvisational comedy that does whimsical plays. A sampler review: https://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-review-subaverage-explorers-launches-a-super-fun-idea-in-de-pere/.

+ In Menominee, Michigan, the Coastal Players started life in an old opera house. The performance facility is needy, but the performers aren’t in their skills. The first production, “The Last Five Years,” caught the attention of the notable author. More is at this link: https://www.wearegreenbay.com/critic-at-large/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-review-challenging-the-last-five-years-dynamic-in-menominee/.

+ The Weidner Philharmonic presented its first concert. This is one take on what has happened: On the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay campus, the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts was built with a special emphasis on acoustics in its main hall, Cofrin Family Hall. An important tenant was the Green Bay Symphony Orchestra… which in time couldn’t make ends meet (etc.) and failed. UWGB musical entities have always used Cofrin Family Hall for performances, and astute musicians in the region look on the hall with desire. So UWGB folks breed a new orchestra that is fueled by collaboration. The hall has a home orchestra again. One link: https://www.wearegreenbay.com/critic-at-large/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-review-from-the-new-world-symphony-speaks-volumes-at-uw-green-bay/. Also, on a vacation in summer, I had a chance to make a most enjoyable connection: https://www.wearegreenbay.com/critic-at-large/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-extra-tales-of-dvorak-in-1893-iowa-trace-to-new-orchestra-in-green-bay/ .

A rare perspective.

+ A silent movie from 1929 Russia created much fascination when shown in Cofrin Family Hall accompanied by a new score composed by Michelle McQuade Dewhirst of the UWGB faculty. Like thumbing through a photo album, “Man with a Movie Camera” visited people, places and situations in a “forbidden” and foreboding land while the music stirred the intellect. One take on the documentary: Propaganda aside, people are people. Link: https://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-review-russian-silent-film-gets-a-new-artistic-voice-90-years-later/.

All performing arts centers are not the same.

+ In late spring, a University of Wisconsin-Green Bay function made a statement that the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts is a university facility. Misdirection over 25-plus years clouded that fact in the local public’s perception. My interpretation: While Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton is a facility unto itself for community performances and large-scale touring musicals, university needs take precedent at the Weidner Center. The university’s place is programming was spoken indirectly during the announcement of the 2019-2020 season of performances at the Weidner Center and on campus. By design, brief artistic performances were presented, all emanating from University of Wisconsin-Green Bay resources, student or faculty.

Three moments that brought pleasure to attending presentations and writing about them.

+ One. The Knights on Broadway of St. Norbert College show troupe’s “Christmas with the Knights: Finding Hope” incorporated video clips of people around campus offering thoughts on what gives them hope. Some students find hope in their friends. Other answers included activism, family, pets, kindness and “Jesus and my guitar.” Nicholas Surprise, a singer in Knights on Broadway, says in a video clip that he finds hope in the fact that both his parents, after long struggles with cancer, today are free of an active presence. In real life, Nicholas Surprise was the next student soloist to be featured in the performance. Flashback: He stands at the front of the stage and sings, in Latin, “Ave Maria” in an outpouring of expression. From Wautoma, Nicholas Surprise is a biology major with this performance thing one of his roots. The song ends. He smiles broadly. A full-house audience watches as Nicholas Surprise leaves the stage, walks down steps to the front row and hugs his mother, who has rushed into his arms, and then his father, each eagerly patting the other’s back. Such poignance. Such meaning. Wow.

+ Two. It was play talk-back session with actors and the director. University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh had just finished its final performance of “Nat Turner in Jerusalem” in Fredric March Theatre on campus. It was the final performance for student Bryan Carter in the title role of a slave who instigated a deadly rebellion in 1831. In the play, Nat Turner argues his rationale in his cell on the night before he will be hanged. As others at the talk-back start speaking, Bryan Carter is awash in emotion, often wiping his eyes, stroking his forehead and shuffling in his chair. He is clearly someplace else in his head. Eventually during the talk back, I asked him, “Where were you?” in that moment. Carefully, Bryan Carter said he was grateful for the opportunity to take on the role, to share it with the campus and community and audiences, to team with fellow cast members and to work with their director (Merlaine Angwell), who allowed “mystery” to be explored. Bryan Carter said he started work on the role in May (for performances in October). In seemingly leaving the role forever that Sunday afternoon, he seemed to have, as is said in sports, left it all on the court in a role of special meaning to him. Addendum: Bryan Carter has at least one more opportunity to be Nat Turner. The UW-Oshkosh Theatre production of “Nat Turner in Jerusalem” has been selected for performance Jan. 11 in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region III in Madison.

Three. Suddenly at the UWGB season announcement I wrote about above, a dancer’s pose took my attention in another direction. I saw a famous painting, and that created a special flash point – a simple image that took me to unexpected writing. The performance by a student led me to a look into the creative process and one of my favorite columns of the year: https://www.wearegreenbay.com/news/warren-gerds-critic-at-large-extra-anatomy-of-a-dance/.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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