Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: New Expo Center Means History Will Vanish for Green Bay Show Troupe

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Photo caption: With Lambeau Field in the background, Frank Hermans stands at the entrance to the now-defunct headquarters of his Let Me Be Frank Productions. The building also once housed the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame that a U.S. president helped dedicate. The facility is due to be torn down as part of extensive demolition to make way for a planned Brown County Expo Center. (Warren Gerds photo)

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“Out with the old, in with the new” has a kinda/sorta surprise tag-along factor in the plans for building a $93-million Brown County Expo Center.

News reports have mentioned the new structure would mean the demolition of Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena and Shopko Hall.

Slipping under the radar in the reporting is another building that would go, the former Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, that is adjacent to the north of the arena. When the Packers Hall of Fame was relocated to Lambeau Field in 2003, the building came into use by PMI Entertainment Group… and soon, as a tenant, Let Me Be Frank Productions.

The show troupe needed space for rehearsals and storage for its shows. The 6,000 square feet available in the former Packers Hall of Fame was perfect.

Also, the space has a history of its own.

Tens of thousands of visitors – more than 2 million overall – admired Packers memorabilia, films, photos and more in the building, starting in 1976. The idea for a hall of fame began with a memorial wall in 1966 in the arena. The 1976 dedication of the Packers Hall of Fame museum/building was attended by President Gerald Ford.

When the Packers Hall of Fame was moved in 2003, some features in the building stayed. Included were such signs as “Winning is Everything” and “The Legend Continues.” A popular sign, with a typo, was “Brett Favre: Three time MVP and Superbowl Champion.”

Also remaining was the custom carpeting, a kind of Astroturf with yard-line markers so people could pretend they were on the gridiron at Lambeau Field across the street.

Theater and show folks have all manner of rehearsal spaces, but for a show troupe in Wisconsin, this was the Mother of All Rehearsal Spaces.

That thought is not lost on Frank Hermans, namesake of Let Me Be Frank Productions, tenant in the former Packers Hall of Fame for nearly 15 years.

“Every day, I walk out that door, and I am amazed that I am here and see Lambeau Field out there,” Hermans said a few days ago.

All around Hermans was all kinds of showbiz stuff to be packed or tossed in the final stages of the troupe moving out of its prized rehearsal space.

Hermans’ troupe started as Frank’s Dinner Theatre at the Sports Corner in De Pere. The name remained for a few years when the troupe performed at the SC Grand Banquet and Convention Center in Lawrence. In 2006, the troupe became Let Me Be Frank Productions when it struck a deal with PMI to become the house group at the Meyer Theatre in downtown Green Bay, producing six comedies with music a year. If you step back and look at the showbiz scene with a wide, wide angle lens, such a setup is rare, if existent at all.

It could be said that Let Me Be Frank Productions is becoming historic itself. The troupe has passed the 100-show mark – productions it has created from scratch with scripts (most goofy), humor (lots off-the-wall) and songs (huge variety, mostly popular) by skilled singers with an extremely versatile, live band.

A point of this story is two doses of history are being left in the dust.

Hermans was not outright sentimental in talking about the move the other day. But there were hints.

“This was a playhouse for children,” he said.

Children were always around on fringes of rehearsals.

“Ten babies in 10 years,” Hermans said of the birth rate among troupe members.

“This became a child care place,” he said.

There were bonuses in leasing such a space.

“We had 15 family Christmas parties here,” Hermans said.

And then there were private parties before Packers games, and all folks had to do was walk across the street to Lambeau Field.

The former Packers Hall of Fame included space for a large office, areas for costume and props storage and a TV show recording studio.

One ad-in feature was a wall that was top to bottom mirror (four panels) in front of which the performers practiced their dance moves.

The other day, the final remnants were strewn hither and yon.

“It is really eerie coming in here now with practically everything gone,” Hermans said.

Not going to be missed are parking constraints. Hermans said it was hard to schedule rehearsals during days of Packers games and the many shows at the Resch Center, Shopko Hall or Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena.

The troupe saw the writing on the wall about the necessity to move long ago as news about a new expo center became more and more earnest. A search for a new place started a year ago. Hermans, his brother, Mike Hermans, and his creative partner, Pat Hibbard, formed an LLC and purchased a building at 305 S. Broadway in downtown Green Bay.

The new place is smaller, at 3,500 square feet. The space includes a rehearsal area, an office and a TV studio, with limited storage for costumes, etc. More storage is located at a facility in Brillion, where Frank Hermans and his wife, Amy Riemer, reside.

The process of moving has been going on for four months.

The new place is just across the Fox River from the Meyer Theatre, so there are conveniences of logistics.

The troupe has already rehearsed two productions in its new space.

It will never have the kind of good ol’ days glory of the rehearsal space that once was the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, but change happens…

And more than most people, showman Frank Hermans knows that’s showbiz.

Contact me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air Critic at Large editions on WFRV-TV at 6:20 a.m. Sundays. My latest book, “I Fell Out of a Tree in Fresno (and other writing adventures),” is available in Green Bay at Neville Public Museum and Bosse’s.

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