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Milwaukee Rep Unveils Audio Walking Tour Of Downtown Milwaukee

 SoundStage MKE is a new walking tour of downtown Milwaukee that incorporates audio plays and deep dives into local Milwaukee history.
SoundStage MKE
SoundStage MKE is a new walking tour of downtown Milwaukee that incorporates audio plays and deep dives into local Milwaukee history.

Theaters across Milwaukee have been shuttered since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. This has led to many artists experimenting with new ways to bring their art to viewers, especially in the digital world. While the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s newest performance was born out of the need to work without a theater space, this experience is meant to get people outside their homes and into downtown Milwaukee.

SoundStage MKE is an audio walking tour that uses downtown Milwaukee as a backdrop for curated audio plays that explore the history of local landmarks. The walk starts at Milwaukee Public Library’s Central Branch and ends at the War Memorial Center on the banks of Lake Michigan. The experience is broken up into four distinct parts over roughly three miles and in total takes two to three hours to complete.

Milwaukee native and Indigenous playwright Marisa Carr and writer Deanie Vallone were part of the team who put SoundStage MKE together. Carr says she has been interested in how theater can be hyperlocal and feel authentic to the community it’s being performed in. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, she wanted to think about how theater can be made accessible to more people across the city.

“There is also a moment of opportunity to reimagine what theater can be,” Carr says.

Milwaukee's Central Library is the first stop on the SoundStage MKE walking tour.

Each section of the tour includes an audio play written by Carr, and every landmark has a “Soundbyte” that gives further background on the Milwaukee history that place holds, written by Vallone.

Vallone says this is not the history found on the top pages of a Google search. She wanted to make sure each audio clip has a story even longtime Milwaukee residents may not know. “I wanted to either find an interesting angle to tackle or the kind of hidden history, a little bit like how Marissa did with her plays,” she explains.

Vallone says this is by no means a comprehensive tour of downtown Milwaukee and hopes that it will encourage people to explore other parts not included in SoundStageMKE. “There’s so much more to this city than just the places we get to stop, the Soundbytes and the plays reference other locations in the city, so we’re certainly encouraging folks to go off route, to expand the tour and to keep digging and find the layers underneath them,” she says.

Listen to an excerpt of the play "Night Shift," written by Marisa Carr, directed by May Adrales and sound designed by Andre Pleuss. It highlights the Pfister Hotel and its reputation to house a few ghostly guests, featuring actors Michael Doherty and JW.

The plays incorporate aspects of humor and are meant to be entertaining, Carr says, but they don’t shy away from touching on topics relevant to Milwaukee today — like the COVID-19 pandemic and the calls to change how police behave in the city.

“We tried to create something entertaining and enjoyable and of high artistic quality but certainly we had a lot of intention around what moment are we in,” she says.

The SoundStage MKE audio goes live on June 11, after which anyone with access to a cellphone and a pair of headphones can experience the tour.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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