Lake Effect recently traveled to the Cabot Theatre, a stage in the Broadway Theatre Center that's in the heart and soul of Milwaukee's Third Ward, for its latest Lake Effect On-Site. In this performing arts themed show, we learn how the Third Ward transformed from vegetable warehouses to an artistic hub. It was also Bonnie North's farewell show, marking the end of her 14-year career at WUWM.
From the Cabot Theatre to the Milwaukee School of Art and Design across the street, artists have transformed the Third Ward. It’s fair to say that the Third Ward wouldn’t be the destination it has become without artists leading the way.
David Lee is the CEO of Imagine MKE. He says the organization strives to be the "arts and culture chamber of commerce" for Milwaukee. Lee has more than 15 years of experience in government policy and advocacy, hunger relief, and community affairs. He also has a background in the performing arts, as an actor and screenwriter.
When it comes to what sets Milwaukee apart, Lee says, "Milwaukee offers an incredible level of arts institutions and smaller arts organizations where individual artists can engage."
Imagine MKE's role in the art community? Lee says its role is "to create the entry points for artists to engage, to be able to sell, to be able to rehearse and refine their work, and to get their work out."
Michael Pink has been the artistic director of the Milwaukee Ballet since 2002. This year marks 50 years of the Milwaukee Ballet, which started in 1970. It has grown to a powerhouse with a professional company and a ballet school and academy. In 2019, the entire organization moved to the Third Ward.
"The [Milwaukee] Ballet's choice for the Third Ward was an easy one because we were looking for a place where we could raise our own profile — locally, nationally, and hopefully internationally — in a place where we could share with other like-minded creative spirits," says Pink.
"If we can get people into our halls of entertainment and our museums, usually they'll come back because they'll be impressed with everything they see," says Pink. "That's a testament to the quality of the work that is presented in this city, which is extremely high."
Both organizations have found homes in the Third Ward and used the community to thrive over their many years. Yet, they also understand that the level of production needs to stay high to match that of those around them in Milwaukee.
"It's often one performance, one production at a time. You have to continue to produce at a high level to convince people to keep coming back," says Cecsarini.
Ponasik says, "For [Milwaukee Opera Theatre], we made a commitment to stay small and what that gives us is a platform to constantly question our operations." She says the opera's choice to not have a single home in Milwaukee also allows it to continue to experiment.
Skylight Music Theatre’s orchestra contractor and percussionist extraordinaire Michael Lorenz is known to most as Ding. He has been a percussionist since he was kid and would often get in trouble for the noise he created. The first time he played in a musical pit was as a sophomore at Bay View High School. He has gone on to play in musicals across Milwaukee, record musicals, and even create Things That Go Ding!, his own percussion show.
Ding describes Skylight Music Theatre as "his artistic home."