It began with the search for a floor.
TAPIT/new works Ensemble Theater turns 25 years old this season. It calls itself "Madison's oldest professional theater company." Certainly it's a rare troupe, producing works that often include tap dance.
TAPIT celebrates its anniversary March 5 with the premiere of Help Wanted: A Comedy About the Search for Security, True Love or at Least a Decent Part-Time Job. It indeed includes tap dancing.
Before TAPIT, recalls co-producing artistic director Donna Peckett, "I got kicked out of all the places I was teaching because we were ruining the floors. It's metal on wood. It's hard on a floor."
She'd worked as a dancer, instructor and choreographer with American Players Theatre, the University of Wisconsin and, for eight years, Broom Street Theater. There, in 1981, she met playwright and actor Danielle Dresden, who would become TAPIT's other co-producing artistic director.
The timing couldn't have been better. "Danielle said 'let's make a company' and 'we can do this,'" Peckett recalls.
More than merely having a tap dance home, Peckett says she and Dresden intended TAPIT to be "a grassroots-based arts organization that spoke to social issues in an engaging way, which made a difference."
Peckett bought a former Rennebohm's Drug Store in Schenk's Corners, then a depressed neighborhood. She installed a floor and launched the company. "People thought I was crazy," she says. "It was a seriously challenged area. I didn't quite know what I was doing."
TAPIT incorporated as a nonprofit in 1985. What followed was a string of unusual grant-winning productions such as Frankie N. Stein: Drama in Taps, L'CHAIM! A Jewish Tapestry and Nothing But...A Theatrical Revue on Sexuality and Censorship, with sets designed by Isthmus cartoonist P.S. Mueller. The company also launched an extensive series of classes and workshops.
TAPIT doesn't always include dance in its productions. "We made this mission that is sort of hard for people to grasp sometimes," laughs Peckett. "Danielle is a playwright, and I have always worked in the theater. And I'm a tap dancer. You can do both."
And as for their home floor? The dry sound of maple is ideal for tap, but TAPIT's is oak.
"It's a lot of maintenance," says Peckett. "We have to get it rebuffed every year, and it gets resanded about every three years."