The Bartell Theatre hosted a season-announcement event on May 19 at its facility on East Mifflin Street. The six resident companies revealed a slate of plays heavy on comedy and fun--a perfect remedy for hard times.
Madison Theatre Guild, for example, will produce the feel-good musical Forever Plaid. Mercury Players Theatre has its own musical, In the Beginning, another irreverent work by Andrew Rohn and Catherine Capellaro of Walmartopia fame.
The Bartell's newest company, Laboratory Theatre, offers the bouncy Schoolhouse Rock Live and the wry Santaland Diaries. Comedies include Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 from Strollers Theatre, Sappho in Love from StageQ and Tidings from the Seasonally Affected from Encore Studio.
Sarah Hoover, the Bartell's managing director, believes that audiences want to see fun productions during the economic downturn. She also thinks the recession helps explain the recent surge of interest in the Bartell.
"We've seen a lot of people who want to get involved with theater here," she says. "In times of economic crisis, we turn to our neighbors. We try to support our community in any way we can, and that includes supporting local artists. The Bartell has always been the home for local theater."
Hoover says that attendance for the Bartell's 2008-09 season was "not stellar." Even so, numbers were up from 2007-08, and each Bartell troupe saw an increase in attendance after the Madison Repertory Theatre folded in early '09. As for 2009-10, the schedule is notably fuller, with over 30 shows compared to some 20 from this season.
Laboratory Theatre replaces MadCAP Theatre as a resident company. The troupe is new to Madison, but has a track record in Chicago. Artistic director Michele Good describes its niche as "educational theater, but not specifically for children."
"It's theater that's designed to make people think, rather than being strictly entertaining," Good says. "The material we pick is usually thought-provoking. If it's an existing play, we put a different spin on it."
Hoover has been the Bartell's managing director for almost a year. She was instrumental in changing the organization's inefficient structure, consolidating two boards into one. Now she has to find creative ways to raise funds.
"We've survived due to the generosity of one major donor, the Purple Moon Foundation," she says. "But it's not able to contribute this year. Fortunately, we own our building, don't owe any money, and have a reserve built up. But the reserve will only last till about this time next year."
The Bartell Theatre's 2009-10 schedule follows, with the productions, companies, and opening dates:
Romance: Strollers Theatre, Aug. 13
In the Beginning: Mercury Players Theatre, Sept. 4
Forever Plaid: Madison Theatre Guild, Sept. 8
Cat's Paw: Strollers Theatre, Sept. 10
Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins: Madison Theatre Guild, Sept. 14
Educating Rita: Laboratory Theatre, Oct. 2
Vin: Mercury Players Theatre, Oct. 9
Musical Comedy Murders of 1940: Strollers Theatre, Oct. 29
The Stops: StageQ, Oct. 30
1 SW33T R1DE: Mercury Players Theatre, Nov. 20
The Santaland Diaries: Laboratory Theatre, Nov. 27
Tidings from the Seasonally Affected: Encore Studio for the Performing Arts, Dec. 10
Random Harvest: StageQ, Dec. 31
The Hot L Baltimore: Madison Theatre Guild, Jan. 8
Tarantara: Madison Savoyards, Jan. 15
Fat Men in Skirts: Mercury Players Theatre, Jan. 22
Sappho in Love: StageQ, Feb. 12
Two Rooms: Madison Theatre Guild, Feb. 19
Meg: Madison Theatre Guild, Feb.25
Schoolhouse Rock Live! In Concert: Laboratory Theatre, March 5
911: A collection of 4 One-Act Plays: Encore Studio for the Performing Arts, March 19
Man of La Mancha: Strollers Theatre, April 8
Mercury Rising: Mercury Players Theatre, April 16
The Spitfire Grill: Madison Theatre Guild, May 7
The Seahorse: Madison Theatre Guild, May 13
Playboy of the Western World: Strollers Theatre, May 13
Poona: The F**k Dog: Mercury Players Theatre, May 28
Queer Shorts 5; StageQ, June 10
Blitz and Smackdown: Mercury Players Theatre, June 18