When Fresco Opera Theatre moved into a new office on Winnebago Street last summer, executive director Frank Cain was happy to have TAPIT/new works Ensemble Theater next door. The company's producing artistic directors, Donna Peckett and Danielle Dresden, seemed like great neighbors, and they shared his interest in the performing arts. Cain didn't realize that all three of them would soon collaborate to celebrate the Schenk's Corners Shop-N-Go, the convenience store down the street.
Convenience: Comedy, Opera and a Neighborhood Affair (Aug. 1-10 in TAPIT's space at 1957 Winnebago St.) is a multifaceted performance featuring an original script, arias from well-known operas, tap dancing, a slide show and a walking tour. In other words, there are chances for the audience to both watch and participate.
The story revolves around a real-estate developer and a grassroots activist who come up with competing plans for the shop's future. As tension between them grows, so does a romance. Other characters include conspiracy theorists, musicians and all sorts of eccentric store patrons.
Peckett says she'd long been toying with the idea of a play about the Shop-N-Go, where people from very different walks of life sometimes interact in hilarious ways.
"I've always wanted to create a play about the convenience store in the neighborhood. I even wrote a song on the subject years ago."
Earlier this year, Fresco and TAPIT were both looking to expand in new creative directions and introduce audience members to performance styles they might not experience otherwise. A play about Schenk's Corners seemed like an ideal way to bring together two different crowds of arts lovers: opera fans and community theater enthusiasts.
"We had to jump on it when TAPIT pitched the story," Cain says. "We have fun doing things that people haven't done; that's what moves us forward and gets us excited."
Convenience is also a chance for the crowd to get better acquainted with the neighborhood and its heritage. A brief walking tour of Schenk's Corners, developed by Dresden, keeps the plot moving -- and the audience, too -- while conveying historical facts about local people and places. Archival images of the area, collected by the East Side History Club, will be shared during the performance as well.
As Cain points out, Convenience is partly a homage to the architecture of Schenk's Corners, including the buildings that house hangouts like Tex Tubb's, the Mermaid Cafe and the Green Owl. But it's not just about bricks and mortar.
"We wanted to create a story that included the history of the buildings and the people behind the buildings," he says.
Written by Dresden, the production was directed by Melanie Cain, who is Fresco Opera Theatre's artistic director and cofounder, as well as Frank's wife. It features performances by George Abbott, Ashton Lareau, Clarisse Tobia and other Madison-area talents. But Peckett insists that the stars of the show are "the neighborhood, the passion of its residents, and how opinionated everyone has been here in Schenk's Corners."