CTM Madison Family Theatre Company continues its comeback with To Kill a Mockingbird, opening May 18 at the Overture Center's Playhouse. CTM is taking no chances with Mockingbird, a proven crowd-pleaser based on the well-known novel by Harper Lee: a story about coming of age, prejudice, courage and hope in Depression-era Alabama.
"It's a great story and a good fit for us," says producing director Roseann Sheridan. "CTM has always been a theater that focuses on youth and stories that span generations."
Sheridan is an eloquent advocate of what she calls "community theater that creates community." Mockingbird's all-local cast includes 11-year old Emma Geer as Scout; Richard Ganoung as her lawyer father, Atticus Finch; and Ray Pearson as the wrongly accused Tom Robinson. Aware that "everyone has either seen the play or the movie, or read the book," Sheridan promises a surprise or two for audiences.
The choice of Mockingbird as CTM's first offering since A Christmas Carol last December reflects the cautious outlook of current CTM staff and board members like Terry Haller, Madison businessman and prominent member of Wisconsin arts and philanthropic communities. Newly energized by fresh leadership and a plump financial cushion, the 41-year-old theater has made a determined comeback since the forced cancellation of its season in January 2006 left it without even enough money to file for bankruptcy.
"It was a chastening experience," sighs the soft-spoken Haller, who says he's always been inspired by The Little Engine That Could. "Re-creating CTM would have been impossible without the incredible generosity of 35 or 40 people who opened their hearts and their pocketbooks."
Those pocketbooks yielded $450,000 - enough to pay CTM debts plus $100,00 extra for operating expenses. "Now our first priority is to make sure our operational year-to-year house is in order," says Haller.
"In the future, we plan to diversify and not just rely on ticket sales or our endowment," explains Sandra Fernandez, president of CTM's board of directors. "Despite all our troubles last year, enrollment in our classes was higher than it's ever been: Over 300 students participated in acting workshops and our Summer Drama School. We'd like to greatly expand those classes and our outreach programs that supplement the lack of drama offerings in schools."
An educational coordinator has recently been hired to further develop courses and curriculum.
A retreat is scheduled later this month for the 23-member board to redraft CTM bylaws and plan a national search for a permanent producing director. "The board is not rushing into anything," says Fernandez. "We're being very methodical, very careful in how we move forward, grow our staff, our educational courses, outreach and the number of performances we do."
A Christmas Carol, CTM's signature production, will return to the Capitol Theater stage in December. But aside from mini-productions associated with CTM classes, no other main-stage production is planned until April 2008.
"Two plays in a 12-month period defeats the purpose of the company," says former Mayor Paul Soglin, a past CTM board member. "But if it's only an interim measure and they return to doing four or five plays a season, then I think they're doing the right thing, and I wish them well."
"In another year," says Haller, "we'll be in a position to gear up and have an additional main-stage offering to present." There's even talk about tapping local children's playwrights like Jim DeVita.
Meantime: Curtain's going up on To Kill a Mockingbird. If your ticket is for the Sunday afternoon performance on May 20, plan to stick around for a talk-back session with the cast.