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July 10, 2003

Milwaukee Rep Is 50

The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, one of the leading LORT venues in the country, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

In 1954, Milwaukee native Mary Widrig John forged a plan to create a professional theatre for the city. The result was the Fred Miller Theatre, named for the head of the Miller Brewing Company and chair of the theatre's fund-raising campaign, who died in a plane crash before the project was completed. The Fred Miller Theatre produced a standard repertoire of Broadway's current hits and, to draw audiences, the company featured well known performers in leading roles. In the early 1960s, the company reorganized to create a resident acting company and expand its scope to include classics and premieres of new works. The name Milwaukee Repertory Theatre was chosen in 1963 to reflect this new philosophy. The Fred Miller Theatre facility, now called the Miramar Theatre, is still used by many smaller theatre companies in Milwaukee.

In 1968, the Rep moved into a 504-seat theatre in the new Performing Arts Center in the heart of downtown Milwaukee. Seven years later, in 1974, The Rep converted a small warehouse space into a 99-seat theatre, called the Court Street Theatre, which became home to new works and other plays more suited to an intimate setting. The Rep moved to its current home across from Milwaukee's City Hall in 1987.

A converted power plant, the Patty and Jay Baker Theatre Complex houses three theatres. The Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre, The Rep's mainstage, seats 720; the 218-seat Stiemke Theatre is a black box featuring a flexible seating configuration, and the Stackner Cabaret, a full service restaurant and bar, presents smaller, mainly music-based pieces, in a 118-seat theatre.

Milwaukee Rep currently offers 16 productions each season--six in the Quadracci Powerhouse, four in the Stiemke, four or five in the Stackner Cabaret and an annual revival of A Christmas Carol in the 1,400-seat Pabst Theatre. There is a Resident Acting Company of 12 members. The Rep also is home to one of the oldest internship programs in regional theatre and maintains a variety of programs to serve the community. There are student matinees, facility tours and in-school workshops; adult acting classes; lectures and discussions; "pay what you can" performances and other special events. In addition, the theatre also has taken a leading role in creating accessibility for as many patrons as possible through audio and written script synopsis, large print programs, audio description, an infrared listening system, American Sign Language interpreted performances and a new caption technology in which three lines of dialogue are displayed at once on a screen on the house left wall so that audiences can watch the show and keep up with the words.

"We congratulate The Rep on its 50 years of bringing quality theatre to audiences in the Midwest and for continuing to provide employment opportunities in both classic and new works for Milwaukee-based Actors as well as those living outside the area.," said Central Regional Director Kathryn Lamkey.

In 1991, The Rep received Equity's Rosetta LeNoire Award for embracing multi-culturalism and its outstanding record of giving opportunities to minority actors in innovative ways.

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