Big-city praise shows our dream is working

Read this week’s column from the KEY TO THE DOOR!

James Valcq, Third Avenue Playhouse

Published 11:04 p.m. CT Aug. 28, 2017

Among theater folk, quoting one’s own reviews is often considered tacky. While there may be some truth in that, I’m going to do it anyway. Sort of.

You see, while the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s review of “Candide” at Third Avenue Playhouse had some lovely, blush-inducing things to say about my own work as the show’s director, I’m not going to quote those things. It was what the review had to say about TAP itself that makes me want to risk being labeled “tacky.”

In the Journal Sentinel, Fischer wrote, “Welcome to that best of all possible worlds known as Third Avenue Playhouse … a company that continually dares us to dream.”

This, from the largest and most influential newspaper in Wisconsin. Quite an accolade for the intimate playhouse right here on the Main Street of our own small town, Sturgeon Bay. If I may, I’d like to dissect this quote.

 The first part paraphrases a lyric from “Candide” which states, with great gusto, that “all’s for the best in this best of all possible worlds.”

I love that our little hometown theater can be considered an entire “world” enclosed within four walls, with a populace consisting of a small band of artists dedicated to sharing compelling stories. Part of this small band (the TAP staff) remains constant; another part of this band (the actors, designers, and musicians) consists of an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of talent that nonetheless always comprises (if I myself may venture a paraphrase) the best of all possible assemblages.

As I’ve been able to observe in my six years at TAP, whatever be the specifics of this populace’s current make-up, every single member is at the top of his or her game and is giving his or her all. On behalf of TAP, I humbly accept the Journal Sentinel’s compliment. With great gusto.

Now, on to the second part of the quote, “a company that continually dares us to dream.” I love that it includes the word “dream”. And I especially love the challenges inherent in that phrase.

The challenge to our audiences to “dare” the dreaming. And the challenge to TAP to continually offer the possibility of those very dreams. On behalf of TAP, I accept the Journal Sentinel’s challenge. With great gusto. We are dedicated to providing our audience with unforgettable experiences that send you out a different person than you were when you came in.

A tall order? Perhaps. But that’s what theater can do. To quote that review again, “that’s what good art does.”

As long as I’ve already risked tackiness, I may as well go all the way and cite more praise for TAP from the Journal Sentinel. For the past two years, TAP has been included in the newspaper’s year-end Top 10 list. And, I’m proud to point out, TAP is the only theater in Northeast Wisconsin to have productions thus honored.

Think about that. The largest and most influential newspaper in the state has placed TAP — our little upstart, six-year-old professional troupe — in the company of the venerable Milwaukee Rep, American Players Theatre, Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, and other regional giants that we’ve admired and that we’ve aspired to emulate.

It would appear our aspirations are reaching fruition. We will continue to aspire. When planning our seasons, we will continue to ask, “What if …?” And we will continue to follow that question with “Why not?”

For example, “Candide” is usually performed by a cast of 50 with an orchestra of 30 or so. Last year I asked, “What if we were to attempt it with a cast of eight and an orchestra of one?” I followed that question with “Why not?” Just last night, two different couples independently told me during intermission that they had seen the epic “Candide” at Lyric Opera of Chicago — and they thought TAP’s version was superior!

After one recent performance, an incredibly animated patron bounded breathlessly through the lobby, literally shouting, “I’m from Chicago and I’ve seen EVERYTHING and this is the BEST show I’ve ever seen!” It sounds like one of those garish TV ads for a Broadway touring company, but I assure you I’m not exaggerating the scene in the least. It was a spectacle in the best sense of the word, and it is thrilling to know that the work we do has the power to arouse that kind of unabashed passion.

Theater has the power to make you laugh until it hurts. The power to make you want to get up and dance like nobody’s watching. The power to induce you to shed tears of joy or of empathy. The power to make you feel.

More and more of our patrons are making the trek from Milwaukee and Chicago specifically to experience the effects of theater’s power as offered here at TAP. Perhaps you, dear reader, don’t even need to undertake an arduous sojourn to arrive beneath the blinking marquee on Third Avenue in downtown Sturgeon Bay. Perhaps you already live in the area and we’re right down the road, or even right in your back yard.

Do you ever go to the theater? Have you seen a play at TAP in the last six years? If not, you are missing out on one of the best cultural entertainment experiences Wisconsin has to offer. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Simply consult the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Just don’t tell them which tacky person told you so.

James Valcq is co-Artistic Director of Third Avenue Playhouse and the director of “Candide,” running through Sept. 2 at TAP.