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June 4, 2020

The Shows Must Go On (When The Time Is Right)

Value, vibes, and veracity of the arts

By Randy Banks, Vice President, Client and Community Engagement

What do you miss most these days? Of course, “these days” referring to the Safe-At-Home situation. My reflexive answer is family, friends, loved ones. Sure miss the hugs or smiles, shining eyes and spirited conversations we can only experience in person – that personal contact we will never take for granted again…

An actor on stage with trees behind them
Chris Klopatek, As You Like It, 2018. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Beyond that, one of the things I miss most is being immersed in the performing arts – the opportunity to witness talent, passion, humor, and artistry live and in person. To be surrounded by a shared energy with the audience. Whether its Shakespeare, original musicals, dance, classical music, or rock ‘n roll, I miss the performing arts. I’ll say it again, I REALLY miss the arts.

And it is no surprise, the arts community misses us, too. Not simply the economic factor, although that IS important. Performers of all kinds and at all levels miss the interaction with each other, and of course with us, the audience. That interaction is the very lifeforce which nourishes their creative soul – and ours, too for that matter.

Now, pause for a moment to acknowledge how important the arts are to us, particularly today. From the moment the ear buds or headphones tune in, to the binge watching of drama, suspense, or comedy. Consider too the joy of indulging in an unplugged “living room” performance by recording artists, even dancers. And I am certainly looking forward to the arrival of Hamilton on TV beginning July 3rd. Not sure about you, but that stuff keeps my feet moving, my sanity intact, lightens my spirits and brings an authentic smile to my heart. Yup, your heart can smile – you remember that, right?

So, here at SyncMAGAZINE we got to thinking; perhaps we could let those gifted talents around us know we’re thinking about them. Accordingly, SyncMAGAZINE reached out to a handful of area performing arts venues and artists to see if they would like to share their status or views for the near future. And I’ll admit, I’m playing favorites – each of the organizations profiled here is a personal favorite. And remember, these talented groups would love to hear from us. Spend time on their websites, YouTube videos or virtual gift shoppes. We’re not asking you for money. We’d rather transport you to a place where you come to that decision on your own.

What follows are connections within the performing arts. Consider reaching out, if only to say hello. Be there for them – for all of us. Then, take a bow – you’ve earned it.


Written by Randy Banks


A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 2017. Photo by Liz Lauren.[/caption]


“We have some news. And it isn’t the news we wanted to share”

Sadly, that was the opening sentence in a letter posted on APT’s website, co-authored by Artistic Director, Brenda DeVita and Managing Director, Carrie Van Hallgren. In this case, we would simply like to share their words with you.

 “In light of the ongoing pandemic, and for the safety of us all, we have made the painful decision to cancel APT’s 2020 season. With so much research garnering so few answers and knowing that venues hosting large public gatherings will be among the last to reopen, we do not see a path to a summer season this year. All of the information is on our FAQ page. But before you go, a few words. Because as you know, words are important to us.

First of all, we miss you. Wow, do we miss you. As we continue to work in the ways we are able, the recurring theme from our actors and artists and staff is how palpable it is that you, our incredible audience, are not with us in person. It’s difficult to fathom that, at a time when we’re all craving a deeper connection, we have to take care of each other by keeping to ourselves. So, while we regret that we won’t see you as soon as we’d like, we’re working on some beautiful ways to be together while we’re apart. The first of those endeavors is “Out of the Woods”, a new play reading series performed and recorded live. APT’s Core Acting Company, alongside some other great APT actors, will be reading a selection of plays using Zoom virtual meeting software. The readings are streamed live and recorded by PBS Wisconsin. Play readings will be posted on Fridays at 7:00 PM CT on their website:, and free to view, with all six plays available July 17 through July 26. Direct links will be available on the PBS Wisconsin website the day of the readings.

Second, you will still have the chance to see this season in full. Our plan is to move this group of glorious plays to 2021 en masse. So, while the 2020 season may be cancelled, the stories within it are simply delayed. In the meantime, if we can safely do so, we’re looking into producing different plays later in the year. And we promise that as soon as we know if that is possible, you’ll know.

Finally, please consider a donation to APT. Cancelling our season will be an unprecedented hardship for APT, as we stand to lose 75% of our annual income. Your support will help sustain our acting company, staff and property so we can rise to this enormous challenge and preserve the APT that you know and love. To give a gift to APT please call 608-588-9209, or you can donate online here.

What happens in these woods, on these stages…it’s special. The combination of these exquisite stories, these actors, this audience – that’s not something that just happened. It’s been a four-decade labor of love. And it’s clear that there is much more hard work to come. And, like everything else that happens here, we cannot do it without you. We have endured tough times before, and this may prove to be the toughest yet. But we know that, with you on our side, we will be able to return to our Hill again. Until then, we are with you from afar”.


Please take a moment to view this video message from Artistic Director, Brenda DeVita.

APT is a professional repertory theater devoted to the great and future classics. It was founded in 1979 and continues to be one of the most popular outdoor classical theaters in the nation.

The Theatre is located in Spring Green, Wisconsin, on 110 acres of hilly woods and meadows above the Wisconsin River. The outdoor amphitheater is built within a natural hollow atop an oak-wooded hill. Under the dome of sky, 1,089 comfortably cushioned seats encircle three sides of the stage. In 2009, APT opened the 201-seat indoor Touchstone Theatre, offering a different type of play and experience.

“APT has a festive, near-Edenic feel. When you go there, you know you’re not at home.”

For more information, visit

Photo by Carissa Dixon

A group of performers playing instruments in a play
Dairy Heirs Cast, A modern day family farming moo-sical!


Total Joy With One-Of-A-Kind Musicals In Beautiful Door County

Northern Sky Theater is nestled in the woods, two separate ones really, of Door County and has operated an outdoor summer season in the amphitheater of Peninsula State Park for thirty years. In addition, last fall, the company christened its new Creative Center, designed by Strang, in the woods at the intersection of county highways A and F. The center, comprised of two buildings, houses a scene shop, storage, costume shop, administrative wing, and the Gould Theater, a 250-seat house designed to be a complimentary performance space to the park.

A shot of the seats in the overture hall
Two performers on stage in a play
Wisconsin Public Television filming of Guys on Ice at Northern Sky Theatre (AFT) Sunday, August 3, 2014 in Fish Creek, Door County, WI. Photo by Len Villano

Northern Sky, which does all original programming, has presented over seventy new works in its thirty-year history. The company was poised to celebrate this anniversary season with its most ambitious programming ever. Normally the company presents four or five shows in a season, but 2020 was to have seen ten shows in the line-up, including concurrent programming at the Gould and the park during the summer months. Like all live theater venues in the country, the company had to make the decision to cancel the summer season and put the fall season in a holding pattern.

As an alternative, the company quickly pivoted to capitalize on its online presence and has presented well over 130 video and image clips through its online accounts since March 18th. They have been featuring the “Northern Sky at Home” series on both Facebook and YouTube, showcasing artists from the theater, mostly sharing songs from the theater’s 30-year history. You can access the series and follow it on Facebook and YouTube and/or sign up for the email newsletter at

Lumberjacks In Love, with (left to right) Doug Mancheski, Fred Heide, Jeff Herbst and Chase Stoeger

The theater has also offered a Promise Pass to patrons, which can be exchanged for a ticketed performance anytime in the future. They are even adding an incentive of buying four passes and getting a fifth for free.

The theater held a virtual gala event on May 23rd called Raise the Curtain – Wherever You Are. Historically, the theater held this gala event every Memorial Day weekend in Door County to kick off the summer season. The event had been scheduled to take place for the first time at the Gould Theater, with events in the lobby and on the patio, culminating in a performance in the theater. While not being able to host the annual gala on site, the virtual event was extremely popular, exceeding all expectations for attendance and fundraising. Access to the day’s events is still available at the Northern Sky website, and on its Facebook and YouTube sites.

Until the company is able to hold live theater events, it will continue development work on all of the material that is in its new works’ pipeline. You can follow any ongoing announcements about Northern Sky’s activities on its website and Facebook page.

A group of performers in a play on stage
Lumberjacks In Love, with (left to right) Doug Mancheski, Fred Heide, Jeff Herbst and Chase Stoeger


 The Arts Adds Joy To Our Days

Earlier in our 2019/20 season, we listened in awe as the Hamilton cast sang “When the World Turned Upside Down” from Overture Hall stage. Little did we know then as we sat in a sold-out theater that our own world would turn upside down a few months later.

The arts industry and our social lives have changed dramatically this spring. Due to restrictions on in-person interactions, there are a lot of things we can’t do right now, but we can—and must—find ways to add joy to our days. And the arts give us ample opportunities to do so.

At Overture Center for the Arts, they strive to support and elevate our community’s creative culture, economy, and quality of life through the arts. Over the past 15 years, they’ve built strong relationships with many wonderful organizations and individuals throughout our community. Their support of the Broadway and Overture Presents series along with their free and low-cost community programming, helps bring access to the arts for all—especially important now as the world is changing around us.

Closing their doors the past months has been hard! They really miss their patrons, volunteers, staff, performers and resident organizations. Yet they know how important it is that art remains a part of our daily lives—and that’s why they are providing a variety of ways for you to experience the joys of the arts from home through a new digital resource: Access the Arts from Home.

Overture Center for the Arts, built through a generous gift by Madison-area philanthropist Jerry Frautschi, features seven state-of-the art performance spaces, four galleries where local, national and international artists exhibit, 10 resident companies and more than 700,000 artistic experiences each year. More than 265,000 of those experiences are by way of free and low-cost programs, including Kids in the Rotunda, Disney Musicals in Schools, Jerry Awards, OnStage Student Field Trips, Lullaby Project and International Festival.

Skylight Music Theatre. Newsies: Photo by Mark Frohna

Our United Performing Arts Fund Helps Keep The Arts Alive In Southeastern Wisconsin

One day shy of “the ides of March,” Skylight Music Theatre was putting the final touches on their production of Evita, scheduled to open the following week. That evening, the cast was told they would not be able to proceed with the show due to the newly issued state mandate that limited gatherings. Instead of leaving, the entire cast went onstage to perform the second act of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s beautiful score to an empty house, knowing that they would not get to open the production that week.

That moment was a first glimpse at the perseverance artists would show in keeping the arts alive through the pandemic. The Baumgartner Studio Artists at the Florentine Opera spent that March weekend filming The Tragedy of Carmen for audiences, and then got up early the following Monday to film their “Opera in Schools” performance of Cinderella. First Stage and the Milwaukee Ballet pivoted quickly to virtual classes and workshops to ensure that their academy students would continue to receive exceptional theatre and dance education.

These resilient, resourceful organizations are among the United Performing

 Arts Fund’s 14 Member Groups, along with the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) is the single largest donor to each of our Member Groups, providing vital operating support to allow them to focus on what they do best: creating, performing, educating, and inspiring. The 2020 UPAF Campaign is running when performing arts groups need our support more than ever to persist through the pandemic and continue to share their gifts.

Though stages in the Greater Milwaukee Area have gone dark, UPAF

 Member Groups are still connecting our community in new and innovative ways. Audiences can watch full, professional performances from the comfort of their homes. Live performances and classes are shared virtually with local nonprofits like Sojourner Family Peace Center and Penfield Children’s Center, who must continue to serve, uplift, and comfort their constituents while social distancing. Arts education programming is streamed in newly created home classrooms, supplementing the work of local teachers in their shift to online instruction.

While we all stay safe in our homes, moments of connection through the arts are

 a reminder of what unites us. We invite you to UNITE with UPAF by joining us virtually:

  • Free Facebook Live performances, with new artists, classes, and opportunities each week!
  • Explore UPAF Member Group programming from your home with opportunities from groups like Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Danceworks, and the Florentine “Quarantine” Opera.
  • Lastly, take your cue from the artists at Skylight Music Theatre and remember to “Let It Sing”.

Innovative Outreach Programs Which Instills A Lifetime Of Appreciation For The Arts

For over 38 years, Madison Ballet has dedicated itself to building a better community through dance, producing a culture of connection, collaboration and change that touches the lives of over 15,000 people each year.

Madison Ballet is an organization that creates opportunities to experience the power of dance, on and off the stage, for all ages, genders, and races. They don’t just lift the curtain. They work to eliminate the boundary completely.

In partnership with YWCA of Madison, Madison Ballet has developed Expression through Dance, a restorative justice program creating opportunities for young people to physically express themselves as an alternative to municipal court. This effort instills a lifetime of appreciation for the arts while derailing the school-to-prison pipeline and enriching lives.

In 2019, Madison Ballet opened its bright new location on Odana Road which has become a gathering place for the community, housing rehearsals, gallery space for visual artists, outreach programming, and providing a home for the School of Madison Ballet and over 250 students.

Many of these students are experiencing the joy and magic of dance for the first time, some are receiving training to shape them into the next generation of world-class dancers, but all of them are learning invaluable lessons and essential skills that they’ll carry with them no matter where life leads them.

As Madison Ballet looks to the future, it continues to adapt and evolve in the face of a changing world. Although COVID-19 forced the cancellation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the organization’s season to end prematurely, they are eager for safe returns to the studio and stage. In the meantime, regular recorded remote classes have been offered to students free of charge and planning is underway for next year. As the resident ballet company of Overture Center for the Arts, they are re-imagining The Nutcracker so that our community will be able to celebrate this timeless holiday tradition safely.

If you’re interested in learning more about Madison Ballet, please visit and consider contributing to continuing arts education in our community.

Theater Arts Give Youth Confidence, Community, And The Ability To Connect—Even During This Challenging Time

Photo by ©Ross Zentner. “How I Became a Pirate”

Children’s Theater of Madison creates vibrant theater experiences that engage, educate, and inspire young people. The arts are so important in the lives of our children.

Creativity is the cornerstone of success for the next generation. Young faces light up as they interact with other students in theater activities being offered online. Theater is all about gathering together and now this is more important than ever.

Founded in 1965, CTM provides exceptional theater productions for family audiences. They also create a safe space, a place to belong: as students, as actors, as audience – a true community. As a resident company of the Overture Center For The Arts, CTM produces five main stage productions each season, runs a year-round drama school with more than 700 students annually, and offers multiple educational outreach programs including the acclaimed Young Playwrights Program and Festival.

Inspired by their mission, CTM strives to break down social and economic barriers that prevent disadvantaged children from participating in the arts. Examples of their efforts to broaden, deepen, and diversify access to theater arts include: partnerships with CI Pediatric Therapies and ACT to provide sensory friendly performances for youth on the autism spectrum; American Sign Language-interpreted performances of all mainstage productions; theater class assistance for youth with financial need; and no-cost after-school classes held at the Lussier Community Education Center and the Goodman Community Center.

CTM also partners with many area school districts in workshops and special programming. Students from eight counties attend student matinees of their mainstage productions. For many of these students, this could be the first live theater that they have ever attended. Discounted tickets are provided for all students, with deeply discounted tickets for students receiving free or reduced lunch. Each year, CTM brings the magic of live theater to thousands of area children.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic required CTM to think about access in new ways. Their popular Young Playwrights Festival was held virtually for the first time this year. The format was certainly different, but the creativity shown by these middle and high school students was as amazing as ever! And CTM was able to share this program with even more students and adult audience members via the virtual platform. You can see for yourself here.’

CTM’s Actors Academy classes—advanced theater students—have continued via Zoom and have resulted in some very creative exercises. The students in this class are using this new medium to try out innovative approaches to engage with one another even at a distance.

CTM is also providing the area’s youth with free programming via Facebook, Facebook Live, and Zoom. These classes and workshops enable youth to connect with each other while learning theater performance and productions skills. Feedback from parents lets CTM know that both students and their parents are grateful for these programs.

Theater skills are life skills that help our youth become better students, better future employees, and better citizens. They learn empathy, teamwork, compassion, and the ability to think creatively. These are all important skills for our modern world.

To learn more about Children’s Theater of Madison and the work they are doing, visit their website at

WCO Unveils New Look, More Digital Concerts And 20/21 Season Series

Founded in 1960, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO) is one of the elite chamber ensembles in the United States and is dedicated to advancing Wisconsin communities through the transformative power of music. Under the direction of Maestro Andrew Sewell, the WCO leverages the unique characteristics of chamber music to bring a wide variety of repertoire to audiences in settings that range from the formality of the concert hall to the intimacy of smaller community venues and the open accessibility of parks and other public spaces. Through collaborations with regional performing arts groups and touring performances, the WCO extends its artistic programming to broader audiences and communities across Dane, Columbia, Jefferson, Waukesha, and Sauk counties.

The WCO is nationally known for its summer series Concerts on the Square®, drawing 250,000 patrons annually to downtown Madison. Via its annual education programs, including the biennial Side-by-Side concert with the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras, WCO provides artistic development opportunities for young musicians.


As many art and music organizations nationwide have been forced to hit pause during the pandemic since March of 2020, the WCO has worked tirelessly to march forward, ensuring the 60-year-old organization, famous for its Concerts on the Square series and top-tier musicianship, remains relevant and engaged with its audience. In late May, the WCO unveiled its new look and feel, digital concerts, and several new programs – all with the goal of bringing the community closer to classical music and the musicians behind it.

Focused on the artistry, richness, quality and intimacy of its performances, the WCO has captured that essence in their new look, including an updated logo and website, More importantly, though, is what the new look stands for during this time. The WCO is putting its musicians in the spotlight, bridging the gap between audience and artist, and making classical music accessible without sacrificing what makes it magical.

 Focused on the artistry, richness, quality and intimacy of its performances, the WCO has captured that essence in their new look, including an updated logo and website, More importantly, though, is what the new look stands for during this time. The WCO is putting its musicians in the spotlight, bridging the gap between audience and artist, and making classical music accessible without sacrificing what makes it magical.

The WCO worked with Suz Brewer of SUZCO, to capture the brand’s soul in its new image. Brewer is known nationally for her work with Duluth Trading Company’s now famous advertising. She also positioned EatStreet for its rapid growth and is known for her ability to unearth what audiences want to experience.

Keeping the music going is more critical than ever, which is why the WCO unveiled their 20/21 season in late May, which includes Masterworks I on Nov. 20. A Beethoven program is also tentatively scheduled for New Year’s Day at the new UW Hamel Music Center.

 “We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to have live performances as the months progress, and that includes a number of concerts this fall,” said Maestro Andrew Sewell, WCO’s music director for 20 years. “But if we have to pivot, we will. Ultimately, our goal is to make sure everyone is safe, our musicians can play, and our community can enjoy the WCO – no matter the platform.”

As part of its focus on connecting with its supporters, the WCO has launched Friends of the WCO, a new program that makes it possible for the WCO to employ some of the best musicians in the nation.

With the support from a Musician Relief Fund established by the WCO as well as the Paycheck Protection Program, the WCO has been able to pay its musicians despite having to cancel performances. This, along with the support from the community, allows the organization to keep going.

As a member of Friends of the WCO, you receive discounted concert tickets, invitations to member-only parties, gifts, and other perks. To donate, visit the Friends of the WCO page online.

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