WAUKESHA – In the future of the Waukesha Civic Theatre, not all of his world will be presented on one stage.
The major expansion, recently approved by the city, will transform an adjacent former watch store into a facility that supports theater operations and expands its purpose, unveiling more school offerings as well as increasing its entertainment programs.
WCT CEO Rhonda Marie Schmidt said the face of the historic Pix Theatre, where WCT theatrical performances now take place, will remain largely unchanged, as will the exterior of the Little Swiss Clock Shop, which closed in 2019.
But Schmidt said a two-stage, $4.5 million project would completely transform the lobby area, add offices and other support areas, and create new space for more “intimate” live performances in addition to the existing grand stage.
Act 2 in the play WCT
Waukesha Civic Theatre, the company that started in 1957 more modestly with performances at Waukesha High School on Grand Avenue, had its first long run.
It acquired a church on Washington Street in 1962, paving the way for the creation of a program that would not only include his theater productions, but help schools create their own.
But her move to Pix, the historic downtown movie house, put those products and programs into what Schmidt said was the heart of the community, playing its part in revitalizing the downtown area.
It has worked, perhaps very well for its current classes.
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“WCT has gone beyond its physical space,” Schmidt said. “However, requests and interest in programs, events, and services continue to grow. They are bursting at the seams with classes, workshops, camps, exams, rehearsals, films and performances.”
The opportunity for change came suddenly and entirely because of circumstances.
“He really had it all about (owner of the small Swiss watch store) Karen White retiring and putting the building up for sale in 2019,” Schmidt said.
The main street buildings side by side share the wall, but this separation will be breached, allowing the old entrance to the retail store to become the lobby/rehearsal area during the first phase of the project, which begins on March 1.
When not serving as a foyer during major theatrical productions, which often fill the historic auditorium seats and produce dense crowds, the new entry space will double as a rehearsal hall for still-in-progress performances.
For theater-goers, this means no wandering around a crowded lobby before shows and during intermissions on the main stage. For the performers, Schmidt explained, it would mean no more training in confined spaces adjacent to storage areas or in borrowed spaces in other buildings.
The old lobby, which will undergo changes as part of the initial work, also doubles as a box office and concession stand, a cramped layout that will also change. Likewise, the cramped offices at the front of the existing Pix site will additionally have new collaborative space for staff, interns and volunteers.
But the biggest and most important addition will come during Phase Two: the construction of the Black Box Theatre, an 85-seat second performance stage.
Schmidt said the second stage would allow for more “intimate theatrical performances, concerts, classes, and more”.
It will also help expand WCT’s collaborative efforts with area schools, which now consist of about a dozen theater programs. Up to 20 schools can work with WCT once expansion plans are complete.
She said the number of live productions per year would increase from 50 to 75, and special events would grow from 10 to 25.
The initial stage will begin with the basic building elements of the Black Box Theatre. The second stage will complete the work. Depending on how quickly WCT obtains funding, these two phases could be completed simultaneously by September, the start of the new season, Schmidt said.
Of course, finding $4.5 million to make it all happen is a fundraising process that takes time, but as in the early days of WCT at Pix, generous donors helped.
Schmidt said the first stage, estimated at $3 million, began in a big way when Price and Ann Stizza, who donated the Pix Theater to WCT in 1998, donated $2 million.
The Styzas said they view their contribution as an investment in downtown Waukesha as well as a WCT expansion.
“We have invested in the project because it is so good for the city and the whole community,” said Brice Steza. “We want downtown Waukesha to succeed and be a destination for families from the surrounding communities as well. The Waukesha Civic Theater is a well-run organization that has a huge impact on everyone it serves.”
Schmidt said the balance to enable the start of the first phase came through a campaign via the WCT website. This campaign will continue as the theater troupe attempts to raise funds for Phase Two.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said. “We hope that many generous donors will come forward with great gifts and take advantage of our naming opportunities for Phase Two. We need the support of the entire community to complete this project.”
The payoff, she said, would be to give the community something that is rooted in community theatre.
“We want to ensure that future generations have the same opportunities to learn and grow from experiences that only theater and arts education can provide,” Schmidt said.
Contact Jim Riccioli at (262) 446-6635 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at Tweet embed.