Executive director, Milwaukee Repertory Theater
108 E. Wells St., Milwaukee
The Milwaukee Repertory Theater recently expanded its leadership team with the addition of three new key leaders. Melissa Vartanian-Mikaelian, previously general manager for the theater, has been named managing director. Associate artistic director May Adrales is moving to Milwaukee to spearhead the Rep’s John (Jack) D. Lewis New Play Development program. Laura Braza also joined the theater in a newly-created role of artistic producer. Associate editor Lauren Anderson recently spoke with Chad Bauman, executive director of The Rep, about the theater’s expansion in recent years and the growing demand for arts and cultural experiences in Milwaukee.
What prompted the addition of three new leaders?
“There are a couple things in play here. The Rep, in the last five years, has grown pretty significantly. Over that time, we have gone from a $9 million (annual) budget to now approaching $14 million. We have a decade-high level of subscribers and patrons. The truth of the restructuring is that there is just more work to go around. At the same time, we’ve adopted a new ambitious strategic plan that calls upon us to grow our mission of diversity, equity and inclusion and develop robust new plays. We have to look at the structure of the leadership at the theater to be well prepared for the future.”
What do you attribute the Rep’s growth to?
“When a nonprofit theater is a mature company, it’s unusual to see that amount of growth. When you do see it, it’s usually a combination of factors. At the heart is the product and the artistic production on our stage is very high-quality and in very high demand from our patrons. We have a product that is indeed world class. And the second is the city of Milwaukee and southeast Wisconsin are having a renaissance, particularly in the downtown. A lot of people are coming back to the downtown for entertainment. Fiserv Forum has a lot to do with that. The vibrancy of downtown has a lot to do with it.”
Why are people particularly drawn to live art experiences right now?
“This is an opinion, but I think people are yearning for connection right now. We have a world that is highly digital and fragmented, and live theater is an opportunity to come together and have a shared experience and be exposed to something that could be unfamiliar for people. And people are looking for those opportunities.”
How has the Stackner Cabaret renovation expanded the Rep’s capacity?
“It’s been fantastic. It’s done exactly what we thought it would do. We opened it in September and we’ve now done four shows in that space. We increased the seating from 118 to 193. And we did that because the Stackner has about 300 performances a year at 98% capacity. We had the demand and we just didn’t have enough inventory to meet the demand. We expanded with the idea that it would bring in a half-million more in revenue. We just closed ‘Ring of Fire’, which became the largest sales in the Stackner in our history.”
Any new initiatives planned for the upcoming year?
“We’re expanding our engagement in education program. Right now we serve 20,000 in 200-plus schools and we have plans to significantly expand that, specifically our reading residencies program. We’re also looking at other ways to activate our venues. We’re in conversations with The Moth to activate some of our venues and also are building our relationship with Saint Kate Arts Hotel.” ν