Culture Club: Bringing A New Story to Life

by JACOB JANSSEN, artistic director of Third Avenue PlayWorks

As we at Third Avenue PlayWorks kick off our 2023 season, we are thrilled to be part of the inaugural World Premiere Wisconsin Festival. In the words of the festival organizers, it features a “diverse assortment of stories being told across our collective stages, which in turn reveals the wide breadth of what Wisconsin is and can become.” This is a first-of-its-kind statewide festival – not just in Wisconsin, but across the country.

I first heard about World Premiere Wisconsin in the fall of 2021, when I was interviewing to join Third Avenue PlayWorks (TAP) as its new artistic director. As someone who has built a career around new-play development, I was delighted to discover that this festival was in the works – and that Third Avenue PlayWorks would be a partner.

For more than a year now, professionals from theaters all over the state have gathered monthly on Zoom to discuss this festival and the progress being made on it. We coordinate marketing and advertising, share our experiences and plans, connect, collaborate and support one another. Coordination like this among theaters statewide has never existed before, and it is exciting to see it develop. 

Personally, I have connected with so many of my colleagues around Wisconsin – people I would never have had the chance to collaborate with otherwise. This has already led to some interesting partnerships, and no doubt it will lead to future artistic projects.

Third Avenue PlayWorks’ contribution to the festival is I Carry Your Heart with Me by Jennifer Blackmer. The play follows Esther Shannon, a government stenographer working for the U.S. Air Force during the tumultuous Vietnam War. Lonely, conflicted and haunted by voices from her past, Esther finds herself in the midst of a troubling investigation. With plenty of twists and turns along the way, Jennifer’s taut, suspenseful mystery packs a real emotional wallop at the end.

It has been such a joy to work with playwright Jennifer Blackmer on developing this play. We began discussing it last fall, going back and forth by phone and Zoom as she wrote and edited. In March, she joined actor Karen Estrada and me for a weeklong workshop to further refine the play. Now, halfway through rehearsal, we are finally seeing this incredible work come to life.

There is something really special about rehearsing a new play. For starters, Jennifer is here for rehearsals, helping us to understand the work she created. There is also a delightful malleability to the play, which evolves even as we rehearse it, to become stronger, sharper and more impactful.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting theaters across the state, including several here in Door County, as we showcase work through the World Premiere Wisconsin Festival that “explores, illuminates and celebrates the vastness of Wisconsin’s story, culture and the many people who make up this great state.”

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, which contributes Culture Club, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.

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