I was privileged to serve as executive director of Third Avenue Playhouse from 2004 to 2011, so I read with interest the Culture Club article (Aug. 25, 2017) describing the success the theater is experiencing in its current incarnation.
To be sure, I’m pleased that the theater has done well since the new directors changed its mission and format. The Donna was beloved by many Sturgeon Bay residents and, since it opened in the former movie theater in 2000, Third Avenue Playhouse has established itself as an important part of the Sturgeon Bay business community. But I found the article troubling and misleading at times, and I’d like to offer some clarification.
To begin, I’m confused by the statement that TAP was a theater “in crisis” when the new directors were hired. When I left, TAP had healthy balances in its checking and savings accounts, a growing donor base, and a cadre of reliable playbill advertisers and show sponsors. Was it flush? No. Small theaters seldom are. But it was stable.
I was also surprised that the variety of programming offered prior to 2012 was described as lacking a “coherent and consistent focus” because, up to and including when the new directors were hired, TAP was operating under its founding mission – one that clearly established it as a community performing arts center. As a matter of fact, the theater logo often appeared with the tag line “Your community performing arts center in historic downtown Sturgeon Bay.”
Although perhaps not discernible to the new directors, scheduling most definitely followed a pattern. We presented a community theater production each fall, winter and spring. In each season, we also held concerts featuring both professional and community-based musicians, hosted comedians, poetry readings, writing workshops, children’s programs and films. We devoted most of the summer to our eight-week children’s theater camp and play.
I’m incredibly proud of what our small staff, board and committed volunteers accomplished during the time we were caretakers of this little gem of a theater. And while I understand that a new board and staff have the right to change its direction, I’m also sad that a dedicated performance space for community arts no longer exists.
There is a difference between transformation and evolution. TAP has evolved, and it’s my hope that it continues to do so. As it does, I believe it’s important to honor its history and to acknowledge that all of us who authored a chapter of its story had the opportunity to do so because a group of 10 people led by Amy McKenzie once peered into a deserted movie theater and had a vision for the future. A different vision than the current one, certainly, but a vision that filled a need and embraced a community.
Continued good luck, gentlemen.
Judy M. Drew
Sturgeon Bay, Wis.