Optimist Theatre creates Milwaukee's free "Shakespeare in the Park" and the educational outreach program "To Be! Shakespeare Here and How." "Shakespeare in the Park" will enter its fifth season in 2014, building on four seasons of critical, popular, and creative success. "To Be!", an outreach program that tours primarily to schools and libraries, has reached more than 70,000 audience members. Optimist Theatre began as Midwest Children’s Theatre (MCT). MCT has been providing arts and education programming as a 501(c)3 corporation since 1993.
In a cheap pizza joint in Kenosha, Wisconsin in 1992, four friends met to plan the next course of their lives. They wanted to use their theatre skills and their passion for education to make the world a better place. The result was Midwest Children’s Theatre, the forerunner of Optimist Theatre, and our first touring school show, “The Magic Library”.
Since then, we’ve reached over a hundred schools, libraries, and community groups with more than three hundred performances of more than a dozen projects. From a one-person interactive performance in a local grade school to an elaborately produced play in a 1200 seat auditorium, we’ve worked to enrich the spirit and capture the imagination of our audiences.
In 2010, we created Milwaukee's first free Shakespeare in the Park. Our production of The Tempest, starring James Pickering as Prospero, Angela Iannone as Ariel, and Tom Reed as Caliban was a popular and critical hit and marks the beginning of a new era for Optimist. Since then we've produced Twelfth Night, directed by Laura Gordon and featuring an all star cast, and Macbeth, directed by Ron Scot Fry and starring Tom Reed in the titular role and Marti Gobel as Lady Macbeth. and As You Like It, directed by Tom Reed and featuring another star-filled cast.
2013 marked a big move for Optimist Theatre. After 3 successful seasons of being gifted with green space on the campus of Alverno College, Shakespeare in the Park is moving to a real park! Our new partners, the COA Youth and Family Centers, invited Optimist Theatre to perform in their brand new amphitheatre in Alice Bertschy Kadish Park. The production was As You Like It, directed by Tom Reed and featuring another star-filled cast. Thank you, Alverno College. This evolution of free Shakespeare in the Park would not have been possible without your support.
Optimist celebrates its roots in touring to schools and libraries with "To Be! Shakespeare Here and Now," a one-person experience with William Shakespeare. "To Be!" features performances of some of the bard's best-known works along with audience participation and a humorous look at Sixteenth Century England. The program plays primarily in Wisconsin and the Midwest, but has played locations including Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and most recently Florence, Italy.
The future will see Optimists adding performances and additional Equity actors to "Shakespeare in the Park," sending "To Be!" to even more locations, and developing new ways to celebrate art and bring life to our community.
We believe that the theatrical arts broaden and enrich those parts of our minds and spirits that are most essentially human. Optimist Theatre is driven to reach artists and audiences across the economic, ethnic, and experiential landscape. We educate, entertain, and inspire through creative works of artistic integrity.
- To create theatre that is imaginative, dynamic, and of the highest professional caliber
- To celebrate the talents of the artists who create our work, to encourage creative collaboration within the company, and to treat our colleagues with dignity and respect
- To serve as a “gateway” theatre, bringing new audiences to the arts
- To create art that is accessible, financially, geographically, and culturally, to all people in our community, and to celebrate diversity in hiring, casting, and marketing
- To be financially responsible, maximizing in-kind and volunteer contributions and implementing innovative, aggressive grass-roots fundraising campaigns
- To add to our community’s cultural footprint, helping to make Milwaukee an attractive place for entrepreneurs, professionals, and businesses.