You may have noticed that Milwaukee Rep is having a moment. Performances are selling-out, outstanding new plays have been created in Milwaukee for Milwaukee, and our Subscriber and donor bases are at decade highs. In the last decade, the theater has doubled its size becoming the largest performing arts organization in the state and one of the largest theaters in country with 700 performances of 15 plays serving nearly 300,000 people annually.
The growth trajectory of Milwaukee Rep caused us to examine our work and how we positioned the theater as we strive to become a vital agent of positive change in our city and a theater that is known to be welcoming and inspirational to all.
The result was a new strategic plan adopted in October 2019 which calls for us to:
Address the challenges of the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex. The Complex has served as an exceptional home for four decades but the wear and tear on the building given the large numbers of people we serve has been substantial. A recent report from the country’s leading planning firm for arts facilities confirmed we have outgrown our current facilities and all major systems are overdue for replacement.
Strengthen our commitment to Equity, Diversity & Inclusion. To be of service to all, we have to address current systems of inequality. We will continue to produce work that features diverse artists, use our art to create platforms for understanding and action, and develop talented artists and leaders of color to expand our collective cultural competency.
Grow the John (Jack) D. Lewis New Play Development Program. Our critically acclaimed new plays have transferred all over the country and have been optioned for Broadway. Rather than import from Broadway, we look to send the best of Milwaukee to the rest of the world. We have 10 new plays under commission from artists such as Pulitzer Prize-winner Ayad Akhtar, Gordon Gano of The Violent Femmes, and Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith.
As we were recently reminded by Ben Cameron of the Jerome Foundation, the non-profit theater industry is in a moment of disruption. Shifting patterns of demographic change as we move to a non-majority culture offer us thrilling opportunities for new forms of collaboration and expression. Technology is altering our attention spans, exploding the competitive environment for leisure time as well as training consumers to expect art on demand delivered to their own homes. Through our strategic planning process, we looked at all these changes through a lens of opportunity, leading us to double down on our mission of artistic excellence and civic engagement.
The above priorities stem from our new mission to create positive change in our community through world-class theater that entertains, provokes and inspires Milwaukee’s diverse communities. We recognize it is no longer solely about creating exceptional theater so we expanded our purpose in light of the world around us today. While we kept our artistic drive, we are now equally committed to being an effective instrument of positive civic change. In fact, in the last three years, our largest area of growth has been in our engagement and education departments, increasing our expenditures by 76%, growing our staff to eight individuals, and serving tens of thousands including 20,000 students annually.
Not surprisingly, after six decades of service, we have encountered challenges communicating the new direction of Milwaukee Rep. Therefore, we are unveiling a new brand featuring a new logo, website, communications platform and hashtag (#WeRepMilwaukee) to better tell our story. Just like Milwaukee, we’re not what people usually expect or think they know. We’re more diverse. More impactful. More modern. From the stage to the streets, the things we do, we do to bring out the best in our region. That’s why we are here – to be the best we can be for our community.
With this ambitious new plan, we’ll demonstrate that at our very best, Milwaukee Rep is vital because we assemble communities of people not like one another to share a live experience that builds empathy and our ability to see fellow people with generosity and curiosity. In a call out culture that drives us further and further apart, we can foster not merely expression but deep listening and understanding. What a gift that would be for our city!