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Experimental theater takes center stage at the Tarlton

The Weidner Center partners with the Tarlton Theatre for downtown series

By Erin Hunsader

A peek inside the historic Tarlton Theatre which still contains the oldest and largest movie screen in the city

Some partnerships just make sense, like a Broadway theatre partnering with a historic downtown theatre.

Combining the energy of the Weidner Center for the Performing Arts with the historic charm of the Tarlton Theatre, the Weidner’s Downtown at the Tarlton theatre programming series aims to bring more intimate theater productions to downtown Green Bay.

“It was our vision to design an on-going arts and culture series and bring it to the heart of downtown Green Bay,” said the Weidner Center’s Development Assistant & Media Producer, Troy Williams.

The collaboration between the two theatres not only raises the curtain on some area talent but also allows the Weidner to present their caliber of theater in a more intimate setting.

“One of the struggles I think large performing arts centers have had in the past is there’s a bit of isolation around them because it’s all about the building itself, not about the product,” Williams said. “The Weidner is unique in that it’s located on University of Wisconsin-Green Bay’s campus, which is great for us, but it’s also far away from the energy of downtown. We were looking for a place to partner with to bring arts and cultural events that aren’t readily available in the community downtown and create a collaboration between another existing arts and cultural organization here (Green Bay.)” 

Williams said it’s about bringing the energy of the Weidner center to audiences in the downtown area. 

“It’s not about them (the audience) coming to us. We will meet them where they are,” said Williams. 

Meeting audiences where they are included finding a way to get closer to the city’s downtown and matching the energy that surrounds the area. That’s why, when they set out to find a venue for the series, the Tarlton Theatre seemed like the perfect fit, Williams said.

“I think one of the reasons the space (Tarlton) appealed to us was that it has this downtown, funky vibe… There is a lot of life there, there’s texture – bohemia. There’s so much history too,” Williams said. “Tarl (Knight) and Mark (Mariucci) have this vested interest in updating it and making it a cornerstone of the community… This is a jewel that’s treated as such.”

Tarl Knight, co-owner of the Tarlton Theatre said he thinks the collaboration will help to enhance the Tarlton’s presence in the downtown area.

“Although we have a really great portfolio of events we do in house, we’re trying to work with local people and organizations to make it that kind of community space – the hub of downtown where we can include everyone and have the space open and known as a community cultural center,” Knight said. “That would be great if people could refer to us like that at some point. The partnership with the Weidner kind of gets us there.”

Knight, who has a background in music partnered with Mark Mariucci and reopened the theatre as a performance venue in 2018 after a series of renovations. He said the partnership also helps to merge the two theatres’ visions. 

“What this partnership represents, besides the expansion of a new cultural identity in the downtown area, besides what it represents in the time of a pandemic when it’s very easy and almost human nature to compete with resources, we instead have come together and built a bridge instead of a wall and said, ‘we’re going to work together.’ 

Knight said the collaboration also creates space for types of performances they wanted to bring to the Tarlton but hadn’t yet.

“The Weidner has a lot of new, experimental ideas to bring to the space. We try to keep a very diverse portfolio of events and kind of reach everybody and expose people to new things. We’re going one step further here with a lot of these new programs – some of these are very experimental and I’m very excited for it,” said Knight.

One of the experimental pieces includes a show called White Rabbit, Red Rabbit which experiments with an actor going into a performance cold.

“Coming up on March 13, we have a live literature piece called White Rabbit, Red Rabbit by playwright Nassim Soleimanpour. The guise of the play – there is no director, no rehearsal and the actor doesn’t see the script until they get on stage for the performance,” said Williams. “It’s (the script) in a sealed envelope so the actress has never seen the script before. None of us (Weidner staff) actually know what the script is either.”

Some of the other pieces simply called for a more intimate setting (than the Weidner) which the Tarlton provides, Williams said.

“We’re looking to do (at the Tarlton) chamber pieces, smaller scale pieces that can be done with one or two people with little to no set,” Williams said. 

The majority of the acts also draw from the wide-variety of talent in the area, said Williams. 

“One band we have scheduled is called Pegasis, which is a vocal trio of Dominican sisters (Marvelis, Rissel, and Yaina Peguero) and jazz guitarist Matt Hillman,” said Williams, “I believe one of them is a UWGB grad. They sing original music as well as traditional African spirituals.”

Overall, Williams hopes the downtown series will help bridge the gap between the University of Green Bay campus and the distance to downtown.

“The University has been trying to figure out how they can have a presence downtown… There’s a long journey between campus and downtown.”

Knight also said that the collaboration and types of programming offered can only help to raise awareness for downtown Green Bay.

“What this opportunity presents us is a long-term light in the tunnel forward. It’s an ongoing partnership – right now we’ve got X number of dates committed throughout the rest of the year,” Knight said. “What I hope that this partnership can be is a base camp in the downtown where the Weidner and other cultural partners can start to see downtown as a viable necessary platform for building the community culturally.”

Erin Hunsader is the Editor of Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached via email at [email protected]

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