Home sweet (new) home for Children’s Theatre of Madison

The 56-year-old theater company debuts its space in the new MyArts Center.
Roseann Sheridan looks over costume sketches
Photo by Steven Potter
Roseann Sheridan looks over costume sketches in CTM’s new headquarters within MYArts, which also includes enough storage space for hundreds of vibrant outfits and props.

Last time I checked in with Children’s Theatre of Madison, things were looking a little bleak. The pandemic had forced the company to pull the plug on its March 2020 production of “Peter Pan” after a single dress rehearsal. Allen Ebert, CTM’s executive director, estimates that the closure, followed by a year and half of local stages being dark, cost CTM close to $500,000 in ticket revenue and tuition from the company’s classes.

Fast-forward 18 months, and things are looking significantly brighter. Thanks to support from donors and CTM supporters — and a fortuitously low overhead situation — the company was able to weather the pandemic’s financial storm. Better still, CTM recently moved from its offices on State Street to its new location in the brand-new Madison Youth Arts Center, or MyArts Center, on East Mifflin Street, where it’ll be one of two anchor partners in the space (Madison Youth Choirs is the other). Just more than a week ago, CTM hosted “Septacular,” a welcome-back event that let fans and families get a first look at the CTM-focused parts of the new space, including a 296-seat proscenium theater and dedicated rehearsal and classroom facilities.

Ebert called the event “magical.”

“To see the youth and adults perform was so inspirational, because they’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting and waiting,” he says. “We all missed our donors, our ticket holders, our families, our constituents, so to be able to be together see each other face to face and laugh and be together was really great.”

“Great” is an apt adjective to use to describe the impacts of new space for CTM. Fundraising for the MyArts Center began as a separate project back in 2018, with CTM involved in stumping for the portion of the space it would eventually occupy. Now, for the first time in the company’s decades-long history, rehearsals, classes, set and prop construction and performances can all occur in the same place.

“I think a lot of our families would tell you that they really didn’t have a sense of where CTM was located, because of a lot of them are taking our classes, or doing rehearsal, and we had seven or eight different locations where those things would happen,” says Roseann Sheridan, CTM’s longtime artistic director. “And so, to have this place that has everything under one roof really creates a sense of place and a sense of home and connectivity for our youth and families that they’ve never experienced before.”

CTM now finds itself at the heart of what Ebert calls “an unintentional arts community” that includes their fellow MyArts Center tenant Madison Youth Choirs, as well as the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestra, which is building a new facility on the site of the old Avenue Bar on East Washington Avenue, and the Arts+ Lit Laboratory on nearby Livingston Street. MyArts is also right across the street from Lapham Elementary School, making potential field trips for students there a snap.

“It’s really a beautiful, serendipitous happenstance where we ended up,” says Ebert. “Now if we can just get East Washington traffic issues figured out, we’ll be great.”

CTM will remain one of the presenting companies at Overture Center and will continue to stage shows there. This upcoming season’s lineup is split evenly between the venues: “A Christmas Carol” and “StellaLuna,” based on the popular children’s book, will be staged in Overture Center. “Calabasas Street” and “Freaky Friday: The Musical” will be staged at MyArts.

“Calabasas Street,” a production CTM is co-staging with Teatroñ, a new local LatinX theater company, opens in March, telling the story of a young Latino boy and his relationship to his neighborhood. Ebert and Sheridan want it to be part of the company’s renewed efforts to reach out to new constituencies in the community. Both say they’re excited about the potential interactions between groups that aren’t currently affiliated with CTM.

“How do we engage with populations that we’re not currently engaging with?” asks Sheridan. “And how do we engage those families in activities in a way that’s meaningful to them?”

In the meantime, CTM is focused on building back the reserves it lost to the pandemic, and preparing for the new season, which kicks off in December with its annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” in the Capitol Theater, with American Players Theatre veteran LaShawn Banks playing Scrooge. With the pandemic and vaccinations situations still very much in flux, Sheridan knows it’s not a lock that the traditional audience for that show, which includes a huge swath of young than 12 attendees who aren’t yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, will be able to show up.

“The groups that come in the door, our families with college kids home for the holidays and younger siblings, they’re not going to leave their younger sibling at home while the other family members come to the show,” says Sheridan. “If the vaccines are coming out for the younger kids, then I think we stand a chance, but it makes it really hard to predict, to do a game plan.”

CTM is currently running its preseason ticket sale, offering 40% off to patrons who buy tickets to two shows. You can find out more about it here.

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