Small local theater companies continue to thrive in Madison. The latest to arrive on the scene is Music Theatre of Madison, whose debut offering, a production of the '60s hit Hair, runs at 7:30 p.m. July 27-29 and August 3-5 at Lake Farm Park.
The company is the brainchild of Meghan Randolph, 24, who returned to Madison after completing a fine arts degree in musical theater at the University of Michigan and working in various theater jobs, including a stint with the national touring company of Cats.
"I'm a professional actress, and I realized you just can't have too many theaters anywhere," Randolph says. "The regional theater market is growing because there are so many gifted actors and not enough work for them. Madison is a culturally appreciative town, and I thought this kind of theater would do well here."
Randolph envisions presenting several productions each summer. This year, however, she's starting small. Hair has a full cast and a four-piece band that provides the music for familiar fare like "Aquarius." But Randolph says part of the show's appeal was that it could be mounted with a modest budget. "It doesn't cost much to put on, and it can be done in a simple atmosphere. That's a lot of the reason why we picked it."
Contacts from college and professional work have helped Randolph fill out the show with talent from out of town. Jumanne Langston, a friend from Michigan, brings special insight to Hair, having worked on a production of the musical with the show's composer, lyricist and original choreographer.
In the '60s, the musical's on-stage nudity raised as many eyebrows as the references to hippies, drugs and the Vietnam War. The latter subject gets full coverage in Music Theatre of Madison's production, but flashing private bits is out.
"There's no nudity," Randolph laughs. "But it's interesting with Hair because the nudity is the first thing people think of, and it's really just a small part. In the original production, it was just a few seconds, but it turned into a big draw for audiences."
Although Randolph likes the Lake Farm Park location, she realizes local audiences aren't used to driving to a county park for musical theater. To entice the public, the company is also presenting live bands prior to each performance and running a dress-like-a-hippie contest during intermissions that's replete with celebrity judges. Randolph hopes the added attractions - and good weather - will help fill seats.
Downtown art center doesn't fly
Mary Lang Sollinger dreamed of transforming the 99-year-old Woman's Building at 240 W. Gilman St. into an art center populated by working artists. But the dream is over.
"It's not going to happen," says Sollinger, the prime mover behind the nonprofit project, which planned to open its doors before the start of the upcoming school year. "We just couldn't get enough artists."
Sollinger says the Woman's Building Art Center would have accommodated up to 34 artists, but the center's board of directors needed just 16 firm commitments to move ahead with building out the space. In the end, only nine artists were interested in signing leases for combination work/studio spaces.
"We had 16 public tours for artists," says Sollinger, who had worked on the project since March. "We contacted over 800 artists and had a lot of interest, but some artists felt that we started too late. With art fairs and other things, this a busy time for people. We were hoping a miracle would happen at the last minute, but it didn't."
The project was based on the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, Virginia, which allows the public to interact with artists and purchase work from them in their studios. Sollinger still believes that approach could work in Madison, but she's not interested in another location. The longtime advocate for the downtown was set on giving the historic Woman's Building new life.
"There's talk of doing something on Odana Road," she says. "But I bowed out. My heart's in the downtown."