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Sunday, October 26, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 49.0° F  Fair
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From screen to stage
Westgate Art Cinemas books standup comedy

Westgate Art Cinemas takes another step to redefine itself in the changing local film market by offering four weekends of live comedy over the next month. The first bill, on Oct. 18 (7:30 p.m.), 19 & 20 (7:30 & 9:45 p.m.), features "Pola-Palooozzza" with comics Tim Marszalkowski and Dobie Maxwell. L.A.-based comedian Jeff Cesario, a UW grad, performs Oct. 25-27, Michael Winslow on Nov. 1-3 and the Irish Comedy Tour on Nov. 8-10.

Carlo Petrick, communications manager for Westgate owner Marcus Theatres, says that the move to live comedy is part of a larger effort to make better use of the hundreds of individual auditoriums in Marcus' multiplex holdings. "It's an opportunity to bring people into our theaters who wouldn't otherwise go to a movie theater," he says, adding that Marcus has already had success bringing live comedy to its Majestic Cinema complex in Brookfield.

The shows will be presented using what Petrick calls Marcus' "show lounge" concept. Seating in the auditorium won't change, but in order to approximate a comedy-club atmosphere, the company will use a new sound system, special lighting and a temporary stage. Beer and other malt beverages will also be served, which means no one under 21 will be admitted.

If attendance is strong, Petrick expects that Marcus will book more comedy at Westgate. He adds that a partnership with the Bonkerz chain of comedy clubs gives Marcus access to a steady stream of touring talent.

Live comedy isn't the only innovation Marcus brings to the Madison market this week. The company recently installed digital 3D equipment in one of the auditoriums at the Point Cinema and on Oct. 19 will begin showing the 3D version of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Patrons will have to wear special enhanced 3D glasses, but one of the pluses of the system Marcus has installed is that it eliminates the eye fatigue associated with earlier 3D technology.

Creating the future

The Madison Repertory Theatre's annual Madison New Play Festival isn't just a tool for developing work for the city's only professional theater company. Artistic director Richard Corley explains that it's also become an important incubator for the national theater scene. The evidence is on display in New York this week, where Pulitzer-nominated playwright Theresa Rebeck's Mauritius has just opened at the Biltmore Theatre.

"We've had Theresa Rebeck at the festival twice," Corley points out. "That play was developed here. It also ran at the Manhattan Theater Club off Broadway last year. Numerous plays we've done at the festival have been done around the country."

The New Play Festival runs Oct. 20 (2 & 7 p.m.), 21 (2 p.m.) and 27 (2 & 7 p.m.) in the Overture Center Playhouse. Now in its fifth year, it presents staged readings of new works. Corley stresses that the Rep tries to feature national, regional and local playwrights. While he's reluctant to single out any of the five plays in this year's festival, he says theatergoers should keep an eye on Kirsten Greenidge, an African American playwright from Boston whose The Curious Walk of the Salamander will be presented on Oct. 21 at 2 p.m.

"Her play Sans Culottes in the Promised Land we produced in the first New Play Festival," he notes. "In a sense we were helpful in launching her career. And she's going to be a very significant playwright. She's got an unmistakable voice that has a unique take on the black experience but also is extraordinarily imaginative."

Corley adds that the festival doesn't just showcase playwrights. It also shines a light on the Rep and helps make it a destination for artists.

"It's been enormously beneficial to us," he says. "Because artists - and I'm including actors, directors and designers in that - are most attracted to theaters that are risk-taking, that have a sense of making an investment in the future of the American theater."

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