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Sunday, January 25, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 26.0° F  Light Snow and Breezy
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A ghost of Christmas past
Debt-ridden CTM reappears with a new Scrooge
on
CTM drops last year's splashy Christmas Carol.
CTM drops last year's splashy Christmas Carol.

When CTM Madison Family Theatre Company abruptly canceled the balance of its season last January and dismissed artistic director Colin Douglas, the future looked bleak for the decades-old company. But the debt-ridden troupe stuck with plans to return at holiday time, and come Dec. 1 it will mount 10 performances of its annual production of A Christmas Carol in the Overture Center's Capitol Theater. Roseann Sheridan, a veteran of American Players Theatre, has signed on to direct.

Sheridan hasn't worked with CTM before, but she's putting a firm stamp on the production. She's using Romulus Linney's adaptation of Dickens rather than the splashy Broadway version that CTM mounted last year or the adaptation developed by former CTM artistic director Nancy Thurow that the company produced for many years. Sheridan points out that Milwaukee Repertory Theatre had success in the '90s with Linney's take on Ebenezer Scrooge's redemption. While his play is not a musical, it does leave room for Christmas carols.

'It doesn't rely on a lot of bells and whistles to tell the story,' she says, adding that the play's production values are 'achievable' for the cash-strapped company. 'I think it's a very well-crafted adaptation, and Linney gives good views of the past, present and future [witnessed by Scrooge].'

In the past, some CTM backers worried that moving from the Civic Center's Isthmus Playhouse to the much larger Capitol Theater was a big mistake for the company. Sheridan, however, doesn't believe the 1,091-seat theater will see many empty seats in December. ''We'd like to sell this out,' she says. 'And I think we can.'

CTM will reveal its long-term plans at a press conference on Oct. 24.

Best-kept secret

Longtime director Corey Helser admits that the Madison Area Technical College's 975-seat Mitby Theater is still the performing-arts venue that Madisonians often overlook.

In part, that's because the 20-year-old Mitby is located on MATC's east-side campus, miles from the central city and the traditional heart of local arts activity. But with the advent of the Overture Center, a lack of publicity also keeps the Mitby below the cultural radar.

'We're not so much competing with other events as competing for the attention of the audience that's out there,' says Helser. 'We want Overture to succeed. We want everybody to succeed. But how do we get the word out? People can pick and choose, but they have to be aware of it first.'

A year-long celebration of the recently refurbished Mitby's 20th anniversary should help reacquaint audiences with the hall. Helser notes that the Oct. 27 appearance by 'A Prairie Home Companion'-endorsed Canadian singer-songwriters the Wailin' Jennys is just one example of the theater's dedication to bringing a varied slate of performances to the far east side.

This year Helser is also reemphasizing the publicly funded Mitby's budget ticket prices. While it's not unusual to spend $40 or more for tickets elsewhere, the Mitby tries hard to give families from a broad swath of the economic spectrum a chance to attend events without breaking the bank.

And that's part of the theater's community-directed mission that will never change, says Helser. 'Prices are going up everywhere else. But we're really dedicated to keeping the arts affordable. Typically ticket prices are lower than what you pay at other venues, and parking is always free. We've come up with a tag line about how accessible we are: 'Always within your reach.''

While the theater was sad to see the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra move its concerts to new digs at Overture's Capitol Theater this year, Helser is hopeful that more local arts organizations will find their way to the Mitby during this anniversary year. Once again, affordability is a key issue. He cites the success the four-year-old Madison Area Dance Festival has had attracting audiences to the hall. With tight budgets throughout the performing-arts world, he adds that the economics of performing at the Mitby are going to look better than ever: 'It just makes sense to perform in a space that doesn't cost you as much money and still has many of the same amenities.'

As for concerns that the theater might be a little out of the way, Helser feels that issue has always been overblown. 'If the right artist is here, people will drive 25 miles or more to come see them.'

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