After he applied for the position of Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s managing director, Chad Bauman proceeded to check out the company’s reputation in the national theater community. His caution was understandable.
At 33, Bauman already had an enviable position as associate executive director of Washington’s Arena Stage – a venerable and high-profile East Coast theater company. In case he succeeded in getting the job at the Rep, Bauman wanted to know exactly what he would be getting into.
He’d already formed a favorable impression of the Rep, he said, when he helped to transfer “One Night with Janis Joplin” from Arena Stage, where it originated, to the Rep last year. But he wanted to be sure there were no hidden pitfalls, no underlying problems that would make him someday regret the move. And although the job at the Rep would be a promotion – the managing director is virtually a theater company’s CEO – he would have to uproot not only his life but also that of husband Justin Dunleavy, an analyst for the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan Congressional watchdog agency.
So Bauman began asking questions of former Rep employees, contractors, and other theater professionals in the know.
What he learned about the Rep was alarming, Bauman confessed.
“Everyone said such fantastic things about working for the Rep (that) it was quite disturbing,” he explained. “It was sort of Stepford-ish, because no one had anything negative to say. It seems like people just come here and fall in love with the place.”
Since consistently lavish praise was the worst offense he could uncover about the Rep, Bauman accepted the managing director position as soon as it was offered, he said. Dunleavy transferred to the GAO’s Chicago office, and now the couple maintains homes both there and in Milwaukee.
Bauman already has joined the Stepford-like chorus of Rep fans. He considers his decision to join the company an unqualified success for a variety of reasons. So does his new employer.
“There was an energy and vision for his role of managing director that was articulated in a very dynamic manner during the interview process and which is playing out in his actual role,” said Rep board president Judy Hansen. “His partnership with our artistic director, Mark Clements, is also a key component to the success in this position and that relationship is strong.”
Bauman is a Missouri native who’d lived in such far-flung places as California and London. But he joined the Rep at a point in his life when he wanted to live closer to his family and reconnect with his Midwestern roots, he said.
“I was also at a point in my career where I was ready to take on a leadership position in a large theater,” he said. “So the stars converged.”
Bauman discovered that he was joining the Rep at an exciting and critical time in its history. “The company is in a place that is really solid right now,” he said. “It’s grown by 20 percent over the last three years. Clements recently signed a contract to lead the Rep for four more years, guaranteeing the organization’s ongoing artistic stability.
But with two stages and 13 productions a year, the Rep requires a lot of money. And, as famously daring as he is talented, Clements has created an ambitious three-year strategic plan. Bauman said it’s his job to find the resources to create a sustainable path to achieve Clements’ creative vision.
That’s a tremendous challenge but Bauman relishes it, and the board has confidence that he’s up to the task.
“He excels in marketing and revenue analysis, which includes forecasting – this is key to the success of a theater with an ambitious artistic vision,” Hansen said. “Coming from a theater more than double the size of the Milwaukee Rep, Chad fully understands the intricacies of running a major theater.”
Bauman said he’s encouraged by the fact that Clements is an economically minded artistic director who “has a keen sense of the business side of theater.” And, he added, the Rep’s “donors are actually very eager” to help.
“If you can prove that you’re stewarding their money to do tremendous things, then they are absolutely eager to invest more,” Bauman said. “Our donors see that and they’re ready for what’s next.”
Bauman spends about 70 percent of his time either meeting or speaking with donors. “I’m sort of on my new-guy tour,” he quipped. “Everybody is incredibly gracious, warm and inviting. … It’s just been a great several weeks. I’ve eaten way too much custard, and they’re too many great restaurants in Milwaukee. I’ve put on 8 pounds.”
Bauman lives just blocks away from the theater and appreciates the ability to walk to work. Like many newcomers, Bauman has been surprised by Milwaukee’s cultural and lifestyle amenities.
“It’s a world-class artists’ city but without the problems of the other world-class artists’ cities,” Bauman said. “Artistically, the Rep is a much larger company than a city the size of Milwaukee should have, if you look at comparably sized cities.”
He added: “I have apartments in Milwaukee and Chicago – and when I have a choice, I’d rather be in Milwaukee.”