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Renaissance Theaterworks receives first Schubert grant

Renaissance Theaterworks, Wisconsin’s only women-founded-and-operated theater company, recently received its first national grant. And it only took 20 years.

The Shubert Foundation recently awarded the Milwaukee-based theater company $10,000. Suzan Fete, Renaissance’s co-artistic director, and Lisa Rasmussen, the company’s full-time development director, were instrumental in securing the funding.

“The grant will be used to further our mission of creating moving theater that awakens our recognition of what it is to be human – from classics to world theater,” Fete said.

“Our company focuses on women’s roles in theater, both onstage and off,” she added.That means not only do female actors have increased opportunities to perform onstage, but many of our productions feature women playwrights, directors and technical designers and staff.”

A number of Renaissance productions have explored non-traditional male/female roles. “Stop Kiss,” by Diana Son, focused on the story of Sara and Callie, friends-turned-lovers who are assaulted for kissing. Another Renaissance production, StevenTomlinson’s“American Fiesta,” featured popular local gay entertainer John McGivern. His one-man play was about collecting colorful, retro Fiestaware bowls, dishes and pitchers. Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This,” another Renaissance offering, dealt with themes of gay identity and relationships.

Renaissance Theaterworks’ performances are held in the Studio Theatre at the Broadway Theater Center in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. The company opens its 21st season in mid-October with Tanya Saracho’s “Enfrascada.”

According to Fete, the Shubert Foundation grant could not have come at a better time. “Financial assistance is very difficult to get in these economic times,” she said. “Businesses and even foundations have been hit hard by the drop in the stock market.”

The company plans to use the funds to keep producing shows “with high artistic quality, showcasing new plays, and giving new artists a chance to display their talent,” she said.

Fete believes the Shubert grant will raise the company’s visibility on the national scene. “We will certainly note the Shubert Foundation money in other grant proposals we submit,” Fete said. “This is certainly a feather in our cap.”

The company also continues to receive funding from a variety of local sources, including UPAF (the United Performing Arts Fund), the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Milwaukee Arts Board, CAMPAC (a funding source operated by Milwaukee County) and private foundations, as well as from individual donors and subscribers.

The New York-based Shubert Foundation, founded in the 1940s, awards annual grants to more than 300 theaters nationwide. In 2011, Shubert Foundation grants were received by two Milwaukee theater companies, First Stage Children’s Theater and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.

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