Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Aug 18, 2014
09:53 AMStage Write
Four Seasons Theatre Meets a Milestone With a 'Kiss'
PHOTO COURTESY OF FOUR SEASONS THEATRE
Four Seasons' 2007 production of 'West Side Story' holds a special place in Sarah Marty's heart.
Sarah Marty was there in the beginning, back in 2005, the year Hurricane Katrina obliterated New Orleans, Lance Armstrong won his seventh Tour de France and the Huffington Post first launched. Almost a full decade later, Four Seasons Theatre, the Madison musical theater company she co-founded, stands poised to launch their tenth anniversary.
In other words, they’ve come a long way since a 2005 joint performance of Ragtime with Middleton Players Theatre, baby.
“It’s kind of incredible,” says Marty, the company’s artistic director and do-it-all dynamo. “That show seems like it was only a few years ago.”
Pretty impressive for a company whose original business plan doubled as Marty’s master’s thesis.
Not every local theater company survives long enough to light ten candles, but Four Seasons has. Marty points to FST’s ability to form campus and community partnerships exactly like the one that marked their first show as one of the company’s central keys to success. Teaming up with everyone from the Wisconsin Union to the UW School of Music, Fresco Opera and Music Theater of Madison (MTM) has nurtured a sort of cooperate-while-competing vibe that continues to serve FST well. At least six of the actors who appeared in MTM’s recent production of Bonnie & Clyde were vets of Four Seasons Theatre shows.
At this point, Marty’s matter-of-fact about it. “You have to work together,“ she says, noting the ways each company carefully tries to schedule its shows around the others so as not to create catastrophes. “You have to share resources. We’re all counting on that same pool of actors and tech people.”
At the moment, Four Seasons is crunching to debut its thirty-third—yes, thirty-third—production, a big-time staging of Kiss Me Kate that will inaugurate the newly renovated Wisconsin Union Theater August 22–24.
“It’s kind of unbelievable,” says Marty.
Marty’s been around for all thirty-three shows, but she admits to having a few faves in the sizable stack, starting with the production of West Side Story FST mounted in 2007. That particular musical had some added personal significance, as it was also Marty’s first fateful encounter with musical theater back in high school. Obviously, it made a critical impact on her.
“At the time, it was a huge challenge for the company,” Marty recalls. “It really pushed us to places we hadn’t been before.”
The company’s December 2011 run of RENT also resonates for her, in particular because FST staged it in the Bartell Theatre’s Drury space, an unusual intimate venue for a big-time Broadway musical.
And finally, she points to last year’s monster production of Les Miserables, the largest and most expensive show FST has ever attempted.
“It took an army to produce that show,” says Marty.
Picking Kiss Me Kate to inaugurate FST’s anniversary season was something of a no-brainer, given that it carries a tidy historical tie-in to the performance of The Taming of the Shrew that opened the theater way, way back in 1939.
Staging it, however, has been one of the more challenging propositions in FST’s history, in part because construction and renovation at the Wisconsin Union is ongoing—right up ‘til opening night.
“Normally, you have your plans in place a year out,” says Marty. "For this one, we’ve had to be a lot more flexible."
For instance, as of this writing, the show’s sound package is still out for bid, and may not be ready in time, necessitating some last-minute scrambling. Marty’s been spending more than a few hours figuring out how she and her production crew will adjust the space’s light booms—which just happen to be more than one hundred feet in the air—so they’ll be focused on the stage. Did we mention there’s no genie lift?
FST’s expanding its docket in a big way to honor of the anniversary season. In addition to the three productions they’ll mount—Kiss Me Kate, Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins and Guys and Dolls—there’ll also be a big list of adjunct events, including a series of open mic and cabaret circle nights at the Memorial Union. Those nights are—you guessed it—part of yet another partnership with the Wisconsin Union. Next March, the company will also stage A Grand Night for Singing, a major event in the Overture Center’s Promenade Hall.
That’s for worrying about next year. For now, it’s time to focus on next week’s show—and look back over a decade’s worth of memories and lessons.
“It’s true, you learn a lot,” says Marty. “I look back to what I didn’t know when I started, and I’m kind of amazed.”
Kiss Me Kate opens Friday, August 22. For more information on tickets, click here.