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Sunday, March 03, 2024

University Theatre 2023-24: The year for women

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Theatre Department released their production lineup for the 2023-24 academic year, and it looks a little different.

There are a few reasons next year’s theater season will be unlike past seasons: there are only four shows — none of which will be performed in the Gilbert V. Hemsley Theatre — and they are all lesser known.

If one were to look back into the UW Theatre Archives, there are normally five University Theatre productions per academic year. However, the Hemsley Theatre, which usually houses one or two University Theatre productions per season, will now be dedicated solely to student productions.

The grounds for this change are two-fold. In a conversation with The Daily Cardinal, Dr. Baron Kelly — interim Artistic Director, Theater Professor and Chair of the Programming Committee — said that while this change is intended to “give students more opportunities” to work on the development side of theater, it is also to “give the shop time to breathe in between these shows and not put in all of these hours.”

Behind each university production, there is intense scheduling at work. With five productions per year and limited space to store set pieces inside Vilas Hall, Kelly shared that both spacial and temporal issues have arisen in the past. The staff and students in the scene shop work nonstop on productions, leaving limited time for breaks. 

This season, Kelly directed August Wilson’s “Fences” with the aim of highlighting Black voices. Next season’s shows were picked by the Programming Committee to continue the celebration of marginalized groups. 

These productions will “give an inclusive voice to female playwrights because that's what it should be,” said Kelly. “It should all be about inclusivity.” 

Picking these lesser known shows not only advocates for female playwrights but allows the women who will portray these roles to bring their own visions to the characters. Characters in well-known shows often carry certain actor and audience expectations from previous productions, while newer or less well-known shows provide an opportunity to build a character from scratch without the limitations of others’ impressions, making the character and show all the more special.

To start the season, “Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson, Apt. 2B” will take the stage. This dark comedic take on the classic Sherlock and Watson stories will run in the summer and resume in the early fall with guest artist Emily Rollie as director. 

The fall will conclude with “Twelfth Night.” One might think this is a well-known show, but this adaptation will be of the musical variety. The show’s lead, Viola, finds herself in the middle of a love triangle after posing as her twin brother, Sebastian, to make a life for herself in Illyria. Guest artist Aimeé Hayes will helm this 90 minute contemporary take on Shakespeare’s classic. 

The spring will explore the intersectionality of Black womanhood with “Wine in the Wilderness” — the story of a painter finding his muse during the 1964 race riots. UW Theatre Professor Mark Hairston is set to direct the cast.

The 2023-24 season will end with “Orlando,” a comedy told over 300 years while bending gender expectations. This play has been described as “the most charming love letter in literature” by writer Nigel Nicolson.

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Find more information about the 2023-24 theater season and updates on auditions at the University Theatre website.

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