Founded in 1957 by a local group of theatre enthusiasts, Waukesha Civic Theatre performed in the auditorium of Waukesha Central High School, then moved to the newly opened  Waukesha South Campus Auditorium built specifically for the Waukesha Symphony. The seating capacity 1,200. In the huge house productions would run one weekend for two performances, Friday and Saturday nights. To better meet production needs, WCT purchased the former Assembly of God Church at 506 N. Washington Ave, and transformed it into an intimate proscenium house seating 136 [156 with 10 extra seats added on each side of thrust configuration with, theatre seats loaned from Carroll College] Backstage conditions were primitive, and each restroom in the front of house only had one stall. Thus it remained until WCT in 2000, moved into the former Pix Theatre [1939 Landmarked Arte Moderne movie house] in downtown Waukesha, renovated, and built out to triple its size with a $4 million capital campaign. Many bathrooms, office space, black box theatre, rehearsal space, costume shop, scene shop, full basement storage area, and elevator were added in the 2 story addition to the Pix. Seating capacity was reduced by about half to 274 to provide for space for a stage where none had been and a walk through hallway from the RiverWalk parking lots at the rear of the building, to the new box office on Main St. https://www.waukeshacivictheatre.org/pastShows.html
I first experienced WCT in 1968, in a summer production of BRIGADOON staged by Penny Players Inc. that used WCT’s un-airconditioned facilities during the summers. Double cast and with over 60 teens & college students on the tiny stage, BRIGADOON became a standard of what could be done in an intimate setting. I would be in DAMN YANKEES at WCT before I got back to Penny Players in MOST HAPPY FELLA [Ciccio], WEST SIDE STORY [Mick & Tony U.S.) and Stage Managing BELLS ARE RINGING. I did anything and everything needed to put on a show for the next several years. I finally landed my first lead role as Cocky in ROAR of the GREASPAINT during the construction period when WCT was renovating the Washington Ave space and adding a 300 square foot lobby and gallery space. The cement foundation was in place and the lobby had been framed in, and on opening night of GREASEPAINT, hardhats were worn in the new very unfinished lobby. There had been about 10 x 10 feet of entry space before the new lobby was added along with new theatre seating, carpeting, and air conditioning.
“Seat of my pants” training in the theatre arts, continued at WCT with directing added to my resume with Neil Simon’s PLAZA SUITE and producing with CABARET both in 1973. While teaching full time at University Lake School [1974-76] and Catholic Memorial High School [1977-79], I continued my work with WCT before moving away to take acting jobs at Viterbo Rep in LaCrosse, WI, Wilson St East Dinner Playhouse, Madison Civic Rep, and K.I.D.S Theatre all in Madison, WIS.
Returning to WCT as Artistic Director in the fall of 1980 with the assistance
of a Wisconsin Arts Board/ NEA grant to help fund my salary, I would oversee about 10 theatre projects per year, either directing or producing them. I also showed up on stage at least once per year. There were 5 subscription shows in a season plus a Christmas and summer musical, and I instituted a director’s series of 3 shows that each played for one weekend only. Other touring projects and special events like a yearly variety show and dinner theatre presentations filled out my 2 hours per day that remained.
PHOTOS: Courtesy Bill Barwig, WCT Archives and Waukesha Freeman
GALLERY ABOVE: PHOTOS: Courtesy Bill Barwig , WCT Archives and Waukesha Freeman
2016 WCT “Mama a Rainbow “Benefit Honoring Conne Cross Smith, one of the original founders of WCT and Penny Players. Timothy Smith and Patrick McCarthy, the two Tony’s of 1971’s WEST SIDE STORY with Brush Up Your Shakespeare
PHOTOS: Brian J. Leach