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Removing Social Barriers to Grow the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Family

May 22, 2020

Jean-Gabriel Fernandez, Shepherd Express

Removing Social Barriers to Grow the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre Family

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre (MCT), which has been a pillar of Milwaukee’s theater community for more than 40 years with plays such as Ben Butler and Deathtrap, is welcoming a new managing director. Amy Esposito will be starting on Monday, June 1, 2020. Coming from the University of Minnesota, where she worked as a marketing and communications specialist, Esposito describes herself as “a girl from a small town in New Hampshire,” but she studied in Ithaca College in New York and worked with the Chicago Opera Theater before landing in Cream City. Off the Cuff caught up with her to ask her a few questions.

Why chose Milwaukee?
I love Milwaukee, it feels so natural as my next home—and hopefully my last. The unique balance of neighborhood and local charm with the infrastructure and access to arts, culture and commerce is rare these days. Also, direct access to the lakes, trails and the beautiful outdoors has always been a priority for me.

How do you feel about your new job?
The MCT staff and board are very familiar with my face over Zoom, and I very much look forward to getting to know them in person. Despite the virtual beginnings, it has been invigorating to be working with a team so ready to face all the unknowns in the performing arts world—I would not have been able to accept this role without this team and clear organizational strength already in place.

What will you be doing as MCT’s managing director?
The primary function of this role is to serve as a co-leader alongside [incoming artistic director Brent Hazelton] in a way that facilitates his artistic direction and responsibly develops the resources needed to produce great, on-mission theater. Additionally, it is a priority of mine to open the doors of MCT to a broader local community; adventuring outside our well-traveled territory and finding how we can best serve Milwaukee now and for many decades to come.

My ideas and visions are constantly being informed and updated, even day to day. MCT has built an amazing base of patrons, volunteers, artists and more that will be essential in both this transition and in MCT’s future success. I am also very aware that Milwaukee is a rapidly changing city; a city with a big heart but one that is still struggling in many areas of diversity and inclusion. My hope is that we are able to build bridges, open doors and find a way to engage in a larger community that is genuine, constructive and still honors our history and founding community members.

You’re a marketing expert, why choose to work in theater?
I chose the performing arts and have yet to wander away from them because I believe live performance is ultimately a form of magic that deserves the investment and attention of the local community. The ability to tell stories in compelling ways that both engage our emotions and create any level of self-reflection in our lives is a powerful tool. I will be the first to admit that I was not born with classic artistic talent, and I luckily never had the desire to pursue it, but that hasn’t deterred me from investing in a career in the performing arts. I am a people and numbers person, Brent is the artistic guy. The goal is that, with a common mission and the deep desire to continue the work of MCT, Brent and I can find the best possible path forward to provide opportunities to local artists and grow the MCT family.

How will you be concretely applying your marketing skills with MCT?
My experience in marketing illuminated many of the inherent, exclusionary practices in how the arts sector speaks to the public, and who we invite into the space. One thing I did at the university was focus on exploring the assumed barriers to attendance (price, location, weather), and challenge those assumptions with actual conversations with the community. Without going too far into it, I will say that those that are accustomed to attending theater are often immune to or experience different barriers than first-time attendees. One of the best things theaters can be doing right now is providing more access and information in terms of what it looks and feels like to walk into their space—including the basics like the lobby, box office, seating, and even how to locate parking. You can begin to remove social and emotional barriers by communicating elements of the unknown (while leaving the surprise to the art!)

You will start working for MCT right after the stay-at-home order ends (unless it is extended). How do you imagine MCT will face the challenge of a post-quarantine Milwaukee that might not be ready to go to the theater yet?
Our number one priority will obviously be the health and safety of our artists, staff, patrons and entire MCT family. From there, we must continue to have the difficult conversations around how we can most successfully meet our mission and plan for our future while addressing all of the current, rapidly changing regulations and recommendations. The core of MCT is incredibly strong and I feel confident we are prepared to face both the current challenges and find ways to leverage them to build a stronger future.

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