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Yaakov Sullivan


Actors & Performers Who Graced Old Milwaukee in the 1970s & 1980s

Yaakov Sullivan
Paris, January 2006

I returned to Milwaukee from Israel in 1983, where I
had studied theatre at Tel Aviv University. I wanted
to become involved in the Milwaukee theatre scene and
and happened to come upon an ad on a bus, I think, for
the recently formed Clavis Theatre.

The 1980′s in Milwaukee was a very fruitful decade for
the arts, or at least theatre. Small groups were
starting up and spaces were opened in various parts of
the city from Walker’s Point, to KK, to the old
Lincoln High School, to the Third Ward.

My first production with Clavis, under the direction
of Neal Brenard and Sharon McQueen, was taken from
Charles Ludlam’s Theatre of the Ridiculous production
of “Camille”. The major female roles were played by
actors in drag. I played the vicious gossip and
courtesan, Olympe, then, through a series of
unfortunate circumstances, moved into the role of
Camille. After that we did a wonderful productions of
Carol Churchill’s “Cloud Nine”, Larry Kramer’s, the
Milwaukee production of the first AIDS play, Larry
Kramer’s,”The Normal Heart”, as well as Marsha
Norman’s “Execution of Justice” dealing with the
Milk/Mascone assasinations in San Francisco.
After “Cloud Nine”, Brenard and McQueen split up and
Sharon formed Tesseract which went on to do equally
fine work in Milwaukee.

There were so many creative people at that time; Mike
Moynihan, Michael Neville who started the One Act
Festival in Milwaukee, Michael Wright (might there be
something in the name “Michael” and Milwaukee), Marie
Kohler and the women who formed the Renaissance
Theatre.

Clavis Theatre worked out of the old Good Will
building on the corner of 5th and Walker. The rent was
less than nominal but it could get as cold as a…,
well, frigid, but audiences were faithful and
dedicated. John Hershede owned the building or had an
interest in it and after performances all of the
actors used to go over to his restaurant, Chip & Py’s,
named after an imaginary couple on a perpetual cruise,
and drink and dine to some great music.
Like torrid love affairs that flare, burn bright and
eventually diminish, Chip & Py’s eventually ended its
Walker’s Point days and moved to Mequon. Clavis moved
northward to Prospect and then to a renovated space on
Summit Ave. eventually becoming archival. Some of the
theatre groups are still going as are the
personalities that performed, directed and managed
during that productive time. But during those days,
Milwaukee saw some tremendously creative, alternative
theatre. Milwaukeeans should remember that the
Milwaukee Rep today would think nothing of putting on
a Robert Ludlam production, indeed they did a number
of years ago with the “Mystery of Irma Vep”, but I
don’t think they would have been so ready back in the
mid 80′s. That was a role Clavis played on the
Milwaukee theatre scene.

Last edited by g.   Page last modified on February 02, 2006

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