The Third Avenue Playhouse story begins with a feed store housed in a building constructed around the turn of the 20th Century in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Fifty years later, an entrepreneur refashioned it into a movie house called the Donna Theatre, after his daughter, on Third Avenue. (The family also owned the Door Theatre that entertained movie-goers on Third Avenue as well.)
In the years before the cinema’s last run in 2000, a group of Sturgeon Bay citizens from varied backgrounds began plans to convert it into a performance and arts center. At the end of that year Third Avenue Playhouse opened its doors.
The artistic center had struggled before and after its 10th anniversary and was close to shutting its doors when artistic directors Robert Boles and James Valcq arrived. The two, along with the “diligent work of its founders…and board members,” made further upgrades and programming strategies, reopening Third Avenue Playhouse in June of 2012 as the fourth professional theater in culturally rich Door County. With 84 seats, the theater offers “intimate plays in an intimate setting” as well as staged readings, concerts, films and other special events. Since then the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has placed it in its “Top Ten Wisconsin Theatres” list.
During its year-round operation, TAP, as it’s commonly known, offers seven main stage productions of plays and musicals each year from March through December. It attracts local talent as well as actors from Chicago, Minneapolis, New York. Summer internships provide students from the University of Wisconsin, Lawrence University, Bard College and the University of Michigan with “practical experience working in a professional setting.” StageKids offers programs for elementary, middle and high school Door County students. The program features two productions each year. Classes are also available for adults.
The playhouse adds more entertainment as a music venue. During the year it hosts a series of song-writer showcases like the Steel Bridge Songfest, Dark Songs and Love on Holiday as well as other holiday programs such as the Hagan Family Christmas Show and Lisa Rock’s Carpenters’ Christmas.
Earlier this year TAP debuted its Winter Play Reading Festival. Comprised of “a handful of locals whose acting and directing skills have contributed to the theater’s past productions,” were asked to choose plays that “they were excited about doing.” Seven of the festival’s directors then stirred the kettle and came up with several “very different plays” that allowed audiences to explore and contemplate.
Third Avenue Playhouse’s POS system is provided by Easy-Ware, an affordable partner with non-profit performing arts companies. Diamond Ticketing Systems provides online ticketing access on the TAP website to its members, fans and visitors. Diamond Ticketing is a pioneer in online barcode technology. A win-win solution with additional revenue streams.
TAP has the distinction of being the only year-round theater in Door County. The artistic hub holds memberships in the Theatre Communications Group, Arts Wisconsin, the Peninsula Arts & Humanities Alliance and the Door County Nonprofit Group. It contracts with the Actors Equity Association as well as the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society. As co-artistic director Boles says “TAP has positively contributed to the quality of life in Door County.” Well-said.