The ultimate revenge once visited me in the form of my daughter Audrey, years after I decided she was too young to see a family friend perform in a high school production of Little Shop of Horrors. At ten years old, she would have been scared to death of a man-eating plant on stage. She was also devastated to miss the show.
Fast forward thirteen years, after high school, college, and settling in Michigan. Audrey called to happily inform me that, of all things, she’d gotten the lead as “Audrey” in Little Shop of Horrors. I was thrilled for her, though her tone had a twinge of “Payback!”
Not only did she deliver a wonderful performance, she was nominated for a Grand Award, the Grand Rapids version of the Tony Awards. It’s the city’s way of celebrating college and community theater. Once again, Audrey and her co-star Preston got to perform the song “Suddenly Seymour.” Here’s the song sung by the 2003 Broadway Revival Cast Recording.
Besides Little Shop, Audrey has participated in multiple other high school, college, and community shows, as either actor and co-director. I’ll spare you the braggy list of her productions, but here’s my point: Audrey loved theater long before she had developed such skills.
And here’s the impetus behind her accomplishments: Doug Jarecki and the Waukesha Civic Theater (WCT).
All pictures below, unless otherwise indicated, are courtesy of Doug Jarecki. (They are a tad blurry because I had to enlarge them a bit to be more visible!)
In this difficult time of quarantine, non-profits (among other businesses) are getting hit hard. Once we’re through this, I encourage you to do anything you can to help these places get back on their feet. Waukesha Civic Theater has so much to offer!
When we moved to Waukesha in 2003, Audrey was in middle school. At her insistence, we immediately took advantage of WCT’s theater workshops for kids. Doug taught the classes. Truthfully, Audrey wasn’t the best student (my own assessment), but she started to blossom.
Over time, with her unflagging desire, Doug’s classes, and additional instruction from high school director Dan Konopasek, she bloomed. Soon she obtained bigger parts, including the lead in Annie during her high school senior year.
I attribute her success to her start at Waukesha Civic Theater, where Doug Jarecki is currently the Education and Outreach Administrator.
Tim and I have attended numerous performances at Waukesha Civic Theater over the years. Each one was excellent and enjoyable.
Join me for some Q & A with Doug.
What does your WCT role as Education and Outreach Administrator entail?
Doug: I am responsible for creating, managing, and executing the education and outreach programs. I was the first (and only) person to hold this position, so one of the real thrills for me has been to create this from the ground up.
Not only do we offer year round programs at the theatre,
but we have continued to expand our outreach presence
in local schools and community organizations.
It’s a continuing challenge to provide new programming
that meets the changing demands in the area.
What kind of programs does WCT offer?
Doug: Our programs continue to grow and evolve to meet increasing demand. Our education program currently features 2 two-week summer camps, three single-week specialty summer camps, fully produced junior and school edition shows, and after school class sessions in the fall, winter, and spring.
We rotate class offerings to include things like acting,
improvisation, musical theatre, dance, audition technique,
play writing, and so many more.
Most of these programs can also be adapted to go into the schools as part of our continually expanding outreach program. Our Academy outreach programs are a presence in almost twenty schools and community organizations, reaching over 1,000 students every year.
What path did you follow on your way to WCT?
Doug: Before this job, I was a full time actor in the Milwaukee area working for theaters like Milwaukee Chamber, Next Act, In Tandem, Skylight Music, etc. I met John Cramer, who at that time ran the education program at the Sunset Playhouse, when he directed me in a production. He encouraged me to try teaching one of the classes there, and I took to it immediately.
I had never thought I would enjoy it, or be very good at it, but I truly enjoyed the challenge. So I continued to find teaching opportunities, and to improve and refine my teaching techniques.
When John Cramer became Managing Artistic Director of WCT, one of his first orders of business was to create a full time education position. When that spot became available, I applied and got the job, the first one to hold the position at WCT.
John’s encouragement over the years has been crucial to my development as a teacher. Being an outstanding educator himself, he taught me a lot about the kind of teacher that I would want to be.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
Doug: Hands down, my favorite part of the job is the classroom work with the students. Whether it’s a kids’ class or adults, I genuinely love working with students of all ages. The classroom work is really what energizes me.
What are some of the best ways to encourage acting skills in kids?
Doug: There is a misconception that stage skills are limited to the stage, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The skills we work on—
listening, communication, creative problem solving—
are skills that can and should be used in other areas of your life.
When a student understands that,
these ideas become more accessible for them.
It’s incredibly rewarding to see them use those skills in other areas, to hear from teachers that certain students have become better students because of some of the skills we reinforce.
How do you encourage kids to come out of their shell?
Doug: Getting kids to come out of their shells, to take some creative risks, starts with creating a safe and supportive environment for them. Creating clear boundaries and expectations right from the start.
We establish very early on that the students
are cheerleaders for each other, not competition.
And we work with students of varying experience levels,
so it’s important for everyone to know that
each student’s progress is going to be a little different.
What acting roles have you played over the years? Which are your favorites?
Doug: I’ve been fortunate to play a wide variety of roles over the years. My favorite roles are the ones that scare me a bit, the ones that are outside of my comfort zone as a performer. The musical roles usually terrify me, which I love.
I just recently played one of the gangsters in Kiss Me Kate at Skylight, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had on stage. However, I think the most terrifying experience—and most gratifying—is when I acted in a play that I also wrote (‘Twas The Month Before Christmas). That was an extra level of vulnerability for me.
How do you develop a character that you’re going to play?
Doug: No matter what kind of script, it always comes down to the same questions that need to be answered—What am I doing and why am I doing it? If I can answer those as an actor, the character kind of falls into place.
How do you get into character before a show?
Doug: Everybody has their own way of doing this, and a lot of it depends on the kind of show it is. But for me, I think it’s called a ‘play’ for a reason. It requires a certain level of playfulness. I like to joke around and chat with people for the most part. It’s a fun way to work through the pre-show butterflies.
How did your partnership with ACAP develop?
Doug: Our partnership with ACAP actually started shortly before I started at WCT in 2007. John Cramer, our former Managing Artistic Director, worked closely with Mark Cage and Patty Chones to figure out how to make this work. They did a great job because the partnership has continued to grow over the years.
ACAP has increased their number of shows here and they have added a film component to their offerings. I also have had the pleasure of teaching some workshops with them, including anti-bullying workshops that took us into the schools to work directly with the students.
Does WCT still host the Saratoga STEM Academy productions? What other community partnerships does WCT have?
Doug: WCT is a community theatre, so those community partnerships are vital to our success. In our education and outreach program, we have a presence in over 25 local schools and community organizations. But we also partner with local restaurants as part of our season subscriber benefits package. If you have season tickets at WCT, you also get great discounts at a lot of bars and restaurants.
How do you bring creativity into your daily life—at home, too?
Doug: My work days are pretty loud and hectic, so for me I like to find time in the day to just be quiet. Turn off the phone, tune out the distractions, and just let my mind wander. Throughout the day, we have information coming at us from all directions, so we are reacting to that and giving it our mental energy.
But if you can cut that stuff out for awhile and silence those distractions, it’s fun to see where your mind chooses to go. I can’t tell you the value of some good daydreaming!
Any tips for others who want to act or direct?
Doug: Approach it like a student. Every time I do a show, I am looking to learn as much as I can. Watch what other people do, how they do it, and piece together what works best for you.
Whether I considered a show to be a good one or not,
I have always walked away learning something I didn’t know before.
And quite frankly, sometimes the best lessons have come
from those “negative” experiences.
Join me next time to learn more about Kidsplay and Doug’s writing, producing, and directing ‘Twas The Month Before Christmas.
BIO: Doug has been the Education and Outreach Director at the Waukesha Civic Theatre since 2008. He is a professional stage actor, with local credits including Next Act, Milwaukee Chamber, In Tandem, Skylight Music, DanceWorks,and more. He has also been acting on camera for almost 20 years, appearing in commercials for Travel Wisconsin, Mill’s Fleet Farm, and more. He is the cofounder of Kidsplay, a children’s theatre company that tours the area with fun-filled, highly interactive shows. He has also written several scripts, including ‘Twas The Month Before Christmas, which will be returning to Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center in December 2020.
Do you have any favorite plays or musicals that you’ve acted in or enjoyed as an audience member?
Please add your comments below. I’d love to hear from you!