What is Evergreen Theater?

evergreen_eBY Patrick Mares

Evergreen is a community theater organization in the Green Bay area intended to offer an alternative to the now 80 year old vanilla Green Bay Community Theater chapter. 30 years ago the organization was founded to offer the bay area something different. According to their president, Kathy Treeankler, they wanted to share, not just classic shows, but things that push the community, and challenge them to think. And that’s where the name comes from. The founders wanted the program to be “ever-green,” always bringing something fresh.

This means that while the organization puts on a number of well loved favorites, every year one of their four main-stage shows put on by the adult section pushes boundaries a little. This year it’s “Sonia and Vanya and Masha and Spike,” an Anton Checkov influenced piece they hope will ruffle a few feathers in the area. According to Bill Sergott, Evergreen stage manager and identity chair, “It’s real quirky. There are a number of gay characters. It’s got a sensibility and humor to it that isn’t real common. A lot of our audience, our regular season ticket holders tend to be a little older, and we’re doing new things in hopes of drawing in a younger audience in addition to the seasoned.”

Darby Kern, their returning director for The Philadelphia Story told us he was hoping for Glengarry Glen Ross, “A Pulitzer Prize winning play that is brilliantly written in Iambic Pentameter modern. There’s cussing in every line. And it’s very vulgar,” but Sergott wasn’t sure audiences were quite ready for that. “It’s also just dismal,” he interrupted, ruining what had been up till that point, a rather compelling pitch as Mr. Kern bribed us to get it in the article.

evergreen_hallwayBill Sergott heads up Evergreen’s identity group, responsible for choosing the plays every year. He and Kathy agreed that the Glengarry Glen Ross, writer, David Mamet was excellent, but that particular play, written in the cutthroat vein of Death of a Salesman, was unrelentingly depressing. Besides they’d actually just done a public reading of the play at the Green Room, and according to Sergott, in spite of the Pulitzer Mr. Kern kept bringing up, “it’s really too soon for Glengarry Glen Ross. I think usually about 30-40 years in between viewings is perfect.” And Kathy informed Mr. Kern, “If that name shows up in this article. I will come after you.”
But Evergreen isn’t just about walking the line between troubling and enlightening audiences. They have three other main-stage plays a year. That includes Miracle on 34th Street, Steel Magnolias and as previously mentioned The Philadelphia Story. And Evergreen also has an entire kids division.

According to Sergott, Evergreen is in large part a teaching organization. As Kathy said, “The ‘E’ is for everyone.” They do three plays a year in their kids branch, have a burgeoning drama club that meets twice a month and offer classes every summer. There’s even a production associated with the summer program. It’s been running three years now, and this year’s show was called Camp Twilight. The production made use of the skills the kids had picked up, and while like all of their shows, it was an open audition, most of the cast consisted of kids from the summer program.

Sergott’s daughter Grace was shadowing him. As she waved from the back of the room, he told us, “I’m going to be teaching her how to call the show, and how to do the behind-the-scenes stuff as a stage manager. Jack Reiner, who does our lighting for most our shows will grab a kid and teach them how to design lights for a show, how to plan it out and plot it. How to program it into the computer and then successfully run the show. So these kids, a lot of them are getting college level tech training and experience at an age where they are still in middle-school, high school. We’re always trying to be a teaching organization in the process of what we’re doing with plays.”
They bring in kids and talented volunteers in every aspect of the show, with a fresh crew and cast for each production. Sergott told us the local colleges are one of their best sources.

evergreen_backstage“UWGB and St. Norbert’s both have really good theater programs,” he said “that are bringing people up very nicely. And if you know someone at one of those schools and in the department you call them up and say, ‘Hey, who’s your best set designer,’ or whatever. And they don’t usually steer you wrong.”

Kathy took pains to point out the other end of the spectrum.

“We also have people who have never done it before,” she said “not trial by fire, but sometimes it feels like it. They’ll have someone who will work with them in a coaching manner to help them through their role.”

They have a long list of positions they want to fill for every show from set designer, master carpenter, lighting, sound, and stage manager, to running crew, actors, director and sometimes assistant director. Certain shows require also special positions. For example choreographers and accompanists are needed for nearly every musical.

They’re always looking to bring in new talent, whether it’s from the local colleges, middle schools, or theater-loving adults with some time on their hands. Maybe you should check them out! It can’t be any worse than sitting through a showing of Glengarry Glen Ross.
P.S. Darby, you owe me a dollar. And you might want to be more specific, or at least reconsider your minimum bid these days. Got to pay for college somehow.

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