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Backstage at The Muse Theatre
By Andrew Chulyk
, Special to Second Supper
Tuesday, May 28, 2013 10:44 PM
Everyone wants to be an actor and, conversely, everyone is an actor. We act up, we act out, we act like jerks, we act like we care, we act like we don’t care, we act finicky, we act silly and we’re always warned, “Don’t act like your Uncle Murray”. We say things like, “That’s a class act” or “That’s a hard act to follow.” So in other words, act-ions often speak louder than words.
Theatre, which means “a place for viewing,” began in ancient Greece about 5,000 years ago and was basically a vehicle for re-enacting mythic ceremonies and rituals. Acting then was pantomime punctuated by choral singing. But, in the 6th century B.C., Thespis had the novel idea to have actors speak rather than just dance or sing. And thus began the long evolution of “Theatre” into what we know today as “Modern Theater.”
On the north side of La Crosse, in an old church, you’ll find The Muse Theatre. Developed, owned and operated by Vicki and Don Elwood, this little theatre is a great example of how small independent acting groups survive. But, converting an abandoned church into a theater wasn’t so easy. It took their ambition, desire, energy and, of course, their savings to beat the odds, to do what others here thought would never work.
It has been Vicki Elwood’s determination to succeed that has kept her life and theatre running. Her years in New York taught her well. She became a member of Gotham City Improv and applied her skills of quick thinking, extroversion and playful goofiness to her advantage. “You start out as a nobody. Everybody wants to be a star, but you have to go the distance,” Vicki explains. “You chase shows and maybe get into two, if you’re lucky. It’s hard work and rejections are the norm. You need the drive to make it.” Elwood continued on, appearing in Off Broadway productions at the Sanford Meisner Theatre and Duality Playhouse. She developed a one-woman cabaret show, “Pretty Damn Blonde,” that she performed at Don’t Tell Mama’s in Manhattan. She studied acting with Broadway divas Betty Buckley and Elaine Stritch. She learned method acting and continued to work hoping for that “big break.” Vicki explained, “It’s all about being in the right place at the right time and so you hang out places.” At Rainbow and the Stars atop Rockefeller Center she would see Mike Nichols and “hope he would discover me.”
She hung out with comedian Lewis Black at West Side Theater, and the list goes on. But in a competitive environment such as New York you either succeed or you slowly burn out.
Elwood left New York and came back to her roots in Wisconsin and settled in La Crosse to fulfill her secret desire to have her own theater, to run her own show, to sing and dance and laugh. At the Muse she does all that and more. To her, all jobs are equal.From set building to costume design to stage hand to prop master, director, writer, she does them all, gladly.
A theater is not where everyone always gets along, not where everyone gets the part they want, but it is where you compromise and come together for the sake of the show. The audience never knows all that goes on back stage or behind the scenes, the struggles, the insecurities and anxiety. They don’t need to. What they do see is a magical production unfold, a story told boldly and honestly whether it’s "Bat Boy the Musical," "Sweeny Todd," "The Rocky Horror Show LIVE" or "Steel Magnolias," it is all an experience shared.
Vicki Elwood, artist, actor and director, brings that experience to the audience. Hers is a life lived, where bills get paid, the roof leaks and the furnace breaks down, but regardless, the show must go on.
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4. Parking ramp
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