Creative Green Bay: There’s affordable space at ‘The Premier’

Denis Gullickson

denis gullickson | talking titletown | june 2019

Amelie Eiding and Jon Kresin of 7000apart perform at ‘The Premier,’ Green Bay’s new arts and performance center, 520 N Broadway. The Green Bay Theatre Company invites Titletown’s creative individuals and groups to join them there for ‘the price of a cup of coffee.’ Blake Mclellen photo.Are you an artist or performer looking for event, rehearsal, teaching or workspace? Are you a nonprofit group looking for a meeting, demonstration or presentation venue?

If you are any of the above or an entity even remotely akin, then the Green Bay Theatre Company (GBTC) has flexible, affordable space for you at “The Premier,” 520 N Broadway.

“The Premier” space opened earlier this month after a frustrating stretch culminating in the GBTC abandoning its plans for a comprehensive, working arts and performance venue in the former Schauer and Schumacher buildings downtown.

But we all know the old saying, “When one door on a run-down old building closes, another one in a better building in a growing Railyard Innovation District opens.”

Three+ Years of Work

It was December 2016, when Green Bay Theatre Company board members Michael O'Malley, Frank Hermans (readers of this publication might recognize the name) and this writer sat down with former mayor Jim Schmitt to propose the idea of a comprehensive, working arts and performance center at the former Vic Theater.

Borne out of our experience as the “new kids” on Titletown's Theater scene producing the original stage play “The Vagabond Halfback,” – it was our contention that there were some serious holes to address in Green Bay's cultural offerings and overall coordination.

We were certain that groups needed to have more chances to collaborate and that opportunities needed to increase for this area's talent – young, old, pro, amateur, ethnically-diverse, previously-untapped – you name it.

We also knew that this town could do a lot better job of firing its creative synapses across the artistic and performance disciplines.

We were also sure that a 500-seat performance venue near the Meyer and of access to local groups was needed. We knew the Vic fit the bill. (More on that in a future column, perhaps.)

And so, we went to work. Over the next three years we traveled across the state, sat down with over 200 individuals, groups and organizations and basically threw the doors open to our concept of an organic, evolving arts center.

Thanks to GBTC board members Michael O'Malley, Rachel Brooks, David Cook, Frank Hermans, John Mitchell and Chris Weis for being especially involved in that process. Thanks, too, to Ashley Lasee, Steven Peterson, Luke Heckel and others who have also leant tremendous support for our efforts.

In June 2018, we set our sights on those Schauer and Schumacher buildings. Two doors from the Vic – their location was ideal and the fact that they belonged to the city seemed to portend that this would be the home to Green Bay's arts and performance incubator.A year later, those buildings are a bittersweet image in our rear-view mirror and we are firmly ensconced at 520 N Broadway as a summers-worth of downtown activity breaks the horizon.

The Premier

Purposely mixing metaphors, while we danced with the city over the past year, we began to sense what, in baseball, is called “defensive indifference.”We were proposing something that would bring the arts and performance communities together in a big way, but we didn't seem to register with some at city hall.Meetings conducted by Chuck Rybak and Kelli Strickland from UWGB seemed to underscore that we were on the right track. Round table discussions they hosted suggested a few key outcomes: Those engaged in arts and performance in Titletown needed to collaborate, step away from the competitive model, cut down on duplication of efforts, share resources as much as possible and have “a place” for that to occur.

For us, it became increasingly clear that the concept we'd assembled was entirely portable and was not tied to any one building or buildings. The stakeholder group that we'd met with was in it for the long-haul. The crux of our idea was underscored and supported by those we met with.

We had connected with key community resources including the Green Bay Chamber of Commerce, Visitor and Convention Bureau, Community Foundation and others.We'd formed a great partnership with the indomitable Paul Belschner who spends as much of his time developing great projects as he does giving back to the Green Bay community.

Kudos to the venerable Donald Salmon of the Winston Fundraising Group who suggested at one meeting that we look to all the activity in the Railyard Innovation District as a cue that we might just want to be a part of the buzz there.

Then, thanks to Paul Belschner for offering space for us to stretch out and put our plan in place.

And, thus, "The Premier" – an open and flexible space that allows us to offer artists and performers of every stripe a place to ply their craft, hold an event, display their wares, create a scene – you name it. And all of that "for the price of a cup of coffee."

Emphasizing Inclusion and Affordability

Here's where the thanks go to our board vice president, Michael O'Malley who has taken over the lion's share of making “The Premier” work for everyone and set us up on a pathway for the long run.In just a couple of weeks' time, we've hosted a video shoot of the outstanding young Green Bay duo 7000apart, presented dance lessons in rockabilly, tap and ballroom styles, provided a home to Riverside Art Studio, held a couple of writing sessions and more.

On site is Blake Mclellan's Mindless Productions – a burgeoning filmmaking and digital arts concern.

As Michael put it, “Since opening our door on May 13, we've helped 132 people have a greater artistic experience in our art incubator and we are doubling our numbers every week.”

The results are collaboration, cross-pollination and synergy with the promise of “who-knows-what?” ahead.

Thanks to the creative élan brought to the space by those using it, “The Premier” has become, Michael said, “A fantastic atmosphere for the creation and presentation of artistic endeavors in theater, music, dance, visual and digital arts and more. We have held a concert, Webisode auditions, rehearsals, lessons and board meetings. So far, so good.”

And, here, thanks go to Blake Mclellen, Amelie Eiding and Jon Kresin, Barb Alloy, Lee Kerwin, Blake Matthews and others. Thanks for taking the plunge with us.

Also, thanks to our latest partners Misty Bero, Mark Steuer and Gary Anderle of Strike a Chord and Shania Gorton of Revival Studios.

An Invitation

Aristotle said, "The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.”

We think that's true.

If you're an aspiring artist of any type, we want to help you grow your art and your audience. We want to connect you with others.

We are also well aware of the importance of arts and culture to the well-being of our community.We're open for business – for your business. Watch for exciting things ahead – some things that Green Bay has never seen before.

Whether you're a writer or a painter, a quilter or a singer, an actor or a dancer, a ventriloquist or a magician, a photographer or a filmmaker, a sword swallower or an improviser … put us and “The Premier” space to use.

Heck, you may have something way off the beaten-path in mind. We'd love to hear it.There are eight or more huge windows along North Broadway just waiting for someone to place their art or some other attraction in them. We cannot emphasize the value of these windows enough. Show Green Bay what you've got.

And, the best part of all of this? It's available to you for “about the price of a cup of coffee.” Yes, you heard right. “For about the price of a cup of coffee.”

“Bringing Broadway to Green Bay and Green Bay to Broadway in the Railyard Innovation District.”

And, on that note, a quick close to this invitation:

There's enough “juice” in the Railyard Innovation District these days to power the entire West Side all the way out to the Titletown District west of Lambeau Field. Best of all, what's going on in the Railyard is part of a resurgent downtown that is going to drag good old Green Bay kicking and screaming into an exciting future.

Condos, restaurants, entertainment venues, small craft shops, upscale retail are all present, increasing and growing.

Titletown Brewing Company in the old Chicago and Northwestern train depot continues as a mainstay, but a new shingle is being hung out nearly every day as someone else joins the menagerie.Thanks, once more, to Paul Belschner, Base Company President and CEO, for welcoming the Green Bay Theatre Company and “The Premier” into the mix.

Creative Green Bay – join us there!

Contact us at “The Premier” via Facebook, by phone at 920-606-5626 (Michael) or 920-621-9304 (Denis), by email at gbtheatrecompany@aol.com, like us on Instagram or come find us in person at 520 N Broadway.

Denis Gullickson is an author, educator, farmer, horseman and president of the Green Bay Theatre Company.

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