Last night, as I watched our small but intrepid audience experience the first act of Mistletoe Musings I was struck by all the different expressions on their faces. It was extraordinarily satisfying to see the wash of emotions playing in their gaze; heads in sync with the rhythm of the music and the mood, eyes locked on the performers and literally sparkling in the light and warmth of the moment. I was again reminded why we do this business that we sometimes call art. There is a joy in the communal experience of live performance that is hard to match.
Earlier this fall, when we started the rehearsals for The Glass Menagerie, I began the script discussions with a conversation about the joy and beauty I find in Tennessee Williams' extraordinary script. Zach Williams, who played Tom and is a diligent analyst of text, made observation of the dark and hopeless reality of the story and challenged the notion that the play is about joy. It was the beginning of lengthy and rewarding discussions of the play, but this too reminded me of why we do this work. For in the presentation of even the darkest night of the soul, there is joy.
The winter holiday has in its deepest roots the need to seek out joy. As the days shorten, the temperatures drop, and the natural world sheds its outward signs of life to focus on sheer survival, the human urge to find light and celebrate it is almost overwhelming. While we have managed to trivialize this urge in a cultural celebration of commercial gluttony, its primal nature is powerful and inexorable.
So, as we move past our weekend of Thankfulness and into our month of Consumerism, I'm thankful that my days are spent pursuing the experience of joy. The collective, communal, life affirming experience of gathering around the fire pit to tell the stories that remind us that after the dark, there is light, and joy.
We are proudly serving Steep and Brew Coffee at the Forst Inn with your intermission dessert! There’s a little story behind those three ‘air-pots’ of coffee...
Thirty years ago I worked at the newest Steep and Brew café on Odana Road in Madison. The owner roasted the coffee daily in small batches. It was delivered to the stores still warm from the roaster, glistening in oils which coated our arms from scooping beans from the bins all day. It left us smelling like a rich mix of vanilla and hazelnut and French roast coffee by the end of our shifts. The owner had high roasting and serving standards which he instilled in his employees. I loved my Chemex and French press coffee makers. I always had a little fantasy of opening a Steep and Brew franchise someday.
Life took me around the country and the world, and I found myself returning to Manitowoc at a time before Starbucks was an idea in anyone’s head, and there wasn’t a single coffee shop to be found in town. Some years later, I saw that Steep and Brew coffees could now be purchased in local stores and I was thrilled.
Fast forward thirty quick years to opening the Forst Inn and deciding we really should serve coffee. By now Steep and Brew had grown and not only has the contract to serve the American Player’s Theater, but has the contract to service the entire UW-Madison system!
I searched their website to see if we could purchase coffee wholesale for resale at the Inn. There I discovered that they have moved away from owning cafes themselves, and now have licensed cafes! I reached out to them but was afraid our venue would be too small. It wasn’t – and I was off, literally, to Madison to meet their representative in the very store on Odana Road I’d worked in, and then to the warehouse to pick up our supplies and coffee beans.
We did a tasting that rivaled any wine tasting. The owner of the café and a barrista joined in as we sampled The Guatalaman, the Costa Rican, The Sumatran, etc etc.. They even have a coffee, The Nitro, specifically roasted and prepared to be served on tap! We discussed the every nuance of each one – from earthy undertones to crisp after tastes. I remembered having loved the bold, rich Sumatran, and found I still did. But was it too bold to please everyone? In the end, after much discussion the hands-down winner was – The Colombian - which sounds almost too common to be cool. It was just an all-around good, smooth cup of coffee.
It was a no-brainer to include 'Icing on the Cake' as our flavored coffee. It is a warm buttery cup frosted with a touch of cinnamon - a pleasing, without being overwhelming cup of coffee perfect with dessert.
Then I was off to their headquarters and the factory, with its small non-descript sign on the door so a passerby wouldn’t confuse it for being a café and stop in for a latte. I was able to tour the entire facility – which for me was like a kid touring Santa’s workshop. The small roasters had long been replaced with a large industrial-sized facility to accommodate the growing demand for their coffee.
I arrived back at the Inn anxious and proud to set up our extremely modest addition to the Pub – our coffee station. I put the sign on the window and stood back. We ARE proudly serving Steep and Brew coffee. And if coffee's your thing, I sincerely hope you’ll enjoy our cup. - Catherine
It’s a Wild World.. This past weekend was wildly wonderful, and next weekend is shaping up to be the same.
Last weekend we closed the four-week run of our premier show, The Glass Menagerie – a beautiful, poignant, and sometimes gut-wrenchingly honest autobiographical portrayal of playwright Tennessee Williams’ family life. Our cast, Zach Lulloff, Laker Thrasher, Vicki Svacina and Sean Stalvey put their heart and souls into their roles and gave the audiences a riveting performance every single night. Our sound and lighting genius, Jeff LaFond, made sure every moment was perfect. It is hard to adequately express our appreciation much less to say goodbye to such a cast and show.
(Also a huge thanks to Chase Dazig, Cole Egger, Jacob Williams, Justin Knapp and Threse Powell for all of your help behind the scenes!)
We had wonderful musicians come out and entertain before and after shows: Erin LaFond, Pete Honzik, and David Bowman. (Singing with Jim and Susie Miller around the piano as David Bowman played? Priceless.)
We held The Forst Inn Art’s Collective’s monthly Board of Directors meeting in the Art Gallery, where with great enthusiasm we reviewed the 2018 season (which will be announced soon!), and had a robust discussion about the mission of the Forst Inn.
(Thank you to the board members, Mary Mauer, John Brunner, Scott Dollinger, Kevin Voysey, Brian Van Ells, Chris Honzik and Connie Hendries who came out even after a Packer defeat for the meeting - some coming directly from Lambeau Field!)
We also launched our Sunday Music in the Pub series with Gary Koepke and Joe LaForce – who brought the Pub alive with an altogether new energy as people relaxed and enjoyed their soulful music.
Next weekend we will be presenting Patrick Dewane’s one-man multi-media show ‘An Accidental Hero’, the true story of his grandfather’s experiences as a WWII American Officer who helped liberate Czechoslovakia, to two nearly sold-out audiences. Then we'll be enjoying Pete Honzik’s music for our Sunday Music in the Pub.
And we’ve only been open for five weeks... Not that long ago all of these were just ideas in our heads.
As Michael and I are usually consumed in the little (endless) details from do we have enough creamer, to getting the piano tuned and the fire extinguishers serviced, to advertising deadlines, to liquor inventory, to…. (on and on - it really is endless), as well as juggling this with our other jobs and the rest of our lives, we often don’t have the time to sit back and take in what’s been created so far, and the experiences we’ve already been able to provide for our guests.
But on Sunday night, as the cast was still saying their goodbyes and hugging one another, the board meeting was complete, and Joe and Gary played to a very appreciative crowd, I took it all in and had a moment where I welled up with tears. Everything about it was beautiful. It’s definitely a wild world, and this has been a wild ride. But every minute has been worth it. And I hope we keep riding it for a long, long time.
In the summer of 2015, I had the pleasure of subletting a townhouse in the suburbs of Minneapolis with several friends who were acting and directing in various projects around the area. It became a place for friends to gather and share stories, struggles and dreams for their work in theatre. At the time, a friend quipped, "Michael, you need to get a place like this where we can gather."
That thought stayed with me as I left graduate school and started looking for the home that would house this current phase of my professional journey. What might the possibilities be to find a place that would allow artists to gather, hone their craft, present their art, and share great times together?
Tisch Mills was not, as you can imagine, a place I expected to find. And yet, here we are! The Forst Inn is the perfect place to build and develop the many elements of a performing arts retreat space that we envisioned that summer. The hidden jewel that is the arts community of northeastern Wisconsin is an amazing resource on which might rest the fulfillment of those imaginings.
At the Gala in September, I had family members gathered from distant places and cherished that opportunity to share this cool space with them. The next week, a good playwright friend of mine stopped by for the preview of The Glass Menagerie and we shared stories as he lent a hand painting the set. Tonight, as I sit here in the pub, cast members from the UW Manitowoc production of Spring Awakening are sharing the performance of The Glass Menagerie together. In November, several fabulous actress friends of mine from Des Moines and Chicago will be performing in The Smell of The Kill. These are just a few examples of the many people who have and will come and share the space with each other and with those local folks who are making this project happen.
Theatre is, at its core, a collaborative experience. It is about the gathering of dedicated souls with a desire to share the creative journey. I am looking forward to the many souls who will enter the doors here! It's a blessing and a gift for us all.
Thanks for sharing it with me.. --- Michael
Ten months ago Michael finally decided to take a look at this theater space in Tisch Mills I’d been telling him about. While he really just intended to spend a year in the area and then move on, he will tell you how the amount of theater and arts in the area caught him off guard – and the space had him curious.
He walked in and immediately wondered how this space could possibly be closed. Ideas turned into a plan, and I felt like the successful Realtor connecting the right person with the right property. But as we discussed the Forst Inn and all of it’s potential, it became clear that this was too huge an undertaking for just one person, and slowly it became clear that we needed to do this together.
The plan became a reality and we dove in, creating a non-profit community organization to manage the theater, figuring out how to get the building up and going again, and tending to the many details of our Gala opening of the theater and adjoining pub meanwhile keeping our day jobs up and running.
Amidst all this hub-bub of final details, I received an email from musician Peter Mulvey regarding his Spring concert at the Forst Inn (oops! Did I just let that slip?). In it he said, “So glad you're running a room. Rooms where art happens are the pinnacle of civilization.”
A room where art happens... Yes! That’s what we’re creating – and we both are in our element doing so. His words were a poetic reminder that all these small details will lead up to that reward – providing people with another space to gather and enjoy the experience of art happening.
After 10 months of planning, on Saturday night we finally get to do just that. With Unwound in the pub. The art of S.v. Gonia in the art gallery, and Janet Planet taking the stage, old and new friends alike will enjoy these experiences together. I’m looking forward to the magic and thankful to the Universe (and Michael!) for this grand experience. See you soon! - Catherine
I just couldn’t imagine what theatrical production the former owner, Ron Kaminski, had in mind when he nailed cardinals, woodpeckers and palm trees to deck of the Forst Inn. It was a puzzle I had to solve.
Nostalgia comes in many shapes and sizes. One of the joys of preparing for this journey at The Forst Inn has been the number of times people have responded to the news of its return with stories of their memories of shows seen, roles performed, and events celebrated. During the long spring and summer preparing to arrive here, those conversations were mostly heard in the theatre community of Manitowoc, where the memories were joyfully focused on the time period during which Ron Kaminski filled the Inn with laughter and companionship.
Since occupying the property and beginning the exciting (and slightly frightening) task of sweeping out the dust and cobwebs, that experience has not only continued but also expanded into some remarkable new paths. For the community of Tisch Mills, the history of the Inn goes back long past the days when Kaminski converted the dance hall to a theatre. Their stories include memories of Frances Forst as she welcomed guests to the bar along with the many events and celebrations that took place in the dance hall. At that time, the theatre was a dance hall, and the backstage area was the Palm Bar...an open space that provided an airy space to pause and refresh from the exertions of whatever excitement was happening in the hall. These are stories of the social life of a community.
And it doesn't stop there. The building itself is filled with pictures, memorabilia, antiques, and equipment that have their own history and story to tell. What entertainment was centered around the player piano since it was built in the 1920s, or the news and programs that may have been listened to on one of the cabinet radios from that time? Even the furnaces, kitchen equipment and bathroom fixtures seem to have a tale to tell about the lives that were lived in and around these rooms.
It is a magical place. A place that has captured signal moments and daily living for close to 150 years. We who get to renew that magic and both preserve and reimagine the ongoing phases of The Forst Inn are truly blest. If you haven't done it yet, navigate to the history page and take a look at just a slice of some of the things we've found. It's a lovely journey.
'One week in as the new proprietors of the Forst Inn – and what a week it’s been! Our website and box office went live, and it was on!
Tickets started selling, UPS deliveries with needed equipment started arriving, the liquor license paperwork got completed, all sorts of calls went out to various contractors, artists, liquor distributors etc., the mailing list was prepared, our first artist exhibition was secured for the art gallery, two new board members joined the Forst Inn Arts Collective Board of Directors, auditions were held for the first play, and cleaning began in earnest with a host of friends and volunteers including Katie, Michael Sheek's daughter, and her boyfriend Mike who drove in from Minnesota to give three days of solid cleaning. It was a pretty amazing week – so much progress has been made.
But as I drove out of Tisch Mills tonight it hit me how remarkable the week was in another way. Our new neighbors couldn’t have been more friendly or helpful – from Ann, the Manager of Fat Boyz, to Linda the town clerk, to Kay, the owner of Cold Creek Winery, to Theresa, who runs the post office, to Ray, Joe, Carol and Steve at the fire station, to Gonzo and Curly who will be cutting our lawn, to our helpful neighbor Carl, to Pete and Sue who stopped on the road to congratulate us and are sending their son down to give us a hand – each and every one has made us feel welcome and has been incredibly helpful.
I’ve heard newcomers to the lakeshore area comment on how friendly people are here. I might have found the source – perhaps it’s something in the water in Tisch Mills, and if we’re lucky, some of it flows out to the rest of us.
Thank you to all the volunteers who helped this week, and thank you to all of our new neighbors who were so warm and welcoming. You never know where adventure will find you – and the adventures have just begun. Peace, friends.
When I moved to Wisconsin in August, 2016, one of the most striking and unexpected aspects of the area was the way that it reminded me of my childhood growing up on the Jersey shore. The string of towns running along the Lake Michigan shoreline from Door County to the south had all the nostalgic icons of my youth: quaint marinas, small town main streets, seagulls, crashing breakers...they were all there. Enjoy the article below that describes a hidden gem that highlights this wonderful aspect of Northeast Wisconsin. (Click picture for article.)