Curtain Call for Michael Duncan
Oconomowoc Arts Center Manager Announces Retirement
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Photo via prarch.com
Ten years ago, Michael Duncan set out on the ambitious task of spearheading the Oconomowoc Arts Center, a brand-new 30,000-square-foot facility dedicated to featuring student talent as well as traveling professional artists.
After successfully building up the state-of-the-art facility to what it is today, Duncan plans to step down as arts center manager in November. His resignation follows the OAC’s 10th anniversary season, which he says had an 18% growth in attendance.
“I can only bring what I can to a certain point because the OAC is in a really good place right now,” Duncan says. “It really needs someone new to come in who has different ideas, things I haven’t thought of."
The Oconomowoc Arts Center officially opened in Dec. 2008 after voters in the Oconomowoc School District approved the project as part of a $49.6 million referendum. Today, the OAC hosts a variety of entertainment including main stage headliners, documentary screenings, comedy acts and a dinner and a show series.
“The Oconomowoc community has a strong history and tradition of supporting the arts, so the expectations were certainly high,” says Pat Neudecker, former superintendent of the Oconomowoc Area School District, about starting the center. “As the years have progressed, we have noticed that we have a very unique model: a professional quality theater, owned and operated on a school site for all to enjoy. The benefits are endless.”
In addition to serving the school and city of Oconomowoc, a main goal for Neudecker was to create a facility that served the entire Lake Country area. Over the years, Duncan has ensured that the OAC’s programming committee has been composed of members from all the surrounding communities including Delafield, Pewaukee and Hartland.
Neudecker explains that Duncan’s passion and dedication to the arts made him an ideal candidate for managing the OAC. Duncan holds an MFA from the Professional Theater Training Program at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and has performed in over 100 professional productions including classical, contemporary and musical theater. He has also worked in arts administration and production management with Skylight Opera, Florentine Opera, Great American Children's Theater and Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival.
“Without a doubt, it has been an absolute delight working with Michael,” Neudecker says. “We always knew our facility and our programs were in good hands with him. He has impeccable integrity and always strives for the very best for everyone and in all situations. He is kind, patient and is extremely fun and fun loving. He will be missed!”
Duncan says he has enjoyed interacting with the community most during his time at OAC. He recalls an especially moving moment when an elderly woman approached him at intermission of An Evening with Patsy Cline asking if “Patsy” could sing a particular song.
“She was almost teary-eyed when talking about that song,” Duncan explains. “It was so touching to see how the music of an artist can make all the difference in the life of a person. When people connect like that to what we offer, it is the greatest reward for all of our hard work.”
Following his retirement from the OAC, Duncan hopes to return to his roots working with local professional theaters. He has previously worked as a director or actor with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Madison Repertory Theater, In Tandem Theater and First Stage. Before accepting the role as arts center manager for the OAC, Duncan served 10 years as artistic director for Sunset Playhouse.
Duncan also plans to finish two productions he’s been writing, a musical honoring the life of Judy Garland and a remake of Trelawny of the ‘Wells’.
“Technically the government thinks I’m retired, but I don’t retire well,” Duncan jokes.