Introducing Waukesha Civic Theatre’s New Managing Artistic Director: Rhonda Schmidt
By Stephanie Harte
Photo Credit: Waukesha Civic Theatre's 2016 production of "To Kill a Mockingbiird," which Schmidt directed. Photo by Carroll Studios Of Photography.
In seventh grade, Rhonda Schmidt saw Donny Osmond portray the title character in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and left the Chicago Theatre knowing exactly what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
“I loved the idea of performance being able to move you, change you,” Schmidt explains. “For each encounter I had with theater after (Joseph) it was always, yep, that’s what I am going to do.”
Schmidt recently became the seventh managing artistic director for Waukesha Civic Theatre, a rare opportunity she says she couldn’t pass up. Schmidt previously directed To Kill a Mockingbird for Waukesha Civic Theatre and has worked with several local companies including the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Skylight Music Theatre and Sunset Playhouse. She also served as theater director for University Lake School and Divine Savior Holy Angels High School.
“I view my role as managing artistic director as still being a teacher by building people up to become leaders and helping to navigate productions and artistic teams,” Schmidt says. “Waukesha is becoming a thriving, booming artistic place. If we can be at the heart of that, I think that’s really important.”
A main goal for Schmidt in her new position is to promote diversity at all levels of the theater, from artists to audience members. A specific company she looks to as an example is the Milwaukee Rep, which withholds a strong mission to tell stories as racially and ethnically diverse as the community it serves.
“What I love about the Rep so much is their beautiful, beautiful diverse casts,” she shares. “It’s stunning and I would love for it to be modeled in our community theaters.”
Schmidt not only strives to select shows contingent on diversity, but to cast people of color in roles that mainstream media doesn’t typically associate them with, like Asian men in the romantic leads or black women as young scholars.
Another goal for Schmidt is to amplify the buzz around Waukesha Civic Theatre and encourage the community to choose live theater as a main source of entertainment.
“In community theater we need to honor the audience that we’ve had for so many years and really respect and nurture that, but I think we are also building a new group of community theatergoers,” Schmidt explains. “I know the board and I are really interested in initiatives that draw young people to the theater.”
Schmidt admires Waukesha Civic Theatre’s commitment to family, and looks forward to her own children growing up with the theater, much like the past managing artistic director John Cramer. Schmidt met her husband Aaron through Waukesha Civic Theatre when she hired him as the lighting designer for a show she directed. The couple now lives in Waukesha with their two kids.
“I told him we couldn’t pay him much, but we are fun to work with and we will put on a beautiful show,” Schmidt shares. “It’s five years later and we still work together. Our kids are growing up watching theater be made, which is really special.”