Kewaunee Young People’s Theater helps theater community to thrive
Laughter is the best medicine for February in Wisconsin, says Laura Wotachek.
As an actress and treasurer for the Kewaunee Young People’s Theater (KYPT), Wotachek and the 30 other cast and crew members of the annual adult-themed comedy and variety show “Hooray for Hollywood” are helping theater and the performing arts to grow and prosper in Kewaunee County.
A Kewaunee High School graduate, Wotachek never participated in the theater productions in high school in spite of the urging of her teachers. But in 2007, while she was in nursing school at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, she decided to join KYPT to stay in touch with her Kewaunee roots.
Nine years and two children later, the thirty-something mother is just as excited and nervous about her performance in this year’s annual KYPT performance of “‘Hooray for Hollywood” on February 19-21 as she was when she first appeared on the stage at Birchwood Supper Club in a “Hooray for Hollywood” skit eight years ago.
Although she started out as a member of the crew, former treasurer Diane Jirtle told her, “You are funny – I think you should be in the show.”
Wotachek describes the show as “part Saturday Night Live, part follies.” Last year, she played Lady Gaga in one of the skits.
“This is my group of people, they like to have fun” said Wotachek.
She grew up as Laura Vlies in the city of Kewaunee and has known her husband, Matt, since childhood. After returning from two tours of Iraq in the U.S. Marines, Matt surprised the cast and crew by abandoning his normal reserve to perform a “hilarious” skit on stage two years after her debut, Wotachek said.
Only two of the cast members have worked as professional actors.
“The rest of us just found our way here,” said Wotachek.
Most of the skits for “Hooray for Hollywood” are created by the cast and crew.
“We watch YouTube videos for some of our inspiration,” said Kevin Dax, another member of the cast. “Everyone has a different take on a sports or news event or a television show.”
“There are just magical synergies that develop,” agreed Wotachek. “The actors all have their own passions and are very diverse.”
The cast begins meeting in the fall to develop their skits, but the acts really don’t come together until rehearsals begin three weeks before the show, Dax said..
“One year we just improvised and went up on stage and ate ice cream,” said Shawn Siebold, another member of the cast as they recalled their favorite skits in recent years, which included spoofs of the Jackson Five, Sarah Palin, Richard Simmons and Ellen DeGeneres.
Many of the skits incorporate local humor and bring in county locales, businesses and people, said Wotachek. She said she will miss her acting partner, Mark “Sparky” Sinkula, who “retired” from the cast last year but could take any traditional song and develop it into music and lyrics with a local flavor.
The closing skit is a big deal, according to Lori Kleiman, cast member and the group’s president.
“This year we are going to end with a big bang,” said Wotachek
After more than 40 years of performances, the group has never run out of material for their skits, said Wotachek. “They keep getting better.”
Many members of the cast and crew recruit family members for their first stage experience. For example, Wotachek’s sister, Jessica, is also featured in this year’s show.
While one of the goals of the theater group is to get more young people involved in theater, there are actors and crew members of all ages, many who have been involved with the production for many years, she said.
“They were young when they started,” she said.
The Kewaunee Young People’s Theater was formed in 1975 as a community theater and their early performances were known as “The Follies.” They were held in Kewaunee restaurants, including the Hotel Karsten, Birchwood Supper Club and C.J ‘s Restaurant and Banquet, which provided an intimate setting for an audience of about 150.
But six years ago their February show had grown so popular, that they helped build a stage at the Agricultural Heritage Farm on Wisconsin 42, five miles south of Kewaunee. They can now seat approximately 450 and have also provided more than $30,000 in donations to the Heritage Farm.
“Today, we draw people from all over the state, so we can’t just rely on local humor for the show,” said Dax. “We have added more national humor.”
The Kewaunee Young People’s Theater is a 501 c (3) not-for-profit organization that raises about $50,000 each year from the three performances. In addition to ticket sales, more than 200 local businesses sponsor the event, said Dax.
All of the actors and crew members are volunteers, so most of the proceeds are donated to a variety of community organizations, with a priority given to performing arts. This year’s proceeds will benefit Luxemburg-Casco, Algoma and Kewaunee musical performances, Missoula Children’s Theater, the Algoma Performing Arts Center, and more than a dozen other not-for-profit organizations in the county, as well as provide scholarships for students studying the performing arts.
Last year, KYPT provided donations to the Algoma Lighthouse restoration and Lakehaven Hall, as well as other not-for-profit groups.
“Basically we raise money to give away money,” said Wotachek.
This year’s four-member executive committee includes Kleiman, Wotachek, Sisel and Julie Taylor.. Vicki’s mother, Kathy Jerovetz was creative and lead director for many years and Jirtle served as treasurer for more than 30 years.
Wotachek describes this year’s show, titled “Keep on Moving, Tic Toc, Tic Toc,” as a “tantalizing” one.
The opening skit is based on the large grandfather clock that was renovated and placed by Kewaunee’s lakefront last year, she said.
“We love to make people laugh, a medicine that is underrated,” she said.
Members of this KYPT include Duck and Vicki Sisel, Keith and Laura Siegmund, Scott Thompson, Dennis and Debbie Shimanek, Lynn Thompson, Matt and Laura Wotachek, Dan and Bonnie Vogel, Kevin and Kim Dax, Joe Paul, Julie Paul, Mitch Paul, Lori Kleiman, Jenny Salentine, Jessica Paral, Carol Kacer, Ray Harrell, Tina LeLou, Bob Delebreau, Scott and Connie Karnitz, Becki Krueger, John Schultz, Deb Pribek, Shawn Siebold, Kim Brezinski-Simonar, Terry and Dawn Herlache.
The Saturday, Feb. 20 performance of “Hooray for Hollywood” is sold out, but tickets are still available for the 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19, performance and the 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 21, performance. Tickets are $18 and can be purchased at Lakeshore Lighthouse in Kewaunee, Simonar Sports in Luxemburg and Red’s Rock ‘N Shore Bar in Algoma.
Food and refreshments, including beer and wine, are provided by the Immanuel Athletic Club and will be available before and after the show. The Hotel Karsten is also offering discounted rooms and a limousine service to and from the show.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Kewaunee Young People's Theater helps theater community to thrive