Arts and Outreach in South Milwaukee
Off the Cuff with SMPAC President Cyndi Kieck
The South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center (SMPAC) covers a lot of ground, but what makes the organization unique is its connection to the school district and focus on outreach programs. They’ve brought comedy groups to teach students how to do standup routines. They host free performances at the theater and put on monthly programs in nursing homes. Currently, SMPAC is in between youth theater shows, a popular program that SMPAC President Cyndi Kieck says draws more students every year to tryouts.
What makes SMPAC special to you and the community?
I love being here because it’s such a gemstone in our community. It’s a beautiful theater—we’ve had musicians come and say it’s one of the best stages they’ve ever performed on with the acoustics and feel. It’s about an 800-seat theater, so it’s not too large, it’s not too small, it’s just the right size—it’s like home. For some people it’s their first time being there and they love the experience and they want to come back and they do…for those that didn’t like the show, they are willing to come and tell you what they would like to see next time or what would make it better, and I like that.
Explain the connection between SMPAC and surrounding schools.
They of course do their musicals; plays; performances for band, orchestra and vocal music, but when we bring in acts to the PAC, if the acts do any kind of student workshops or enrichment-type activities, the performing arts council will pay a fee for that group to do student workshops as well. We try to collaborate as much as possible. At night, we have had collaborations where the student groups have gotten on stage and performed with award-winning artists and comedians throughout the evening. Parents love it. It’s just wonderful.
Do you have an example of that kind of collaborative performance?
We’ve had Jackie Kashian, she’s a comedian from California but is from South Milwaukee herself. She has performed on late shows like “Conan” and she came back and did a show, but right before she did the show she talked to students about comedy and the students had come to the performance and then would do some of their jokes that evening.
How has the youth theater program impacted students in the surrounding school districts?
The kids love it. Each year from when it first started until now, we get more and more students, more and more kids trying out for parts and they love it. They’re committed to it, you don’t see kids drop out of it … my career is within the school district so I see a lot of my students at the theater performing, which I love as a teacher. They see me seating their parents or greeting them or congratulating them after a show, and it’s a big thrill when their teachers come and see them and it gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment. It makes it special to the kids [to show] we appreciate the time and talent they put into this and it means something to them.
To learn more about SMPAC’s Summer Youth Theatre program and its current productions, call 414-766-5049 or visit southmilwaukeepac.org/youth-theatre/.