BWW Reviews: Finding Your ACTS TO GRIND

Tucked away in a cozy theatre, off of Martin Street, lives a small theatre company that opened its fifteenth season this past weekend. Encore Studio for the Performing Arts opened this new season with a series of retrospective shorts in a show entitled Acts to Grind that looked back on some of the most powerful, thought provoking, or downright goofy pieces that the company has had to offer. Audience members were even presented with the backstories to each of the shorts, complete with original dates and places of performance. Without any theme to be noted, unlike the previous show by Encore entitled Different Dreams, viewers did not know what to expect from each performance. Not giving audience members the opportunity to immediately know what was coming next gave certain pieces more power, "they made me think."

BWW Reviews: Finding Your ACTS TO GRIND
Renken (left) and Stadele (right) finishing off their musical number
in 'What I Need')
Photo submitted by Encore!

For instance, 'What I Need' is a short regarding the home of a supported individual as a workplace. This piece is the only one of its kind in the company's arsenal of one acts of the night that discusses people who work with differently abled individuals. The short morphs into a musical number between Kelly (played by Heather Renken) and Ellen (Christie Stadele) who sing about what they truly need out of life. The realization that Kelly, a support person who works in the home, makes about the importance of her work. Although she often feels undervalued, Ellen helps her realize that the work of a support person means everything to the person they support. 'What I Need' emphasizes a quote from author Bill Wilson, "To the world you may be one person but to one person you may be the world."

The beauty of Encore is that, as the only theatre company for disabled adults in Wisconsin, they have the opportunity to make a monumental difference in the arts community both in Madison and the world.

Encore's strengths lay in their ability to inspire its audience. The haunting short entitled 'Dancing Worm' did just that. Robin Parks presented stories from her own life both to the delight and dismay of her listeners. Parks has a remarkable ability to inspire a smile right before inciting heartbreak. Using multimedia for the more powerful pieces, likes Parks', is a brilliant tactic for Encore to utilize. Being able to put faces to the stories Parks tells brings the audience even deeper into her storytelling. When viewers can see her father's picture, they can only imagine the look on his face when the stories of his antics unfold.

As always, Encore's entire cast draws the audience into their shoes. As the opening short 'Not Stubborn, Not Strong-Willed' asserts, everyone needs to build "ramps of understanding". By actively trying to avoid the uncomfortable, people cannot understand the tribulations of others. By delving into the world of that feeling of unease, Encore leaves its fans a little better than when they arrived.

The performance pieces, all written by Encore director KelsyAnne Schoenhaar, provide the perfect dichotomy between stern and fun. Nothing can be learned in this world without encountering things that could make one feel unnerved. Encore brings that unnerving quality to the stage, knowing full well what impact it could make, while allowing laughs to arise to ease the tension.

At the end of the day, Encore Studio for the Performing Arts continues in its fifteenth season to bring more humanity and understanding "in the world I live in".

BWW Reviews: Finding Your ACTS TO GRIND
Dawn Cieszynski (left), Dylan Shroud (center), and Malissa Petterson (right)
in the short entitled 'Revelations'.
Photo submitted by Encore!

The show will continue to run for two more weekends on Friday and Saturday nights through the 27th of September. Curtain is at 8pm with the exception of an additional 2pm matinee on Saturday, September 20th.

Reservations are not required but are recommended. To reserve tickets call (608) 255-0331 or email

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From This Author Finny (Amanda Finn)

Amanda lives in Madison, WI and joined BWW in the spring of 2014. She has relished every moment spent in a theatre since then. She (read more...)

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