The purpose of the Gerald A Bartell Community Theatre Foundation, Inc (GABCTF) is to equip, operate, and maintain a live-performance facility created by the Foundation for the benefit of the Participating Theatre Companies (PTCs), and additional publicly supported organizations of the same class, so as to assist them in carrying out the purpose for which they are organized.
The Bartell Community Theatre Foundation is the oldest collaboratively-run performing arts institution in the United States. Our Foundation is built on the principles of inclusiveness, diversity, integrity, and respect. The Bartell is predominantly guided by community members committed to building a space where volunteers, staff, patrons, and artists are recognized and celebrated for their talents and contributions.
As a performing arts institution, the Bartell is an ever-evolving and integral part of our community, telling stories that enrich people’s lives and promoting community involvement in the arts.
A summary from Thomas Haig’s The History of the Bartell Theatre
The Bartell Theatre Foundation started as a brick shell with three wooden floors, built in 1906, called the Colonial Hall. It was first a home of the Kehl Dance Academy on the third floor, the large Colonial Hall on the second, and a bowling alley on the first.
In between then and 1966 there was Joseph Falci’s Shoe Repair Shop, Dugan & Pratt Restaurant, Frederick Hess Shoe and Bicycle Repair, Sharon’s Bar, Colonial Hall renamed Uptown Hall, P&G Cafe and Tavern, and for a long time it was the VFW Post 1318. The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1318 owned and enjoyed the building for more than 20 years with few changes.
In 1966 it was sold to a group of real estate developers that included Gerald A. Bartell (total coincidence!). For the next three years the first floor of the building housed Mr. McDonald’s Barber Shop and the Herlitz Tap Tavern before it was extensively renovated to create the Esquire Movie Theater.
The Esquire was owned and operated by Marcus Theaters, Inc. until about 1991. When it first opened, the Esquire was popular and profitable, but attendance dropped, and in the 80”s the Esquire was modified to make the balcony a separate theater with a second projection room built for the lower floor.
In the Spring of 1994 a small group of Tom Haig, Karen Tusack, Leo and Lee Ann Cooper, representing Madison Theatre Guild, Strollers Theatre, Reprise Theatre, and Mazo R&R, found out about the Esquire, decided they wanted it and set about making it happen.
The rest is history.
The Gerald A. Bartell Community Theatre Foundation is a unique collaboration between four theatre companies.
Within our walls, Madison artists tell stories about themselves and their world. Audience members are transformed, enlightened, entertained, and invited into the conversation about who and what this community is.
The Foundation is governed by a board of directors selected in an co-op style arrangement practically unique in the United States.
|Strollers Theatre LTD. Representative
|Mercury Players Theatre Representative
|James Van Abel
|Madison Theatre Guild Representative
|Madison Shakespeare Co Representative
Throughout our history, the Bartell has been the home of dozens of theatre and dance companies in the Madison area. Some no longer are with us and some have even outgrown our space and gone on to continue to produce their art in larger venues. Below are the organizations we are proud to call our residents
MADISON THEATRE GUILD
founded in 1946
Madison Theatre Guild (MTG) is Madison’s oldest community theatre group, with nearly 400 productions for all ages in its illustrious history. MTG is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to ensuring opportunities for people of all ages and experience levels. MTG’s productions range from classic musicals to contemporary dramas and everything in between.
founded in 1957
Founded in 1957 as the “St James Players,” Strollers Theatre is a volunteer-led, membership-based, community theater dedicated to producing high-quality productions at affordable prices. With a focus on classical drama such as Agatha Christie, Neil Simon, and Arthur Miller, Strollers’s seasons range from Shakespeare to contemporary authors like Lauren Gundersen and David Mamet.
MERCURY PLAYERS THEATRE
founded in 1994
Mercury Players specializes in new, unusual, and original plays with a leaning towards black comedy and surprise. Their annual Holiday Panto and New Year’s Eve Blitz are now community staples. Whether written by famous playwrights or by homegrown, local talent, there is no such thing as a show that “doesn’t fit” with Mercury.
founded in 2001
StageQ is dedicated to celebrating and advancing LGBTQ representation by producing plays and musicals by queer artists. Led by an all-volunteer board, StageQ has produced sell-out shows that challenge perceptions and champion diversity through lavish musicals, intimate dramas, or their long-running Pride Month short play festivals. StageQ is a member of the National Queer Theatre Alliance.
MADISON SHAKESPEARE COMPANY
founded in 2011
Madison Shakespeare Company is dedicated to the production and performance of classic theatrical works for audiences in the Madison, Wisconsin area. The company produces both full-length works and short-form performances including their signature Valentine’s Day productions and Shakespeare in the Park series.
Page last updated on January 22, 2024