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MadCAP to close, pass children’s theater programs to children’s museum

The Capital Times

By Lindsay Christians

After 20 years, MadCAP, also known as the Madison Creative Arts Program, has closed.

The non-profit arts school’s final production, the Stephen Schwartz musical “Captain Louie,” concluded on Saturday.

The closure has been a long time coming, according to artistic director Kjerstie Johanson, who started with MadCAP in 1999.

“Over the past year we have been working behind the scenes to make sure things (like props and materials) will be going to a responsible place,” Johanson said.

Community theaters have taken or purchased costumes, set pieces and other items from the theater.

MadCAP’s intellectual property and programming, including all of the print curriculum, was donated to the Madison Children’s Museum, which will continue programming through the summer with musical theater camps.

MadCAP had offered “an ensemble-based model,” Johanson said. “Students could start in kindergarten with us and continue through the end of high school.”

One major asset are more than 100 mini-musicals, which the children’s museum will maintain as a library.

Each short show runs about 30 minutes and is assembled in a full kit that community groups and elementary schools can check out. In addition to scripts, a kit may include costume pieces and accompaniment tracks, as well as picture books to read, websites to visit and places to go that might add to the children’s experience.

Best of all, for each mini-musical the $100 in royalties have already been paid. That makes them free of charge to teachers and group leaders.

“It’s a great way to get reluctant readers excited,” Johanson said.

MadCAP was founded in 1995 by Joan McCarthy as a less competitive option for children interested in theater and drama. Founded before options like the Monroe Street Arts Center (’97), MadCAP initially offered generalized arts programs like puppetry, sculpture, dance and singing, in addition to theater.

But as organizations like Children’s Theater of Madison evolved and grew, MadCAP shifted its focus to musical theater training. The group didn’t want to compete with other kids’ theater groups in town.

“We had the talent and skill base in our teachers,” Johanson said, adding that musical theater training “was not being offered consistently at a high level” for Madison area students.

“An awful lot of our students have done our musical theater ensembles and also did the musical at the their high school, or a show at CTM or Madison Theatre Guild,” she said.

Johanson described MadCAP as “process oriented,” with a no-cut policy and “a focus on nurture.”

“Everyone is welcome,” Johanson said. “If you audition you will always be cast in a role, a speaking role.”

If that meant a less than stellar end performance, that was OK.

At the children’s museum, Paul Milisch, a longtime director with MadCAP and a theater teacher at East High School, will continue some musical theater workshops through the summer.

Madison Story Project, a joint venture between the museum and the Madison Public Library, will take over the intermediate (middle school) program.

For that program, students chose existing musical theater songs and create original stories.

“It’s a great tool for teaching conflict, dialogue writing, character development, a lot of those elements that are really important in literacy,” Johanson said.

MadCAP has brought several theater practitioners into the community, as well as sending students out.

Gail Becker, a theater educator who now runs Overture’s Tommy Ensemble for high school students and teaches with the newly formed Cpaital City Theatre, moved to Madison to work with MadCAP.

Johanson worked with Abigail Ryan at the library, and Jillian Plane, a MadCAP alum, came back to work with the company.

MadCAP’s long road to closure started several years ago when the founding executive director, Joan McCarthy, had a series of strokes, just as the financial downturn started taking a toll on donations.

“We had been going along pretty well,” she said.

But McCarthy was never replaced, and the organization suffered. A consultant the non-profit brought in last year recommended closure.

Johanson herself has worked in the arts for some 20 years. She confessed that she’s “ready for a break.”

She’s going to be a trainer at Epic Systems, where she’ll be “teaching adults.”

“It’s been at least 15 years since I engaged the hospital orientation, medical part of my brain,” Johanson said. “I’m pretty geeked about learning new software.”

Based on dismay Johanson has heard from current and former students about MadCAP’s closure, she expects that in the next year or two, something will emerge from the ashes.

“It will be kid-initiated,” she said. “They’ve been talking about it.”

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