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This is Skylight


Take a Trip to Skylight's Storied Past

In the summer of 1959, several friends, inspired by the cultural vitality of New York and San Francisco, began to discuss the possibility of doing something in Milwaukee to combat what they deemed “a context of extreme cultural poverty.”

Two of these friends—Sprague Vonier, the program manager at WTMJ television and Clair Richardson, a wildly eccentric public relations man that had successfully alienated all his accounts—were determined to create a beatnik coffeehouse like those in San Francisco. They raised $2,000 for the initial capitalization of the space, intending a coffeehouse with beat poetry and maybe some music.

Not long after, at a fundraising event in Door County for Bel Canto Chorus, and with the help of some “chemical inducement,” two very serious church musicians, Jim Keeley and Ray Smith, sat down at the piano and performed an incredible, impromptu performance of the music of Gilbert & Sullivan. Richardson turned to Vonier and said “Do you want to have some real fun? I’ll get these guys to put on a show in the empty space upstairs.”

And with that, the Skylight Theatre was born. Sixty years later, we are proud to celebrate our deliciously quirky history and our international recognition as a renowned producer of the full spectrum of music theatre.

Since the beginning, Skylight Music Theatre has established a reputation for broad and adventuresome repertoire, encompassing baroque opera, European operetta, Gilbert and Sullivan, Broadway musicals, contemporary chamber operas, and original musical revues. This tantalizing mix of repertoire fulfills the mission of the Skylight, which is to bring the full spectrum of musical theatre works to a wide and diverse audience in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition.

The Skylight gives over 90 performances each season, winning national praise for its artistic excellence, versatility, and virtuoso ensemble productions.

Emphasizing the development of emerging American artists, directors, and designers, Skylight Music Theatre attracts important new talent from around the country. With extended rehearsal and production periods, Skylight artists are able to hone their skills, expand their repertoire, and gain invaluable experience.

Read more about Skylight Music Theatre history in Colin Cabot’s "Thirty Years War," a tale of the first 30 years of Skylight adventure.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Equity, diversity and inclusion are essential to Skylight Music Theatre’s work.  We strive to realize these core values throughout our organization by:

  • Acknowledging systemic racism, hatred and violence have silenced voices for far too long.

  • Knowing we have much more work to do and committing to actions that increase equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of our work.

  • Presenting a wide range of perspectives in order to inspire dialogue. To listen and recognize contributions from those who have been under-represented and unheard.

  • Using our art form to tell stories that increase understanding and empathy.

We stand together with our community and fellow arts organizations to embrace words and actions that help make the world a better, more empathetic and more accepting place.

We thank our Skylight family of artists and friends for helping us increase diversity through programs such as:

  • Creating the Artists in Action Committee, led by Sheri Williams Pannell and Christie Chiles Twillie.

  • Opening the first-annual Milwaukee Black Theatre Festival with our virtual production From Skylight with Love: A Concert for Unity.

  • Launching the online Artists in Action interview series, which is part of Skylight’s ongoing Skylight Socials, featuring interviews with artists and special guests via Facebook and YouTube.

  • Developing Forgotten Voices: Unearthing the Roots of American Music. Scheduled spring 2021.

  • Creating MKE MaKEs New Musical Works series to present staged readings of three musicals chosen from national submissions by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) writers and composers.

Land Acknowledgment

Skylight Music Theatre recognizes that Milwaukee is located on traditional Potawatomi, Ho-Chunk and Menominee homeland along the southwest shores of Lake Michigan, part of North America’s largest system of freshwater lakes. This is where the Milwaukee, Menominee and Kinnickinnic rivers meet and the people of Wisconsin’s sovereign Anishinaabe, Ho-Chunk, Menominee, Oneida and Mohican nations are present today. Join us in remembering these nations and the ancestors who were stewards of the land we live on. 

To learn more, please visit these websites:

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