Broom Street Theater

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Broom Street Theater
Broom Street Theater - Interior 2007.jpg
Broom Street Theater, on Williamson Street
Address1119 Williamson Street
Madison, Wisconsin
 United States
Coordinates43°04′56″N 89°21′55″W / 43.08211°N 89.36525°W / 43.08211; -89.36525Coordinates: 43°04′56″N 89°21′55″W / 43.08211°N 89.36525°W / 43.08211; -89.36525
OwnerBroom Street Theater
Capacity50 to 99
Current useLive theater, music and dance performance
OpenedAugust 12, 1977 (building)
Years active1969–present

Broom Street Theater (also known as Broom Street or BST) is an experimental black box theater located in the heart of Madison's isthmus. As one of the oldest and most prolific experimental theater companies in the United States, it has produced over 300 original works.[1][2] Productions are most frequently written and directed by local playwrights and artists, who are able to realize their vision without censorship of content or presentation.[3][4] Broom Street Theater is a 501(c)(3) member-run non-profit which currently produces nine to ten plays per year.


Foundation and Early Years[edit]

Broom Street Theater was founded by Stuart Gordon in early 1969 in reaction to censorship attempts by the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Gordon's on-campus theater troupe, Screw Theater. The controversy surrounding nudity in the production of Peter Pan had received national attention in the fall of 1968.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] BST's first public performance, a reinterpretation of Lysistrata, occurred on May 9, 1969, after a several-months delay due to legal action by the Dane County District Attorney.[13][14][15] Gordon left Broom Street after its first production, founding the Organic Theater Company, which moved to Chicago in 1970. Broom Street Theater has never performed on Broom Street, but takes its name from the location of its first rehearsal space, the third story of the Heeb warehouse,[16] condemned and demolished by the City of Madison in 1969 to make way for a left-turn lane onto University Avenue.[17]

After Lysistrata closed, Gordon ended his involvement with Broom Street, and a search was made for his replacement. Until June 1970, the theater's organization was fluid and changing, in a variety of administrative styles. Don Hilgenberg served as artistic director for several months in late 1969, and in 1970 there was an aesthetics committee selecting plays. In June 1970, Joel Gersmann began serving as artistic director. A search committee had previously selected him to direct the theater's second play, Woyzeck, in July 1969. Gersmann would serve as artistic director until his death in 2005.[18][19][20]

After performing in several locations around the UW-Madison campus, the theater found a semi-permanent home in the basement of St. Francis House, 1001 University Avenue, performing there from 1970 until 1975. In late 1974, a visiting bishop witnessed a performance of The Song of Bernadette, where an excessive amount of Oreo cookies, representing communion wafers, were stuffed into an actress' mouth portraying Saint Bernadette Soubirous. In the summer of 1975, the theater's use of performance space at St. Francis House came to an end, due to the controversy generated by Bernadette.[21] The theater's time at St. Francis House included film and video projects, a literary magazine, and performance tours on UW System campuses around the state,[22] and nationally.[23][24][25]

Permanent Home[edit]

Broom Street Theater exterior
Broom Street Theater exterior

After leaving St. Frances House, the theater focused for two years on purchasing its own building, culminating in the acquisition of an old radiator repair shop at 1119 Williamson Street.[26][27] The theater's main energies were and continue to be devoted to producing original theater in this space. The number of plays produced expanded to 7 shows per year with 6 week runs. BST has gone on to produce over 250 original productions since taking ownership of the building. During this period, dozens of new playwright/directors premiered their works at BST.[28]


The passing of Joel Gersmann required a substantial change to the organization of the theater, as he had been solely responsible for its management for 35 years. Callen Harty was appointed Artistic Director in July 2005,[29] while the board of directors took a more active role in running the organization. By early 2006, the theater's articles of incorporation and bylaws were rewritten to make it a member-run organization with direct election of board members.[30] Later that year, the roles of Technical Director and Development Director were established, completing this transitional phase.[31]

In October 2010, Callen Harty resigned as Artistic Director, succeeded by Heather Renken. Under Renken, the theater switched its format to a ten-show season with four-week runs.[32][33] Doug Reed became the Artistic Director in 2017.[34]

Critical Response[edit]

Especially early on, Broom Street style and Gersmann style were seen as one and the same. This style was frequently criticized for the shows being too long, being unpolished in the writing, the actors screaming their lines and playing multiple roles, and repeating themes ad nauseam.[35][36][37] Criticism has sometimes manifested itself in the concept of a "typical Broom Street" show,[38][39][40][41][42][43][44] often used in a negative light by reviewers. Despite this, not only did the theater also receive positive reviews from alternative and mainstream press, but it was invited to tour numerous times in its early years.[45][46][47]

Notable people[edit]

Like Stuart Gordon, many BST members went on to found other theaters through the years, among them Proud Theater,[48] Organic Theater, Tapit New Works,[49][50] Mercury Players Theater, Dysfunctional Theatre,[51] and Insurgent Theater.[52]

Aside from Gordon and Gersmann, some of Broom Street's noteworthy actors, playwrights, and directors include:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rhem, James (May 7, 1982). "Ever-changing, challenging drama". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. pp. 25, 27.
  2. ^ Goff, Nadine (March 5, 1998). "'Freaks' is Broom Street's 200th". "Rhythm" section of Wisconsin State Journal and The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 4.
  3. ^ Lynch, Kevin (April 21, 1994). "Feisty Broom Street 25 and going strong". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. pp. 1F, 3F.
  4. ^ "BST mission statement". Retrieved April 11, 2013.
  5. ^ "Student Production Goes Back to Never-Never Land". Winona Daily News. Winona, Minnesota. September 25, 1968. p. 18.
  6. ^ "This is 'Peter Pan'? Nudes enliven tale". The Arizona Republic. Phoenix, Arizona. September 25, 1968. p. 17.
  7. ^ "Student takeoff no puton". Chronicle-Telegram. Elyria, Ohio. October 2, 1968. p. 18.
  8. ^ "Nude Coeds Depict Innocence in Wisconsin's 'Peter Pan'". Bennington Banner. Bennington, Vermont. October 1, 1968. p. 5.
  9. ^ "Nude Coeds' Musical Role Debated". Oakland Tribune. Oakland, California. September 25, 1968. p. E5.
  10. ^ "Peter Pan in the Nude Too Raw for University of Wisconsin Officials". El Paso Herald-Post. El Paso, Texas. September 25, 1968. p. 11.
  11. ^ ""Peter Pan" Controversial". Panama City News-Herald. Panama City, Florida. September 29, 1968. p. 5A.
  12. ^ "U. Of Wisc. Nude Scene In 'Peter Pan' A Surprise". Evening Observer. Dunkirk-Fredonia, New York. September 25, 1968. p. 18.
  13. ^ Dieckmann, June (December 4, 1968). "Lack of Witnesses Causes D.A. to Drop 'Peter Pan' Charges". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. pp. 1–2.
  14. ^ "'Lysistrata:' Act II: City Review Planned". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. May 15, 1969. p. 1, Section 6.
  15. ^ Heinberg, Nancy (May 10, 1969). "Gripping Story Of 'Lysistrata' Invades 20th Century". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 9.
  16. ^ Diemer, Melvin E. "Heeb Company Warehouse". Wisconsin Historical Society. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  17. ^ "Notice To Bidders". The Capital Times (Legal Notices). May 29, 1969. p. 10.
  18. ^ Waxman, Howard (October 8–14, 1976). "Gersmann of Broom Street Part I". The Isthmus. Madison, Wisconsin. pp. 3, 5.
  19. ^ Gersmann, Joel (August 21–25, 1972). "An interview with the creative self". The Daily Cardinal (UW-Madison). Madison, Wisconsin. p. 13.
  20. ^ editorial staff (December 11, 1969). "Broom Street Theater WIBA Topic". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 3 (entertainment section?).
  21. ^ Levin, Daniel (April 2012). Filthy Theater: A Film About Joel Gersmann (Motion picture).
  22. ^ Ruff, Wilson (May 3, 1972). "'Shakespeare' Updated". Daily Northwestern. Oshkosh, Wisconsin. p. 8.
  23. ^ Winn, Steven (August 25–31, 1976). "The best of Bumbershoot". the Weekly. Seattle, Washington. p. 19.
  24. ^ Pollack, Joe (February 7, 1977). "Plays On Prison Life, Baseball". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. St. Louis, Missouri. p. 4D.
  25. ^ Vandenberg, Harvey L. (February 11, 1977). "Fear Strikes Out At Hum Center". The Bachelor (Wabash College). Crawfordsville, Indiana.
  26. ^ a b c Levin, Daniel
  27. ^ Wagner, Dave (November 18, 1976). "Broom Street Theater plans to buy building on Williamson". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 54.
  28. ^ Goff, Nadine
  29. ^ Lynch, Kevin (July 30, 2005). "Harty is new Broom Street chief". The Capital Times. p. 1B.
  30. ^ Corporate Records. "Broom Street Theater Ltd". Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Retrieved May 4, 2013.
  31. ^ Medaris, David (July 1, 2010). "Scene change at Broom Street Theater". Madison, Wisconsin: Isthmus. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  32. ^ Hammel, Cailley (November 10, 2010). "Broom Street Theater names Heather Renken new artistic director". Madison, Wisconsin: Isthmus. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  33. ^ Worland, Gayle (April 23, 2011). "Stage Presence: Heather Renken, director of Broom Street Theater". Retrieved May 2, 2013.
  34. ^ Times, Lindsay Christians | The Capital. "'Lamentable Tragedie' author Doug Reed to take over Broom Street Theater". Retrieved 2017-02-24.
  35. ^ Coenraad, Susan (May 22, 1971). "'Normal Love' at 16 Nets a Normal Laugh". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 15, Section 2.
  36. ^ Davies, Donald K. (February 14, 1977). "One man show a hit". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 3, Section 3.
  37. ^ Henry, Amanda (November 12, 2003). ""The Ballerina and the Economist" BroomStreet Theater, through Dec, 14, tickets available only at the door". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. B5.
  38. ^ Campbell, Genie (February 21, 1979). "'The Ramayana' updates Hindu mystery and sci-fi". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 7, Section 5.
  39. ^ Campbell, Genie (November 26, 1979). "'Running' is on right track". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 5, Section 3.
  40. ^ Mullins, Dennis (September 29, 1984). "'Packer Glory:' A winner". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 3, Section 3.
  41. ^ Kelley, Tim (November 26, 1985). "'Philoctetes' is classic with wit". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 18.
  42. ^ Groark, Steve (September 27, 1990). "'Blackhawk War' comedy a painfully serious play". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 3F.
  43. ^ Lynch, Kevin (January 26, 2005). "Broom Street play sheds light on early gay activist". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. pp. 1D, 3D.
  44. ^ Archwamety, Rena (July 12, 2005). "'Oklahomo' fine tribute to Gersmann's vision". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 7B.
  45. ^ Winn, Steven
  46. ^ Pollack, Joe
  47. ^ Vandenberg, Harvey L.
  48. ^ "Proud Theater Madison Staff". 23 February 2012. Archived from the original on 27 November 2013. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  49. ^ Mullins, Dennis (August 10, 1985). "'Frankenstein' spinoff works". Wisconsin State Journal (Section 3). Madison, Wisconsin. p. 3.
  50. ^ "1985-1990 Organizational History". Retrieved April 13, 2013. “Frankie N. Stein – Drama in Taps.” Script, Danielle Dresden; taps, Donna Peckett. Broom Street Theater, Madison.
  51. ^ Vorndran, Rick. "bio". Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  52. ^ Morgan, Ken. "The Devil Made Them Do It." Vital Source. Retrieved April 13, 2013.
  53. ^ Rubien, David (August 7, 2008). "Aylesworth, Newton explore life of Edgar Cayce". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved May 4, 2013.
  54. ^ Coenrad, Susan (July 31, 1971). "Broom St. Combo Stirring Drama". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 15, section 2.
  55. ^ Conklin, Melanie (September 15, 2006). "Mayor's time in the Street". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. A2.
  56. ^ Trott, Walt (April 27, 1984). "Broom St Theater survives a rocky, creative 15 years". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. pp. 39–40.
  57. ^ Clark, Rod. "A Letter From the Editor". Retrieved May 4, 2013.
  58. ^ "Two Plays at Broom Street". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. August 11, 1969. p. 4, "Green" section.
  59. ^ LaBrasca, Robert (March 26, 1973). "'Metamorphosis:' Broom St. Dada". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 4, "Green" section.
  60. ^ "Jill Holden". IMDb. Retrieved May 4, 2013.
  61. ^ Colden, Anne (May 2, 1985). "Actor's not himself in Broom Street role". Wisconsin State Journal. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 3, Section 4.
  62. ^ "Gip Hoppe". about the artists. Retrieved May 4, 2013.
  63. ^ Child, Doreen Alexander (2010). Charlie Kaufman: Confessions of an Original Mind. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, LLC. p. 9. ISBN 0313358605.
  64. ^ Mullins, Dennis. "Packer Glory"
  65. ^ "Daniel T. Levin Films". Retrieved May 4, 2013.
  66. ^ Wagner, Dave (January 20, 1976). "Patrick McGilligan stars with three books". The Capital Times. Madison, Wisconsin. p. 17.

External links[edit]