Audiences Decline in the Twin Ports, Theatre Companies Beginning to Shut Down

Wise Fool Theatre may be coming to an end after their production of "Hamlet."

DULUTH, Minn., SUPERIOR, Wis.- There’s no shortage of opportunities for talented theater artists in the Twin Ports, but the audiences they’re performing for may be dwindling.

After 10 seasons, Wise Fool Theatre Company may be shutting down for good, and professors of theatre at UW–Superior say they can hardly get people over the bridge to see their shows.

“I think people are very busy, I think lives are very busy, I think people work more than one job. I think all of these things have something to do with it,” UW-Superior professor of theatre Cathy Fank said.

It’s hard to pinpoint a single culprit behind declining audiences at UW-Superior and small theatre productions like those from Wise Fool Theatre Company.

Both organizations are lacking what keeps businesses afloat – profits.

“We do spend our money on the productions. We don’t always have a lot of money left over to spend on marketing,” Wise Fool Theatre production artistic director Chani Ninneman said.

Ninneman thinks getting the word out about their shows is difficult without funds to give them a little boost.

“I think that in the Twin Port area, the Duluth Playhouse has done a great job of promoting their audience,” Fank said.

Fank says both companies are stuck in a cycle.

Without money, they can’t attract audiences, and without audiences, they can’t make money.

“I think it’s just about getting people to open up their minds to what else is out there,” Fank said.

Ninneman thinks the amount of art offered in the Twin Ports is incredible considering the size of the area.

“I think that everybody does a pretty good job of staying in their own lane. There’s Renegade that does the more ground breaking, premiere type shows. The Duluth Playhouse does big splashy musicals that nobody else could pull off and they do them beautifully. Then Wise Fool is here to fill the niche of doing classical theatre and the classics,” Ninneman said.

Wise Fool Theatre won’t know if they can stay open until after close of their current show, Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”

“Knowing that we might have to take a break after Hamlet– a short term break or a forever break– is hard,” Ninneman said.

Brad Damon, plays “Hamlet.” He’s been acting in Wise Fool productions since 2015.

He says the audience is the most important part of a show, especially in small theatre productions.

“Without the audience, there’s no theatre,” Damon said.

The Twin Ports offers a diverse range of productions, all competing for audiences’ attention.

“Come see a Wise Fool show instead of going to the playhouse if you have to choose, and see what we’re offering instead,” Damon said.

But right now, the supply seems much higher than the audiences’ demand.

“We’d want to listen to what the community is telling us. If they’re telling us that they don’t want a classical theatre company right now, then I think I should listen,” Ninneman said.

UW-Superior’s production of “Gaslight” will open later this Fall.

Wise Fool’s production of “Hamlet” will perform its final shows at Lincoln Park Middle School this coming weekend.

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