Currently in our 35th season, we are proud to be the oldest dinner theater group in northeast Wisconsin. In 1983, Victoria Bostedt had a dream of bringing live theater to the area—and The Machickanee Players came to be. In the beginning, we had no venue to call our own; we were more of a ‘traveling show’. This did not hold us back, however. Our first production, M*A*S*H, was performed to sold-out audiences, and our 1984-85 season featured our first dinner-theater production when ‘Plaza Suite’ was performed at the Sandalwood Country Club in Abrams.
It wasn’t until the 1987-88 season that we acquired our current home—the Park Avenue Playhouse—at 408 Park Ave., Oconto. Originally the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church hall, the Playhouse was built in 1866, and is currently on the National Register of Historic Buildings. That summer, we busied ourselves painting the building—inside and out—installing lighting and a sound system, and renovating the stage area of the old church hall. However, the old building lacked proper insulation, so winter plays continued to be held at the high school’s John B. LeMay Auditorium until the 1995 season.
Although our stage, and our group, are both small, we are not afraid to take on new challenges. In our 1997-98 season, attendance records were set when ‘Nunsense’ became our first musical. There were several other musicals in the seasons to follow, as well as evenings of one-act plays, children’s productions, and a half dozen original plays written and directed by local playwright Kathy Campshure.
Typically, we present three plays per season, and offer both dinner and non-dinner productions. When the congregation of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church still met (sadly, the old stone church was condemned and razed more than twenty years ago), the theater-going patrons were treated to a home-made meal prepared by the ladies of St. Mark’s. Today, the tradition of a quality meal continues with food catered in by The Brothers’ Three of Oconto. For the past few seasons, we have also added two dessert shows to each production. Patrons who attend these plays are treated to award-winning pies made by OJ’s Midtown Restaurant, which is located in Gillett. Another local business, Oconto Furniture, often provides furniture for use during the productions—from couches to curio cabinets—at no charge.
Like most small, nonprofit theater groups, we survive on revenue from productions, and donations from generous patrons/organizations. We are currently faced with the challenge of updating our aging light and sound systems, and tackling some major restoration projects on the Park Avenue Playhouse. In addition to needing new siding, the old hall’s 12 ft. high windows are showing their age of 140+ years. To meet the challenge of replacing them, we are actively searching for grants to fund the task of locating and hiring a company to custom-build the replacement windows, thus maintaining the building’s historic charm.