Theater prof directs neighborhood revival on city’s south side

“When you learn theater,” says associate professor Rebecca Holderness, “you learn how to do a lot of different things.”

In her case, this includes developing an award-winning pitch to redevelop the vacant but historic Modjeska Theater in her Mitchell Street neighborhood. Holderness collaborated with a diverse team of area professionals through the NEWaukee-sponsored Co:Lab Project. The community reinvigoration competition challenged teams in three locations – Granville BID and Near West Side Partners also participated – to craft a plan to help reinvigorate their designated Milwaukee neighborhood.

An undated photo taken by Roman Kwasniewski, shows the Modjeska Theater, mostly likely not long after it opened in 1910. (Photo courtesy of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries)

The Mitchell Street team won $5,000. Holderness says the team will use the prize money to continue planning for the Modjeska’s renovation from a vacant theater and parking lot to a community center with green space and an indoor, all-seasons playground.

“The team is going to stay together and work with the Mitchell Street (Business Improvement District) to get the project shovel-ready,” Holderness said. “It was a very thoughtful process. In our research and in talking to the community, we felt like we had the best possible mix of expertise – an architect, an entrepreneur, city employee, anartist(me) – to rebirth the Modjeska.”

The revival of Milwaukee’s urban core has been a research focus for Holderness since she completed the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program last year. In addition to her teaching and research, she will direct the premiere production of the Mainstage Theatre’s 2019-2020 season: the Sarah Ruhl play “In the Next Room.”

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