ORLANDO – As she addressed the audience moments before the start of the Sunday matinee of “Hedda Gabler,” Mitzi Maxwell, the executive director of the Mad Cow Theatre, reminded them that it had literally been decades since any local theater had produced the Henrik Ibsen classic.
“We are pleased as punch to be presenting ‘Hedda Gabler,’ Henrik Ibsen’s masterpiece,” Maxwell said. “It’s about 30 years ago that it was done in Orlando, so in our view, that’s a new play. We really worked very hard on how we want you to experience the play, and we hope you enjoy this.”
Maxwell also used the occasion to remind audiences that this was one of the final opportunities they would have to see a production at the theater at 105 S. Magnolia Ave., and that the company would be gone by the fall.
But that announcement wasn’t made with a deep sense of regret. As Maxwell noted, they’re leaving the Magnolia Avenue location over the summer months to move into a larger facility on Church Street. As the historic Orlando theater company begins its 15th year in the City Beautiful, Mad Cow Theatre is beginning the process of moving into a new complex at 54 W. Church St., with the blessings of the city and the opportunity for productions in a more spacious building.
“We’re very excited about this,” Maxwell said.
She added that while Mad Cow has talked about a possible move for the longest time imaginable, “I really mean it this time. We are going to open in September, 2012. When we’re there, our 110 seat theater will become 160 seats.”
She even joked that the new facility will offer something that Mad Cow, at its current location, never had: a private rest room for its patrons, since Mad Cow now essentially borrows the use of bathrooms at a bar in the same building. The bathroom doors are often locked, so a Mad Cow volunteer has to escort the patron to the door of the men’s or women’s rest rooms and unlock the doors for them. Intermission time can be busy.
At the Church Street location, “We get our own rest rooms,” Maxwell said. “There will be no locks on the doors, or sharing it with a bar.”
Last December, the Orlando City Council unanimously approved the lease agreement for the property at 54 W. Church St. that is becoming the theater’s new home. It was also made possible by a contribution, or gift, from Harriet Lake of $400,000. Lake, 86, is a well known Orlando philanthropist who has been a strong supporter of the arts, including the Orlando Ballet. Under the terms of the leasing agreement, Mad Cow is supposed to provide $480,000 toward this move, while Orlando’s Community Redevelopment Agency will be kicking in an additional $100,000.
The gift from Lake is enabling Mad Cow to finance construction work at the new location, which still needs to have two theaters, a lobby area and a box office built there.
“We’ve raised about $1.7 million for this move,” Maxwell said. “A large portion of that, over 60 to 70 percent, came from the city of Orlando and the developer. Another large portion has come from Harriet Lake, and we’re naming the theater after her. Please thank her, she’s our patron saint.”
In the meantime, Mad Cow is continuing to produce shows this spring and summer season at the Magnolia location near the Orlando Public Library. In addition to “Hedda Gabler,” which runs through March 25, upcoming shows include “Private Lives” by Noel Coward, “The Pitmen Painters” by Lee Hall, “Next To Normal” by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, “Twelve Angry Men” by Reginald Rose, and then its final show there, “Billy Bishop Goes To War,” by John Gray and Eric Peterson, a musical that opens on Aug. 3.
“Our last production is in August,” said David Mink, Mad Cow’s director of audience development. “That show, ‘Billy Bishop Goes To War,’ runs until August 26. Of course, we’ll be moving in over the summer.”
Maxwell added that even though they have a new building to move into, “I’m here to say we’re not done with fund-raising. Our ticket sales do not meet our expenses. We have this wonderful new space, but we don’t want you to forget we have this daily operation to run as well. If you can give $20 or $100, please give it at the box office today on your way out.”
Most of all, she thanked the audience for showing up and doing something critically important by seeing “Hedda Gabler.”
“We’re really delighted that you’re here today,” Maxwell said. “Thank you so much for making the arts and culture a part of your life.”
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