This article was originally written by Matthew J. Palm and published on www.orlandosentinel.com. We acknowledge their valuable contribution in providing the information and insights presented in this piece. For the full article, please visit.Source link
The storied quarter-century history of Mad Cow Theatre, one of Central Florida’s most highly acclaimed theaters in its heyday, came to a quiet close at the end of October with the dissolution of the company as a registered Florida nonprofit.
Twenty-five years and 11 days after Mad Cow first filed for nonprofit recognition on Oct. 15, 1998, the voluntary dissolution was made official.
According to paperwork filed by CEO Mitzi Maxwell, the decision to dissolve the company had actually been made more than a year ago, in June 2022. Maxwell did not respond to a text message offering the opportunity to comment for this article.
Although the theater company’s last years were marked by financial troubles and an ongoing dispute with the city of Orlando, for much of its existence the theater was critically lauded, played to full houses, hired the region’s top talent and staged thoughtful, serious, literary plays with a quality that almost no other local theater could match.
Actors Dennis Neal and Rus Blackwell, actor-director Trudy Bruner and director Alan Bruun joined together to form the company, and its first production was staged more than a year before achieving official nonprofit status, in September 1997.
At the time, Orlando Sentinel Elizabeth Maupin described the troupe as “a little company made up of several of the ablest professional actors and directors in town.”
That first production — David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow” — was followed by Harold Pinter’s “Betrayal” and was staged in a small studio in Maitland. The company was itinerant for years, renting space from Rollins College, what’s now Orlando Shakes, the Orlando Fringe Festival and the former Civic Theatre (today, Orlando Family Stage).
All the while, the glowing reviews kept pouring in. For Chekov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” For Lanford Wilson’s “Burn This.” For Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.”
And in 2001, the company found a home on the second floor of the Rogers Building in downtown Orlando. But just two years later, Mad Cow was on the move again when the company’s landlord decided to reclaim the theater space for a new project. It landed, with help from the city of Orlando, at 105 S. Magnolia Ave., where it opened with a production of the musical “My Fair Lady,” and where it would remain for a decade.
During that time, the accolades continued to accumulate. The theater started the Orlando Cabaret Festival, bringing New York talent to Orlando, and when Orlando Opera folded, Mad Cow stepped up to collaborate with the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra in keeping opera productions on local stages.
But Mad Cow officials would later say that as the years passed on Magnolia Avenue, the theater’s finances began to weaken because of the high cost of downtown rent.
In 2010, Bruun departed the company; the other three co-founders already had moved on. It was the end of an era, but a new phase of the company’s life was about to begin.
In October 2012, Mad Cow Theatre — the only professional theater in downtown Orlando — moved to its last home, in city-owned space at 54 W. Church St. There was still much to celebrate: The theater received a Golden Brick award for contributing to the quality of life downtown. It was named Orlando’s best theater in various media reports.
In the Sentinel’s own yearly Best of Theater awards, over five years Mad Cow received 88 nominations with 13 wins, trailing only the Garden Theatre in Winter Garden and Orlando Shakes.
But financial pressures continued to mount. Numerous actors and others said the theater paid them late or didn’t pay them at all — charges that made more and more actors and theater professionals refuse to work there. Industry coalition Central Florida Entertainment Advocacy advised actors to stay away. And the theater became embroiled in a dispute with the city over paying for construction costs and monthly maintenance fees on the Church Street property.
The last production was staged in the spring of 2022: A production of “See Rock City,” the second play in Arlene Hutton’s Nibroc trilogy — a trio of planned performances that would go unfinished.
The theater’s relationship with the city ended messily: A deal was reached in which Mad Cow Theatre agreed to leave the premises and the city agreed to forgive any debts. But after the company took theatrical equipment the city said was its property under the arrangement, the city filed suit against the theater.
The lawsuit was dropped when Mad Cow returned the disputed equipment, but by then the damage had been done.
“This isn’t really how we expected things to work out,” said Maxwell while negotiating the exit deal. “But there comes a point and time when you want to look to the future.”
Although she said the company would look for a new home, that future wasn’t to be.
At the company’s inception back in 1997, co-founder Bruun told the Sentinel that its goal was to “raise the stakes” in Orlando’s theater community. And for a long time, Mad Cow Theatre did just that.
Follow me at facebook.com/matthew.j.palm or email me at email@example.com. Find more arts news and reviews at orlandosentinel.com/arts, and go to orlandosentinel.com/theater for theater news and reviews.