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Arts & Culture

Mad Cow Theatre moves into new home

As anticipation rises, the old space receives a fond farewell

Photo: Visual Impact Studios, License: N/A

Visual Impact Studios

54 W. Church St.

Photo: Tom Hurst, License: N/A

Tom Hurst

Mad Cow's old home at 105 S. Magnolia Ave.

Photo: N/A, License: N/A

Tom Hurst

Mitzi Maxwell

"It will give us more flexibility in what we can present to audiences," Maxwell says.

After leasing venues from institutions including Rollins College, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater and the Civic Theatres of Central Florida, Mad Cow carved its own stay in downtown Orlando, initially in the Rogers Building and then at its Magnolia Avenue location. For nearly 15 years, the city's best theatrical artists have brought to life works by lauded and diverse playwrights from Shakespeare to Brecht to Ionesco to Lonergan.

The book isn't closed on Magnolia Avenue yet, however, with two productions to end the 2011-2012 season before the final move. Twelve Angry Men, which peers into the deliberation room of a homicide trial, and Billy Bishop Goes to War, a musical celebrating the Canadian Air Force's decorated World War I fighter pilot, both premiere Friday. They run concurrently through Aug. 26, the date of the final two performances in the Magnolia space.

"We love these two plays – we're actually putting Twelve Angry Men in our smaller venue and Billy Bishop in the larger space," Maxwell says. "It gives Billy Bishop a real frontier and universe to tell us his stories in, because Billy Bishop was … in the air, in a plane, a lot of his life.

And Twelve Angry Men will be in the smaller venue – a bit of a pressure cooker."

"We turned what would typically be done – a large ensemble in a large space, a two-man show in a small one – on its head," Maxwell adds. "But I think in true Mad Cow fashion, we're conceiving this a little differently."

As the season winds down and the building is packed up, palpable pieces of Mad Cow's history will be left behind. In the theater's minimal dressing room area is a wall built of big masonry blocks scrawled over with paint and graphite, each brick decorated by the casts of nearly 95 Mad Cow Theatre productions: a catalogue-by-mosaic spanning a decade of work by Central Florida artists.

It's these pieces of "urban archaeology," as Maxwell calls them, that can be captured for a scrapbook, but never pocketed or spirited away.

"The wall is really precious to us in the old space, so we are giving thought as to how we're going to introduce a new wall to all the wonderful language we will be producing in the coming years at 54 West Church Street," Maxwell says.

But Mad Cow's objective – to serve its community and to present compelling works of theater – will remain and expand, initiating a new phase of an old tradition Maxwell hopes will carry on for years to come.

"I think it's vital that arts organizations continue to aim high throughout their lifetime," Maxwell says. "Whether you're a company that's two years old – or in our case, 15 years old – part of our mojo is to be thinking of what is ahead."

"In our new space, we're going to be able to dream a little further than what we have before," Maxwell adds. "I think it's going to be really special for everyone involved."

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