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Founder of Milwaukee Rep, Mary John, dies at 96

Mary John
Posted at 12:48 PM, Mar 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-07 13:48:44-05

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Repertory Theater's founder, Mary John, has died at the age of 96.

The Rep made the announcement in a statement Monday.

The Green Bay native established Drama Inc in the city of Milwaukee in 1954, which later became the Rep.

As managing director, John brought big names to Milwaukee including Geraldine Page, Betty White, Ethel Waters, Eva Le Gallienne and Edward Everett Horton.

Mary John
Mary John, right

She also founded the School of Professional Arts, which operated with the theater and partnered with the UW-Milwaukee in teaching speech and theater.

John eventually moved to New York and received her Ph.D. from New York University. She went on to produce Broadway and Off Broadway musicals.

“It’s hard to put into words the impact she has left us," said Artistic Director Mark Clements in the statement. "Her vision and fortitude to create a professional theater in Milwaukee has changed the scope of the city and given so many an artistic home. We carry her vision and know that if not for her and the generous support of the community we wouldn’t have the opportunity to create thought provoking and entertaining work for the past 68 years.”

The Rep highlighted one of John's passages included in the program on January 25, 1955 on the opening night of the Fred Miller Theater:

“Drama Inc. was established by three thousand Milwaukeeans joined together, not for the glory of any individual or for the exploitation of the public, but for the purpose of bring a permanent professional theater to Milwaukee. We have combined energy, talent and money to create an art form, just as the painter joins the canvas, brush and color, expecting to communicate and find beauty. We hope that each performance will provide enjoyable participation for you, make lasting impressions and give your life a little more pleasure and meaning. If that happens, then the effort will have been amply rewarded, and the Fred Miller Theatre will carry a warmness worthy of its namesake.”

Read more about Mary John on the Rep's website here.

Mary John
Mary John

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