The Sunset Playhouse has been a community theater fixture in Southeast Wisconsin since its stage lights were illuminated in 1960. Throughout its history, it has experienced successes and challenges, and has risen to meet those challenges every time. Often, obstacles faced are overcome because of the volunteers, the lifeblood of any theater organization. One such Sunset Playhouse volunteer, Marla J. Eichmann, is an undeniable example of one who has impacted its success. Walking through the doors of the theater in 1999 to try her hand as a props mistress, Marla became so enamored with the Playhouse that she traveled from back stage crew to leading the charge as president of its board.
Eichmann has always been a champion of the arts, and volunteering at Sunset allowed her to take that support further. “I enjoyed witnessing and learning the magic of theater.” However, it was her extensive business knowledge that aided Sunset Playhouse when it was most needed. When the theater had to navigate some financial obstacles, Marla used her savvy business acumen as Board President to steer Sunset in the right direction. “I stepped in to more directly supervise the day-to-day aspects of the theater, including implementing Management 101 discipline and searching for the right staff members.”
One area that required a re-focus was the Studio Theater. Built as an addition to the original structure, the intention was to utilize it for pre- and post-performance gatherings for the theater’s various patron groups. Additionally, there were dreams about using the space for small-scale productions that might not be a good fit for the Furlan Auditorium. The hope was to add another level of theatrical offerings, introducing and exploring lesser-known but important or edgier artistic pieces with a broader audience.
However, lacking a dedicated resource to manage the usage of the space, Sunset slowly saw the Studio Theater become more of a financial monkey on its back. Marla and company had to closely examine how to forge a corrective path. As Board President, Eichmann, the creative Sunset staff, and a group of very generous volunteers sprang into action. They hit the ground running, brainstorming ideas to turn the Studio Theater into a hot-bed of activity.
Today, that same Studio Theater space virtually never sees a quiet moment. It now hosts the popular SideNotes Cabaret Series and the newly-created After Sunset Series. Additionally, it serves as a rental space for private parties and events. Even more exciting, the Studio Theater has become a nurturing location for up-and-coming local artists and theater companies to stage special event performances.
Marla has continued her focused dedication to Sunset’s success story. Her devotion to the theater has served as an inspiration to her sister, Laura Hohing, who has also had a long-time affection for the arts.
Laura graciously and generously donated to the Playhouse in December, asking only that the Studio Theater be named in her beloved sister’s honor, a request enthusiastically endorsed by the Board. The Marla J. Eichmann Studio Theater is busier than ever, showcasing productions from Pulitzer Prize-winning pieces to the wonderfully endearing performances emanating from the very successful theater education programs.
The Sunset Playhouse’s Sparkling Sixtieth Season has been announced and the box office is open. Don’t just take our word; come see for yourself the incredible theater that is on display in both the Marla J. Eichmann Studio Theater and the Alan Furlan Auditorium. Remember….Entertainment begins at Sunset!