Lindsey Giese pulls down the curtain at the River Arts Center on 9th street in Sauk Prairie.

Most theater goers are accustomed to enjoying the show from the audience section while performers entertain onstage, but the River Arts Center has a plan to shake up that arrangement for some shows this summer: putting both the audience and the performers onstage together.

The new style of venue was born partially out of necessity given the popularity of some shows at the downtown River Arts gallery on Water Street.

“We started our house concert series at the downtown gallery in 2011,” said River Arts Executive Director Lindsey Giese. “It’s really nice to have a different venue that’s not a 500 seat theater. You can bring in different types of shows, it offers a more intimate experience (but) a lot of our house concerts are filling up, and standing room only. I always hate when people get turned away… Certain shows will just get too full.”

With the curtain down, the stage space will be similar to the “black box” used in some productions as a multi purpose room.

Performers will include Jessica Winn, Meg Aspinwall, Matt Brennan, Evan Schmit, Kalyn Chmit, Marita Kelter, Amber Kelter, Lindsey Giese, Kristine Bengston and Steve Jaeckl.

In addition to the River Arts Inc., production Cabaret on 9th series, a performance put on by Sauk Prairie Theater Guild production, The Last Five Years, will also be performed with the audience on stage.

“It will usually be many performers coming in together to give a variety show performance,” Giese said.

The downtown River Arts venue isn’t the only theater getting significant use in Sauk Prairie. The main River Arts Center on 9th street continues to grow in popularity.

River Arts Center Managing Director Nick Dingman said usage hours at the center were up 15% last year over the previous year.

Dingman said the River Arts Center saw a total of about 270 event days last year, even with art events often requiring two or three weeks of preparation time. “We’re averaging about 11 events per week,” Dingman said.

“I think one of the things we’re finding fun with this is the opportunity to give a performance that’s a little more casual,” Dingman said of the onstage performances. “It gives us a way to put our performance in a space that’s not quite as large (as) a theater but also a little bigger than (downtown) so it gives us a little bit of a middle ground.”

Giese and Dingman said a potential third space offering a midsize seating arrangement may be established at the River Arts Center in the future.

The first show for The Last Five Years will be Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12-$14. More information can be found at sptheatreguild.org.

The first Cabaret on 9th show will be held July 19 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 for the general public and $12 for River Arts Inc. members. More information can be found at www.riverartsinc.org or at 608-643-5215.

You can reach Jake Ekdahl on Twitter @JakeaEkdahl or contact him at 608-697-6353

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