By Susan T. Hessel  

 At first blush, The Muse Theatre’s edgy shows may not be your grandmother’s theatre. But that depends on your grandma.

“Many times I look at the audience at different shows and see people who look older. I think, ‘Oh gosh, they are not going to take well to this,” said Vicki Elwood, who founded The Muse with her husband, Don. “But people are hipper and much more progressive than we think.” 

Yes, grannies and others increasingly find productions like “The Vagina Monologues,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical” to be their cup of latte.

“We try to do things more like what we see in Minneapolis, and Chicago,” Elwood said. “But I also feel that the community theatre and the universities’ theatres are also doing edgier things more and more.” 

The first of 14 times she directed the “The Vagina Monologues,” protesters stood outside the theatre. When performed in 2018, the three performances were sold out and no one complained.

The tears, laughter, outrage and terror felt when watching the monologues are very much in keeping with The Muse’s mission “to burst joy into your heart with comical musicals and plays that will make you laugh until you cry.”

Vicki and Don Elwood met on the dance floor of a discotheque. They danced seven nights a week and “have never stopped dancing” in their 35 years of marriage. He followed her to New York City as she dreamt of the bright lights of Broadway after graduating in theatre from the University of Minnesota. He had a highly successful career as a hairdresser in New York City, Minneapolis, and for 15 years in La Crosse at Salon Medusa. 

“New York was a dream. But, I wanted to do more shows than the one or two a year I got off-Broadway,” she said. 

After a time in Minneapolis, they moved to La Crosse where she directed and performed in offbeat productions she loves because they “lampoon or parody people, politics and our own idiosyncrasies.”

The Muse came about because the Elwoods saw the potential in the old historic North Presbyterian Church at 1353 Avon St. in La Crosse. Long sold, abandoned and condemned, the church took six years to restore.

They had many setbacks—two steps forward and three back because banks did not see their vision for the building. After the Elwoods remodeled an old parsonage on the site, they were able to get a home equity loan to continue work on the main building.

In late 2008, rehearsals began for the first show that opened in February 2009. They had good audiences, including some who said they had never seen live theatre before but would return.

The Muse is now embarking on its 10th season, opening with “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a perennial favorite around Halloween. Show dates will be Oct. 12-13, 19-20, 26-27 and a benefit show Oct. 31. Other upcoming shows include a holiday revival of the “Winter Wonderettes” playing Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 7-8, and 14-15; Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” showing Feb. 1-2; and “The Great American Trailer Park Musical,” the original show “that started it all,” playing June 7-8, 14-15, 21-22, and 28-29. 

So, why does Elwood have such passion for theatre? “You can open hearts and minds through theatre.”

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