Caffeine Dreams rehearsal

From left, Liz Sattelman-Scanlan, composer Joe Vosen and Dan Presser rehearse for "Caffeine Dreams," a new musical premiering at Sun Prairie Civic Theatre Dec. 7-15. The musical uses the 2011 budget protests as a plot point.


The protests that surrounded the Capitol in early 2011 that put Madison on the national news map are still inspiring artists nearly three years later.

In early December, Sun Prairie Civic Theatre will present a new musical by Joe "Snare" Vosen called "Caffeine Dreams," set in a coffee shop called Rich Grounds "somewhere outside Madison, Wis."

According to a release about the show, "Caffeine Dreams" is "the story of a community coming together" despite political differences fueled, in part, by Walker's controversial actions to end collective bargaining for most public employees. Sponsored by Beans 'n' Cream Coffeehouse in Sun Prairie, the show centers on a contentious open mic night and a man trying to recapture his college days.

"I've been inspired by the cultural divide that goes on between left and right, and has been going on for a number of years now," Vosen said. His first musical was inspired by "the inability of many people to take seriously what another group of people think.

"It's the demonization of people who don't see things their way," he said, adding that "Caffeine Dreams" "is a comedy, so there are a lot of plots that go on."

Karlin Langley works at Beans 'n' Cream and plays Rick, the uptight coffee shop owner. He praised Vosen's music, calling it "lovely ... a nice folk, pop style." 

While the Capitol protests and their divisive aftermath may be "a plot point," Langley said the connection is "loose."

"The show is much more about the inner relationships and conflicts between people ... than the politics," he said.

In various forms, the protests have proved rich fodder for artists, both during the gatherings on the Square and for months, now years, afterwards. 

During the protests, actors and musicians responded with songs and agit-prop theater, including a staging of the pro-union Clifford Odets play "Waiting for Lefty."

At the time, 77 Square reported that "break dancers spun and flipped in the Capitol rotunda. Drummers pounded their instruments until their backs hurt and shoulders seized. A string ensemble gave an enthusiastically received performance of Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin'' and people joined in spontaneous singing."

Perhaps most famously, the protests spawned Doug Reed's irreverent "Fakespearean" comedy "The Lamentable Tragedie of Scott Walker," which sold out a run at Broom Street Theatre before moving to the Bartell Theatre in November 2011.

"Walker, newly elected, hustles through a budget bill that 'repairest not the budget' with the help of swaggering cabinet henchmen," said a 77 Square review. "The Democrats come out little better, presented as a whining, ineffectual bunch who like to hear themselves talk.

"Protesters who look like newsies rally using 'the Book of Faces,' as Republicans bow to an image of Ronald Reagan."

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That following January 2012, Mercury Players Theatre Co. struck a more educational tone in "Talking Out of School." Set against a colorful chalk backdrop showing the 2011 Capitol protests with audio of protest drumming, "Talking" presented 13 short plays written by Wisconsin educators from Ph.D.s to preschool teachers.

The protests inspired visual artists, too.

Laura Meddaugh made a colorful acrylic called "This is What Democracy Looks Like," recasting the protesters as dogs, cats, cows and chickens. It was a popular Christmas gift at Absolutely Art. 

In late summer 2011, the Center for Photography in Madison hosted a group show called "Signs of Protest," featuring work by 28 local photographers.

Kay Gundlach, a Cottage Grove artist who went to the protests five times, took one of two photos set inside the Capitol that were featured in the exhibition. Her image showed a disabled woman sleeping beside her wheelchair.

In a 77 Square story at the time, Gundlach said she found the scene "incredibly poignant."

"We all felt vulnerable when the new legislation was being pushed," she said in the story, "but some of us are more vulnerable than others. I wanted to show the effort she had put into letting her voice be heard. Probably her voice isn’t heard very much."

Since 2008, Lindsay Christians has been writing about fine arts and food for The Capital Times. She loves eating at the bar, going to the theater, fine wine and good stories. She lives on the east side with her husband, two cats and too many cookbooks.