In an average city of 5,600, you would likely find a grocery store, a couple of taverns and maybe a restaurant or two. By those standards, Edgerton is average.
Unlike other places of similar size, however, Edgerton boasts some cultural cache as home to EPAC—the Edgerton Performing Arts Center.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the near-600 seat venue has played host to such acts as Ronnie Milsap, Roy Clark and the Vienna Boys Choir, not to mention various local and regional theater productions.
At the heart of the center’s operations is Paul Tropp, the venue’s longtime coordinator. A Janesville native and 1979 Craig High School grad, Tropp has a background in music and theater as a former member of Craig’s choral and Spotlighters programs and as a performer in other plays and musicals.
After high school, Tropp earned an associate degree in piano technology from Blackhawk Technical College. He later learned to install and service Piano Disc systems at the company’s factory in San Francisco.
But for the past 20 years, Tropp has silently toiled to establish Edgerton as an entertainment hub. His dedication to performing mimics that of his brother Jim, a Rock County musical theater icon, and Paul’s son Josiah, the current performing arts center manager in Wautoma.
To learn more about Paul Tropp and EPAC, visit www.edgerton.k12.wi.us/epac or search for “Edgerton Performing Arts Center” on Facebook.
1. Explain the importance of having a performing arts center in your community. The arts are a source of comfort when the world feels uncertain and overwhelming and the weight of the world comes crashing down upon us. We need that right now. A performing arts center is important because it provides a place where the community can come together and celebrate and share its talents. It brings beauty to the community while adding value to property and providing an attraction for visitors. We might be from different cultures, but the arts bring us together to create and share our stories and give us an understanding of each other. EPAC is busy with school activities and is a great venue to hear and perform band, choir and plays. Providing the right tools to students is vital to their success, and EPAC does that. Prior to 2000, when EPAC was built, Edgerton High School had not performed a musical in more than 15 years. That’s a great deal of students who missed out on experiencing what many artists feel are their defining moments.
2. You come from a very large family. What was it like growing up as one of eight kids? I was middle child of eight and was taken care of by my siblings—so much so that Mom said I didn’t speak much because my siblings spoke for me. There was always someone to play with, and we often created our own entertainment such as lip syncing to The Beatles and producing gangster movies with my dad’s super 8 camera. A favorite of mine was “Let’s Make A Deal,” where we would use the windows and curtains in the house as we revealed prizes. We didn’t hesitate to get outside if it was playing ball at Fourth Ward Park or bike riding along the river behind Wilson School.
3. Your background includes firsthand stage experience. These days, you’re mostly behind the scenes. Which do you prefer and why? I don’t necessarily prefer one over the other. Life happens, and you get busy, I’m fortunate to be working full time in an industry that fuels my passion for the arts.
4. Explain the process that goes into deciding who and what you book to perform at EPAC. We started the Wartmann Artist Series in 2004. Annually, I attend the Arts Midwest Conference, which is the preeminent booking and education conference for the Midwest performing arts industry. At the conference, artists and their agents share their talents. There I experience showcases and an exhibit hall to discover new booking opportunities and meet people face-to-face. When (son) Josiah was 6 years old, I noticed he was drawn to the various artists I would review from this conference. I would come home with media, including CDs and DVDs, and Josiah would be the first person I would share material with. He has a great eye and ear for talent. He would help me narrow down the selections, and I would present the artists to the board of directors for the Wartmann Endowment for the Performing Arts. They would narrow down the selections chosen for the series.
5. If money was no object, what artist or show would you like to book at EPAC? I love Reba McEntire, and even though I have seen her in concert, there’s something intriguing about having her perform here.
6. What is your most prized possession? Naturally, my piano. It has been my partner in crime for more than 50 years and has given me so many treasured moments. That includes when my Uncle Stanley would come and visit from Texas and fill the room with his operatic tenor voice while playing the piano.
7. In your youth, you worked at Lincoln-Tallman House. Describe what you did and share something about the house most people might not know. When I was 14, I volunteered at what was then called Tallman Restorations. I worked with then-curator Ruth N. Hughes, cleaning and maintaining the facilities. My love for antiques and the Victorian era was certainly a result of working with her and the other staff—Director Richard P. Hartung, Assistant Director Maureen Thornton and Collections Curator Maurice Montgomery. The next year, when I was 15, I was hired and eventually trained as a docent—an individual who conducts tours. Telling the story of the Tallman family to our guests was very rewarding. I enjoyed history, especially the Civil War era. I served the Rock County Historical Society for 10 years in various positions including docent, gift shop manager, volunteer coordinator and historic sites administrator for both Tallman Restorations and the Frances Willard Schoolhouse.
8. Name a skill you wish you had. I wish I had the skill of a great research scientist to find a cure for cancer. It has certainly affected my family and close friends.
9. People would be surprised to know that I: Lived in a haunted house. My family lived in a late Victorian-style house near Mercy Hospital in Janesville that was haunted by a ghost we named “Fred.” Fred was not a very nice spirit, and he especially took fun in teasing my mom. When we kids were at school and my mom was home alone, she found doing chores difficult with Fred around. The laundry was in the basement, and after loading the clothes she would return later to find Fred had taken all the clothes out of the washing machine and thrown them all over the basement floor. His assaults included throwing me down the basement stairs and causing a storm window to come crashing down—narrowly missing me as it hit the ground. Then there was the time my brother Jim was out in the yard and was mysteriously pushed down onto one of those push lawn mowers with the exposed blades, hitting the blade and chopping off the tip of his finger. There was also the time my mom found me digging in the basement. She asked me what I was doing and I said, “Looking for treasures.” It seems my dad had been told by someone who knew Fred that, when he was alive, Fred did not have faith in banks and likely kept his money somewhere in the house. Mom always wondered how I knew to look.
10. You have two hours of free time. What do you do? Play piano, as it’s a great escape and therapy. Every song is another adventure.
11. If you could upgrade one thing about EPAC, what would it be and why? We were recently blessed with a gift from the estate of Bill Wartmann that made it possible to upgrade the audio, lighting and projection systems. My current desire would be to upgrade the facility by adding on to the rear of the building for a costume shop, additional space for the scene shop and storage.
12. What is the wallpaper on your cellphone right now? Dark blue. Blue is my favorite color, and I just went with something simple.
13. Which do you dislike more—mowing grass on a hot day or shoveling snow in the freezing cold? I would say I equally don’t like either. The heat and I have never gotten along, and as I age, I’m finding the cold even harder to contend with.
14. You are a trained piano technician. What inspired you to follow that career path? When I was 9, my dad brought home an old upright piano strapped to a boat trailer. It was love at first sight. Both my sister Jeanne and I took lessons at Johnson Music in Janesville. I continued lessons through middle school and enjoyed playing for family and friends. There was a time our piano needed to be serviced, so Mom contacted the Wisconsin School for the Blind and Visually Impaired—where they taught piano technology. Their instructor, Charlie Wroblewski, invited us to the school after his class repaired our piano. He explained that for him to show me what was done to our piano, he would have to show me how he sees—since he was blind. He took my hands and moved them through the action of the piano while describing various parts that had to be replaced and repaired. The felt of the hammers were filed to remove the grooves caused by the strings, and new bridle straps were installed. You could say that moment was etched into me. When it came time thinking about a career, I was contemplating pursuing music education. But my brother John was studying that, so I looked into piano technology. At that time, the piano technology course had moved from the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to Blackhawk Technical College.
15. Do you collect anything? My Uncle Bud owned a laundromat at Creston Park, and my dad would help him. Dad would give me the job of cleaning out the lint traps of the dryers, and there I would find loose change and keys. That’s when I started my first collections—keys and coins. One might also say I have a collection of pianos and historic keyboards, too. This includes an 1878 Chickering square grand piano, an upright player piano, a pump organ, a melodian and the family 1914 Shoninger upright piano my dad brought home on the boat trailer.
16. In your opinion, are people sometimes hesitant to attend events at EPAC because they are intimidated by “the arts”? I don’t believe so. Perhaps when we have classical music or opera performances, although that might just be a matter of them not liking the genre. We found a fall in attendance after the closing of General Motors, and it’s still taken time to recover from that.
17. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? It would have to be Ireland. My mother’s ancestors were from Ireland, and after my father died, my mom took a trip to Ireland. She wanted me to join her, but I had responsibilities at the time that didn’t allow me to go. Irish music has always had a special place in my heart.
18. What is your favorite food, and where is your favorite place to get it? My mom’s lasagna was by far my favorite. Now I enjoy lasagna from Olive Garden along with a piece of their tiramisu.
19. What is the hardest/best thing about being manager at EPAC? Making sure people follow the rules. The theater can be a dangerous space, and there are many fire codes and regulations in place to make it safe.
20. Away from theater, do you have any other hobbies? I enjoy home improvement opportunities. It’s gratifying to work with wood and restore or make something new. Currently, I am finishing up one of our bathrooms.
Editor’s note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.