Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sneak peek: LUCHADORA set features original art by Bruce Guadalupe Middle School Students

First Stage’s upcoming world premiere LUCHADORA! is in part inspired by the Chinese legend of Mulan, and the strong women in playwright Alvaro Saar Rios’ family. Told through the prism of Mexican culture, this bold story is unlike anything First Stage has presented before. Integral to the story, is the set. Scenic Designer Sarah Hunt-Frank set about capturing the world of Lucha Libre, or Mexican masked wrestling, by incorporating the mask theme, iconic papel picado and of course a full-size wrestling ring. 

LUCHADORA! set model

Sarah and First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank, who directs LUCHADORA! collaborated with 120 Bruce Guadalupe Middle School students and their teachers, including art teacher Jacobo Lovo to create over 500 original pieces of papel picado. Instantly recognizable at religious, cultural and family celebrations in Mexico, papel picado, literally translated at “perforated paper,” is created by chiseling intricate designs in as many as 40 sheets of tissue paper at a time. This posed a bit of a conundrum for the LUCHADORA! set – due to its proximity to the theater lights, a thicker, flame retardant paper was used. Students created designs based on themes within the play including Lucha Libre masks, family, identity (a Luchador’s identity is closely guarded and never revealed), and honor. The papel picado created by students has been fully incorporated in to the set design, bursting off the stage, creating an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation of what’s to come!

Papel picado detail 
LUCHADORA! set at the Todd Wehr Theater

The discovery of a pink wrestling mask in her Nana Lupita’s briefcase sends Vanessa on an uncharted exploration into her Mexican American heritage, revealing family secrets that change her forever. Starting in 1960s small town Texas to present day Milwaukee, LUCHADORA! unmasks the significance of family traditions and the cultural identity that is shared by generations. For everyone ages 7 and up.

This world premiere play by Milwaukee-based playwright Alvaro Saar Rios opens April 10 and runs through April 26, 2015 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater. Tickets and information available at or by phone at (414) 267-2961.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

First Stage partners with Luther Manor in multi-generational performance project

First Stage students and Luther Manor Terrace residents present an original theater production The Generation Project, the culmination of an eight-week collaborative program including writing, acting exercises and rehearsal.
Performances will take place on March 27, 2015 at the Lippold Faith and Education Center Lippold Faith and Education Center on the Luther Manor campus located at 4545 N. 92nd Street, Wauwatosa at 2 and 7 p.m. An encore performance will take place on March 28 at 4:00 p.m. at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut Street, Milwaukee.  Performances are free and open to the public. All are welcome to attend.

The play, which is as of yet untitled, is a completely collaborative effort by the two theater groups and was entirely conceived, written and performed by residents and students. First Stage Academy Director Jenn Adams is the director, and First Stage Teaching Artist Liz Faraglia is the Assistant Director. The Luther Manor residents participating include: Joyce Heinrich, Alice Humphrey, Rusty and Sharon Tym, Mary Henricks, Pat Tesh, and Pat Paskel. First Stage students are: Emily Kellner, Ananda Bluhm, Elizabeth Batory and Clare Zempel.

"Our objective is to tell vignettes of what we have experienced in our lifetime, from very young to very old," said resident Rusty Tym, who has been involved in a variety of theatrical productions at Luther Manor as an actor, writer and director. "None of us are quite sure what direction we're going, and it's interesting to be in that predicament."

“This is the pilot year of this collaboration with Luther Manor and we hope to work together on new works going forward,” said Academy Director Katie Cummings. “The opportunity for our student writers and actors to gain perspective from the residents is invaluable.” 

Learn more about this project. For more information about First Stage Theater Academy, click here

Monday, March 16, 2015

Your adventure awaits with First Stage’s 2015-16 Season!

Lucy (played by Catherine Gwidt) advises Jeff Frank
at First Stage's 2015-2016 Season Announcement event.
First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank and Associate Artistic Director John Maclay announced the 2015-2016 season to Family Package holders and donors at our season announcement event on Sunday, March 8. 

“First Stage’s commitment to creating innovative new work for young people and families is center stage once again in our 29th season,” said Frank.Adventures new and well-remembered will grace our stages this season - from James' journey across the ocean on a giant peach, to Ella from Frell's quest to cure her curse, to the heroic efforts of young Theodore and his giant friend Oliver to save their village.

World premiere titles include two First Steps plays, our interactive theater series geared toward theater-goers ages 3-6: SPOOKLEY THE SQUARE PUMPKIN The Musical October 10 – November 1, 2015 by Joe Troiano with music by Jeff Zahn; and JUST A LITTLE CRITTER MUSICAL February 13 – March 13, 2016 by First Stage Associate Artistic Director John Maclay with music by First Stage Theater Academy alum Brett Ryback. 

THE SNOW by Finegan Kruckmeyer, will debut at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater February 26 – March 20, 2016. “We’re thrilled to develop this piece with Oregon Children’s Theatre and Magik Theatre, the commission of our first international playwright,” said Frank. “Finegan Kruckemeyer is a master storyteller, and we are thrilled that THE SNOW will be part of The Wisconsin Cycle this year, honoring our own state’s frozen tundra and rich tradition of Germanic folk tales.” The final world premiere of the season ELLA ENCHANTED, co-commissioned by Adventure Theatre MTC (in Maryland) and First Stage, takes the stage April 1 – May 1, 2016.
A snippet from Little Critter gets laughs. Ben
Usatinsky, Anna Fitzsimmons and John Maclay.

Well-loved classic titles round out the season beginning with ROALD DAHL’S JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH October 16 – November 15, 2015, a musical adaptation of the literary classic. Cherished holiday classic A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS makes its First Stage debut November 27, 2015 – January 3, 2016. Join Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and the rest of the Peanuts gang as they discover the true meaning of Christmas.  January marks the return of one of the most popular plays in First Stage history with HOLES January 15 – February 14, 2016. “It’s a season of new works while remaining rooted in the traditions First Stage families have come to expect and look forward to each year,” said Frank. The season concludes with the return of the spunkiest mouse around in LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE May 13 – June 12, 2016. Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the book by Wisconsin author Kevin Henkes, this imaginative adaptation invites you into Lilly’s colorful world of imagination!

First Stage’s award-winning Young Company will perform two plays at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center in its 12th season. One of Shakespeare’s greatest romances ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL December 11 – 20, 2015, is a wild journey filled with comedy, love, bold plans, dirty tricks and brilliantly drawn characters. “These young people have earned a national reputation for performing the works of Shakespeare with clarity and skill well beyond their years,” said First Stage Associate Artistic Director and Director of the Young Company John Maclay.  “Our Shakespeare puts the focus where it should be: on the language and each character’s individual journey.” The Young Company then presents Jean Anouilh’s brilliant twentieth century adaptation of the classic Greek play, ANTIGONE April 8-17, 2016.

First Stage’s 2015-2016 season:

FAMILY SERIES at the Todd Wehr Theater:

October 16 – November 15, 2015

November 27, 2015 – January 3, 2016

January 15 – February 14, 2016

February 26 – March 20, 2016

April 1 – May 1, 2016

May 13 – June 12, 2016

FIRST STEPS SERIES at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center:

Spookley the Square Pumpkin
The Musical
October 10 – November 1, 2015

February 13 – March 13, 2016


December 11 – 20, 2015

April 8-17, 2016

Family Packages on sale April 1, 2015
Current Family Package holders can renew now for the 2015-2016 season. Family packages will go on sale to the general public on April 1, 2015. To find out more about how to create a family package, CLICK HERE. Please contact the First Stage Box Office with questions or assistance renewing your package.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Baby Bear's favorite things about GOLDILOCKS!

Jack Trettin as Baby Bear
We caught up with First Stage Theater Academy students and Young Performers MICHAEL LOOMANS and JACK TRETTIN about their alternating roles as Baby Bear in First Stage's GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS. 

Fourth-grader JACK TRETTIN is no stranger to the stage having appeared as Claude in First Stage's ANATOLE last season, he has also appeared as Smudge (2014) and Tiny Tim (2012, 2013) in A CHRISTMAS CAROL at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Here's what Jack had to say about his experience in GOLDILOCKS:

"My favorite part of rehearsal was learning all of the songs and practicing them. Putting the entire show together in just two weeks was the biggest challenge. In this show I learned that you need to express yourself and have fun with your part. Jenn [Adams] told me to have fun with all of the parts: singing, dancing and my lines. Performing is really fun and in this show we really get to interact with the audiences!" 
Michael Loomans as Baby Bear

GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS is Michael's first show with First Stage. He shared his favorite things about being in the show: 

"My favorite thing about it is being with this group of people. Everyone wants me to do really well and they take extra time to help me. The hardest part was putting the song, lines and dance steps all together. I thought it would really be easy but it is very hard. You need to know where everyone is and put it all together. I have learned that acting isn’t easy but everyone at First Stage wants you to be the best you can be and everyone has been great to work with. I was so nervous before the show but as soon as I saw the little kids and how happy they were and how we could make them laugh, my nervousness went away. It is just the BEST feeling."

GOLDILOCKS AND THE THREE BEARS continues through Sunday, March 1, 2015 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. Best availability are performances on Saturday, February 28 (11 a.m., 1 & 3:30 p.m.) and on Sunday, March 1 (11 a.m. & 1 p.m.). Tickets and information at

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cast and crew of BIG NATE: THE MUSICAL are ready to rock your world!

First Stage’s 2014-2015 season continues with the madcap misadventures of sixth-grader Nate Wright in BIG NATE: THE MUSICAL, February 27 – March 29, 2015. The meet and greet took place this week and rehearsals are underway! 
Director Jeff Schaetzke sets the stage for BIG NATE.
BIG NATE: THE MUSICAL is based on the popular comic strip and book series by Lincoln Peirce with musical score by Chris Youstra. The story is outrageously funny, and has everything that makes the middle school world go round including an arch-nemesis, a love interest, struggles to avoid detention and a rockin’ battle of the bands!

First Stage favorites Molly Rhode (as Mrs. Czerwinski) who will also choreograph the show, Rana Roman (as Mrs. Godfrey), Rick Pendzich (as Coach John/Dad), Elyse Edelman (as Mrs. Hickson) along with Alex Campea (as Mr. Galvin) and Chris Gilbert (as Mr. Staples) make up the adult actor cast along with two alternating casts of 13 young performers.

Costume designer Jason Orlenko discuss designs for BIG NATE

“The young people are front and center in the story and in the show,” said Director and First Stage Company Manager Jeff Schaetzke. “The focus is on them during musical numbers and at turning points in the story.”

Costume Designer Jason Orlenko drew on the comic strip and book illustrations for inspiration, describing costume pieces for the battle of the bands scene as “an explosion of rhinestones and glitter.”

Set design by Kristin Ellert will feature video elements
The set is an interactive, colorful world for Nate and his friends to inhabit. “Scenic and Video Designer Kristin Ellert has created a fun, dynamic playground that’s a video game, a pinball machine, and a rock concert rolled into one,” said Jeff.

The meet and greet culminates in a air-rendition of "Livin' on a Prayer!"
For everyone ages 5 and up, BIG NATE: THE MUSICAL opens February 27. Tickets and information are available now. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homeschoolers use First Stage to enhance curriculum and life skills!

Homeschool students Owen and Tenzin
Jessica Jaglowski homeschools sons Owen (age 9), Tenzin (age 7) and Nathaniel (age 3) and considers First Stage an integral part of their studies. “We love First Stage productions and attend almost all of them,” she said. “We include them in our curriculum by reading the books that the plays are about and doing various activities related to the themes, including many in the Enrichment Guides provided by First Stage. Seeing the play is a wonderful way to bring these stories literally to life, and it also incorporates theater and appreciation of the performing arts.”

Amy Bluhm who belongs to Milwaukee Area Home Learners, an active homeschool group, has been coming to First Stage for over 17 years. She homeschools three children Kieran (age 14), Ananda (age 11) and Lulu (age 4) and sets up field trips for the group to see First Stage plays throughout the year. “Our kids see almost every play and it has enriched our lives and homeschooling in so many ways,” said Amy. “There have been historically provocative plays like JACKIE AND ME and TO THE PROMISED LAND; plays that are great for wrestling with ethics like THE HUNDRED DRESSES and THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER; and even stories that inspire building projects (one of us is on a Rube Goldberg team this year) like NANCY DREW and SHERLOCK HOLMES. In homeschooling, we peek at different subjects through different lenses: theater allows us to see things through an engaging and very alive lens!” Amy also likes that there is almost always someone from their homeschool community performing in the plays. 

Eamon, Molly and Mary 
In addition to experiencing live theater and using First Stage’s educational resources, some families find the Theater Academy an important part of development. “My daughter is relatively new to Academy classes, and hasn’t been in a play, still I was astounded by how quickly she gained confidence and community, as well as knowledge about theater,” said Mary Boyle, a homeschool mom of Molly (age 12) and Eamon (age 9). “Although she may not go on to become an actor, I know that the skills she is developing through First Stage Theater Academy will serve her well. It truly is ‘life skills through stage skills!’"

Amy agrees, “Ananda has been involved in the Academy and this year is in the Touring Company. I see that she is able to be part of a really positive, growth-oriented community. Fortunately for us, our homeschool community is also this way, but doubling up on positivity never hurts!”

Visit our website for more information about Field Trips (a minimum of 10 students is required for school group rates), educational resources and First Stage Theater Academy.

Don’t miss STARGIRL now through February 15, a story about a fascinating homeschooler that celebrates first love, individualism, and the similarities that connect us all. For ages 10 and up.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Donor Spotlight: Meet the Burns Family!

The Burns family has been involved in First Stage for many years! First Stage chatted with mom Julia Burns to learn more about her family’s passion for our organization.

What was your first experience with First Stage? 
My husband Bladen and I have always loved live theater.  As a young boy, our son Jack loved the “Frog and Toad” stories.  When First Stage was performing FROG AND TOAD, I purchased tickets.  Jack was enthralled with the performance. I believe his love of theater was born that day. Coincidentally, the actor who played Toad, John Maclay, later wrote the amazing musical, ANATOLE, in which Jack had his first acting role!  Hooked by FROG AND TOAD, we became First Stage subscribers and now all five of our children (Jack - 11, Reed - 9, Margaux - 7, Colin - 7 and Grace - 4) enjoy the shows each season. 

Jack Burns in this season's RUDOLPH (First elf on the left)
What has your family’s experience been in the Academy?
We believe the Academy’s mission of developing life skills through stage skills is extremely valuable. Our entire family chants the First Stage cheer when we’re about to tackle something difficult. 

How did you get your children’s school involved in First Stage’s Theater in Education Programs?
This past fall, I contacted First Stage Education Director Julia Magnasco as part of Washington Elementary School’s initiative to provide more students with the opportunity to attend live theater. As First Stage’s programs align with the Common Core standards, it is an excellent fit with Washington’s curriculum. Several teachers have already taken advantage of First Stage’s programs and more will do so next year.  

We are so happy you attended First Stage’s Make Believe Ball last year. What did your family enjoy about this family-friendly fundraising event? 
The fact that the entire evening is geared towards children makes the Make Believe Ball a special and unique event. It was the first formal party we had attended with our children and we all had so much fun. The activities for the kids kept them entertained which made it easier for the adults to have a good time, too. Our family is excited to attend the Ball again this year!

What inspires you to invest in First Stage by making a financial contribution? 
We want to invest in organizations that promote and develop positive life-long skills and values in children. Everything First Stage does is consistent with developing future adults who are confident, kind, open-minded and respectful. This is a tremendous value to our community. We feel so blessed to have First Stage in our lives.