Monday, July 31, 2017

Four quick questions with Kate DiCamillo

By Erica Davis

When we learned that acclaimed children's book author Kate DiCamillo would be coming to Milwaukee for a
book talk at Boswell Books, we were thrilled! We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about our upcoming adaptation of her celebrated book, "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane."
Does it surprise you to see one of your stories on the stage? 
I am not being disingenuous when I say that I am surprised every time one of my stories becomes a *book.* So… to have this story that I wrote alone at my desk in the wee morning hours suddenly become something that people can sit together in a theater and see . . . well, it is a very moving, and unbelievable thing.
What do you hope audiences/readers take away from the story of Edward Tulane?
Hmmm . . . maybe that the biggest and bravest thing you can do is to love.
What is most important about Edward’s journey to you?
The answer is love. Again. Edward learns to love.
When did you know you wanted to be a writer, and what helped you on your path to become an author?
I decided in college that I wanted to be a writer. But it took me a good long time to actually start writing. And what helped me on my path? Books, books, books, librarians, books. Librarians.
About Kate DiCamillo
I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, raised in Clermont, Florida, and currently live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I write for both children and adults and I like to think of myself as a storyteller. Here are a few more facts about me: I am short. And loud. I hate to cook and love  to eat. I am single and childless, but I have lots of friends and I am an aunt to three lovely children (Luke, Roxanne, and Max) and one not so lovely dog (Henry). I think of myself as an enormously lucky person: I get to tell stories for a living. Learn more at
First Stage is proud to present The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, January 12 - February 11, 2018 as part of our 2017-2018 season. Choose this show as part of your Family Package, or purchase single tickets after September 1, 2017. Field trip opportunities are available for upper elementary and middle school students and teachers. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Young Performer Max Pink Heads to the Jimmy Awards

By Katie Korek

One of our First Stage Young Performers will be representing the state of Wisconsin at the 2017 National High School Theatre Awards, also known as the Jimmy Awards. Max Pink of Shorewood High School will travel to New York at the end of June to reprise his role of Sweeney Todd on a NYC stage.

The Jimmy Awards began in 2009 as a way “to elevate the importance of theatre arts education in schools and reward excellence in student performance.” Each year one actor and one actress from dozens of regional programs travel to New York to participate in a 10-day training intensive with New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, culminating in a final awards show.  At the awards, scholarships are awarded for exemplary performances. This year’s Jimmy Awards will be held on June 26th and hosted by Ben Platt, who just recently won the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in Dear Evan Hansen.

Max received an Outstanding Lead Performer award at this year’s Tommy Awards through the Overture Center in Madison, WI. He then earned his spot at the Jimmy’s through an audition process with all Outstanding Lead Performer recipients. The Tommy Awards are Wisconsin’s regional affiliate of the Jimmy Awards, reviewing productions from over 70 schools throughout Wisconsin. This is Max’s second time receiving an individual award at the Tommy’s, and he enjoys that the awards are a true “exercise of what one day could be happening in a professional setting for aspiring theatre artists.”

As a Young Performer, Max has performed in many shows with First Stage both at the Todd Wehr Theater and as a part of the Young Company.  Main stage shows include Shrek the Musical, Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars, Ella Enchanted and Goosebumps the Musical: Phantom of the Auditorium. Young Company performances include Our Town, Once Upon a Mattress, Maul of the Dead and Hamlet.

When asked how First Stage has impacted who he is as an actor today, he points to his experiences with Young Company.  “Young Company has truly been the biggest teacher for me as an actor. It is there that I truly learned how to move, analyze text, and make informed choices as an actor.” He also credits First Stage directors John Maclay, Matt Daniels, Marcella Kearns, Jeff Schaetzke, and Jeff Frank for teaching him many of the skills he now utilizes as an actor.

Congratulations to Max and break a leg at the Jimmy Awards!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Meet Eliz - First Stage Theater Academy's Office Intern

Eliz Rodriguez
Say hello to our Academy Office Intern Eliz Rodriguez!

Eliz joins us on Wednesdays during the school year from Carmen High School as a part of a three-year Student Internship Program. He has been working with us since October 2016 and loves everything about First Stage!

Being a part of the 'behind-the-scenes' work that goes into making our classrooms magical places is something Eliz really enjoys about being here. Another favorite part of interning for First Stage are the memories he makes every day. Not only does Eliz enjoy connections with our teachers and staff, but he also adores the connections made with students in the classrooms each week. They inspire him to keep building on his own theater skills and knowledge. 

Eliz participates in productions at Carmen High School and recently auditioned for First Stage’s upcoming 2017-18 season! In the future he hopes to become a successful Marine Biologist while also pursuing his love of musical theater. Outside of his role as an Academy Office Intern, Eliz LOVES school! Even though it can be very stressful, he enjoys learning new things that help connect his education to his personal life.

Thank you Eliz for all that you do. We love having you as a part of our team!

Monday, May 22, 2017

First Look review: Animal Farm

by Lauren Strifling

Have you ever wondered what would happen if animals took over a farm? In the First Stage Young Company production of ANIMAL FARM you can! As soon as you enter the theater, the actors are already in their roles of animals. I was amazed by how the cast members moved, talked, and had the characteristics exactly like the animals they portrayed. The dogs kept the animals in order, the hen was perched high, and the horses were pulling the plow.
ANIMAL FARM is about a political revolution where the animals overthrow the farmer who had mistreated them. After that, things get better - at least, at first. The animals come up with a set of rules that can be summarized as “All animals are equal” and “Four legs good, two legs bad.” But as time goes by, the pigs try to take power away from the other animals. The other animals get frustrated, and they start fighting among themselves. Who will prevail: The strongest? The smartest? The bravest? It was interesting to see how the animals adapted, reacted, and changed with the revolution. You will be amazed by the ending, when the true moral of the story becomes clear.
Matt Daniels (Director), Madelyn Yee (Scenic Designer), and Kristina Sneshkoff (Costume Designer) did an excellent job, as did Marisa Abbot (Lighting Designer), Matt Whitmore (Sound Designer), Julia Xiong (Stage manager) and all the Young Company performers. Their combined efforts transported everyone into the world of ANIMAL FARM. Whether or not you’ve read the book, the play will be very thought-provoking. My father said that it made him want to read the book again, and even my younger brother said he liked it. Although the play is intended for ages 12 and up, my whole family enjoyed being on the farm.

Young Company cast “became” the animals they played, and taught us an important lesson in the process.  I highly recommend seeing the production Animal Farm at First Stage.

Reading, writing and drawing a just a few of our reviewer Lauren's favorite things. Thank you for your review of ANIMAL FARM!

ANIMAL FARM concludes the Young Company's season. Please save the date for 2017-2018 Young Company performances: THE SKIN OF OUR TEETH (December 8 - 17, 2017) and Shakespeare's HENRY V (March 9-24, 2018).

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

First Look review: JUNIE B. JONES IS NOT A CROOK

by Jonah Bertram
Jonah (right) and his little brother Jack.

First stage is currently performing JUNIE B. JONES IS NOT A CROOK, and it’s amazing!

The play was just like how I imagined it, and the background was perfect for this play. It reminded me of when I was in fourth grade, and read the book, “Junie B. Jones and the Tale of a Fourth Grade Nothing.”  I loved how the actors spoke, as if they were actual kindergarteners. Throughout the whole play, I enjoyed it. In fact, everyone laughed at least once during this play, and the audience was packed. The way that the actors acted out the play was very good, and how they went into intermission got me very excited to watch the rest of the play. The play was really easy to understand at all times, and the ending tied great with the whole play. The ending was perfect just the way it was.

I have a little brother named Jack. He is five years old, and this play is for kids around his age. He enjoyed the background with the lights and how they changed color. He really enjoyed when the kids would talk like they were actually kindergarteners. He also enjoyed the animals that were on the background, and he thought that it added to the kindergarten classroom setting. He also liked when the pictures fell from the ceiling. He thought that the characters did a great job of acting out this play.

This story teaches some great lessons for all people at any stage in life. It taught my brother that the rule is not always “finders keepers, losers weepers.” It also reminded me that when you loose something you feel bad. If you are the one that finds something, you should always try to return the item to its rightful owner or to the lost and found. Finally, it reminded me that it should not matter what you wear or how you act, it just matters that you are what you are and people should respect that.

JUNIE B. JONES IS NOT A CROOK continues at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater through June 4.

Thank you to 13 year old Jonah for this review of JUNIE B.! Jonah enjoys seeing plays, sharing his ideas and writing about them.

Friday, April 28, 2017

ANIMAL FARM: A Look Behind The Scenes

The third and final Young Company (YC) production of First Stage’s 2016-17 season is the George Orwell classic ANIMAL FARM, opening Friday, May 12. As rehearsals started for this production, we caught up with Director and Associate Director of the Young Company, Matt Daniels to get a behind-the-scenes look at this production of ANIMAL FARM, how the YC and Academy training influence the overall process, and a bit about Shakespeare.
An exercise utilized by the YC both on and off stage is viewpoints, a technique to study movement and improvisation through the concepts of space, shape and gesture, time, emotion and story. During the rehearsal process of Animal Farm, viewpoint exercises were used as warm-ups for the YC actors, allowing them to fully transition into character – in this case, the animals on Mr. Jones’s farm. According to Matt, deconstructing the individual elements of a character along with the work itself is an integral part of the process, and this collaboration begins with the students. Matt talked more about this open exchange of new ideas as the cast works together in defining the themes of the play and how best to communicate those, offering the students a unique opportunity by bridging the gap between classroom and stage.

The viewpoint exercises are also used more practically for scene changes and transition. In an earlier YC production, TXT U L8R, actors performed the scenes in slow-motion before speeding back to real time to contrast the fast-paced, tech dominated story. Matt discussed how making those transitions feel part of the world takes what could be mundane and makes it artful, ultimately the goal of acting.
As a classic piece and political satire, ANIMAL FARM provides some interesting challenges for the young actors, including only one human character in the entire play. To help the cast fully embody those animalistic traits, the group visited a local farm to study how each creature moves, and how they interact with each other. That interaction plays a crucial role as the story unfolds and we begin to see the similarities between these animals and our own society. ANIMAL FARM is a cautionary tale with themes that always seem relevant regardless of the current political climate. Not knowing the current state of affairs when the play was chosen a year ago, Matt was noting that this ultimately provides another teaching moment as the actors learn to distinguish their own political views from those of their character.

The Young Company serves as an excellent training tool to bring all the incredible skills of First Stage’s Theater Academy to the stage. Within the diverse mix of opportunities and areas of study throughout the Academy, there is an affinity for the classics among students, something for which Matt Daniels is very proud. This past weekend was the YC’s 7th Annual Bard-O-Thon, where students spent the day learning and memorizing as many Shakespeare monologues as possible, to later perform a selection before a public audience gathered at 88nine Radio Milwaukee. In addition to again having that classroom to stage experience, deconstructing such complex text has it’s applications in many different areas, though perhaps most directly during auditions when an impromptu monologue is required.

See the results of the Young Company’s hard work on stage in ANIMAL FARM!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

MOCKINGBIRD: A Look Behind The Scenes

During last week’s meetup of First Stage’s Mentorship program participants, the First Stage Design Supervisor, Brandon Kirkham, presented the group with a unique behind the scenes look at MOCKINGBIRD, and the creative process that went into the various aspects of the show. The story of MOCKINGBIRD centers around Caitlin, an 11-year-old on the autism spectrum, dealing with the loss of her older brother, and what this means for her. There is a sense of overwhelm as we accompany Caitlin through her journey to cope with life and loss. Starting immediately with the first scenes as characters and lighting set the very intentional tone of uncomfortability, and in many ways a feeling of being out of place in the world around us. Every element of set design, lighting, sound, and costuming was created with Caitlin’s perspective in mind, guiding the audience along with Caitlin as she continues to cope with the concepts of life and loss, adding to the incredibly thought-provoking, and heartfelt nature of the piece.

Production Stage Model, MOCKINGBIRD, 2017
To literally set the stage, the set design focused on simple lines and shapes, symbolizing Caitlin’s very simplified, black and white view of the world. Few items were clearly defined to bring clarity to that which is important to Caitlin’s character: her blanket, pillow, and the emotional chart she studies to better understand herself and others. All other elements on stage are very abstract and linear, exemplifying Caitlin’s perspective and contrasting those things that are important with sharp clarity, while all others are background and therefore superfluous. The only other item as clearly defined is the project that Caitlin’s brother, Devon, had started before his passing. Devon’s Eagle project, a wooden chest, plays a pivotal role in Caitlin’s journey, and as such is always present on the set, though not in every scene. Only Caitlin and her father ever interact with the chest itself, which brilliantly serves as both a point of conflict for the two characters, as well as an eventual sense of peace.

Costume design, MOCKINGBIRD, 2017
Another of the storytelling elements was presented in the use of costuming. Purple is Caitlin’s favorite color, she does not care for the mixing of colors or patterns. In fact, her uniform consists of sweatpants and a purple long-sleeve t-shirt in the winter and sweatpants and a short-sleeve t-shirt for summer. Costume Designer Lyndsey Kuhlmann expertly used these color details to further define the relationships between Caitlin and the other characters. Those who Caitlin liked less, or who caused her additional stress were wearing bright colors and patterns, things that from Caitlin’s perspective are messy and unnecessary. Those characters she did call friends had a much simpler look, even incorporating her favorite color.

Color plays a key role in Caitlin’s journey from darkness to light. We see her slowly begin to be more open with those around her as she continues to “Work At It,” even going so far as to bring color into her own artwork, as we see with the finished chest.

This play between light and dark, chaos and silence as Caitlin learns to walk her path towards acceptance was captured beautifully by the incredibly talented lighting and sound designers, Jesse Klug and Sarah Ramos. Throughout the show, the grid-like pattern of the stage floor is illuminated to help guide Caitlin, as well as the audience, from scene to scene and moment to moment, providing a grounded reality when things become too overwhelming, as we could hear very clearly through the sound design. The original concept was to have no music whatsoever, but to compose sounds based on schools and classrooms, breathing and words. The effect is incredibly unnerving at times, assailing the senses and drawing us further into Caitlin’s world.

Final performances of MOCKINGBIRD this weekend, including a sensory friendly performance on Saturday, April 8 at 1pm.