Thursday, June 2, 2016

Young Company Senior Speech: Natalie Alteri

On Sunday, May 30, our First Stage Young Company students and their families gathered at Casablanca on the East Side for their yearly Young Company Senior Dinner. A chance to acknowledge the successes of the past year as well as congratulate seniors and wish them well in their coming adventures, the Senior Dinner also allowed some graduates the chance to speak. Here is what one student had to say:

Hi, I’m Natalie Alteri. I’ll start out by attempting to share with you both who I am and why I’m here in as few words and stories as possible. When I was 9, I only wanted two things. One was a real bell from Santa’s sleigh. The other was to be in a First Stage show. I have my mom to thank for the bell, and Jeff Frank to thank for the show. My future aspirations include being a doctor, having 0 to 1 kids, and donating money to support theater.
via Alison Pogorelc
Next year, I’ll study lots of science and Spanish at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. When I was 12, John told Josie and I to keep Young Company in mind as we got older. What John doesn’t know is that I’ve kept those words in mind as I’ve gotten older. John had confidence in my character before I ever did. He has this way of complimenting us just by reminding us of who we are. They never fail to be what I call “Mark Twain Compliments” because he once said “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” John has a lot of love for Young Company and for the people in it; it’s this love that has become the core what we all know Young Company to be. I’m incredibly grateful for all the time I’ve spent at First Stage, time that has undeniably shaped me into a much better version of myself. But the truth is that I won’t do justice to all that time by attempting to share it in this little speech. So instead I’ll leave you with a variety of knowledge and wisdom that is important to me for one reason or another. I’ll give credit where credit is due. Enjoy.

It is a sign of self-worth and great maturity if your behavior doesn’t change much based on who’s in a room. - John Maclay

Some of the most disturbed minds with the most difficult lives have left us the most beautiful art. -Alison Pogorelc

Reputation is an idle and most false imposition, oft got without merit and lost without deserving. -Shakespeare

Don’t just talk about the importance of something, do it. Especially recycling. -Zoey Knox

You can take love and truth with you wherever you go. -Marcella Kearns

When life gives you lemons, you can’t make any lemonade, because you don’t have any sugar or water -Josie Trettin

Comparison is the thief of joy. -Theodore Roosevelt

Here is a play. It has never existed quite like this before and never will again. That is the beauty of it all. -Matt Daniels

Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people … or find a different room. Michael Dell

Only speak when silence will not do. Only move when stillness will not do. -Joshua Pohja

I could have thanked nearly everyone in the room for an exorbitant list of things, but I wouldn’t really have the words, so instead I stole some words from other people. I’d like to think it’s alright though, because we say that so much of acting is stealing, and even if I never do another play again, everything I’ll ever know about acting is indisputably part of who I am.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

First Stage Students Win Tommy Awards

by A.J. Magoon

All photos in this blog by Paul Ruffolo Photography

Have you heard the latest news about our Young Performers? With this much talent and success, sometimes it’s hard to keep up! Four First Stage Academy Students and Young Performers have received 2016 Tommy Awards – a high honor in Wisconsin High School theatre!

The Tommy Awards—named after Wisconsin-born Broadway star Tom Wopat—are annual awards that “encourage, recognize, and honor excellence in high school musical theater.” Every year, productions at over 70 high schools are evaluated by theatrical professionals and awards are given out for excellence in countless categories for performers, technicians, and creative teams.

Maddie Mainwood in ALL'S WELL THAT END'S WELL

Maddie Mainwood of New Berlin Eisenhower High School received an Outstanding Stage Management Award for LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Maddie has previously been seen in First Stage’s productions of HOLES and ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL.

Liam Hartnett in ANTIGONE

Liam Hartnett of Whitefish Bay High School received an Outstanding Supporting Performer Award for his performance as Doody in GREASE. Liam was previously seen in First Stage’s productions of BIG FISH and ANTIGONE.

Josie Trettin in ANTIGONE

Josie Trettin of Whitefish Bay High School received an Outstanding Supporting Performer Award for her performance as Jan in GREASE. Josie was most recently seen in First Stage’s production of ANTIGONE.


Max Pink of Shorewood High School received an Outstanding Supporting Performer Award for his performance as St. Jimmy in AMERICAN IDIOT. He recently finished First Stage’s production of ELLA ENCHANTED.

Congratulations go out to all of these talented students!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Young Performer Spotlight: Madison Jones and Lina Singh

by A.J. Magoon

How much do you know about the Young Performers on our stage? First Stage is far from the only thing they do; beyond their acting talent, they’re busy with numerous other activities, hobbies, and interests! Spend some time getting to know the two talented actors playing Julius in LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE:
Madison Jones, student and 'Plastic' cast member.
Nine-year-old Madison Jones plays Julius in the ‘Plastic’ cast. This is her first show with First Stage, but she’s been an Academy student since she was 4. Madison loves First Stage – she looks forward to becoming an Academy Intern and was named our May Student of the Month! She belongs to two choirs outside of First Stage and has many other interests as well: singing, dancing, drawing, texting, swimming, playing with her stuffed tiger Alissa, and especially cooking! She wants to be a chef when she grows up and open a restaurant in New York City; in her words, “When I’m cooking, it’s just me, the stove, the food and my imagination!”

Lina Singh as Julius. Photo by Paul Ruffolo Photography
Our Julius from the ‘Purple’ cast is Lina Singh. Lina is an 8-year-old second-grader who sure isn’t the baby at home – she’s a big sister to her brother, Oscar, and her dog, Nancie! This is Lina’s first show with First Stage, but she’s also been in 101 DALMATIANS and SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK at North Shore Academy of the Arts. She loves singing, playing outside, spending time with her family, learning about geography and history, and smoothies! Lina says that one thing she learned from LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE was “to be LOUD on stage. Marcy Kearns told me to try and get louder and louder and now I'm louder than I ever thought I could be."

LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE continues through June 12. Come by and catch these little mice in action!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Meet Community Engagement Manager Lucia Lozano

Creating connections and advocating for the arts comes naturally to First Stage Community Engagement Manager Lucia Lozano. Lucia comes from Colombia, where her parents were strong supporters of theater and the arts, and her sister was an actor. Lucia began working with First Stage in September 2015 but has been part of our family since 2010 when her daughter, Gaby Musickant, was cast as a Young Performer for the first time. Over the years, Lucia has witnessed the positive influence of First Stage in her daughter’s life, and was eager to support our efforts to connect with young people and families throughout our community.

First Stage saw a need to create and maintain connections within the diverse Milwaukee community, and doing so, created the Community Engagement Manager position. With a background in marketing and communications and having a natural talent for building connections, it was a seamless transition for Lucia. First Stage is a champion of inclusion and according to Lucia, “the arts have the power to change minds and hearts, and to foster understanding and compassion.”

Recently, Lucia played a key role in First Stage’s nomination as a 2016 MANDI Award Finalist. With the help of Lucia and the rest of the First Stage staff, First Stage’s programming is reaching new audiences and helping them develop cultural awareness and understanding through theater.

Lucia is particularly excited about next season's production of WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE, which will bring Milwaukee's communities together through a series of events and activities. Stay tuned!

Contact Lucia at via email at to learn more about our Community Engagement initiatives.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Future Generation Mentorship program gives First Stage students “all access”

by Jennifer Hubbartt

In 2015, First Stage launched the Future Generation Mentorship Program, encouraging Theater Academy student participation with a focus on its philosophy of teaching “life skills through stage skills,” further cultivating the next generation of artists, arts patrons and supporters.

Each year, invited students – or “mentees” – are paired with a mentor who will guide the mentee through all opportunities offered by First Stage. Mentees receive an “all access pass” to First Stage programs and events, Academy classes, tickets to performances, coaching, and more. Twelve mentor and mentee pairs currently participate in the program.

“The relationships and learning opportunities are truly special,” said Jennifer Adams, Academy director and director of the Mentorship Program. “This individualized and supportive program engages not only the young person in a deeper relationship with First Stage, but also engages the First Stage staff in meaningful connections with our students.”

Kamani, a 12-year-old Academy student, is part of the inaugural class of the Mentorship Program, paired with Lindsey Abendschein, First Stage creative services manager, as his mentor.

“The Mentorship Program helped me become even more involved in the arts,” said Kamani. “My favorite part of the program has been getting to know the other mentees, who enjoy the same things that I do.”

“Being a mentor is a great opportunity to be more involved with First Stage,” said Abendschein. “Kamani is an amazing person. He is so talented and passionate about what he does, that I always walk away feeling inspired about my own work,” Abendschein continued.

This season, the Mentorship Program participants have taken part in several exclusive activities. Earlier this season, the mentors and mentees held a “V. I. Peach” party in conjunction with a performance of Roald Dahl’s JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. Mentors and mentees had a small gathering at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, saw a performance of the play together, and received a backstage tour of the Todd Wehr Theater.

“The V.I.Peach party was a great bonding experience, allowing the mentees to meet each other and celebrate new friendships,” said Adams. “It was also the first step in our efforts to help these young people see themselves on our stages, removing the feeling of ‘that’s impossible.’ Providing these students with extra support will encourage them to take every opportunity First Stage has to offer.”

In conjunction with LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, mentors and mentees were invited to attend select rehearsals, receive a tour of First Stage’s costume shop, and learn more about the play’s scenery, lights and costumes with First Stage’s design supervisor. The experiences will culminate when mentors and mentees and their families will attend a performance and participate in a special talkback with Director Marcella Kearns.

“The mentorship program has instilled confidence and acceptance in my children,” said Mercedes Loomans, whose two children participate in the Mentorship Program. “First Stage has welcomed my children and treated them as one of their own. Taylor and Michael continue to grow and thrive in this environment.”

In addition to the Future Generation Mentorship Program, First Stage Theater Academy offers a variety of opportunities for its students, including the Student Advisory Board, Writers Group, and Internships. For more details, visit or email

Monday, May 16, 2016

First Look Review: Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse

by Olivia Maldonado

I was honored to see the play “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” at First Stage on its preview night on May 12th. I had read the book before seeing the play and I think the play did an outstanding job being just like the book with some added things to it.

The play started out by giving me a good idea of Lilly’s family and friends. It was nice to see Julius as a baby and how Lilly’s family was. There was a nice touch of Lilly’s father having magic. That was a neat characteristic to add. I also liked that the play added band aids to symbolize bravery and that they had a secret language. There were “bullies” that were not in the book but it added a nice story line. Lilly’s imagination was also an important part of the play. I thought it was important to show her imagination because we got to learn more about her.

I loved the props on the back of the stage and the oversized uncooperative chair. The big props were easy to see. I really liked how the purse actually played music.

The play did a really good job following the story. There were so many exact things in the play that were in the book. Things like the sharpened pencils, Friday fish lunch, erasers and noisy shoes were all mentioned in the play. The play also included the light bulb lab, the teacher’s shirts and ties and even his glasses on a chain. The pictures done in the light bulb lab looked exactly like in the book. I heard many lines that included “Wow!” which was also part of the book.

Lilly’s costume was adorable and she did a good job bringing Lilly the mouse to life. I really liked how dramatic the play was when Lilly bought the purse and found out that it played music. I thought it was cool that the purse came from the ceiling and it had lights in it.

The play was funny and cute. Thank you for allowing me to see this play and write a review on it.

LILLY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE continues through June 12, 2016.

Olivia is an 11-year-old student who has taken classes at Oak Creek Performing Arts and First Stage. She likes that acting classes give her confidence when speaking in school and wanted to do First Look to see if the plays that First Stage does are like the books they're based on. We're glad she gave us this wonderful review!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A note from LILLY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE Director Marcella Kearns

Director Marcella Kearns works with Emily Harris,
playing Lilly in the Purple Cast.
There’s nothing so scary—and so amazing—as trying something new.

When our ensemble of young performers first gathered to rehearse LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, I asked them what they thought the play was about. Their response was more eloquent than mine could ever be, and it was about exactly the above: accepting change, being willing to open oneself up to a new way to be, creating one’s identity and course of actions for good or for ill. In a world in which their imagination takes them to brilliant places of imaginative play and terrible places of remorse, among other ups and downs, the young mice of LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE are constantly, actively, richly envisioning and trying on new identities in the world around them.

With this production of LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, First Stage celebrates the 20th anniversary of Kevin Henkes’ kind, true, and superbly funny book. This production, in fact, celebrates three books—CHESTER’S WAY; LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE; and JULIUS, THE BABY OF THE WORLD. Kevin Kling’s conflation of this trio of stories follows both the Lilly of the title and that of her friends Chester and Wilson. Together, they make a trio warm, close, and human enough (though mice they be) to rival any trio of friends we may find in fiction. All of them have their own encounter with something or someone outside their realm of comfort. With a few bumps along the way, but with the support of their friends or family, they find their way.

Near the end of the play, Chester and Wilson ask Lilly, “Where are we going?” Lilly’s response: a rapturous “I don’t know.” They plunge into the unknown with an easy optimism and joy in discovery. All three have learned that inviting new experience into their lives gives them lessons and joys they might never have thought to experience otherwise. Little do they know, another friend awaits them just around the corner.

First Stage presents LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE May 13 – June 12, 2016 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater.

Chike Johnson, Young Performer Emily Harris and
Elyse Edelman rehearse a scene.
Director Marcella Kearns works with members of the Purple Cast.