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. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kluge Elementary School: An after school residency begins!

Voice and Movement with Miss Jenn
First Stage is so excited to welcome over twenty-five K5-5th grade Kluge
students into our after school programming on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. When the school bell rings, the First Stage students join us in the cafeteria to put on their First Stage t-shirts, eat a snack and get some extra help with their homework before we start our classes each day. Once snack and homework is finished, we gather together for Beginning of Day, where we share positive “Challenges” we have for ourselves and our classmates that afternoon, and participate in the First Stage Cheer! Then, we move into two classes – Creative Drama/Scene Studies and Voice and Movement.  We end our day at 4:30 p.m., gathering back together for End of Day, where we share “Acknowledgements” and recognize the great work that was accomplished during classes. Every day, we see our students grow as artists, and more importantly, as confident and supportive young people who are not afraid to take risks and conquer their fears!  We are so excited to be a part of the Kluge Elementary School community, and for your students to be a part of the First Stage family!

Pre-performance pizza party at the Milwaukee Youth
Arts Center
First Stage Family Night
We hosted our first Family Night event on Wednesday, November 26th with a trip to the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, to see RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER: THE MUSICAL.  Over 30 First Stage/Kluge students and their families joined us for this exciting event kicking off the Holiday season.  Before heading to the theater, we stopped at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center for a tour of the facility and a pizza party. The Milwaukee Youth Arts Center is where First Stage rehearses our productions and where the First Stage Academy holds classes year round.

What’s going on in the classrooms?
K5-2 Grade Creative Drama with Miss Ashlea and Miss Sasha
First Stage recognizes the important role that literacy plays in a child’s life—and for early elementary students, exploring and playing with books is essential in laying the building blocks for long-term literacy development. In the Creative Drama class for K5-2nd grade students, a well-known picture book is read to the class and used as a springboard for the lesson.  Students are up and out of their seats, engaging in story drama activities such as role play, creative movement exercises, and pantomime.   Additionally, each session focuses on a different grade appropriate Common Core State Standard for English Language Arts and Literacy.  This fall semester, we are exploring Where the Wild Things Are, Gugi Gugi, Anansi and the Moss Covered Rock, and If You Take a Mouse to the Movies.
Miss Ashlea demonstrates Creative Drama


3-5 Grade Scene Studies with Miss Ashlea and Miss Sasha
Exploring stories through drama not only strengthens a young person’s curiosity and imagination, it also aids in the creation of a deeper personal understanding and relationship to the themes, skills, and text being explored.  The scene studies class is designed to assist students in developing skills in speaking, listening, reading, and writing, and is directly linked to the 3rd-5th grade Common Core Standards in English Language Arts.  Students are actively engaged in exploring new and familiar stories, creating characters and sharing scenes from scripts as they master acting fundamentals and strengthen their close reading techniques.  This fall semester, we are delving into fairy tales, by retelling classic tales and writing and performing our very own fractured fairy tales!  We will then move into the fantasy genre and The Neverending Story.   

K5-5th Grade Voice and Movement with Miss JennIn Voice and Movement this year, students will be exercising their creativity through exercises that emphasize the use of the body, voice and imagination!  We will create characters, solve problems, and tell stories using improvisation, dance, pantomime, public speaking and ensemble building activities. We will use stories and ideas that connect to our math curriculum in order to support our classwork in a fun and active way. Students will gain awareness and control of their bodies and voices that they can use as confident and focused members of their classrooms and community. 

Learn more about First Stage Theater Academy and School Year Literacy Residencies.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Alyssa Proell, Malia Westlake and Lily MacLean will perform in First
Stage's holiday production of RUDOLPH.
Three seventh grade students from Swallow School in Heartland – Alyssa Proell, Malia Westlake and Lily MacLean will perform in First Stage’s holiday show RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER: THE MUSICAL playing at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater November 28 – December 28, 2014. 

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER: THE MUSICAL tells the tale of a young Rudolph who, because of the appearance of his bright, shining nose, is ousted from the reindeer games in Christmas-town. He flees town, meets up with new friends Hermey and Yukon, and a series of funny and endearing adventures ensue including a visit to The Island of Misfit Toys. Rudolph journeys home, where a snowstorm of epic proportions is threatening Christmas. Can Rudolph save his family and friends and help Santa save the holiday?

The story is so faithful to the original, that it practically transports audience members into the television special. The songs drive the plot while familiar and nostalgic set designs, costumes and characters are brought to stage. The cast brings new energy to the classic songs and dialogue, while puppets help showcase the charming “roughness” from the television show’s stop-motion effects.
Alyssa, Malia and Lily are will portray elves together in the play’s Jolly Cast. Young performer roles at First Stage are double cast, so check which cast is scheduled before you go!

RUDOLPH marks Alyssa Proell’s First Stage debut, but she’s no stranger to the stage. Alyssa has been performing since she was 5 years old and has many shows under her belt including Annie, Willy Wonka, Oklahoma, a Christmas Carol, The Little Mermaid Jr., The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and many more!  In addition to acting she enjoys singing, playing piano and ukulele, volleyball, skiing and robotics.

Malia Westlake enjoy’s the themes of individuality in the play. Everyone is unique in their own ways, and I think this production really shows that.  It's ok to be different because differences are what makes us who we are.  This story is very touching, and reminds me that I shouldn't change who I am for others.  I should please myself and do what I was made to do!" Malia is excited to return to First Stage for this role. Her previous First Stage credits include SHREK THE MUSICAL; BIG, THE MUSICAL and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Malia has also performed in several community productions, recently took part in two independent films, plays piano and dances competitively.

Lily MacLean
is thrilled to be part of one of her favorite Christmas stories, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer™: the Musical this holiday season. "I love being part of a story I have known since I was a little girl. It feels wonderful to bring it to life in such an incredible way. Rudolph reminds us the things that make us different can be the same things that make us special." Lily made her First Stage debut as a kitten last season in Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat.

RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER: THE MUSICAL runs from November 28 – December 28, 2014.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

First Stage to host Young Playwrights for Change Competition

First Stage is excited to be one of 30 hosts participating in Young Playwrights for Change, a collaborative national middle school playwriting competition run by Theatre for Young Audiences/USA (TYA/USA) and the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE). The mission of Young Playwrights for Change is to produce meaningful conversations that will ripple across our nation to provoke change. Our goal is to spark conversation and discussion throughout classrooms, schools and communities about the chosen topic.
To find out how your school or class can participate in this program, Contact First Stage Education Director Julia Magnasco at (414) 267-2971 or email

What Is Family?
(Ideas for the New Theme)

by Julia Magnasco
Originally published by Theater for Young Audiences (TYA)
The evolution of the family structure is anything but what may be considered “traditional.” Families are multilayered, and rarely do family trees grow in one predictable direction. More than ever, we are noticing diversity in the family landscape that spans ethnicity, race, religion, gender and design. Furthermore, who we consider to be part of our family is expanding; church groups, sports teams, school communities, neighborhoods and other organizations or groups are also regarded as being a family to its members. It is because of these reasons that FAMILY was chosen for this year’s Young Playwrights for Change theme.
What do you mean “family”?
Good question! What do you mean when you say “family”? Family means something different to each of us, and our definition and how we relate to family may change throughout our lives. We are interested in hearing what Family means to middle school students – what they consider to be a family, how they relate to family, why family is important, and what they value about family.
When introducing this theme to my middle school students, there seemed to be a unanimous pause. Then one student asked, “You mean we have to make a play about our family?” My response was, “Maybe…or maybe not – but every family has a story to tell, and no two family stories are alike.” My class needed to explore this theme from a variety of perspectives so that each student felt they had the tools to fully uncover the theme in a way that was meaningful to them.
  • A great starting point is to brainstorm FAMILY by asking students either individually or in partners to come up with their definition of family – why is family important, how does family support each other, and what makes family so special? From here, share these definitions and come up with one all-inclusive definition of family for students to refer back and add to throughout their playwriting process.
  • Once this definition is compiled, begin brainstorming the “who” in family – who do you consider your family, and what other groups encompass the unique characteristics of “family”?
  • When the who and what of family have been examined, students can begin reflecting on what challenges, pursuits or experiences a family goes through together…or how family can be found through a challenge, pursuit or experience.
  • Students do not have to write about their family, but it’s a great starting point! Use story circles or journal writing to brainstorm family experiences and events, and help inspire students to recall or re-envision their own family memories. Family prompts may include:
    • share an embarrassing moment you had with a brother or sister;
    • tell about your most memorable holiday experience;
    • tell a story from your mom or dad’s perspective when they were your age;
    • recall the day your little brother, sister or cousin was born;
    • share a story your grandma or grandpa told you about their youth;
    • recount an experience you have had with a group of people that acted like a family;
    • share how your family supported one another to overcome a challenge.
  • From here, encourage students to think about writing their play from different genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, mystery and historical fiction.
You can find additional information and curricular resources for you to use with your students on the Dramatic Change website:
JULIA MAGNASCO is the Education Director at First Stage, one of the leading professional theaters for young audiences in the nation. Julia is in her ninth season as Education Director, and in her tenure the outreach programs at First Stage have more than doubled in size and scope, serving 20,000 students annually with programs such as The Bully Ban and the Early Literacy Residency. Julia is on the Board of TYA/USA and is a Young Playwrights for Change committee member.  She is an active member with the American Alliance for Theater and Education, involved in the Partners in Education program through the Kennedy Center, and is on the adjunct staff at Alverno College and Carroll University. Julia received her BFA in Theatre Performance from the University of Miami, Florida, and her MFA in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University.