Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Join Jeff Frank and the First Stage Spartans!


I Can't Is Not In My Vocabulary!
I Take Risks!
I Conquer My Fears!

I Am Not Afraid to Lead!

Jeff Frank in the Reebok Spartan Beast Race
This is the First Stage Theater Academy cheer, and they are words that Artistic Director Jeff Frank strives to live by everyday – at work and at play.  When Jeff began participating in obstacle course racing three years ago, he discovered parallels between his two unrelated passions - Obstacle Course Racing and theater. “I love the fact that as a race progresses, you have no idea what you will encounter next, you deal with each step, each obstacle in the moment and find a way to conquer all the little battles along the way.” Jeff often draws on the First Stage cheer when tackling tough obstacles.  

This fall Jeff will combine his two passions in an effort to raise funds for First Stage while taking on the mother of all Spartan Races, the Vermont Beast on September 20, 2014. 

The First Stage Spartan Team has been created!
You can join Jeff and support the First Stage Theater Academy Scholarship Fund in three ways:
  • DONATE in support of Jeff’s effort to take on the Vermont Spartan Beast on September 20. This is the mother of all Spartan Races – 13+ miles, 35 obstacles, up and down the ski slopes of Killington, VT. Visit the the First Stage Crowdrise page, CLICK HERE.
     
  • RUN with Jeff at the Chicago Spartan Super on September. 27 or the Miller Park Spartan Sprint on November. 1 (Sign up at www.spartan.com), then join the First Stage Spartan Team and start your own fundraising effort through Crowdrise for First Stage, CLICK HERE.
  • JOIN the First Stage Spartan Team and start your own fundraising effort for the team by pledging to do 20 Burpees a day for 20 days starting on Sept. 1 and concluding with Jeff’s Vermont race day on Sept. 20. Visit the the First Stage Crowdrise page, CLICK HERE
As a member of the First Stage Spartan Team you are committing to TAKING A RISK and CONQUERING YOUR FEARS because I CAN'T IS NOT IN OUR VOCABULARY! Funds raised by the team will go toward financial assistance for those young people who wish to take Academy classes building "life skills through stage skills."

Please join us in making a difference and help us inspire young people to know that anything is possible if you put your mind to it and commit to the effort required.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cheers for the Kid to Kid campaign!

By Sara Wojtak, First Stage Summer Academy intern

The Kid-to-Kid campaign is one of the most impressive and inspiring things I have seen First Stage students do. Seeing everyone participate and work hard at something that is for the benefit of other students is truly amazing. Kid-to-Kid is a fundraising program operated by First Stage Theater Academy students to raise money for scholarships for others to attend First Stage.  Students in grades 5-12 participate and are in charge of everything, from deciding what day to have a fundraiser to choosing an incentive for reaching a certain quota; it is entirely student-lead. 

Students join in the "burpee" challenge in support of Kid to Kid
The students work hard to raise money and encourage student donations for Kid-to-Kid, from having bake sales to planning out some sort of incentive. Every two weeks, Academy students hold a bake sale during their lunch hour. The students bring in baked goods to sell for $1 each. All the money raised goes straight to the Kid-to-Kid fund. Students have donated from $1 to as much as $20 at these bake sales, raising over $1,925 this summer.  The generosity of these students is
incredible!

First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank with Academy teachers Chike
Johnson and Di'Monte Henning matched dollars raised with
"burpees." Students raised $500 in support of Kid to Kid that week!
“What makes Kid-2-Kid so special is the power it gives students,” said First Stage Community Partnership Coordinator Malkia Stampley. “To know that even a penny can help someone else teaches that no matter your financial situation, you can still make a difference.”  Stampley continued to say that the funds raised by Academy students this summer will cover full tuition for a class of 16 students for one session next school year. 

First Stage students have other incentives to raise money for Kid-to-Kid, some of which are quite outrageous! This summer, one of the Academy interns volunteered to shave his head if the students raised a certain dollar amount by a particular date. Well before that date, that intern was walking through the door with his head completely shaven because the students worked so hard to reach that goal. Other incentives include shows and performances by the interns and staff, pie in the face and fun games in class.  “It’s all about inspiring the students and teachers to showcase talents and dig a little deeper for Kid to Kid,” said Stampley.  Students donate items that they have made in order to raise money as well. Some of these items include artwork, bracelets, bows, and anything else the students can make. Every amount that is raised on a non-bake sale day is applauded and cheered for, no matter how much has been donated.

As an Academy intern this summer, it truly is a wonderful thing to see all the First Stage students being so creative, helpful, and generous in helping others through the Kid-to-Kid campaign.

Check out this video of First Stage students during the Kid to Kid "burpee" challenge.  Learn more about First Stage Theater Academy!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

From Actor to Intern: A College Girl's First Stage Story

By Mallory Elver, First Stage Development Intern

When I remember the morning that I first set foot into First Stage Theater Academy as an eighth grader, I still feel my stomach twist into an anxiety-provoked knot.  Eight years since that summer, I have heard many similar first day sentiments from other Academy students.  That morning, I would never foresee the path that First Stage would pave for me.  Today, I am a Development Intern at this wonderful theater organization.  I spent last summer as an intern in the Marketing and Public Relations Department.  What happened between my first day as a First Stager and my current internship is a journey for which I will forever be grateful.
My first role: a news reporter
 in the YC stage adaptation of
 Night of the Living Dead.  December 2008
            That summer, First Stage taught me invaluable social skills within a two-week time frame.  After my first day, I had improvised a scene in front of my classmates, laughed when we played the Shakespearean Insult Game and took the first few steps—literally—in learning musical theater choreography.  I performed and collaborated with kids my age whom I had never previously met!  As a shy pre-teen, I had never valued myself as a performer until that day.
            As I grew older, First Stage served as a crucial self-esteem booster and a vital creative outlet while I strove to meet the stressful demands of high school.  The beginning of my sophomore year, while I pushed myself academically in the hopes of one day entering a university honors program, I decided that spending time in the performing arts was exactly what I needed.  To this day, when I think of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life, I cannot forget auditioning for the Young Company, First Stage’s pre-professional high school theater training program, in front of then-Academy Headmaster John Maclay.  Thanks to the determination and confidence that I acquired at First Stage, I swallowed my nerves, performed my two monologues, and John told me (I remember his exact words): “Mallory, if you want to be in, then you’re in.”
That daunting moment became one of the happiest I have ever experienced.  First Stage taught me to take risks.  Thus, once Young Company classes began, I auditioned for every YC play that year.  The thrill of making progress in rehearsals and feeling the adrenaline rush while performing in front of an audience propelled me to a never-before-attained level of confidence.
Representing SPEA as a 
Founders Scholar at the 2014 
IU Honors Convocation
What I admire most about Theater Academy is that not only does it teach students so much about acting and script analysis, but—more importantly—it develops future community leaders who are ready to contribute to society and live happy lives.  Although I knew that my acting days were over, I sought to study theater in some capacity.  As an editor of my high school newspaper, I also yearned to study journalism.  Luckily, I discovered that Indiana University Bloomington offers an undergraduate Arts Management major.  Next year, I will graduate from IU as an Arts Management major with Honors from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA).  I will also have earned a Certificate in Journalism, minors in Spanish and Theatre & Drama as well as the General Honors Notation from the Hutton Honors College.  Additionally, I work as a Box Office Clerk at the IU Auditorium.  At this job, my love for the performing arts, refined social skills and strong work ethic—all products of my First Stage experience—are employed every day.

First Stage guided me to my area of study.  This unparalleled theater organization inspired me to learn the business side of the arts so that new generations of youths can have life-changing experiences like mine.  First Stage’s mission is to transform lives through theater.  I am thankful that it truly does so for countless young people and their families every single day.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Playwright Eric Coble visits First Stage for SHERLOCK HOLMES reading


 On July 1, playwright Eric Coble visited First Stage for a reading for his new play, SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS, making its world premiere at the start of First Stage's 28th season, opening October 17.

Eric Coble with First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank

In between readings of the script and discussion among edits and stage direction, Mr. Coble took a few moments to chat with us about his playwriting process for SHERLOCK HOLMES:


FIRST STAGE:  How do you tackle writing a new play like SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS, in weaving four graphic novels into one script for family audiences?


ERIC COBLE:  I read the graphic novels over and over, taking more notes each time, looking for the elements that I thought would work best on stage (which pieces of plot would weave together best?  What character traits do I want to make sure to highlight?  What dialogue is essential?  What will be most fun for actors to play and for audiences to watch?).  Then I wove all that into one story, paying close attention to make it feel and sound like Tony Lee’s work in the graphic novels — trying to stay true to his voice and stories.  It came together remarkably well — the characters are such a hoot to write for and play with, and the mysteries are rich and fun.



FS:  How is SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS similar or different from other stage adaptations you have written?

EC:  The fact that this is one play based on four stories was different — how do you pick and choose which pieces of what stories to weave into this new play?  And this is only the second graphic novel I’ve adapted, which brings in another element:  the pictures.  What moments can be shown without words and only through action, as they are in the comics?  Plus this story features many more main characters than any other adaptation I’ve done.  Making sure each of the Baker Street Irregulars was distinct and fun and brought something special to the party was a fun challenge.

FS:  What are you looking forward to most about working with First Stage again?

EC:  I LOVE the imagination that I always experience here.  I know I can throw crazy moments into the script (a battle in an underground waterfall!  Mad inventions used to escape from prison!) and that the First Stage crew will figure out ways to make it work theatrically.  Ever since I saw how they created the black and white world of THE GIVER, I knew they would rise to any challenge.  There’s such freedom and a sense of play here.  And I LOVE that First Stage insists on age-appropriate casting:  The kids will be played by kids, the adults by adults.  Love that.

FS:  What do you enjoy most about writing plays for young audiences and families?

EC:  The ability to play.  Young audiences will happily, even eagerly, jump into any world you present, as long as it makes some sense and tells a great story.  Some adult audiences seem to think this isn’t a worthy way to spend their time, that wild imagination doesn’t belong in serious plays.  I beg to differ.  And writing plays for families and young audiences lets me play in that world and share it.

FS:  What are you looking forward to the most about the development and world premiere of SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS?

EC:  I’m super eager to hear how the live music will fit into the play — Jeff Frank always envisioned this play as using live musicians with 19th century instruments creating the soundscape of Victorian London, and I can’t wait to see the action scenes and flashbacks and suspenseful/scary moments enhanced by adult and student musicians working live on stage at the same time as the actors, creating the world.  That and the chance to work with Jeff as a director.  I love his bravery and smarts in tackling the challenges of any script.

FS:  Your play, THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, was recently on Broadway.  How does it feel to have one of your plays on Broadway?

EC:  It was a great roller coaster.  I’d never played on that field before, and it was a true education. Being part to the gigantic machine that is a Broadway play was an odd feeling. Getting calls and emails from so many different facets of production and media, the over-the-top publicity, all that was new.  One of the best parts was still getting to work on the play, to rehearse with these great actors to tell the best story we could in the best way possible.  Which is what I’m doing on SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS and every show I’ve ever created.  It was comforting to realize that no matter how big the stakes were, my job as writer was the same on Broadway as it is in Milwaukee or Cleveland — how do we tell our story in the best way possible?  

FS:  What advice would you give to an aspiring playwright?

EC:  Write.  Write some more. See a LOT of plays.  And write some more.  Tell a bunch of 
different stories with different characters just to try them out.  They may not be good plays, but you’re strengthening your playwriting muscles and figuring out what kind of stories YOU want to tell and how YOU are going to tell them.  Read plays, see plays, make that your mental diet as you figure out what you will bring to the ongoing theatrical conversation.  And don’t ever forget it’s called a “play” for a reason.



Don't miss Eric Coble's world premiere of SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS at First Stage, playing October 17 through November 15 at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater, for everyone ages 7 and up.  Make this play a part of your First Stage Family Package and save up to 50% off regular ticket prices.  Visit our website for more information and to order online.




Thursday, June 12, 2014

Milwaukee musician John Nicholson works with young performers on SHERLOCK HOLMES score

Susan and John Nicholson at the Milwaukee Youth Art Center
First Stage’s highly anticipated season opener SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS, a world premiere play by Eric Coble, is an edgy adaptation of the graphic novel series by New York Times Bestselling Graphic Novelist Tony Lee with art by critically acclaimed Dan Boultwood.  “It’s a bold, fast-paced adventure with plenty of action including a battle under the streets of London, and a chase on top of a moving train,” said First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank. A musical soundscape created by noted Milwaukee musician John Nicholson along with 3-5 young performers, will propel the action sequences. 

John Nicholson recently held a workshop and information session at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center for string players (guitar, ukulele, mandolin, fiddle and banjo) and percussionists ages 8-17.  Young musicians interested in the project were introduced to the music, described as being inspired by Mumford and Sons and infused with the energy of Stomp, and learned about the demands of performing in a live theater show.  These young people will be active storytellers with stage presence, portraying London street urchins while powering the action through live music.

Two talented high school guitarists enjoying the workshop

Stay tuned for more information about this exciting world premiere, the music of John Nicholson and First Stage’s 2014/2015 season. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Next Season preview: LUCHADORA!


Alvaro Saar Rios
By Erica Davis
Alvaro Saar Rios’ new original work LUCHADORA! was recently selected as part of Teatro Vivo’s fourth annual Austin Latino New Play Festival.  The three-night event brought together playwrights and audience members to explore cross-cultural topics, modern dilemmas and timeless themes and traditions with Latino roots.  In this interview Rios shares his impressions of the festival and reveals more about the inspiration behind LUCHADORA!

As a playwright, what was it like to be part of this festival?
I've been part of a few festivals across the country and I have to say that being a part of the Austin Latino New Play Festival was like... and I hate to be cliche but that's the best I can come up with right now... it was like a dream come true.  Teatro Vivo provided me with a dramaturg.  Her name was Brianna Figueroa and she was extremely smart.  I've never actually worked with a dramaturg in my life and yet now that I have, I am not sure I can ever work without one.  Throughout the process, she constantly provided me with questions and insights that definitely helped me when it came to rewriting the play. Overall, it was great to be part of something that purely focuses on the words I put on the page.  As a playwright, that's very important.

How would you describe the Austin Latino theater community?  How does it compare to Milwaukee?
The word I would use to describe the community that attended the Austin Latino New Play festival is "supportive."  They knew that what they were going to see/hear wasn't fully developed yet.  They saw past the imperfections (lots of them) and put their attention towards the play has a whole.  Because of this, it also  reminded me of the theater community we have here in Milwaukee.  I've attended staged readings of new work (mine as well as others) and the community never fails to support new work by attending and asking lots of questions.


LUCHADORA! Illustration by Olive Young, MIAD
The Austin Latino New Play Festival selects plays that, "push and challenge the theatric envelope for audience members."  How does LUCHADORA! push and challenge the envelope?  
LUCHADORA! is set in a world that traditionally isn't seen on the American stage.  It's a play that mixes the uncommon with the familiar. It's a story about family, something that I hope everyone can identify with, and yet it is set in the secretive world of lucha libre aka Mexican wrestling.


What struck you about the audience discussions following the reading of LUCHADORA!?  What initially struck me was the audience itself.  There were at least 100 people in the audience. I've had various staged readings of my work and have never had 100 people there.  It was quite amazing.  In terms of the talk-back discussion, the audience was great.  They knew that their answers and questions were vital to the development of my play.  After the talk-back session, one audience member came up to me and said, "I don't usually see plays but I would definitely see your play!" This response meant a lot to me because I am always trying to figure out how my plays can reach theatre lovers as well non-traditional audience members. 

LUCHADORA! deals with family traditions.  How did your own traditions inspire the play?
When I was a kid, I would watch wrestling a lot.  On TV as well as live at the Sam Houston Coliseum in Houston.  Sometimes, if my grandmother was visiting, she would watch it with me.  At times, I think she enjoyed it more than I did.  This was part of the impetus of LUCHADORA!  I wondered.  Why did my grandma like wrestling so much?  I never got a chance to ask her so, being a storyteller, I came up with my own reasons.  What if she had a secret?  What if she actually used to wrestle?  It may seem far-fetched but if you think about it, grandparents in general have all kinds of fascinating secrets.  Some get shared.  Some don't.


What else should audiences know about LUCHADORA!?
I am very grateful for this opportunity that Jeff Frank and First Stage have provided for me as part of the Wisconsin Cycle.  I look forward to rewriting the play over the summer and making sure I tell the story I set out to tell.


LUCHADORA! premieres as part of First Stage's 2014-2015 season – April 10-26, 2015.  Reservations for school groups, private groups and Family Packages are available now.  Visit www.firststage.org for more information. 

To learn more about Austin Latino New Play Festival, Click here.   

Friday, May 9, 2014

Finding inspiration in Nancy Drew

Madison Penzkover as "Nancy"
By Amanda Corazzi 

The world’s best teen detective, Nancy Drew has been solving mysteries and inspiring young girls since 1930. Over the last 80 years, this timeless character has inspired over 175 books, t.v. series and movies and made her way to the Todd Wehr Theater in NANCY DREW AND HER BIGGEST CASE EVER.  How does one play one of literature’s greatest sleuths on stage? That task falls to Madison Penzkover and Amanda Desimowich. They both love what Nancy represents to everyone.

“My favorite thing about Nancy Drew is her independence,” said Madison. “She doesn't sit back and let other people figure things out, as a young woman might be expected to do during the time period. If she sees a problem, she doesn't hesitate to try to fix it.”

Amanda Desimowich as Nancy(center) and
Laura Mesrobian (Bess) and Taylor Vraney (George)
Amanda agrees. “I love Nancy’s determination and her drive throughout the whole show. She amazes me when she finds the best way out of a bad situation (which is pretty much always). She’s flawless, what can I say!!”

Madison (center) with Abbi Minessale (Bess)
and Elizabeth Robbins (George)
In the Benson Cast, Nancy is played by Amanda, an Ozaukee High School senior. NANCY DREW will be her fourth production with First Stage after appearing in U:BUG:ME, BIG THE MUSICAL, DIARY OF A WORM, A SPIDER AND A FLY. Amanda plans on attending Purdue University to study public relations in the fall. Madison, a homeschooled sophomore, plays Nancy in the Wirt Cast.  She has also appeared First Stage’s productions TO THE PROMISED LAND and as Veruca in CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.  Outside the theater, she enjoys baking, reading cosplaying and binge-watching Netflix. 

NANCY DREW AND HER BIGGEST CASE EVER is First Stage’s 50th world premiere and was written by Artistic Director Jeff Frank and Associate Artistic Director John Maclay. They looked at over 30 different Nancy Drew novels to style the story, dialogue and characters after. They were excited to bring such a strong female character and story to life.

Amanda (right) 
“I’m not big on the idea that a play should have a moral,” Jeff says, “[but] I hope that all our audience members, boys and girls alike, walk away with the realization that you don’t need special powers to be a super hero – and that young women can accomplish anything they set their minds to.”

John and Jeff were also excited to share the characters and stories with the cast, many who were not familiar. Amanda and Madison quickly became fans and felt inspired by the young, teenaged sleuth.  

“Nancy has inspired me to never give up and to always believe the best in people,” said Amanda.  “It’s awesome to portray her. I’m like Nancy when it comes to my guy priorities, my reading habits and my desire to learn.”  

Madison feels the same way but loves how this production has helped her learn about characterization, aspects of theater, and herself. “I think Nancy and I are similar in our urge to help the world, though Nancy has a much more hands-on approach than I do.  Nancy is definitely better at jiu-jitsu than I am though!”


NANCY DREW AND HER BIGGEST CASE EVER runs through June 2. For more information, please visit www.firststage.org