Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Young performer in original 2004 production revisits HOLES

Frank Dragotta as Stanley Yelnats and
Mark Metcalf as Mr. Sir in HOLES, 2004
Frank Dragotta played Stanley in the original production of First Stage's HOLES. He recently attended the play and shared his thoughts with us.

How old were you when you played Stanley in Holes?
I was 15 years old and a sophomore in high school when Holes premiered at First Stage. 

What character resonated with you the most when you were 15?
Stanley Yelnats will always resonate with me not only because I was lucky to play him but also because we share similar qualities. In the book he was described as a stocky kid and I was definitely built like that in high school, actually all my life. We both also try to make the best out of any situation, good or bad.  Being optimistic makes life easier. Stanley is a nice guy too, even when people may not be so nice to him. For me that is something I try be, just nice to people - it goes a long way. I still feel very connected to his character after watching the show years later.

In what ways is the play different or the same than you remember?
The set looks very similar to how it did in the original First Stage production, very similar. Although I don't remember the ropes that connect to the moveable rocks that cover the holes. I would've liked those. I believe we just slid the rocks with our hands!  We also had to dig real holes with real dirt. (Just kidding on that last part!) The costumes were similar too, except for the Camp Green Lake badge on the orange jumpsuit sleeves – that was a cool new touch. It almost makes you want to visit the camp, almost. 

The dedication in the playbill to Molly Glynn was very thoughtful. She was a great person when I met her during Holes and it was so sad to hear when she passed away, it made national news.  

Is there anything else you'd like to say about this play?
I want to mention are how hard the cast and crew worked to make the show so wonderful. It was fun to be in the audience watching it because I never got a chance to see the show years ago when the other cast did it. I don't act anymore but I can see how much time and energy still goes into live theater, it really is awesome.  I hope the young cast feels proud of what they accomplished. You involve yourself in this because you have a passion for it and even after a good amount of time passes you will look back and still feel proud of all that hard work you put in.  

Frank Dragotta is a former First Stage Young Performer. He now works in special education at Capitol West Academy and also teaches for First Stage's Next Steps program. 

HOLES runs through February 14. CLICK HERE for tickets and information.

Friday, January 22, 2016

First Look review: HOLES

Lauren at the Todd Wehr Theater
By Lauren Strifling 

I reviewed the play Holes at First Stage. I thought it was really good, and you should go see it!  It is about a boy named Stanley Yelnats who was sent to Camp Green Lake in the Texas desert, and had many adventures there.

It all started when shoes fell out of the sky, and Stanley picked them up. A policeman stopped him and said they belonged to a famous baseball player who had donated them to a homeless shelter.  The shoes were worth 5,000 dollars. Stanley protested to the policeman and the judge that he was innocent, but they didn’t believe him. The judge told Stanley that he had a choice: go to jail, or go to Camp Green Lake. Stanley chose Camp Green Lake. He got there and saw nothing but holes. The campers had to dig holes five feet wide and five feet deep. The mystery is why do they dig those holes, and will Stanley prove himself innocent of taking the shoes? To solve the mystery, Stanley has to help a friend and break an old family curse.

The actors played their parts very well. I saw the Lizard Cast and I thought I was in the hot, dry desert with them!  There were seven holes on the stage, and it seemed very realistic. One of my favorite parts was when X-Ray, a boy at Camp Green Lake, explained how hard it is at Camp Green Lake by saying, “The second hole is the hardest, dude.” It made me think twice, because if the second hole is the hardest, what about the third? And the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh…? I really liked how the play brought together Stanley’s past and future, and showed how we all have to work together, no matter where we come from and what we do.  If we never give up and help each other, things will always work out.  I think this play was really good, and I give Holes five stars!

# # # 

Thank you Lauren for your review of HOLES! Lauren is 9 years old and in third grade. She likes to read, write, draw and play sports. Lauren applied to review HOLES because she really enjoyed the book and wanted to be able to share her opinion of the play with other kids.

HOLES runs through February 14 at the Todd Wehr Theater. CLICK HERE for more information.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Spread the First Stage love and join us at the 2016 Make Believe Ball!

Dear First Stage Families:
Photo by Boutique Photographer

As we reflect on 2015, our family remembers the many wonderful experiences we’ve had through our involvement in First Stage:
  • Entertaining, professional musicals and plays that we attended as a family
  • Enriching summer academy classes for our four oldest children (Grace, our 5 year old, can’t wait to start summer academy this year!)
  • Jack’s role as an elf and young buck in Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, the Musical
First Stage touches our lives in so many fulfilling ways and we welcome the opportunity to give back by attending the Make Believe Ball as an extended family. For the past two years, all seven of us and Bladen’s parents have attended the Make Believe Ball and we’ve had a blast!  It’s truly a multi-generational event, catering equally well to both adults and children. The ball's silent and voice auction is a great example of the dual focus on children and adults. First Stage Young Performers will be excited to note that there are always one-of-a-kind, show-specific auction items and experiences available at the auctions. In typical First Stage fashion, the quality and execution of the event is impeccable.

So if you share our family’s love for First Stage, please consider giving back to this wonderful organization that does so much for all our families and the greater community. We would love to see you at the Make Believe Ball, An Enchanted Evening, on Saturday, March 12, 2016 at the Hilton Milwaukee Center. If you cannot attend the ball, but would still like to contribute to its success, please consider providing a silent auction donation or other sponsorship.  

Please contact Gena Fischer at gfischer@firststage.org for more details.  An invitation to this year’s ball will be arriving in the mail soon. If you would like to register for the Make Believe Ball, please go to: www.FirstStage.org/mbb

We look forward to seeing you at the ball or another First Stage event in the near future!


The Burns Family
Julia and Bladen, Jack, Reed, Margaux, Colin, and Grace

Monday, January 4, 2016

First Stage announces classes at the Academy of Performing Arts in Franklin!

First Stage is excited to announce that its Theater Academy classes will now be available at the Academy of Performing Arts in Franklin. Classes begin during First Stage’s winter session on Thursday, January 21, 2016. The eight-week, evening sessions run through March 10. 

“We’re thrilled to be able to bring First Stage Theater Academy classes to the Academy of Performing Arts in Franklin,” said Academy Director Katie Cummings. “Our teaching artists are looking forward to bringing First Stage’s tradition of imparting life skills through stage skills to the students in Franklin!” 

Classes include: 

Story Drama (grades K-2) Students are guided though creative drama activities that encourage self-expression, concentration, and cooperation. Students will create dialogue and enhance creativity by recreating stories inspired by the First Stage productions of HOLES and JUST A LITTLE CRITTER MUSICAL. 

Acting: Dramatic Scenes (grades 3-4 and 5-8) This class focuses on acting technique as the foundation of performance. Students will work as an ensemble to build skills in character development, script work, and physical and vocal expression. In this session students will bring characters to life focusing on Dramatic Scenes. 

Online registration is open for these classes at www.FirstStage.org/Courses. The Academy Office is available to answer questions by phone at (414) 267-2970. 

About First Stage Theater Academy First Stage’s Theater Academy is the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people. Our goal is to impart life skills through stage skills, instill a love of learning and creating, and to build a stronger community through engagement in the arts. Teaching theater classes such as acting, improvisation, musical theater, and much more, our dedicated, professional faculty and staff work together to create a positive learning environment. Class sizes are small to help meet the unique needs of each student. We offer classes each Fall, Winter, and Spring for students ages 3 through 18. Summer sessions are also available. 

About First Stage Since 1987, First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences for young people and families through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten, and entertain; unparalleled Theater Academy training that fosters life skills through stage skills; and dynamic Theater in Education programs that promote active learning in our schools and community. In 2012, First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Theatre Wisconsin, and Milwaukee Arts Partners, and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).

Friday, December 11, 2015

Have you finished your holiday shopping?

With the holiday season well under way, you may find yourself driving around town to finish up your holiday shopping.  If you’re avoiding the malls and looking for that perfect gift online, you can make your purchase while supporting First Stage by shopping through Amazon Smile or Good Search.  These charitable sites make it easy to give back to First Stage! A percentage of every purchase you make is donated back to the cause or charity of your choice, at no cost to you.

Maybe your loved ones would prefer an evening out together at one of our shows.  A gift certificate to First Stage is the perfect gift for theatre-lovers, and children at heart alike.  Gift certificates for Academy classes at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, the Sharon Lynn Wilson Center, and new this session the Academy of Performing Arts located in Franklin, are also available for your favorite Academy student! Learn more about ordering First Stage gift certificates online.

For the loved one who has it all, consider making a donation to First Stage in their honor.  All gifts of $100+ will be recognized in our Playbill.  More information about making a gift can be found at: firststage.org/give

During this busy time of year, we hope that you’re able to take some time to relax, and find yourself surrounded by the ones you love. 

Happy Holidays from our First Stage family to yours!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A Charlie Brown Christmas is full of holiday cheer

Kenady Farwell at the Theater
by Kenady Farwell

I am Kenady Farwell and this is my review of First Stage’s production of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I was excited to see Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, Linus and the rest of the Peanuts gang. I’m a big fan of the cartoons. I saw the talented Schulz Cast.

When I walk into First Stage, a nice lady directed my dad and me to our seats and told us to enjoy the show. We did.

As we got in our seats, the lights dimmed and a person started to talk. He was talking about all the donors to First Stage. After he was done talking, the show started. The classic Charlie Brown music filled the air, and you could see the person playing the piano on stage. It made me feel like I was inside a Peanuts cartoon. It sounded great.

The set was very detailed. In the background, there were trees and little houses. They shredded some plastic bags to make it look like real snow at times during the show. The actors shared this secret during the talkback after the performance. There was fake ice that the cast can skate on, too. I have to give a lot of credit to the costume designer. The costumes were amazing! They looked almost exactly like the movie! Also during the songs, the characters dance just like the movie.

As Charlie Brown and all his friends entered, they were doing the same dancing as they were in the beginning of the movie. After the dance, we first meet the real Charlie Brown. He slid on the ice, and Snoopy was being chaotic. Everyone was laughing. Snoopy is delightful. Charlie got to be the director of the Christmas play. He wanted something new in the show so he decided to get a tree. This tree could not be too big or too small. For some odd reason, he got a small tree. He dragged the tree home, and tried to give the tree some love, but it did not work out. He thought that he killed the tree, but he did not. His friends looked at what he did, and gave the tree a little bit more love. I liked how Charlie Brown and his friends worked together. It was a happy ending but if you want to know how it ends, see it for yourself, I have told you enough.

I would recommend this play to everyone. It was funny and a great way to put you in the holiday mood.

# # #

Thank you Kenady for your review! Kenady is 10 years old and in fourth grade. She applied to be a First Look reviewer because she really enjoys First Stage performances and classes. One of her favorites was U BUG ME!

For more information about A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS,

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

First Stage shares the holiday spirit beyond the stage with Project Linus

Throughout the performance run of First Stage’s holiday play, A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, audiences are invited to bring a donation for the Milwaukee chapter of Project Linus. Project Linus is a volunteer, non-profit organization, whose mission is to provide a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill or traumatized through gifts of new, handmade blankets lovingly created by volunteer “blanketeers”. As of October 31, Project Linus’s Milwaukee chapter alone has donated over 17,000 blankets to those children in need.

Blankets donated to Project Linus must be new, handmade and washable. All styles are welcome; they may be knitted, crocheted, woven, quilted, or made of fleece. Blankets can be any color, particularly those colors and patterns that appeal to both younger and older children.  Used or store-bought blankets are not accepted. Ideas and patterns are found on the organization’s website. Blankets should be smoke and pet-hair free, as many of the children who receive them have compromised immune systems.  

Blankets of the following standard sizes are needed:
  •         24" X 24”
  •          24" X 36"
  •          36" X 45”
  •          40" x 60"
Look for the collection bin in the lobby of the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater during performances of A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS. Families are welcome to bring their handmade blanket donations to the theater during performances, or to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut Street, Milwaukee. The collection will continue throughout the run of the play, November 27, 2015 - January 3, 2016.

“First Stage is thrilled to partner with Project Linus on this special initiative to reach and help even more young people in our community,” said Lucia Lozano, First Stage’s community engagement manager. “The connection to our holiday production is fitting, and coincides with the true meaning of Christmas that our audiences will see Charlie Brown himself exploring in the play.”

Once the blankets are collected, the donations receive a special Project Linus label, and then they are delivered to the facilities and individuals.
 “The blankets are so beautiful, and I know there are many children who have been comforted by them,” said Rebecca Neuwirth, Milwaukee area coordinator for Project Linus. “Individuals and groups in the area have been so very generous with their time and skills.  As we continue to grow, we will continue to provide blankets to more children throughout the area. Each and every one of us can make a difference in the life of a child in need,” Neuwirth continued.

For more information on Project Linus, including blanket patterns and other requirements, please visit www.projectlinus.org