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 jmagnasco@firststage.org

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: http://assitej-usa.org/programs/dramatic-change/.
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.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

First Stage announces sensory-friendly performances

Join us for sensory-friendly performances of two beloved fairytales, told only as First Stage can. Adapted from our engaging First Steps series, these performances are designed to serve children on the autism spectrum and their families.  Families are invited to enjoy special accommodations including a limited number of attendees, lower volume and a host of family resources and support before, during and after the performance. 

Young performers Stephanie Guy, Thomas Mazza and Zoey
Knox as The Three Little pigs. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.
Saturday, November 15 at 3:30 p.m.

Milwaukee Youth Arts Center
The pigpen is starting to look like a real sty, and Mama says it’s time to leave and build something new. Help Cha, Siu, and Bao watch for wolves while they use hay, sticks, and bricks to make it in a big, bad world. Filled with humor, this gleeful adventure will huff, and puff, and blow you away!

Saturday, February 14 at 3:30 p.m.

Milwaukee Youth Arts Center
On a trip through the forest, Goldilocks ventures into a seemingly uninhabited house.  She makes herself at home, trying all the comforts of home to find what is just right.  Little does she know the house belongs to a family of three bears, who are not too pleased to find their unexpected guest.  Join us on an exciting musical journey through this well-loved fairytale.

TICKETS are $14 per person and can be purchased by phone from the First Stage box office at (414) 267-2961.

For more information about First Stage’s sensory-friendly performances and programming for students on the autism spectrum visit www.firststage.org/nextsteps or email inquiries to Next Steps Program Director Jennifer Adams at nextsteps@firststage.org

Friday, October 24, 2014

Alumni spotlight: J.T. Backes

Academy alumni J.T. Backes returns to First Stage this season, taking on the role of Artistic Intern on Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer™: The Musical. J.T. also joins our Theater In Education team as an adjunct teaching artist. This past spring J.T. received his B.F.A. in Musical Theater from Viterbo University. We recently had the pleasure of speaking with J.T. about Sherlock Holmes, fond First Stage memories and more!

How long have you been involved with First Stage?
I’ve been involved in First Stage for a LONG time. I started First Stage classes in 2000 when I was just eight years old. I’ve done several First Stage shows as a young performer including: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. I’ve also done a few new play workshops as well, including: The Quiltmaker’s Gift and Bunnicula. I was also the last original member of Organized Chaos, the First Stage improv comedy team taught by Patrick Schmitz. I joined that in 2005 and graduated from the group in 2010. Finally, I taught improv for the Academy alongside Alex Grindeland in the summer of 2011.

J.T. (left) in The Mouse and the Motorcycle, 2002
What is your favorite First Stage memory?
Back when I was a wee lad, I was in First Stage’s production of Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel. I believe that I was still in elementary school at the time and the big “thing” at that time was called the flipper dance. I’m sure it’s still better than this modern day “twerking” thing. Anyway, I did this for John Maclay one day and soon he became so dependent on it that I had to do it as part of his preshow warm up before every performance. Who could have thought that imagining your left and right arms as flippers could catch on so fast? I know I didn’t. I thought it was super silly. To this day if I bump into John Maclay, the request for the “flipper dance” is still being made.

Each element of this show is so darn specific: the color and period costumes, the incredible set, the lighting and exciting special effects, and of course the remarkable cast that brings Eric Coble’s piece to life. Our director, Jeff Frank, has a brilliant vision, but he is also up for collaboration. I love that aspect. This is a world premiere piece and we have the privilege to create something no one has ever seen before. And we are doing just that. Both of the young performer casts add their unique flavors to their characters and the adults create unforgettable moments throughout. Todd Denning has created unbelievably intense fight scenes that will keep you on the edge of your seat. My favorite thing about working on this show is seeing how it’s all coming together. I can’t stop thinking about how cool this show is going to look.

How did your time at First Stage prepare you for your current path?
If I had to boil down all I’ve learned at First Stage into a single phrase it would be “to make choices.” First Stage built inner confidence that brought out my inner worth –worthiness as an artist and as a human. This is something First Stage does better than anyone else. The Academy is a safe place to be you and take incredible risks without fear of consequence. This environment wasn’t merely established in a rule book. Teachers and students choose to treat others with respect and choose to give to each other wholeheartedly without need of incentive. I’m sure if you asked any First Stage Academy student, they would tell you that some of their life-long friends were made through this organization.

What would you like to say to current Academy students?
This craft is by no means an easy one. It takes true dedication, resilience, and an open mind. If acting were easy everyone would be doing it! We are artists that are given a color palette and our job is to paint something for the whole world to see. And that takes time and patience. Whether you’re a beginner or a professional you always want to fail big. Only from there will you learn how to grow. Whatever the situation, always be you! That is something nobody else can replicate. Take risks, fail big, and be you.  

See J.T. Backes on stage this season in Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street IrregularsRudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer™: The Musical and Big Fish.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Playwright Eric Coble visits local schools upon the world premiere of SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS

Eric Coble speaks to students at
Parkside School for the Arts
In town for the world premiere of his play SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS, playwright Eric Coble arrived in Milwaukee Thursday morning.  The first stop on his weekend itinerary was at Parkside School for the Arts, a First Stage partner school, to visit with fourth and sixth-grade students that will be seeing the play themselves later this month.

Eric introduced himself to the students, explaining that well before the start of his playwriting career he was interested in storytelling and illustrating.  As a child, his mother would tell him stories and he would draw pictures to illustrate her tales.  This developed into his own interest in comic books.  In high school, he acted in a few plays, and later realized he could mix both of his interests – theater and storytelling – into playwriting.

Eric then explained the background behind his adaptation of Tony Lee’s and Dan Boultwood’s graphic novels The Baker Street Irregulars.  When adapting these graphic novels, which take place shortly after the battle between Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis Moriarity and Sherlock’s subsequent disappearance, Eric pulled parts from these novels which excited him the most.  Eric sought to find the fun and unique aspects of the characters, and how the Baker Street Irregulars – the street kids that took over Sherlock’s detective work after his disappearance – related to one another.

The Parkside students had the opportunity to ask extensive questions about Eric’s writing: 

Q:           “Can you turn any book into a play?”
A:            “Yes, although some stories may end up working best as books or even movies, such as the Harry Potter series.  The writer would need to use his or her imagination to figure out how the stories may come to life on stage.”

Q:           “Can you adapt a fairytale, like Fractured Fairytales, into a play?”
A:            “Absolutely!  In fact, I've done this with my play called Cinderella Confidential, which tells the story of Cinderella from the perspective of two investigative reporters that compete for the scoop of the century.”

Q:           “What do you look for when deciding to adapt a book into a play?”
A:            “I like to find a story that is interesting, exciting or funny to me.  Many times a theater, like First Stage, will approach me to adapt a particular book into a play.  I enjoy all sorts of genres, and I've written anything from comedy to sci-fi to mystery; plays for both adults or for children.”

Q:           “How is writing a play like writing a comic book?”
A:            “They are quite similar.  With each, you need to plan what each character will say throughout the story.  Then you draw pictures to go with that story that the characters tell.  But with a play, instead of drawing those pictures, you’ll indicate what the actors will do while saying those lines on stage and the director will decide exactly how that scene will look.”

Q:           “Have you adapted a comic book to a play before SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS?”
A:            “Yes!  Storm in the Barn is a play I wrote based on the graphic novel by Matt Phelan, which is about a boy discovering a way to save his family by bringing back rain to the farms and crops during the 1930s Dust Bowl era.  The book doesn't have too many words itself, but relies more on the pictures to set the scene and tell the story.

Want to learn more from playwright Eric Coble himself?  See SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE BAKER STREET IRREGULARS at First Stage opening weekend.  Eric will participate in our talkbacks following performances on Friday, October 17 at 7 p.m., Saturday, October 18 at 7 p.m., and Sunday, October 19 at 3:30 p.m.  Tickets start at just $14.50. Order online at FirstStage.org/Sherlock or call (414) 273-7206.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Original work by graffiti artist Zen Castillo featured in THE THREE LITTLE PIGS!

We recently had the opportunity to visit Zen Castillo's studio, the Milwaukee graffiti artist commissioned to create art for First Stage’s production of THE THREE LITTLE PIGS. Based on the original set designs by Scenic Designer Sarah Hunt-Frank, Zen created vibrant graffiti pieces, drawing on Milwaukee's neighborhoods and landmarks for inspiration.  After previewing some of his work, we can't wait to see the art and the set designs come together, bringing the world of THE THREE LITTLE PIGS to life. 

Artist Zen Castillo in his Milwaukee studio
Zen’s studio is located in the Lincoln building in Bay View. It has a beautiful view of the city and enough wall space to host Visual Warfare graffiti battles, a local graffiti competition Zen sponsors. In between photos and spray painting, Zen told us a bit about his work, his inspiration and the graffiti battles. 
FIRST STAGE:  What inspires your work/what did you draw on for inspiration while working on this project?
ZEN CASTILLO:  What inspires my work is the pursuit to evolve by trying new techniques and ways to apply paint to various surfaces.  I push myself to be innovative and utilize various geometric and mechanical shapes and forms throughout my graffiti style letter structures. 

For THE THREE LITTLE PIGS project I worked towards a more youthful, vibrant and energetic style while creating the background scenes for this play. Also drawing positive influence and inspiration from my hometown of Milwaukee.

FS:  How is working on this project the same or different than others?

ZC:  This project is familiar to me in the way it incorporates a traditional graffiti style that is legible and can be recognized by most viewers. It is different in such by painting the character's individual names in different styles and colors. This makes for an interesting and individualistic identity for each character.

FS:  Can you share a little more about the graffiti battles, the blog and how it impacts the community? 

  Visual Warfare is a locally based graffiti competition held at the Emphcon studio. I sponsor and host local artists to go head to head in a friendly and positive graffiti competition.  These battles inspire, motivate, and give the graffiti community a safe platform and outlet to showcase their talent.  The battles are captured by video and are open for the public to vote for the victor on the emphcon blog site

FS:  When did you come into your current studio space, and how has it impacted your work?

ZC:  I have been at my current studio space for over two years now.  This is an amazing and inspiring place to create my art and also host the Visual Warfare battles.  I plan on hosting more battles and gallery events in the near future!

First Stage's First Steps production of THE THREE LITTLE PIGS will be performed November 1-23, 2014 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center.