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

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Donor Spotlight: Meet the Franks Family!

The Franks are big First Stage fans! We’ve been season ticket holders for several years. We started with the First Steps series and are now attending Young Company shows. We’ve attended preview shows, parties, class trips, and Academy classes. We’ve even submitted an idea for a play!

Michael Frank, Julie Wojcik and children Brian (age 9),
Tim (age 9) and Grace (age 12).
We moved to Wisconsin from New York City about nine years ago and wondered if we would be depriving our kids of exposure to the arts. By having a resource like First Stage here in Milwaukee the answer is, no. We often brag to out-of-town friends about the quality of the productions and programming.   

A First Stage show and a family meal is always a great outing - quality family time away from the beeping and blipping of ever-present electronic distractions. First Stage shows can spark important family discussions about issues like race and inequality. Sometimes it is just fun to see one of our favorite books come to life. The Christmas Eve show has become one of our family’s holiday traditions. 

We believe First Stage through its shows and Academy does transform the lives of Milwaukee children. That is important to us, and we chose to financially support this local non-profit. We’ve made cash donations in the past, and in recent years with the stock market rallying, we’ve gifted appreciated stock.  It is easy to do, easier on cash flow, and its smart tax planning. 

First Stage is one of the many quiet gems that make Milwaukee unique. We look forward to creating more family memories in the future.  

                                                                – Michael Frank & Julie Wojcik

As a non-profit organization, we can’t do it alone. Approximately half of our revenue comes from ticket sales and class fees and the other half from generous contributions from individuals - like the Franks, corporations, foundations, government sources and UPAF.

CLICK HERE to learn more about how you can support First Stage or contact Development Director Nancy Clarkin at (414) 267-2936 or email nclarkin@firststage.org 
for information about how to make a gift of stock.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

First Look review: James and the Giant Peach

by Bryanna Madson

The performance of JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH by First Stage was amazing! The story is about James' adventures after his parents were killed by a giant rhino! James was sent to live at an orphanage until his only living relatives took him. Two greedy aunts named Spiker, who is skinny as a pole, and Sponge, who is fat as a balloon. One day, a mysterious man approaches James and gives him a weird recipe for a potion that will change his life. James was about to drink when his hand drops the potion and the chance for a better life slips through his fingers. However, the barren peach tree grows a ripe, juicy, ginormous peach right in front of James and his aunts.

Bryanna with her younger sister Ella in the lobby.
Spiker and Sponge crafted a plan and although they got a lot of money, poor James got none. James fell into a hole in the peach and inside were many insects, a spider and a worm. James was making friends with everyone when the stem of the peach snapped. Down they rolled until they landed in the ocean. Spiker and Sponge were terrified when they lost their peach because of all the contracts they had signed to receive money advances. So they left England and took a ship to America. Meanwhile, James had a great idea to use spider's web to lasso seagulls and attach them to the stem of the peach so they could fly! James' aunts spotted them flying in the air and tried to get their peach and James back but they were not successful. The peach landed on them and James was finally free and able to live with an odd but loving family.

The show is double cast in various parts and the Juicy Cast was on the night that I went. They gave an extraordinary performance. When I read the book, James in my imagination looked exactly like Nolan Van Haren did as James. He did a wonderful job portraying the character and he had a very enjoyable voice. Spiker and Sponge were played by Amber Nicole Dilger and Jenny Wanasek respectively. They worked extremely well together and both played convincing cruel and greedy, yet funny, villains. All of the insects did very well using their puppets and themselves to portray unique characters and did very well being bug like. The actors had strong voices, kept the pace of the show fast and fun, and looked like they were having a good time. The set, which was created by Kristin Ellert, was incredible! It was another character in the show. Between the shadow puppetry and the moving scenery, the creativity of the set helped make everything come alive. I recommend this show and I think that everyone who worked on this play was marvelous! 

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Thank you to our first youth reviewer Bryanna Madson! Bryanna is 9 years old and loves using her imagination to write stories. She loves reading, writing and acting and has appeared in 5 community theater shows and school plays including It's A Wonderful Life at Sunset Playhouse.

Learn more about First Stage's First Look program. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Lights On Afterschool: A National Celebration!

The American Ninja Warrior Challenge makes me feel strong!
The First Stage/Kluge CLC participated in the national Lights On Afterschool celebration on Thursday, October 22 with a special event held afterschool from 3:30 – 5:30 p.m.

Afterschool programs play an important role in the lives of children, families and communities. According to Afterschool Alliance, participation in afterschool programs has increased to nearly 10.2 million students nationwide, but unmet demand for afterschool programs has also increased. For every child in an afterschool program, there are two more whose parents would participate, if a program were available. In addition, one in five students in the country today is unsupervised after the school day ends.

More than one million people nation wide celebrated Lights On Afterschool day this year. “Lights On Afterschool events give students a chance to showcase the skills they learn and talents they develop at their afterschool programs, and to send the message that millions more children and youth need quality afterschool and summer learning programs,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant. “These events spotlight the fun, educational, hands-on activities that quality afterschool programs offer and the ways these programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families.”

Samantha Montgomery works with students on the
Spoken Word Challenge
At the First Stage/Kluge CLC Lights On Afterschool celebration, special guests facilitated activities to encourage literacy, math and science skills, physical fitness and more. First Stage Teaching Artists Bill Jackson, Marcy Kearns and Resident Teaching Artist Samatha Montgomery rotated dramatic storytelling sessions, while First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank got students moving as they tested their physical fitness in the American Ninja Warrior Challenge. Students worked together, sharing ideas during Samatha Montgomery’s Spoken Word Challenge, and Marcy Kearns led future thespians in a Shakespeare Challenge. Finally, Resident Teaching Artist Brenna Kempf and community volunteer Brian Cummings led students in an Engineering activity.

Our celebration culminated in a student showcase of the skills they’ve learned while attending the CLC this year. Friends, family and teachers couldn’t have been more proud.
Students showcase the skills they've learned

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

First Stage Young Company places first in multi-state Shakespearean acting competition

Nationally acclaimed First Stage Young Company celebrated its second consecutive win in its division of the Utah Shakespearean Festival/Southern Utah University Shakespeare Competition, held October 2-3 in Cedar City, Utah. This is the Young Company’s fifth first place finish in nine years. Students spent the past month preparing and rehearsing for the event with Young Company teachers Matt Daniels and John Maclay.

The Academy students participated alongside more than 3000 young people from over 100 schools from multiple Western states. Their division encompassed all private schools, performing arts schools, non-traditional schools and groups associated with professional theaters. The First Stage students spent the week in Utah taking acting workshops led by professional Shakespearean actors, performing for adjudicators and attending professional performances of Shakespeare’s work.
Young Company students pose with Director John Maclay
Performing at the competition showcase
In addition to winning the Essex division overall sweepstakes award for highest total team score, the team also won first place for its ensemble scene, a compilation of ‘Dream’ moments from a half dozen Shakespeare plays. The ensemble was selected to be performed at the competition’s culminating showcase. Individual students Alison Pogorelc (Whitefish Bay High School) won the Larry Lott award for outstanding performance in an ensemble and first place in monologues, and Taylor Kass (Brookfield Academy) and Henry Lynch (Wauwatosa East High School) won first place duo/trio with their performance of a scene from RICHARD III. 
This is a special group of young artists,” said First Stage Associate Artistic Director and Director of the Young Company John Maclay. “We don't do this work for trophies. But I won't deny that it feels real nice when a legion of professional artists is as enamored with their work as I am. I am incredibly proud to be counted among their teachers.”

Students who competed for First Stage Theater Academy, listed with the school they attend are: Isabelle Abbott (Menomonee Falls High School); Natalie Alteri, Mackenzie Swart and Amber Soik (Brookfield Central High School); Rose Bliesner (Kettle Moraine Lutheran School); Madisyn Fairchild (Mukwonago High School); Mary Elsa Henrichs, Zoey Knox, Alison Pogorelc, and Josie Trettin (Whitefish Bay High School); Taylor Kass (Brookfield Academy); Henry Lynch (Wauwatosa East High School); Madison Penzkover (Homeschool); and Kyra Swanson (University School of Milwaukee).

The Young Company’s annual trip to Utah is funded through the Bard-o-Thon. Students participate in a day-long event performing over 500 consecutive Shakespearean monologues (including all 154 sonnets).

The Young Company celebrates its twelfth season, performing two plays at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. The group will take on one of Shakespeare’s greatest romances ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL December 11 – 20, 2015 with an all-female cast. It is a wild journey filled with comedy, love, bold plans, dirty tricks and brilliantly drawn characters. In spring the Young Company presents Jean Anouilh’s brilliant twentieth century adaptation of the classic Greek play, ANTIGONE April 8-17, 2016. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Hats for Sale! Don't miss this special Kid to Kid fundraiser!

Kid to Kid is a fundraising program operated by First Stage Theater Academy students to fund scholarships for other kids to attend Academy classes, regardless of financial limitations.

Academy student and Young Performer Zach Duckler decided to launch his own campaign for the Kid to Kid program as part of his bar mitzvah project. Half of the proceeds from each knit hat purchase will be donated back to First Stage!

Currently a seventh grader at Lake Shore Middle School, Zach has been involved with First Stage as an Academy student and a Young Performer for the past five years. His favorite experience with First Stage was playing Young Shrek in SHREK THE MUSICAL. Zach is excited to be performing in First Stage's world premiere THE SNOW later this season.

"I chose the Kid to Kid fundraiser as my project because I enjoy First Stage very much and believe everyone should get to have the experience I have," said Zach. "I have made countless friends and have learned so much about theater and the world." 
In addition to learning "Life skills through stage skills and meeting new people in Academy classes, Zach has learned some great life lessons. "The most valuable thing I've learned at First Stage is to be you," said Zach. "People come from so many places. You need to show them who you are, and not someone you want to be. I learned that no matter what, being yourself is one of the most important qualities you will ever need in life." 

Purchase a First Stage hat now through October 17, 2015 and 100% of the purchase cost will be donated back to First Stage. CLICK HERE to download the order form.

Zach as Young Shrek in SHREK THE MUSICAL

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How "The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin" saved Halloween

Joe Troiano, author of the book “The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin," and Emmy winning music composer Jeffrey Zahn (he has written music for Calliou, Sesame Street and others) paid a visit to the set of their upcoming world premiere play SPOOKLEY THE SQUARE PUMPKIN over the weekend. We had an incredible time showing them how First Stage plans to bring the story to life on stage. Joe Troiano shared the story of how "The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin" came to be. 

Nick on  that Halloween night
One Halloween night, a long time ago, I took my son Nicholas trick-or-treating. Unfortunately, the kids we were walking with were not very nice and kept ditching Nick, which of course made him sad and broke my heart. That night as I was about to make up some ridiculous bedtime story to tell Nick (an every night event), he began talking about always being left behind by the kids (an everyday event for Nick). After I did my best to cheer him up, Nick asked me for a Halloween bedtime story, but not a scary one. I asked him what he wanted it to be about. He looked out his bedroom window at the field of pumpkins next door and said he wanted it to be about pumpkins, because pumpkins were sweet and funny and not scary. So I told him the story about a square pumpkin that saves the day because he, like Nick, is different and very, very special.

I told Nick the story from beginning to end, in rhyme - and even made up the name Spookley - in one uninterrupted telling. It was one of my life’s coolest muse moments. The story in the book “The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin” is word for word the same as the first telling.

That night when Nick fell asleep, I ran to my office to write the story down before I forgot it. And then I held my breath every Halloween until it got published and released. After all…a square pumpkin…a pretty obvious thing to think of if you think about it.

Luckily no one, but me, did.
Joe Troiano

First Stage is proud to present the world premiere of SPOOKLEY THE SQUARE PUMPKIN as part of our First Steps series at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, October 10 to November 1, 2015.