Monday, May 23, 2016

Young Performer Spotlight: Madison Jones and Lina Singh

by A.J. Magoon

How much do you know about the Young Performers on our stage? First Stage is far from the only thing they do; beyond their acting talent, they’re busy with numerous other activities, hobbies, and interests! Spend some time getting to know the two talented actors playing Julius in LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE:
Madison Jones, student and 'Plastic' cast member.
Nine-year-old Madison Jones plays Julius in the ‘Plastic’ cast. This is her first show with First Stage, but she’s been an Academy student since she was 4. Madison loves First Stage – she looks forward to becoming an Academy Intern and was named our May Student of the Month! She belongs to two choirs outside of First Stage and has many other interests as well: singing, dancing, drawing, texting, swimming, playing with her stuffed tiger Alissa, and especially cooking! She wants to be a chef when she grows up and open a restaurant in New York City; in her words, “When I’m cooking, it’s just me, the stove, the food and my imagination!”

Lina Singh as Julius. Photo by Paul Ruffolo Photography
Our Julius from the ‘Purple’ cast is Lina Singh. Lina is an 8-year-old second-grader who sure isn’t the baby at home – she’s a big sister to her brother, Oscar, and her dog, Nancie! This is Lina’s first show with First Stage, but she’s also been in 101 DALMATIANS and SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK at North Shore Academy of the Arts. She loves singing, playing outside, spending time with her family, learning about geography and history, and smoothies! Lina says that one thing she learned from LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE was “to be LOUD on stage. Marcy Kearns told me to try and get louder and louder and now I'm louder than I ever thought I could be."

LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE continues through June 12. Come by and catch these little mice in action!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Meet Community Engagement Manager Lucia Lozano

Creating connections and advocating for the arts comes naturally to First Stage Community Engagement Manager Lucia Lozano. Lucia comes from Colombia, where her parents were strong supporters of theater and the arts, and her sister was an actor. Lucia began working with First Stage in September 2015 but has been part of our family since 2010 when her daughter, Gaby Musickant, was cast as a Young Performer for the first time. Over the years, Lucia has witnessed the positive influence of First Stage in her daughter’s life, and was eager to support our efforts to connect with young people and families throughout our community.

First Stage saw a need to create and maintain connections within the diverse Milwaukee community, and doing so, created the Community Engagement Manager position. With a background in marketing and communications and having a natural talent for building connections, it was a seamless transition for Lucia. First Stage is a champion of inclusion and according to Lucia, “the arts have the power to change minds and hearts, and to foster understanding and compassion.”

Recently, Lucia played a key role in First Stage’s nomination as a 2016 MANDI Award Finalist. With the help of Lucia and the rest of the First Stage staff, First Stage’s programming is reaching new audiences and helping them develop cultural awareness and understanding through theater.

Lucia is particularly excited about next season's production of WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE, which will bring Milwaukee's communities together through a series of events and activities. Stay tuned!

Contact Lucia at via email at to learn more about our Community Engagement initiatives.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Future Generation Mentorship program gives First Stage students “all access”

by Jennifer Hubbartt

In 2015, First Stage launched the Future Generation Mentorship Program, encouraging Theater Academy student participation with a focus on its philosophy of teaching “life skills through stage skills,” further cultivating the next generation of artists, arts patrons and supporters.

Each year, invited students – or “mentees” – are paired with a mentor who will guide the mentee through all opportunities offered by First Stage. Mentees receive an “all access pass” to First Stage programs and events, Academy classes, tickets to performances, coaching, and more. Twelve mentor and mentee pairs currently participate in the program.

“The relationships and learning opportunities are truly special,” said Jennifer Adams, Academy director and director of the Mentorship Program. “This individualized and supportive program engages not only the young person in a deeper relationship with First Stage, but also engages the First Stage staff in meaningful connections with our students.”

Kamani, a 12-year-old Academy student, is part of the inaugural class of the Mentorship Program, paired with Lindsey Abendschein, First Stage creative services manager, as his mentor.

“The Mentorship Program helped me become even more involved in the arts,” said Kamani. “My favorite part of the program has been getting to know the other mentees, who enjoy the same things that I do.”

“Being a mentor is a great opportunity to be more involved with First Stage,” said Abendschein. “Kamani is an amazing person. He is so talented and passionate about what he does, that I always walk away feeling inspired about my own work,” Abendschein continued.

This season, the Mentorship Program participants have taken part in several exclusive activities. Earlier this season, the mentors and mentees held a “V. I. Peach” party in conjunction with a performance of Roald Dahl’s JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. Mentors and mentees had a small gathering at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, saw a performance of the play together, and received a backstage tour of the Todd Wehr Theater.

“The V.I.Peach party was a great bonding experience, allowing the mentees to meet each other and celebrate new friendships,” said Adams. “It was also the first step in our efforts to help these young people see themselves on our stages, removing the feeling of ‘that’s impossible.’ Providing these students with extra support will encourage them to take every opportunity First Stage has to offer.”

In conjunction with LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, mentors and mentees were invited to attend select rehearsals, receive a tour of First Stage’s costume shop, and learn more about the play’s scenery, lights and costumes with First Stage’s design supervisor. The experiences will culminate when mentors and mentees and their families will attend a performance and participate in a special talkback with Director Marcella Kearns.

“The mentorship program has instilled confidence and acceptance in my children,” said Mercedes Loomans, whose two children participate in the Mentorship Program. “First Stage has welcomed my children and treated them as one of their own. Taylor and Michael continue to grow and thrive in this environment.”

In addition to the Future Generation Mentorship Program, First Stage Theater Academy offers a variety of opportunities for its students, including the Student Advisory Board, Writers Group, and Internships. For more details, visit or email

Monday, May 16, 2016

First Look Review: Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse

by Olivia Maldonado

I was honored to see the play “Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse” at First Stage on its preview night on May 12th. I had read the book before seeing the play and I think the play did an outstanding job being just like the book with some added things to it.

The play started out by giving me a good idea of Lilly’s family and friends. It was nice to see Julius as a baby and how Lilly’s family was. There was a nice touch of Lilly’s father having magic. That was a neat characteristic to add. I also liked that the play added band aids to symbolize bravery and that they had a secret language. There were “bullies” that were not in the book but it added a nice story line. Lilly’s imagination was also an important part of the play. I thought it was important to show her imagination because we got to learn more about her.

I loved the props on the back of the stage and the oversized uncooperative chair. The big props were easy to see. I really liked how the purse actually played music.

The play did a really good job following the story. There were so many exact things in the play that were in the book. Things like the sharpened pencils, Friday fish lunch, erasers and noisy shoes were all mentioned in the play. The play also included the light bulb lab, the teacher’s shirts and ties and even his glasses on a chain. The pictures done in the light bulb lab looked exactly like in the book. I heard many lines that included “Wow!” which was also part of the book.

Lilly’s costume was adorable and she did a good job bringing Lilly the mouse to life. I really liked how dramatic the play was when Lilly bought the purse and found out that it played music. I thought it was cool that the purse came from the ceiling and it had lights in it.

The play was funny and cute. Thank you for allowing me to see this play and write a review on it.

LILLY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE continues through June 12, 2016.

Olivia is an 11-year-old student who has taken classes at Oak Creek Performing Arts and First Stage. She likes that acting classes give her confidence when speaking in school and wanted to do First Look to see if the plays that First Stage does are like the books they're based on. We're glad she gave us this wonderful review!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

A note from LILLY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE Director Marcella Kearns

Director Marcella Kearns works with Emily Harris,
playing Lilly in the Purple Cast.
There’s nothing so scary—and so amazing—as trying something new.

When our ensemble of young performers first gathered to rehearse LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, I asked them what they thought the play was about. Their response was more eloquent than mine could ever be, and it was about exactly the above: accepting change, being willing to open oneself up to a new way to be, creating one’s identity and course of actions for good or for ill. In a world in which their imagination takes them to brilliant places of imaginative play and terrible places of remorse, among other ups and downs, the young mice of LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE are constantly, actively, richly envisioning and trying on new identities in the world around them.

With this production of LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, First Stage celebrates the 20th anniversary of Kevin Henkes’ kind, true, and superbly funny book. This production, in fact, celebrates three books—CHESTER’S WAY; LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE; and JULIUS, THE BABY OF THE WORLD. Kevin Kling’s conflation of this trio of stories follows both the Lilly of the title and that of her friends Chester and Wilson. Together, they make a trio warm, close, and human enough (though mice they be) to rival any trio of friends we may find in fiction. All of them have their own encounter with something or someone outside their realm of comfort. With a few bumps along the way, but with the support of their friends or family, they find their way.

Near the end of the play, Chester and Wilson ask Lilly, “Where are we going?” Lilly’s response: a rapturous “I don’t know.” They plunge into the unknown with an easy optimism and joy in discovery. All three have learned that inviting new experience into their lives gives them lessons and joys they might never have thought to experience otherwise. Little do they know, another friend awaits them just around the corner.

First Stage presents LILLY’S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE May 13 – June 12, 2016 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater.

Chike Johnson, Young Performer Emily Harris and
Elyse Edelman rehearse a scene.
Director Marcella Kearns works with members of the Purple Cast.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Young Company Students at the Kennedy Center's New Visions/New Voices conference

First Stage’s Young Company - the Theater Academy’s award-winning training program for our most advanced high school actors- is performing at the 2016 New Visions/New Voices conference in Washington D.C. this week. Hosted by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, this prestigious, week-long festival for playwrights and theaters aims to stimulate and support the creation of new plays and musicals for young audiences and families.

Young Company will perform TXT U L8R, an original work by Eric Coble written specifically for these young talented actors. We recently caught up with Mr. Coble to find out more about bringing TXT U L8R to New Visions/New Voices this year.

Playwright Eric Coble and Director John Maclay with
members of the Young Company at The Kennedy Center.

Why are you excited to participate in the New Visions/New Voices conference?

I’ve taken two plays to New Visions/New Voices before this one, and had a wonderful, world-opening encounter each time I went. It’s a long story, but I wouldn’t be writing TXT U L8R in Milwaukee if it weren't for randomly meeting Stan Foote from Oregon at NV/NV in Washington D.C. over a decade ago. The conference is such a great celebration of Theatre for Young Audiences, by some of the most skilled makers of that theatre in the country. It’s an honor to get to share work with them, to see what they’re thinking and working on, to revel in this amazing job we have and pus the art forward.

Why is it important to tell this story, TXT U L8R now?

Our current reliance on non-face-to-face communication is unprecedented in all of human history. All the communication clues our bodies have spent thousands of years refining are out the window. No eye contact, no body language, no tone of voice — and yet we may be sharing more constant “talk” with each other than ever. So what happens when all that texting suddenly stops making sense? When we’ve grown so reliant on texting to tell us about the world, who do we turn to solve the mysteries our phones themselves may present? These are issues that drama hasn’t really gotten to play with before, and I find them fascinating.

Is including the use of technology, iPhones, etc. important in reaching a youth audience today?

I think a good story will reach people however it’s told. Shakespeare is still pretty relevant, you know? But there are opportunities to explore stories now that Shakespeare couldn’t have dreamt of, because of our new relationship to technology. So how do we mix the current online age with human bodies on a stage? Young audiences seem very willing to dig into that question.
What can audiences expect from TXT U L8R?

It’s a mystery. There are a lot of laughs. I hope the eight characters we follow all feel real, like people we know, even as they’re coming from backgrounds that may not be our own. It’s a roller-coaster ride. With cell phones.

TXT U L8R will be performed at part of First Stage's 2016-2017 season.

Monday, April 18, 2016

A visit from Gail Carson Levine, author of ELLA ENCHANTED

Bringing a bout of beautiful spring weather with her, Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted, made a visit to Milwaukee the weekend of April 16-17.

Gail Carson Levine at Boswell Book Company
 After giving a talk and book signing at Boswell Book Company, Gail attended First Stage's world premiere production of ELLA ENCHANTED at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater. Immediately following the performance, the author participated in an extended talkback answering audience questions about the themes in ELLA ENCHANTED.

On Sunday, First Stage patrons gathered for an intimate author's brunch at the Intercontinental Hotel. The event offered a chance to get a sneak peak of the play and the creative process behind bringing a literary work to the stage.

Backstage with the Brilliant Cast of ELLA ENCHANTED

With First Stage Company Manager Jeff Schaetzke
and Artistic Director Jeff Frank 
With the cast of ELLA ENCHANTED 

To learn more about author Gail Carson Levine, see the ELLA ENCHANTED Enrichment Guide, developed by our Education Department. ELLA ENCHANTED continues through May 1, 2016.