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.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

First Stage expands programming for students with autism

Spookley the Square Pumpkin, rehearsal
photo by Lindsey Abendschein.
First Stage will present three world premiere, sensory-friendly performances this season to further serve the needs of young people on the autism spectrum and their families. This is the first season a sensory-friendly performance will be included as part of First Stage’s Family Series at the Todd Wehr Theater. Designed for children and families affected by Autism Spectrum Disorders and other sensory, social, and cognitive disabilities, performances inlcude a limited number of attendees, lower volume, lights up, and a host of resources and support before, during and after the performance. 

“We are excited to bring these sensory-friendly performances to both the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and the Todd Wehr Theater this season,” said Jennifer Adams, director of First Stage’s Next Steps program, theater classes designed to serve students on the autism spectrum. “It is a great opportunity to share First Stage productions and the Next Steps program with a wider audience. Seeing a live theater performance can be transformative, and everyone deserves the opportunity to experience that for themselves!” Adams continued.

First Stage's 2015-2016 Sensory-friendly Performances: 

Saturday, October 17, 2015 at 3:30 p.m.
A world premiere stage play by Joe Troiano
Based on the film "Spookley the Square Pumpkin" by Joe Troiano and Tom Hughes and the book "The Legend of Spookley the Square Pumpkin" by Joe Troiano.
Songs by Joe Troiano and Jeffery Kahn
@Holiday Hill Enterprises, LLC
Performances at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, for everyone ages 3-6.

Saturday, February 20, 2016 at 3:30 p.m.
A world premiere musical adapted from the books by Mercer Meyer
Book and Lyrics by John Maclay
Music by Brett Ryback
Performances at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, for everyone ages 3-6.

Saturday, March 5, 2016 at 1:00 p.m.
A world premiere by Finegan Kruckemeyer
Commissioned and developed by First Stage, Oregon Children's Theatre and Magik Theatre
Performances at the Marcus Center's Todd Wehr Theater, for everyone ages 8 and up.

To reserve tickets, please contact the First Stage Box Office at (414) 267-2961. Ask how you can save up to 30% off single ticket prices with a Family Package to three or more plays this season.

Classes for students on the autism spectrum
First Stage has also expanded its NEXT STEPS program, classes designed to help students on the autism spectrum experience the joy of acting, movement and musical theater - while allowing them the opportunity to sharpen social skills and make new friends. School year classes have been added (serving students age 14-20), the program has grown to include Fall, Winter, Spring, a week-long Spring Break session (grades 3-12) and Summer Academy (grades 3-12).

Families are encouraged to contact the First Stage Academy Office to talk about the next step in getting involved at First Stage at (414) 267-2970 or 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sneak peek: Roald Dahl's JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH

Already one of the most anticipated plays in First Stage’s 29th season, Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach will be brought to enormous life on the Todd Wehr stage October 16 – November 15, 2015. This musical adaptation, with music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (who were Tony nominees for their work on A CHRISTMAS STORY) and book by Timothy Allen McDonald, is based on the beloved children’s novel by Roald Dahl.

When James is sent by his conniving aunts to chop down an old fruit tree, he discovers a magic potion which results in a tremendous peach, launching an adventure of epic proportions.  Suddenly James finds himself in the center of a gigantic peach among human-sized insects with equally over-sized personalities.

Costume Design by Melissa Torchia
Veteran Milwaukee actor and director Matt Daniels returns to First Stage to direct this larger-than-life musical. “I was inspired by the light at the center of the darkness of Roald Dahl’s work, so we will explore the story through that very juxtaposition, employing different methods of shadow-play, in addition to live action scenes and musical numbers,” said Daniels. “The show, like the book, has a little something for everyone – from James’ deliciously sour aunts, Spiker and Sponge, to the sweetness of his discovery of a new family in the unlikeliest of places.” 

An impressive creative team has been assembled to bring Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach to life on stage. Paul Helm (Big Fish, Seussical) returns to First Stage as the Music Director, and choreographer Edwin Olvera brings movement and dance to the stage. The combined elements of scenic design by Kristin Ellert, costumes by Melissa Torchia, puppets created by Brandon Kirkham, and lighting and shadow-play by Jason Fassl - promise a visually stunning experience.  Michelle Lopez-Rios (Luchadora) steps into the role as Dialect Coach, completing the team.
Scenic Design by Kristin Ellert
The adult actor cast of James and the Giant Peach includes many familiar faces to First Stage audiences. Amber Nicole Dilger (Seussical) will portray Spiker along with Beth Mulkerron (Big: The Musical) as Ladybug, Lamar Jefferson (Shrek) as Earthworm, and Rick Pendzich (Anatole, Seussical) as Centipede.

Two rotating casts of young performers will include alternating performances with Luke Brotherhood in the Plump Cast (Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer) and Nolan Van Haren (Big Fish) in the Juicy Cast as James. The Plump Cast also includes Madeline McNichols, Amira Elsafy, Malia Westlake and Celeste Mae Hermans. Young performers in the Round Cast are Lydia StevensonCamara Stampley, Esther O’Brien and Sarah Kinn.

Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach is recommended for everyone ages 6 and up. Tickets start at $15 and are available online or by phone at (414) 267-2961.

Please note: James’ journey includes moments of peril and loss.

Monday, August 3, 2015

First Stage hosts American Alliance for Theater & Education National Conference

First Stage is excited to host AATE’S 28th National Conference from August 5 - 9, 2015. Over 300 Theater artists, educators and leaders in the field of Theater Education will gather in Milwaukee to share expertise as they explore how theater enhances the ability of young people to empathize, achieve and create.

"We are thrilled to welcome the AATE National Conference to Milwaukee for the first time,” said Julia Magnasco, Director of Education at First Stage. “AATE is the largest professional organization of Theater educators and artists. We look forward to creating unique experiences for attendees while they’re here, and showcasing Milwaukee.”

The goal of the five-day convention is to explore the topic of “Tapping the Power of Creative Minds,” and examine the connections between the brain and theatre through an interdisciplinary series of keynote speakers, master classes and workshops. The conference will engage social cognitive neurologists and neuropsychologists in a dialogue about the relationship between both fields. In addition, educators, artists and students in the field will learn new techniques, network and be inspired to use theater to change lives. 

Keynote speakers, master classes and workshops will be held at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center. In addition, the organization is hosting events at Milwaukee Youth Arts Center with excursions available to First Stage, Milwaukee Art Museum and Lake Front Brewery.

  • Devising Civic Practice: Theatre, Community and ChangeMichael Rohd, Artistic Director at Sojourn Theater Company and faculty member at Nothwestern University
  • Resonate: How effective performance training engages the brainDr. Indre Viskontas, Professor of Science and Humanities at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music
  • Echolalia. A window on autism in the style of clown theaterJenny McArthur, Graduate of New Zealand School of Dance, Circomedia – Circus Skills and Physical Theatre School (Bristol UK) and Michael Johnson, Assistant Professor at the University of Utah

  • Thinking Narratively: Telling stories through multiple methodsJohnny SaldaƱa, Professor Emeritus from Arizona State University
  • In Rehearsal – The Dynamics of DiscoveryJeff Frank, Artistic Director at First Stage; Matt Daniels, actor/movement specialist and Edwin Olvera, Choreographer 
  • Taking Our Next Steps as Artists and People: Creating transformative theatre training experiences for students with autism using a research based approachJenn Adams, Academy Director at First Stage and Mary Stone, Special Education teacher
  • Storytelling – A Gymnasium for Empathy; A Workout for the ImaginationRives Collins, faculty member at Northwestern University and Don Doyle,  Professor of Theatre at Arizona State University.

We'll be posting updates throughout the week! Follow hashtag #tappingthepowerofaate on Twitter for more AATE National Conference updates!

Learn more about AATE.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Kid to Kid Cabaret on Tuesday, July 21st

First Stage prides itself on teaching children life skills through stage skills and on the people that make that possible—our staff. To celebrate our Theater Academy’s teaching staff, First Stage will host the Kid to Kid Cabaret on Tuesday, July 21 at 6:00 p.m. at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center.  The Kid to Kid Cabaret will be comprised of performances from some of this summer’s Academy teachers. Families attending the event will enjoy performances of scenes, monologues, music, dance, improvisation, and much more!

Admission is a $5 suggested donation, which will directly support First Stage’s Kid to Kid program. Kid to Kid is a fundraising program operated by First Stage Theater Academy students to fund scholarships for others to attend the Academy. 
“Above all, First Stage is a COMMUNITY,” said Karl Iglesias, First Stage resident teaching artist, and organizer for the Kid to Kid Cabaret.  “The fact that students and teachers work together to help bring this opportunity to fellow students in need is truly inspiring to witness.” 
“The Kid to Kid Cabaret is also a great opportunity for our families and parents to witness the incredibly talented teaching staff reaching their students this summer,” continued Iglesias.
For more information on First Stage’s Kid to Kid program, CLICK HERE

For up-to-date information on the Kid to Kid Cabaret, check out our event on First Stage’s Facebook page.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Hello, Fellow!

by Logan Peaslee

We are proud to welcome the first ever members of the Teaching Artist Fellowship—Amy Shu and Ashley Jordan—to the First Stage family!

The Teaching Artist Fellowship is a program that provides teaching and performance experience for an emerging professional interested in working with youth. In the classroom, the fellows will develop curriculum for Academy classes, observe classes as an assistant teacher, teach as a lead teacher, receive mentorship from staff, and facilitate mentorship with students. On stage, the fellows will perform in at least one theater production, serve as understudies throughout the season, and help develop new plays.
Amy Shu (center)
Before moving to Milwaukee to become a First Stage fellow, Amy Shu lived in Southern California. In college, she studied to be an elementary school teacher and had her first experiences in acting. The Teaching Artist Fellowship allows Amy to combine her two passions of teaching and performing.

Ashley Jordan (center)
Ashley Jordan was a member of the First Stage family before she became a fellow. Having been an Academy student, Ashley is excited to recreate her experiences with First Stage for other students. She is also excited to put her training from First Stage to use in the coming year’s productions.

Why did you want to be a Fellow for First Stage?
Amy: I had a desire to bridge my two passions—teaching and performing. First Stage was the place I was sure I could do just that.
Ashley: My interest for the First Stage Fellowship was piqued when I heard about it through one of my mentors, Malkia Stampley. I was so interested in having the opportunity to teach younger students and also to develop my own artistry.
What are you most looking forward to about being a Fellow for First Stage?
Amy: I am most looking forward to the opportunity to perform alongside the students I will be teaching. I haven't performed with children before, and I'm excited to see them in action.
Ashley: The thing I am looking forward to most is helping students defy limitations through expressing who they are and growing in to who they want to become.
What’s one goal you want to be able to look back and say you’ve accomplished during your time as a Fellow at First Stage?
Amy: One goal I want to accomplish is that I will be able to teach my own class and have it run successfully. It is a very straight forward goal, but I have only had experience teaching school curriculum and this will be the first time I get the opportunity to teach acting material. 
Ashley: One goal I want to be able to accomplish is becoming more confident as a performer and artist. I believe the mentorship from the wonderful staff, my friends, and the students will push me to reach my furthest potential.

Watch for more news about our fellows teaching and gaining life skills through stage skills throughout our upcoming season!