Monday, March 8, 2010

Academy students speak out to lawmakers in Madison

First Stage Theater Academy students Maya George and Josiah Williams in front of the state capitol.  Photo taken by Karyn Sobczak.

First Stage Theater Academy students Josiah Williams and Maya George headed to the state capitol last Wednesday and met with their elected officials to discuss the importance of the arts in their education. Williams, a senior at Milwaukee School of Languages and George, a freshman at Rufus King High School were selected by First Stage Children’s Theater to participate in the state’s annual Arts Day.

Williams attended Elm Creative Arts School and Roosevelt Middle School of the Arts before going to MSL. He stressed the importance of the arts in making him who he is today. Josiah now works as a peer educator in the Teen Health Crew at the Children’s Health Education Center. Said Williams, “Having theater arts in the schools gave me the skills to teach other young people important lessons related to their own health and well being. I was lucky to have the experiences I did at Elm and Roosevelt. But with budget cuts threatening to cut arts teachers across the board, things aren’t looking good for my younger brother who is planning to attend Elm in the fall.”

Ms. George shared that she knew from a very young age she wanted to be on stage. She has participated in First Stage’s Theater Academy, which she credits for helping her develop self-confidence, self-expression, listening skills and the ability to work in an ensemble. George says, “For some kids, these art classes are the only classes keeping them coming to school. For kids who don’t have the arts in their schools, at least there’s First Stage. But not every kid can go to First Stage, so where are they supposed to turn for the art experience they need?  Every child should be able to have the arts available at their schools so that they may grow up to lead healthy and enriched lives.”

“Our students didn’t need prompting. The issue is so near to them, they just spoke from their hearts,” said Karyn Sobczak, First Stage Staff member.

Students talked first with Representative Leon Young’s staff members Greg Stewart and Rachel Rodriguez. Representative Young is an alumnus of Rufus King High School and his district is home to First Stage Children’s Theater. Mr. Stewart stated that Rep. Young is very interested in what is happening in Milwaukee Public Schools and that Rep. Young has always been a supporter of the arts and looks forward to continuing his support in the future.

The students also met with Representative Jason Fields, who promptly offered to post First Stage programming information on his website’s homepage. He also promised to connect First Stage with other potential supporters. Rep. Fields represents Mr. Williams’s district, and Williams told the representative that he hopes to be as suave as Rep. Fields someday. Rep Fields replied, “Well, you’re halfway there.”

First Stage's Desiree Rosas, Academy student Maya George, Rep. Fields, Academy student Josiah Williams, and First Stage's Karyn Sobczak. 
Lastly, the group sat with longtime arts supporter Senator Spencer Coggs and his staff member Jana Williams. Sen. Coggs expressed support for the students, and his office voiced their agreement on the importance of the arts in education.

“It’s critical to come to Madison and demonstrate to lawmakers that the arts are not a frill, but a critical part of these young people’s education,” said First Stage staff member Desiree Rosas. “First Stage is very fortunate to have tremendous support throughout the community for our programming, but as the arts get cut from more schools, more children are going to rely on our services.” All state representatives and senators who met with the First Stage Academy students received an invitation to attend First Stage’s upcoming production of THE WIZ and to tour the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center the next time they return to their districts.

When asked why First Stage Children’s Theater invited Academy students to speak about their experiences, Sobczak commented, “These students are our best advocates. They are passionate and articulate and they understand better than anyone the impact of arts education. We at First Stage want to express our sincerest appreciation to these students for taking the day to participate in the state’s democratic process. Bravo Maya and Josiah!”

Josiah Williams graduates this spring and hopes to attend Bradley University in Peoria, IL, to major in theater arts. Maya George plans to attend college, but is unsure of what she will study. She hopes to intern this summer at First Stage Children's Theater.

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