Friday, June 25, 2010

Full circle at First Stage Theater Academy

By Mithra Ballesteros, First Stage Children's Theater

University of Minnesota junior Elyse Edelman remembers her first year in the Theater Academy at First Stage.   "It was 1995.  I was five!  First Stage is where I grew up.  It's a safe and happy place, and always has been," says Edelman.

Photo of Elyse Edelman, teaching in the summer Academy, by First Stage Children's Theater

This summer, Edelman returns to First Stage as a teaching assistant.  When asked about the age of the children she mentors, Edelman startled herself with the realization that her four- and five-year-old students are the same age that she was when she first walked through the doors at First Stage.  "Oh my!  I've come full circle!" she exclaimed. 

Comparing the program from her early days to today, Edelman remarks on the growth that First Stage has enjoyed.  She remembers that classes took place in the basement of the Todd Wehr Theater and that "the Academy had the aura of a well-kept secret.  But not anymore.  I see First Stage Academy t-shirts everywhere now, all over Milwaukee!  It's gotten much bigger.  But the fundamental values have stayed the same, which is great." 

At First Stage, each student is taught to expect certain rights, including the right to be unique and the right to be respected.  Edelman distinctly remembers learning those fundamental values over and over each summer. She also credits First Stage with teaching her how to work collaboratively.  As she progresses through a rigorous BFA actor training program through the University of Minnesota and the acclaimed Guthrie Theater, Edelman acknowledges that her success has roots in First Stage: "I'm a lifelong learner.  First Stage taught me how to make my voice be heard, how to articulate my thoughts.  I know the right questions to ask.  And I am not afraid to take a risk or even to make a fool of myself."

Now, Edelman reinforces those core beliefs with a crop of fresh five-year-olds.  "They have so much energy!" she gushes. "They are all really really smart!"

When asked about her long-term plans, Edelman gazes away, shrugging her shoulders.  She admits that she hasn't thought that far ahead.  "At school, when my teachers find out I'm from Milwaukee, they tell me to move back.  They know that this is a great theater town."  Edelman laughs, saying, "I always agree with them.  It's great to know that I'll always have a home at First Stage."

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