The Life and Art of Della Wells

Written by: Jillian Toyad

It is Opening Night for DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T FLY and we at First Stage could not be more excited! This Y York production was inspired by the life and art of Milwaukee collage artist, Della Wells. With this in mind, the theme for the day is inspiration, and we want to share some of Della Wells’ pieces that inspired not only the playwright, but the costume and set designers as well!

Costume designer Daryl Harris fashioned his costumes to resemble some of Della’s collages.
I Don't Care What You Say. Mr. Bridges I Am Still Going To Do My Sonji Dance! By Della Wells

This piece titled I Don’t Care What You Say Mr. Bridges I Am Still Going To Do My Sonji Dance influenced Tonia’s, the lead character, last costume. It was fashioned to resemble the costume of the main character in this collage.

Don’t Forget To Wash My Blanket by Della Wells

Set designer Collette Pollard crafted an entire set based on the collages of Della Wells. This particular piece, Don’t Forget To Wash My Blanket, inspired the muted wallpaper in the set. 

Della Wells’ collages are inspired by the stories she wrote as a child based on her mother’s recollections of growing up in North Carolina during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Her stories were a way to escape the madness of her mother’s mental illness and her father’s rage. With so many stories filled with passion and emotion, it is no wonder First Stage commissioned Y York to piece together a production on such an inspiring tale.

Mama Sawyer Got Upset by Della Wells
In turn, DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T FLY inspired some of Della Wells’ newer pieces. 

Tonia by Della Wells
This piece by Della Wells was inspired by the lead character in the play, Tonia. Tonia is a 9 year old girl living in 1960s Bronzeville Milwaukee. She struggles to find a balance between her parents’ low-key lifestyle and her own artistic soul. Tonia’s tale is an inspiring tale on the transformative power of art and how a young girl comes to realize that friends and family appreciate her uniqueness and embrace the young artist she is. 

The world premiere of DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T FLY runs October 28 through November 13, 2011 at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., downtown Milwaukee. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Marcus Center box office, by phone at (414) 273-7206 or online at

Della Wells' art pieces can be found at and

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