A closer look at our 2012-13 season with Artistic Director Jeff Frank

On Wednesday, June 6, 2012 we hosted our first-ever live Facebook chat with Artistic Director Jeff Frank.  As Jeff fielded some great questions about the upcoming 2012-13 season, some very interesting tidbits were revealed.  Here are some of our favorite questions: 

Which show are you most excited for in the 12/13 season?  Why?
I’m excited about our entire season!  But I absolutely love the next play in our Wisconsin Cycle – a series of six original plays that celebrate the history and the people of Wisconsin. With these plays and associated workshops, special events and educational initiatives, we hope to bring heightened awareness to the rich heritage of our state. TO THE PROMISED LAND – a new play by Milwaukee Rep actor Jonathan Gillard Daly will be the second play in The Wisconsin Cycle – following last season’s critically acclaimed DON’T TELL ME I CAN’T FLY (recently published by Dramatic Publishing and slated to be produced at Nashville Children’s Theatre next season!)

TO THE PROMISED LAND is a piece with deep historical roots and a strong connection to the urban Milwaukee community. Against the injustice and prejudice of the times in which they live, the young characters of Ruth and Golda Meir struggle to find the meaning of home and discover their own promised land. Ruth is an African American girl living in 1967 Milwaukee, and Golda Meir is a young Jewish girl living in the same Milwaukee apartment 60 years earlier. Ruth has lost her brother, is struggling at school and with some children in her neighborhood, and she is losing hope. Hope arrives in the form Golda Meir who grew up in that same neighborhood years earlier. Golda, now an adult, is coming to speak at Ruth’s school, and Ruth is assigned a special project – a book report on Golda Meir. In reading the book, Ruth discovers similarities between her life and young Golda’s, and Ruth finds the strength to persevere through her hardships and find a way to reach her own promised land.
We're also working with Golda Meir School, the JCC and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation along with other community organizations to bring special educational and community events together around this production!
How far ahead did you start planning the 2012-13 season and how did you determine what shows you were going to pick?

I'm constantly planning for upcoming seasons. I have a wall in my office that is filled with post-its with titles I'm considering, and I'm always shifting them around trying to find the right blend for the next season. We typically have a few plays in development (usually a 3 year process) so that has to be a part of the puzzle as we move forward. For example - we're looking at developing a play inspired by the Bronzeville neighborhood and history - and a new musical adapted from the Anatole books that John Maclay, Lee Becker and James Valcq have started to work on. We try to make sure that we are presenting a variety of shows that reflect the diversity of our community and target varying age groups - but the common element of all is that they need to be great stories!

I’m a 30-something mom/Gen X-er, so I’m most excited for BIG!  Will the play be similar to the movie I so fondly remember?
Well, the movie certainly wasn’t a musical – so that is one big difference. But the heart of the movie – Josh’s wish to be big and the problems that result when his wish is granted – is still the heart of the musical. And of course we’ll have the scene in which Josh and MacMillan dance on the giant piano! And Josh will be nibbling on a tiny corn at the party!

For those of you who are familiar with the musical and concerned that maybe it is too mature for some of your younger children because of the relationship Josh develops with Susan – know that we made some cuts to ensure that the content is family friendly for ages 7 and up. Grown up Josh falls for Susan and there is a first kiss, but the primary focus of the story is the friendship between Josh and Billy and how that friendship is threatened by the changes in Josh’s life – something that, despite the fantastic nature of Josh’s changes, we can all still relate to and understand.
Here’s a sneak peak at an early draft of a white model of the set for BIG. When the show opens Josh is suddenly interested in girls – the rollercoaster ride of adolescence has begun – that sense of the carnival of growing up combined with the origin of his wish – and the fact that as teens grow they are bombarded with messages about what they can and can’t do and who they should or shouldn’t be – led us to this place.

Who is directing RUDOLPH?

I'm fortunate enough to be directing Rudolph myself. I am so honored that the folks at Character Arts have entrusted us to bring this classic Rankin/Bass special to the stage. It is going to be something special.

Will Rudolph fly?

Someone asked me earlier today if Rudolph will fly in our production. And yes. Of course Rudolph will fly - with the help of some other actors who will be dressed in white so as to disappear into the set more easily. They will lift Rudolph so that he can “fly” as needed. Those of you who were fortunate enough to see our production of PETER PAN AND WENDY will understand.

Through the use of Kokens (we’ve actually been calling them Snowkens – because they are dressed in white instead of the traditional black) we’ll manipulate the elements of the environment, help the reindeer fly and bring to life puppets ranging from birds, to the Misfit Toys, to the Abominable. 

For more about kōken and the tradition of utilizing costumed actors/stage hands to manipulate the set, actors, or puppets from traditional Japanese theater, click here.

Here's an early design of one of the stage looks for RUDOLPH.  Look closely in the upper right corner for a sneak peek at the Abominable! 

My daughter and I love the First Steps series. I know the Five Little Monkeys well but am most excited about Mole Hill Stories! Can you tell us more about that show and how Danceworks is involved?
First Stage has had a rich history of informal collaboration with Danceworks. Dani Kuepper and other members of her company have choreographed a number of shows over the past six or eight seasons. I wanted to expand on that relationship and create something together from the ground up, so I sat down with Dani and we both hit on the idea of finding our inspiration in the work of local author/illustrator Lois Ehlert. Her enchanting stories and strong visual sense seemed a perfect fit for the blending of the talents of our two companies. We then invited playwright Alvaro Saar Rios to join the team and help us shape the play that we began exploring through improvisation. All three of us were particularly taken with some of Lois’ early folk tales – Moon Rope, Cucu, and Mole’s Hill. One of the things that attracted us was the bilingual nature of her stories; it struck us as an added bonus to have the capacity to integrate Spanish language into our production. Incorporating live music, the story will come to life through a blending of words and movement. It will be like nothing we have ever done before in the First Steps Series, and I am very excited to see how our youngest audience members and their families react. I think they will be thrilled to watch the dancers create the environment moment by moment - there may even be opportunities for the audience to be involved in helping the story come to life. Desi Rosas is directing!

Will there be any [First Stage Theater Academy] Alumni in the shows next season?

We're not completely cast at this point, but there are a few alums who will be appearing in next season - including Katie Gonring who is doing an artistic internship with us and will be in both BIG and Rudolph. Jeanette Minson will be playing Miss Watson in BIG, and Karen Estrada will be playing Mrs. Claus in Rudolph. That's what I can remember off the top of my head. We're thrilled to have them back at First Stage!

For more about our 2012-13 season, click here

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