Monday, July 30, 2012

A closer look at the development of First Stage's Next Steps program!

First Stage Theater Academy launches Next Steps, a new program designed specifically for students with autism this August.  Guided by the Academy’s philosophy of teaching life skills through stage skills, the program enables students with autism to take their next steps as an artist and as a person. 
When First Stage Program Director Jennifer Adams took on the task of creating curriculum and lesson plans for Next Steps she did her research.  Jennifer studied other programs across the nation including the Chicago Children's Theatre's Red Kite Project and reached out to area autism professionals.  Emily Levine of the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin and Mary Stone a Cross Categorical Special Education Department instructor at Alverno College (and parent advocate) became invaluable resources during the process. 

Having Mary Stone involved early in the project helped Adams know what questions to ask parents and what elements to consider. As a professional and a mother involved in the world of autism, Stone brought a unique perspective to the table.  “When my son was diagnosed I searched for programs and activities that he could participate in and enjoy. I often found great programs that did not have the support or trained staff he needed to be successful,” said Stone.  “When First Stage approached me to become involved in training their staff about Autism Spectrum Disorders, I was excited and hopeful.  First Stage has created Next Steps with thought, sensitivity and a deep commitment to our children who are amazingly creative, funny, gifted and on the Autism Spectrum. Families need hope and need to know that the community will not only welcome our children into a program, but also provide experienced teachers who understand the strengths and the challenges that our children face. Next Steps offers our children a chance to shine, have fun and be creative in a safe, accepting and nurturing environment. Bravo First Stage,” she continued.

On why theater is so effective in breaking through to students with autism, Emily Levine commented on the power of dramatic play, “Many children who have difficulty with social interactions respond to music, rhythm and dance. Theater is a great venue to tap the creativity of children with autism. Everyone needs a chance to shine,” she said.

W. Riley Braem, a specialist in facilitating drama with youth with autism joins the Next Steps team as a lead teaching artist.  Riley, a 3rd year MFA Candidate in Theatre for Youth at Arizona State University, is currently developing his thesis which will focus on curricular development and implementation of recreational drama classes for youth with complex disabilities (Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities or an Autistic Spectrum Disorder), and is thrilled to be in Milwaukee to work with our students.

In general, a typical day of Next Steps will include two classes, a drama class which explores expressing emotions and stretching the imagination and a music and movement class which will focus on freedom of expression through song, creative movement, and rhythm. As students register, Jennifer is getting know parents, finding out as much as she can about their child’s needs and incorporating this into their tailored lesson plan.  Next Steps will reflect our summer Academy structure including beginning and end-of-day community building time and a joyous and informal presentation of class work at the end. 

If you would like more information about Next Steps visit us at or contact Jennifer Adams at (414) 267-2975 or email 

Registration is now open for the August 27-31 session for students entering grades 6-12 in fall 2012. Classes are held at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center located at 325 W. Walnut Street, Milwaukee.  

About Mary Stone
Mary Stone is a special education teacher, college instructor at Alverno College in the Cross Categorical Special Education Department, parent advocate, and a parent of a child with a disability. Mary has a Master Degree in Special Education with an emphasis in Early Childhood Education. She is a trained Parent leader and Special Education Advocate who has worked with families across Wisconsin in helping them to advocate for their children with special needs. Mary has presented trainings to parent groups, Milwaukee Public School teachers, UWM Children
Center daycare employees, child care providers, parent groups, college students, and community partners on topics which include teaching children with disabilities, effective teaching strategies in working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, parent advocacy, parenting a child with special needs, and working collaboratively with community partners across the State of Wisconsin to increase Autism Awareness.

About W. Riley Braem
W. Riley Braem hails from Chicago, IL and is a 3rd year MFA Candidate in Theatre for Youth at Arizona State University. Riley received his undergraduate degree in Theatre Performance and Theatre Design with a Minor in Dance from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. He has worked as a director, performer, designer, and teaching artist in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arizona. He is also an Artist in Residency Apprentice for the iCreate program with Phoenix Children’s Hospital. For the past 17 years he has also volunteered for Camp MARC, a camp based out of Kentucky for mentally and physically disabled adults. Recently, Riley worked with Theater Works in association with One Step Beyond, an organization for that provides a comprehensive program for people with developmental disabilities, to provide weekly drama classes and performance opportunities for their clients. Braem is currently developing his thesis focusing on curricular development and implementation of recreational drama classes for youth with complex disabilities (Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities or an Autistic Spectrum Disorder). After his thesis is complete he will complete an internship with Nashville Children’s Theatre. Riley is excited to work with First Stage and looks forward to his time in Milwaukee.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A sculpture is built – in commemoration of 25 years!

by Erica Davis

On Tuesday, July 31, 2012, First Stage will dedicate a sculpture by Milwaukee artist Richard Taylor in commemoration of 25 years of transforming lives through theater.  The piece will stand over 20 feet tall at the heart of First Stage – the grounds of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, serving as a beacon of hope and inspiration in this vibrant Bronzeville neighborhood.   

The soaring structure represents the longevity of First Stage’s impact on young people and the power of First Stage’s mission of transforming lives through theater.    Its elegantly curved aluminum pieces are painstakingly welded one at a time, informing an overall shape that brings to mind a torch of flames.  A bench at the base of the sculpture, inscribed with inspirational words from First Stage alumni will provide public seating.

We made a visit to Richard’s studio on a day of record-breaking heat to see the progress of the piece.  Between sips of cool water and notes of cool jazz, he explained the logistics involved in his sculpting process and just how a concept eventually becomes three-dimensional work of art. 
Richard Taylor's studio

The sculpture in progress

Artist Richard Taylor with a model of the sculpture

Richard Taylor and Rob Goodman in the studio
Betsy Corry leaves her signature behind -
a must when visiting the studio
The sculpture for First Stage refers to many of the experiences the theater brings to its participants. The sculpture soars with confidence, is diversified in its many shapes yet finds strength in their unity. It proudly assumes a posture of leadership while it upholds values. It is respectful of its surroundings while it passes on these life experiences to all who have found them through work with the theater. Many alumni of First Stage have given testimonials to the strengthening of their lives through work on stage, and I have sought to compose a sculpture embodying the spirit of achievement and pride inherent in these tributes.

                                                                                                                         – Richard Taylor

This project was made possible by the First Stage 25th Anniversary Sculpture Committee and the generosity of several private donors.  The committee members are:  Liza Perry (Chair), Katherine “Murph” Burke, Kate Wilson, Diane Pellegrin, Josh Gimbel, Kristin Sheehan and Kathleen Seiberlich. 

The sculpture dedication ceremony is on Tuesday, July 31 at 12:30 p.m. in front of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center located at 325 W. Walnut Street.  Tours of MYAC and light refreshments to follow.  Contact Nancy Clarkin at with questions or to RSVP.

About Richard Taylor
Milwaukee artist Richard Taylor is nationally-renowned for his work; indoor and outdoor standing sculptures, wall sculptures, suspended sculptures, and paintings. His work has been commissioned in numerous cities across the country including Chicago and Mount Vernon, IL; Atlanta, GA; Beaverton, OR; Green Bay, Madison and Milwaukee, WI.  Taylor’s notable outdoor standing sculptures in Milwaukee including Red Flower Rising at the Milwaukee Public Market,  A Beam of Sun to Shake the Sky at the Milwaukee Public Library’s Central Building and You Rise Above the World at the Milwaukee RiverWalk. More about Richard Taylor at

Monday, July 2, 2012

What's going on at Summer Academy? (K-4th, MYAC)

The halls of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center (MYAC) are alive once again with the sound of Summer Academy students - and we couldn't be more thrilled.  As we welcome both new faces and old, here’s a closer look at some of the classes our K-4th grade students are participating in right now! 


Animal Adventures with Chasten Glezman & Maddie Mandel
A grouchy lady bug, a lonely rooster, and a hungry caterpillar walk into a classroom… What happens next is up to our class. Students will be exploring the characters and stories from Eric Carle’s classic children’s books. We will be using imaginary role play, improvisation, and problem solving as we explore these characters and their environments.
Laughing Out Loud with Chasten Glezman & Maddie Mandel
Students will survey the characters and adventures of Shel Silverstein’s hilarious and adventurous poetry. From flying on a shoe to wearing dancing pants, students will use improvisation, character exploration, and story drama to explore these poems further and possibly create their own endings and characters.
100 Acres of Fun with Jason Knop & Maddie Mandel
Winnie the Pooh and his friends have invited us into their world of the 100 Acre Wood. We will be learning about some of the adventures Pooh and his friends have, becoming characters from those stories, and creating our own adventures along the way!

Ninjas of the Night with Jason Knop & Maddie Mandel
Ninja training is in session. Jack and Annie from the “Magic Tree House” series of books take us back to Ancient Japan. We must learn the stealthy skills of a ninja or risk being found out or captured by the Samurai.

School of Fish with Jason Knop & Maddie Mandel
Take a journey under the sea with Rainbow Fish. Encounter sea creatures underwater as we create our own undersea community. We will be bringing to life the adventures these creatures can have and how they have to work together to solve any problem that may arise.

Monkey Business with Jason Knop & Maddie Mandel
Curious George is at it again. He just can’t help himself. His trouble making tales will be the basis for our class. We will go along with him on some of his exciting adventures and see what he gets into… and maybe make a few new “tails” of our own.

Undercover Detective with Christine Kuramoto & Maddie Mandel

How is an actor like Nate the Great Detective from the “Nate the Great” detective book series?
• Nate the Great sometimes wears disguises.....(So does an actor!)
• Nate the Great looks for clues.... (So does an actor!)
• Nate the Great listens closely.... (So does an actor!)
• Nate the Great asks great questions....(So does an actor!)

Our First Stage Detective Squad is on the job. Join us to learn about stage skills and life skills while enjoying theater games and activities based on the “Nate the Great” detective series.


Globe Trekkers with Mary Kelly, Maddie Wakley & McCormick Sweeny
In this class we will head out on a journey to explore the globe and solve a tricky mystery which leads us from one country to the next! We’ll learn to focus our abilities and overcome obstacles through dramatic play, all while exploring and learning about some of the different cultures the world has to offer.
Defeating the Dark Side with John Maclay, Maddie Wakley & McCormick Sweeny
“I am thrilled to combine two of my passions— theatre and Star Wars—into a fun filled week of programming.  Students in this course will engage their bodies, voices and imaginations as we travel the galaxy and defeat the Dark Side. And though size matters not, students will learn focus, teamwork, problem solving skills and of course: control, control, we must learn control.” —John Maclay

Super Heroes with Michael Cotey, Mary Kelly & Maddie Wakley
And there came a day, a day unlike any other, when Earth’s mightiest heroes found themselves united against a common threat. On that day, the First Stagers were born—to fight the foes no single superhero could withstand! Through superhero training, heroes must develop their own identities and super abilities to face obstacles of both small and cosmic proportion. Above all else, heroes will learn that with great power, comes great responsibility. Heed the call—First Stagers, assemble!

Once Upon a Time with Mary Kelly, Maddie Wakley & McCormick Sweeny

In this class we will journey into the world of fairy princesses and fierce dragons to help some familiar characters from our favorite stories put their tales back together! Through dramatic play we’ll create and explore the world around us as characters that we have invented. Before we know it we will have created a tale of our very own.

Olympus Expedition with Mary Kelly, Maddie Wakley & McCormick Sweeny
In this class we travel to the Mediterranean, journeying high up into the mountains in search of a stolen treasure and a hidden secret. We’ll challenge ourselves to create original characters, and then take these characters on an adventure in dramatic play and problem solving.

Wowie Wow Wow with Chasten Glezman, Maddie Wakley & McCormick Sweeny
In this session of Playmakers, students will be playing alongside Junie, Phillip, Oliver, and all of her friends and family. Our class will be using story drama and improvisation to create our very own adventure for Junie and her friends.

So Not Busted with Chasten Glezman, Maddie Wakely & McCormick Sweeny
Don’t tell anyone, but we might have built a secret laboratory in MYAC! Our class will take on the super awesome job of having the best summer vacation ever. Students will explore the world of Phineas, Ferb, Perry the Platypus, Doofenschmirtz, and many more while challenging their imaginations and solving problems creatively. It’s up to us to decide where and in which dimension we’ll go!


Musical Theatre with Niffer Clarke
& Jake Brockmann

Students will be exploring creative story telling through song as well as basic choreography. They will be using their imaginations to develop characters and bring them to life— expressing music and emotions through the body and the voice.  They will problem-solve, work individually and in groups, be leaders and followers, and be encouraged to use all of their creativity in a fun, safe, and nurturing atmosphere.

Scene Study with Jim Fletcher, Sheri Williams Pannell & Allie Bonesho
In this class, young actors will have fun exploring the vocabulary of acting and exploring the basics of scene study. Starting with stage directions and blocking, the students will go on to decoding all there is to find in a script. With these tools, the students will be able to go beyond basic line delivery and learn how to make real character choices in a variety of scenes. As they step outside of themselves and into another character, students exercise observation and empathy while working as a team.

Voice/Movement with Dan Katula & Brenna Kempf
Voice and Movement is a fun introduction to the actor’s use of body and sound. Students will explore basic movement techniques to help with physical awareness and bold expression through movement.  Students will also be introduced to vocal work focusing on breath control, articulation, and projection as well as creative use of sound and voice.

Photography by Jessica Kaminski, 2011.