Alumni On Stage for "Gathering Blue"

By Patrick G.H. Schley

GATHERING BLUE, the final Young Company production of the season, is a unique collaboration between First Stage and Marquette University’s theatre program. What makes it even more exciting is that it gives First Stage alumni who are now students at Marquette an opportunity to work on stage with current students. We caught up with Hannah Klapperich-Mueller, who plays Annabella and Kyle Conner, who is the understudy, on their experiences with the show.

When were you an Academy student?
HKM: I started the summer after seventh grade and took classes or interned every year until my senior year of high school.
KC: I started at the Academy the summer after fifth grade, 2004, and kept going until the summer after my senior year, 2011.

Hannah Klapperich-Mueller and Erin Stapleton. 
Photo by Mark Frohna
What do you want to be when you grow up?
HKM: I want to work in theatre, both as an actor and a designer. I am a theater arts and writing intensive English major, and I am involved in the student theater group as well as Marquette’s improv troupe, The Studio 013 Refugees.

KC: Growing up is a LONG ways away. But the plan right now is to stick with theater performance. I’m a theater arts major at Marquette, and there’s never been a day when I’ve thought that this isn’t right for me. Specifically though, I’d love to focus a lot on classical performance. I find that one of the best parts of a play for me is cracking the words and figuring out how to convey them successfully on stage.

What is your role in the play?
HKM: I play Annabella, the wise old woman who helps Kira learn to dye thread and opens her eyes to a new way to see her world.
KC: I’m the male understudy.

What about the Academy experience prepared you for college?
HKM: The Academy prepared me for life in so many indescribable ways, but first and foremost it taught me that the best art happens when you create a safe and trusting place with the people around you, and that working as an ensemble is the most rewarding part of the process. This lesson has been invaluable in my college experience, both in my class work and in my other projects.
KC: I couldn’t even begin to tell you how much the Academy helped me. I was prepared mentally for the workload that I would find in my major. I was prepared for the type of exercises and techniques that were introduced in college. The list goes on and on. A lot of it came from my work with Young Company. Having the chance to work with people like John Maclay, Todd Denning, Angela Iannone, Matt Daniels and so many others really makes you appreciate and understand what you’re learning. It made me strive to work as hard as I could, and for that I’m truly grateful.

What have you learned in college that has expanded or built upon your Academy experience?
HKM: College has reinforced all the lessons I learned at Academy, both in terms of community and the finer points of acting. First Stage was the first place I heard names like Stanislavsky and Chekhov and being in college is expanding my knowledge on all the topics that were introduced to me through the Academy.
KC: As vague as it sounds, I feel that a lot of what I’ve been doing in college has really helped me as an actor be able to pinpoint more specifics about how I perform and how I go about preparing for performances. At the Academy, there was a stress on learning how to prepare yourself for a role and proper techniques that can help you along with that. I find that in college, everything is so much more expansive. That’s not to say that one is better than the other, but I could definitely say that the Academy gave me one of the strongest foundations that helped me be able to grow in so many ways in college.

How does it feel to be back working on an Academy show as an alumni?
HKM: I can’t begin to say how exciting it is to stand in the shoes of the people I looked up to so much when I was an Academy student. I’m honored to be involved and I’m grateful to have this experience.
KC: There are so many emotions honestly. The first time I walked in I just had the biggest smile on my face. Heck, I’m even smiling now thinking about it. There definitely is a different feel, but it’s a feeling of even though my time as a student is over at the Academy, my learning is never going to completely end with First Stage. You can learn so much about all of these performers, and coming back into all of it made me so happy, but also sad to think that I can’t stay longer.

What are you learning from this rehearsal experience?
HKM: Every show I work on teaches me more about acting and the power theater has to touch people’s lives.
KC: My rehearsal experience is different from the others in the sense that since I’m the understudy I don’t have to technically learn everything to be show ready. I’m here if needed, so it’s my job to make sure that I’m ready if an emergency happens. So to actually answer the question, I think that this rehearsal process is helping me to learn more about the different roles that an actor can take in a production.

How do you think Marquette students are benefiting from the collaboration?
HKM: As a Marquette student, it’s wonderful to be able to work with a new group of people and meet other Milwaukee artists. It’s very cool to be able to welcome them onto our stage and share the space we’re used to.
KC: Some of us come from a place where there wasn’t a place that gave the kind of opportunities that First Stage does. So the thought of age appropriate casting may be a thing that they’ve never had the chance to see. The fact that everybody in the show is a strong actor doesn’t hurt to help reinforce that fact either. But what I’m trying to say is that this collaboration is a give and take from both sides and I think that everyone involved is letting their walls down and taking this opportunity to really learn as much as they can about the other.

Cast members of GATHERING BLUE
  Why do you think GATHERING BLUE is an important story to tell? What kinds of conversations do you think audience members will have on the drive home?
HKM: This story makes you think about what you want our collective future to look like and the steps we have to take to make it a positive one. I think it will be good for parents and children alike to talk about what it means to have a special talent and how a person can use that skill to make the world a better place.
KC: I think that this piece is special in a way because it so strongly resonates the thought of ‘What if this were to happen’. The story takes you to a whole other world that everyone involved has made seem just as normal as any other day. That’s one of the things that First Stage is great at: making theater relevant for any and all ages. I think this story is great for people to understand the strength that we have in each of us, and will make everybody think about their own strengths.

Why should audiences come see GATHERING BLUE?
HKM: GATHERING BLUE is an opportunity to enjoy theater with your whole family; it’s both funny and profoundly touching, and for many kids who will read this book in school, it’s a great chance to see the story brought to life and experience it in a new way.
KC: Great acting. Great set. Great fun.

GATHERING BLUE runs May 10-19 at Marquette University’s Helfaer Theater. For tickets visit or call (414) 267-2961.

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