I first became involved with First Stage when I started the Theater Academy in the summer prior to fifth grade. That was the earliest one could start, at that time. But both of my older sisters were interested in theatre and spent a few summers as Academy students as well. If it wasn’t for their interest, I do not know if I would have enrolled. I continued with the academy for another six years, performed in two Company Class productions (A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet), and two First Stage Main Stage productions (Arthur – the Boy Who Would be King and The Little Match Girl’s Christmas Gift).
I will always remember our Classical Company Class performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We were such a close-knit group and we had so much fun throughout the four weeks of rehearsal that I don’t think we realized how good the show actually was. And then we got in front of the audience and they were roaring with laughter. During the final act, in the play within the play, Brendan Titley as Flute/Thisbe full on kissed the dead Bottom/Pyramus, played by Paul Gagne, on the mouth in an inspired, unrehearsed moment. I was grateful that, as Lysander, I was able to laugh along. It was probably the first time I understood that as a group of theatre artists, we are able to change the energy in the room and bring together strangers in a moment of shared experience. It was a moment, certainly, when theatre stopped being all about my personal experience and became about a shared art form, and how the audience plays just as big of a role as any individual actor.
My experience at First Stage (both in the Academy and the productions) taught me invaluable skills as an artist. I did not have acting class in high school, and there were many techniques and skills that I learned in the Academy that helped me transition into the more serious world of collegiate theatre. I also started my love for Shakespeare through First Stage. Without that base line of classical experience, I do not think I’d be as comfortable with that material as I am today. And finally, the friends I made at First Stage offered me a community where I was able to learn about myself and grow into the person I am. I’m still a pretty shy person, and a self-proclaimed introvert, but through my time at First Stage I feel like I’ve been able to find skills to trust who I am as a person, and let my true self shine through.
|Adam Estes (back row), Paul Helm, Anand Nagraj (back row) and Nate Lewellyn in |
Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Forever Plaid. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
I have certainly loved being able to be back home for Forever Plaid. It’s been a really wonderful time and I get to share the stage with three incredibly fun and talented guys (and one very talented lady). Every night has been a joy to take audiences on a trip down memory lane. It makes me so happy to see the look of recognition on people’s faces when they hear the opening notes of one of their favorite tunes; it’s especially heartwarming when they mouth along to the words. Plus my parents and my siblings still live in the Milwaukee area, and I’m very grateful for being able to spend this time with them.