Theater Academy alumni return to First Stage in full bloom

Heading into its 24th summer, First Stage Theater Academy has fostered life skills through stage skills to thousands of young people.  These students have learned acting, musical theater, improvisation, and much more, developing the creativity, confidence, and self-esteem needed to achieve one’s dreams both on the stage and beyond.

For some, those dreams have continued on stage.  Beginning their theater studies at First Stage, three of our adult actors have come full circle, returning for our production of BIG FISH.

J.T. Backes
J.T. BACKES’ (Fisherman/Male Understudy) story starts back when he began Academy classes at age 8, and had roles in several shows including MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM SHOVEL (2002). Now as an actor, J.T. summarizes what he learned over the years in one phrase – “to make choices.”  “First Stage is a safe place to be ‘you’ and take incredible risks without fear of consequence.  The teachers and students choose to treat others with respect and give to each other wholeheartedly without need of incentive,” said J.T.  This helped him build confidence and self-worth, allowing him the dedication, resilience, and an open mind into pursuing the craft of acting as a career. J.T. left us with this advice, "Whatever the situation, always be you! That is something nobody else can replicate. Take risks, fail big, and be you.”

Susie Duecker
For SUSIE DUECKER (Mermaid/Understudy Jenny Hill), coming home to First Stage for BIG FISH is “living life in full bloom.”  Susie began as an Academy student in the fourth grade, was a member of First Stage Young Company in its inaugural year, and was a young performer in four First Stage plays including THE LITTLE DRUMMER BOY (1999). Not only did her love of theater grow, but many strong friendships bloomed, which Susie credits to the encouraging, inclusive atmosphere First Stage continues to nurture today.  Susie remembers what her First Stage teacher Aaron O’Rear told her, “if there’s anything else you can see yourself being happy doing, do that.” Susie always knew she would pursue theater as a career, and taking Academy classes confirmed that the dream could be a reality.

Nate Lewellyn
First Stage “provides a place to be one’s self, to be goofy and fun, and not have to worry about being ‘cool’ or looking cool to others. It was a very special experience growing up,” says NATE LEWELLYN. During his years as an Academy student, Nate appeared as a young performer in ARTHUR – THE BOY WHO WOULD BE KING (2001) and THE LITTLE MATCH GIRL’S CHRISTMAS GIFT (2002).  Through these formative First Stage experiences, Nate knows how many life skills can be learned through the theater, such as responsibility, empathy, and collaboration. Importantly, being present each moment is a vital skill not only for an actor, but in dreaming bigger and living life to its fullest. “Be present in the moment, value the time that we have with the people we have in life,” says Nate. “Don’t take anything for granted.”

See J.T., Susie and Nate in First Stage’s BIG FISH, May 8-31, 2015 at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater.

Learn more about First Stage Theater Academy and the philosophy of teaching life skills through stage skills! Summer Academy classes for students in grades K5-12 begin June 15!

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