Kate Harms is certainly well known at First Stage. As she walks down the halls of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, kids stop to wave at her. Adults hug her and make sure to catch up on her summer. They smile and she smiles right back, radiating positive energy.
The fact that Kate is able to walk around MYAC, a place where she has spent so much time attending classes, interning, and rehearsing for shows, is, on the surface, miraculous. Some would say Kate is “one in a million.” Kate would say she hates that term.
As Kate puts it, “the bottom line is that I have a G protein mutation deficiency at the cellular level that has not been documented before … my health is like a giant game of whack-a-mole.” Things were made even worse for Kate in 2012 when, at the age of 14, “doctors discovered a pseudo-tumor” in Kate’s head. This “short circuit” left Kate wheelchair bound for a period and “doctors told me I could never do what I had done before.”
However, after encouragement from doctors to “spend some time each day doing something [she] loved,” Kate returned to First Stage, where she’d taken a summer class in Kindergarten. “First Stage welcomed me back with open arms, cheering me along the way,” says Kate. “They just cared that I was there.”
Kate continued to return to First Stage year after year – she participated in classes and shows, interned, and recently traveled with UPAF to speak on First Stage’s behalf in front of companies across the state. As she wraps up her final summer before college, we sat down with Kate to talk about the lessons she’s learned and what’s coming next.
|Kate (far right) as Olga in LILLY'S PURPLE PLASTIC PURSE, 2016|
Do you mind giving me a recap of how you got involved with First Stage?
I started when I was in K-5, and when I was little I would go see so many doctors, and so when I was seeing different doctors I was always afraid of people – it was “white coat syndrome.”
And so my mom wanted me to get out and do stuff, and I’ve always loved theater, and so she signed me up for a class. I did “Where The Wild Things Are”, I can remember, so I started like that from day one. I just love First Stage, it helps me get through some of the hard times and push through. It just changes your whole day.
|Kate's first Academy class|
Do you have a favorite memory from your years at First Stage?
It’s kind of all been amazing. When I was little, my mom didn’t even think I’d go to college. Doctors told her I wouldn’t be able to walk again. So to be able get up every day and do what I love to do… it’s been pretty amazing.
One of my favorite experiences was probably [interning for] Next Steps… the kids. Seeing some of them transform over a two-week period. It’s truly inspiring.
Do you have a favorite example of that?
Yes. There was one kid who is non-verbal, and he’d never spoke to his parents. By the end of it he told his dad he loved him for the first time, and that got me. He did one of the scenes during the presentation, and it was breathtaking.
|Kate interning at Next Steps final presentations, 2015|
What’s next for you?
I’m going to Alverno College and I’m going to be studying Early-Childhood Special Ed. and somehow incorporate theater. I’m very excited!
[Before that,] I’m an intern for Next Steps. I’ve interned a ton – last summer I did Musical Company Class, and then the whole rest of my summer I was an intern for Next Steps.
Do you know yet what you want to do with that field of study?
Since 5th grade, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher and work with kids with health issues who are overcoming something, because in my life I’ve had to overcome so much that I want to help others because I know what it’s like. I also want to do theater with that, kind of like Next Steps – use theater to help therapy, kind of hard to explain. I could do so much in so many different ways.
How do you feel like First Stage helped prepare you for this next step in your life?
In every way, shape, and form. Being able to get up on the spot and improve for interviews, or jobs – I had a scholarship interview, and just being able to sit in there with them throwing questions at you, not knowing what they’re going to ask. Being able to go into auditions and knowing how to say “Hi! My name is Kate Harms, and I’ll be doing this and this…” I’m so blessed and I’m so thankful that I had this chance. It’s helped me in every single step of life.
|Kate speaking about First Stage at BMO Harris Bank|
What advice would you offer to someone just starting First Stage?
Don’t say “I can’t” – you can do it. Each person’s way of learning and trying something is different, so you have to figure out what the person needs to succeed. Take risks. Come here because it’s life changing, each day you’ll do something you never thought you’d do.
Anything else you want to add?
First Stage is amazing, don’t question that! Live life to the fullest, enjoy every moment, and have fun. Don’t try to be anyone you’re not.