First Stage Alum Thrives in Role Behind-the-Scenes

Since its inaugural summer in 1992, 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, helping develop the creativity, confidence, and self-esteem needed to achieve any goal. For some, those goals have been the pursuit of a career in theater. Jane Heer, our Stage Manager for Dr. Seuss’s THE CAT IN THE HAT, is one First Stage alum who has taken her skills first learned at First Stage to this vital role behind the scenes.

Recently, we sat down with Jane to hear about their fond memories as a student at First Stage and where we can find her work next.

Jane Heer

First Stage:  How were you previously involved in First Stage as a young person?
JH:  I took Theater Academy classes from ages 8 – 15. I remember when classes were held in the basement of Todd Wehr and when Summer Academy was at the Broadway Theatre Center. More recently, I remember the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center (MYAC) before it was the incredible theatre/music hub it is today! I remember singing at the ceremony that was held in the giant empty MYAC before all of the classrooms/offices were put in. Looking back, I was so focused on my own growing up that I didn’t realize I was also in the middle of First Stage growing up!  I had appeared in a few First Stage productions as well: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (2003), The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus (2005), and The Giver (2007).

FS:  What is your favorite show from your time as young performer at First Stage?
JH:  I had such a blast on each of the shows I worked on but The Best Christmas Pageant holds a special place in my heart because it was my first “big show” ever. It’s strange to think that the whole experience was only a few months of my childhood because I remember soaking up every minute of the experience. Everything was new! Costumes, cuelights, props, getting notes, dressing rooms…all of it was so exciting (and I still think it is!).

FS:  What has lead you to your current role as a Stage Manager?
JH:   In high school I enjoyed working behind the scenes as “Student Director.” A lot of the skills needed for that position were stage management skills: building a relationship with a director, taking notes, organizing cast paperwork, etc. I was happy to help out with all facets of the theatre and after taking a class in stage management my freshman year of college I realized that there was actually a job where I could do theatre and get to work with every single person on “the team”: directors, designers, actors, production managers, technical directors,  operators, producers, house managers, and more.

Jane Heer in THE GIVER, 2007

FS:  How does it feel to be “back home” at First Stage?
JH: It’s so fun to be on the adult side of things! First Stage was such a home away from home growing up and I’m so happy to see that the environment is just as friendly and welcoming as it always was. I’m so happy to work with the Young Performers in The Cat in the Hat because I know how important it is to show them what a fun and respectful work atmosphere looks like.

FS:  What is one thing you learned at First Stage during your youth that you carry with you throughout your career today?
JH:  There are so many important lessons I learned! It’s hard to pick one! Focus and deep, grounding breaths have definitely stuck with me. Also the First Stage “cheer”: “‘I can’t’ is not in my vocabulary, I take risks, I conquer my fears, I am not afraid to lead.” Sometimes taking risks and leading is scary but I’ve got that little chant in my head for times when I need to rise above my own anxious feelings.

FS:  What do you want audiences to know about First Stage and The Cat in the Hat? Why should families see this play?
JH:  Every family should come see this play! It’s pure fun. One of the unique aspects of First Stage is the age-appropriate casting which means our cast age ranges from 8 to adult. This makes for a great energy on the stage, everyone plays off each other as we go on a wild ride with the Cat. I think every audience member will find something to relate to, whether they feel for the Boy, Girl and Fish whose home is being taken over by the Cat or whether they have a wild side like Thing 1 and Thing 2!

FS:  Finally, where are you headed after THE Cat in the Hat (any other SM duties with other theaters, etc.)?
JH:  After THE Cat in the Hat I head back to Minneapolis to work on Corduroy at the Children’s Theatre Company. They’ll have just opened and I’ll take over calling the show!

Don’t miss Jane’s work in Dr. Seuss’s THE CAT IN THE HAT, now playing through February 25 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center.

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