This year, First Stage hosted the American Alliance for Theatre and Education's national conference in Milwaukee. Conference attendees spent four days exploring this year's theme, "Tapping the power of creative minds." This included several fun outings to local Milwaukee stomping grounds including the Milwaukee Art Museum, Harley-Davidson Museum, and Lakefront Brewery.
The conference schedule included master classes led by First Stage's very own Jeff Frank and Jenn Adams. Attendees were also able to visit the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center on Saturday for a performance by First Stage's Company Class of Argonautika in Youth Arts Hall.
Additionally, AATE's annual meeting and party were held here at MYAC Saturday evening. This was an overall celebratory night, and great way to share news of the collaborative effort that makes MYAC a reality. As conference attendees arrived at MYAC, we had a Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra jazz combo and several food trucks outside to greet them.
Our parking lot and picnic area were absolutely alive with music and festivity!
To add an educational component to the fun atmosphere, First Stage students were leading our AATE guests on tours throughout the building.
A light cocktail reception followed AATE's annual meeting and keynote address. We were so happy to participate in this national conversation about arts education, and to help share success stories from our neck of the woods with a wider audience of fellow educators and artists.
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To continue celebrating our 10th anniversary year, I sat down with a First Stage student to talk about her experience at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. Kate Futoransky has been involved with First Stage from third grade all the way through her senior year of high school.
Originally I’m from Illinois, but I moved up here in third grade. I live in Hartland and I go to Oconomowoc high school.
In the fall I’ll be starting college in the Twin Cities. I originally thought I’d pursue theater, but now I’m thinking Computer Science.
I started with First Stage in 3rd grade, I went to the summer camp in Oconomowoc, and then I went to Sharon Lynne Wilson Center to intern sometimes—so I never really came to MYAC until I was in high school and I auditioned for the Young Company and got in.
Then I started coming to MYAC and thought, “this place is so cool!” So I’d spend the school year at MYAC, and then spend the summer at Sharon Lynne Wilson and at Oconomowoc.
Last year, because it was going to be my last year at company class, I decided to do company class at MYAC over the summer. It was so great, because I got all the experiences of First Stage at the various locations.
I was in Young Company from freshman to senior year, so four years together.
My freshman year Young Company was relatively smaller than it is now, and I was in every show that the Young Company put on that year which I thought was an amazing experience. Especially as a freshman coming in. Of course all the characters I played were little background characters, but I made the most of it. It was super fun and it drove my passion for theater absolutely. I just kept wanting to come back.
I was at MYAC once a week for Young Company, that was a given. If I was in a show—I was here almost every single day. Sometimes I’d be here every day except for two because my character wasn’t needed in a scene, but when you’re in a show here, you’re here every day. But that’s not a bad thing!
I was also in a Main Stage production. Unfortunately I was only able to do one of those, just because I didn’t have time for it otherwise. I did To the Promised Land and it was really cool seeing the difference between a Company Class show, a Young Company show, and a Main Stage show. I loved it.
One of my favorite memories is that for company class last year we rehearsed in the basement of MYAC, which was a whole different experience. It was actually really cool because we had the whole basement to ourselves, basically us and our cast. It was very echo-y, so even if we were whispering you could still hear it. The lighting was kind of yellowy and dingy, but I feel like it bonded us more. We’d go down the stairs to this huge place that’s kind of dark, a little creepy. It was a lot of fun.
Another favorite memory is from when I was teching for Peter and the Wolf, I was doing sound for it. In Peter and the Wolf, there’s a lot of different languages, and there’s sign language. So the whole cast learned the alphabet in sign language. And when I was in sixth grade my teacher taught us the alphabet, so I already kind of knew it.
There were a couple characters who had microphones on and at the beginning of the show they’d be on stage, and they wouldn’t be interacting with the audience or anything. But the audience would be able to see them. Because I was working sound I had the headphones on and I was able to hear what they were saying, because their mics were on but not live. The audience couldn’t hear them. I remember having one-way conversations with an actor, he would talk to me through the mic, and if he turned to look at the booth, he could see me, so I’d be responding in sign language. That’s something that I’ll remember for a really long time. That was in Youth Arts Hall, up in the booth.
First Stage has definitely changed me as a person. I’ll think about myself when I was younger and just cringe a little bit--what would I be without First Stage? I think First Stage helped me to learn what I loved. In the future I won’t be doing much of theater, but I’m going to appreciate it so much. Even just little things, I’ll be watching TV and think, “Oh, that was an interesting acting choice.” Just weird things like that. I know I’m going to want to be involved in theater somehow, I’m going to see shows as much as I can, I’ll always have a love and appreciation for it. I think that’s great that First Stage taught that.
Also for me, First Stage not only teaches you theater, it teaches life skill through stage skills. I think it builds confidence and makes you realize who you are as a person. It doesn’t force you to be anyone in particular, it helps you figure that out for yourself.
I think it’s great that at MYAC we have a place that we can call home. First Stage is so loving, you walk in and if you haven’t been here in a while, everyone comes and gives you a hug. I think when people think of First Stage, they automatically think of MYAC. Just because that’s where everything is. The Young Company’s at MYAC, all of the summer Academy at MYAC, the classes here. Everyone at First Stage knows the names of all of the studio rooms. I think that MYAC is home for First Stage, if that makes sense.
Are you a student, parent, or teacher at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center? Would you like to write a guest blog post?