Program areas at First Stage Milwaukee
First Stage knows that the arts can be used as a powerful vehicle for in-school learning, rather than detached from traditional curriculum as an "extra." Drama in particular effortlessly lends itself to integration with literature and language arts. First Stage does not go into classrooms and teach drama, but rather uses theater as an effective medium to teach academic subject matter. First Stage has the unique ability to use theater activities to present curriculum effectively to all types of learners visual, auditory and kinesthetic. In addition, classroom teachers have an ongoing concern about standardized testing. In response, First Stage offers programs that boost critical literacy skills, increase state standardized test scores and help teachers learn new and creative ways to teach. As schools are forced to spend less on arts programming, these programs cleverly blend the arts with existing curriculum making it a win-win for teachers that are under pressure to cover a great deal of material and for students that thrive when they are allowed to express themselves and use their natural creativity in the classroom. The theater-in-education programs are also run by skilled and nationally respected leaders. Education director, julia magnasco serves on the board of theatre for young audiences/usa the united states center for the international association of theatre for children and young people. As a professional membership organization with 50 years of service to the field, tya/usa is known for its national festival and conference, and tya today, a nationally and internationally respected magazine for the field of theatre for young people. Ms. magnasco was also selected as one of the forty under forty award recipients by the Milwaukee business journal in 2017.in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, First Stage's teaching artists reached almost 9,500 students in 87 schools with over 1,590 workshops. Many of these students also attended our matinee performances described above, plus approximately 5,530 students were involved in our highly subsidized or free partnership, literacy plus, & little actors programs, which develop creative thinking, logical reasoning, public speaking, and emotional intelligence. In addition to helping to educate children, First Stage provided professional development to teachers in local schools.in 2019-2020, First Stage's theater in education department continued and expanded the following programs: afterschool programming at kluge elementary school: First Stage served approximately 50 students through after school drama club and after school theater academy classes at kluge elementary's community learning center (clc). And on march 10, 2020, the students and their families gathered at the Milwaukee youth arts center for their final theater academy presentation, a pizza party, and field trip with free transportation to see First Stage's regional premiere production of the legend of rock, paper, scissors. During the theater academy presentation, kluge students shared what they learned during the afterschool programs, including actor warm-up exercises, theater games, and scene or musical numbers they had rehearsed through the session. First Stage's literacy programs are provided free or highly subsidized to city of Milwaukee schools and include little actors (for grades k3-1, which runs 6 weeks), literacy plus (for grades 1-8, which runs 8 weeks), and early literacy residencies (for grades k4-5, which runs 14 weeks). In 2019-2020, First Stage was able to expand the little actors language comprehension residencies into early childhood classes throughout the harambee neighborhood and beyond. A significant relationship was also started with penfield's early childhood center. And First Stage facilitated family literacy night events for participating schools this year, serving 125 individuals with a storytelling experience that provided youth and their families the opportunity to participate in dramatic activities and bring stories to life. Based upon post-programming surveys with classroom teachers, 46% of literacy plus students experienced growth in language comprehension skills. And 87% of classroom teachers reported observing their students achieving english language arts curricular goals following the literacy plus program. First Stage's partnership program is a partially subsidized program that offers tickets to any school performance, bussing to that performance, pre and post-show workshops, teaching-through-theater workshops, and teaching guides for the classroom teachers. During the program, students develop strong personal connections to the themes explored during a First Stage performance and utilize their theater experience as a springboard for an integrated learning experience. Partnership students increased their understanding of the production's concepts by 20% by receiving the additional workshops. And 79% of classroom teachers reported observing their students utilizing teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking skills throughout the partnership program.the covid-19 pandemic struck right in the height of First Stage's spring in-school programming and forced First Stage to cancel nearly 600 in-school workshops. Although First Stage staff could no longer travel to local schools to work with students and classrooms in-person, First Stage remained dedicated to its mission of transforming lives through theater and pivoted to virtual platforms. First Stage's theater in education department created First Stage at home, an online resource based on past First Stage productions. The virtual resources were designed to spark imagination and dramatic play in new and engaging ways. Every tuesday on its website, First Stage uploaded new arts-integrated content free for educators and families to explore together. This included theater games, activities, videos, and readings of favorite stories by First Stage teaching artists.
In 1987, First Stage began as a small theater company with a goal of providing professional theater for young people and families. Now in its 33rd season, First Stage is one of the nation's acclaimed professional theaters for young audiences, and the second largest theater company in Milwaukee. First Stage offers a season of professional theater for young people and families with titles chosen for their educational content, social significance, and their ability to spark conversation at home and in classrooms. Classroom teachers use a field trip to First Stage as means to help develop literacy and enhance learning across the curriculum, including teacher enrichment guides and workshop opportunities that align each play to key common core state standards and Wisconsin model academic standards. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, over 36,000 individuals among 290 school groups attended our school matinee performances at our theater (at ticket prices over 70% below our public prices). Over 40,000 individuals attended our public performances, as single or season ticket buyers or as part of a public group (e.g., girl scout troops). In total, First Stage held 344 performances and performed before 76,477 people. This was a 30% decline from the 2018-2019 fiscal year's audience totals, due to the necessary performance cancellations because of the covid-19 pandemic.prior to the performance closures in march 2020, First Stage had several notable achievements on Stage and at the box office. On the wings of a mariposa, a world premiere play by First Stage resident playwright alvaro saar rios with music composed by latino arts strings program director dinorah mrquez, beautifully elevated the latinx community onstage for our Milwaukee area young people and families. Due in part to the community involvement and partnerships inspired by this new play, First Stage engaged over 300 new single ticket buyer households, and garnered widespread media support, including interview appearances on telemundo Wisconsin, 88nine radio Milwaukee, Milwaukee neighborhood news services, and wisn-tv.the holiday production in the 2019-2020 was the First Stage debut of elf the musical. With an audience total of over 22,000, this production set new records as our highest-grossing production in First Stage history, with ticket sales revenue exceeding $400,000. This was also First Stage's second full-length musical production, following roald dahl's matilda the musical in the 2018-2019 season. Through our community partnership program (cpp), First Stage offered select "pay what you choose" theater performances at which audience members may attend at any dollar amount. In addition, First Stage broadened cpp this season with our "First Stage for $5" ticket offer for every performance to families who presented their Wisconsin quest or forwardhealth card. We welcomed 1,462 audience members at our "pay what you choose" theater performances, and 48 audience members experienced theater thanks to First Stage's "First Stage for $5" ticket offer this season.first Stage also commits to engagement with local community members through its productions and the themes from them. In conjunction with performances of gretel!, First Stage offered free "courage in storytelling" workshops, inspired by the musical that explored the productions themes of folktales, and the power of emotions. Forty-nine percent of students who attended school matinee performances of gretel! Participated in these workshops, demonstrating mutual respect for themselves and others, as well as effectively collaborated in discussion by building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.first Stage young company the theater academy's advanced actor training program for high school students produced two performance projects during the 2019-2020 season. The winter's tale was performed at the Milwaukee youth arts center, and you can't take it with you, which was ultimately performed via zoom and livestreamed to First Stage's youtube channel, due to performance cancellations. Our First steps series interactive theater performances geared towards young people ages 3 to 7 included elephant and piggie''s "we are in a play! And the snowy day and other stories by ezra jack keats, which each included sensory friendly performances for families with young people on the autism spectrum.in addition to enriching the lives of our audiences, First Stage practices age-appropriate casting (i.e., roles of children will be played by young performers alongside professional theater artists, directors and designers). In the 2019-2020 season, 141 children performed on our professional stages or in new play readings, thus providing them with enriched experiences of teamwork and responsibility but also giving our audience a more realistic storytelling experience. As noted above, the covid-19 pandemic caused First Stage to cancel performances at the end of its season. But First Stage is dedicated to its mission of transforming lives through theater. The crisis did not change that role, but rather the way in which we would reach young people and their families. After march 2020, much of First Stage's efforts pivoted to virtual platforms. First Stage created First Stage on Stage with its playwrights in residence, some of our favorite composers, and our artistic director jeff frank, who made selected scenes and songs available on First Stage's website and free for families to explore at home and then share with the wider world. The available scenes and songs were from previous First Stage theater productions including the legend of rock, paper, scissors; nate the great; lovabye dragon; and more.in the midst of the covid-19 challenge, First Stage was incredibly proud to be able to join forces with the Milwaukee rep and Milwaukee ballet, as members of First Stage's production team made masks and face shields for Milwaukee's frontline workers. This cumulative effort, thanks in part to funding from northwestern mutual foundation, resulted in the creation of more than 10,000 pieces of ppe that were donated to children's hospital, froedtert hospital, and the medical college of Wisconsin.
Theater arts have an intrinsic potential to teach important life skills such as self-confidence, discipline, commitment, and teamwork. Having access to theater professionals with the unique ability and passion for working with children, First Stage founded the theater academy in 1992. The goal of the academy is to teach "life skills through Stage skills." Academy classes are offered year-round to help children build character, develop leadership skills and increase emotional intelligence. The theater academy has been proven to help students in school by improving emotional intelligence scores (self-awareness, respect for self and others, teamwork, etc.) And instilling 21st century workforce skills (collaboration, critical thinking, increased communication, flexibility and creative thinking). First Stage academy offers a journey of self-discovery and helps children maximize their own potential in a safe environment surrounded by adult mentors and positive peers.in the 2019-2020 fiscal year, First Stage offered classes with contact hours ranging from 8 to 140 hours each, for over 2,170 enrollments for approximately 1,575 children, approximately 36% of which were from the city of Milwaukee and 13% of which were in need of financial assistance in order to attend. First Stage has never turned away a student due to a family's inability to pay costs associated with classes. Through donations, First Stage was able to provide nearly $117,000 in financial aid to help with tuition, transportation, and lunches for over 195 students. First Stage's theater academy holds classes year-round. Several of its more unique programs are described below, as well as achievements in the recent season:* in 2019-2020, First Stage adjusted its school year theater academy session scheduling structure in order to provide students with increased contact hours in addition to a new class option. Instead of three six-week sessions for fall, winter, and spring and two week-long spring break sessions, First Stage increased to two eight-week sessions for fall and winter. And in the spring, in response to academy families' requests for greater performance opportunities, First Stage piloted two performance classes: disney's jungle book, kids, with 32 students in grades 3 5; and frozen, jr, with 25 students in grades 6 8. The performance classes held daily rehearsals that were to culminate in a final performance, both of which were sold out. Only jungle book, kids was able to squeeze its final performance in before the covid-19 pandemic struck. The final performance of frozen, jr had to be postponed. * next steps was established in 2012 as a musical theatre and acting program designed specifically for students on the autism spectrum. The program provides an opportunity for students to develop social skills and artistic expression in a welcoming and supportive environment. During the summer, next steps academy classes are held as week-long sessions. And during the school year of 2019-2020, instead of facilitating next steps one-hour saturday classes at the Milwaukee youth arts center as in prior years, the theater academy piloted a new structure by bringing the next steps workshops into community classrooms. The pilot of this new structure began in february of 2020 at one local school and would have culminated in a final project in may, had the classes not been cut short in march due to covid-19. In total, the next steps program served 41 unique students in 2019-2020. * First Stage's student advisory board was created in 2013-2014 out of a need for the student's voice to be heard in making decisions about academy programming and policies. By 2014-2015, the sab doubled in size and added an opportunity beginning in 2015-2016 for two representatives to sit on the First Stage board of directors. * each summer, theater academy students embark on their kid-to-kid campaign. Over the course of 8 weeks, the students donate their dollars and coins, hold fund-raisers, make challenges to one another, etc., to raise money for the family partnership program, which offers financial aid to students who need financial support. And beginning in 2014, academy staff now hold annual kid-to-kid cabarets, where the staff help to raise money for financial aid through performing in a cabaret night. This event, along with the student's annual kid-to-kid campaign, raises several thousand dollars to support young people in the family partnership program. * as discussed above in theater productions, First Stage young company the theater academy's advanced actor training program for high school students produced one full-scale production during the 2019-2020 season. A second fully-produced project was cancelled due to covid-19, but the young company pivoted its work with this piece and was able to conduct it as a class in an online zoom format, with 580 people tuning in for the final performance via First Stage's youtube channel. * since 2008, a portion of the young company has traveled each october to cedar city, Utah to participate in the shakespeare competition at southern Utah university. The competition gives junior and high school students from around the nation a chance to present material from shakespearean literature in various artistic forms. This work is adjudicated by professionals in their fields, who also offer various workshops that can be attended for university credit. In late 2019, the young company brought home two trophies and two certificates including a First place win in the overall division sweepstakes. * the young company raises funds each spring to help pay for the students' trip to cedar city, Utah and the shakespeare competition there. The annual bard-o-thon is a one-day event with young company members performing as many monologues as they have memorized, with a final showcase presented to the public. In april 2020, 50 young company members delivered 504 shakespearean monologues and raised over $16,000. * as noted above, the covid-19 pandemic did affect First Stage's theater academy presentations and classes. Although the students and teachers could no longer meet in-person, First Stage remained dedicated to its mission of transforming lives through theater and pivoted to virtual platforms. The bard-o-thon fundraiser was conducted virtually for the First time, as students from the young company performed monologues from basements, bedrooms and backyards. School year intensive and young company classes moved online in order to provide students with a way to continue their learning virtually with their theater academy community. And the theater academy strove to reach out to all of the First Stage students with opportunities to connect through daily beginning of day and end of day live streaming on youtube.