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As a professional theater company for young audiences, the mission of First Stage is to touch hearts and transform lives by creating exceptional theater experiences for young people and families through:
In 1987, First Stage began as a small theater company with a goal of providing professional theater for young people and families. Today, the company has grown to become one of the nation’s most acclaimed professional children’s theaters and one of the largest theater companies in Milwaukee, drawing an annual audience of 116,000. Titles are chosen for educational content, social significance, and their potential to spark conversation at home and in classrooms. First Stage casts all productions with age-appropriate performers which helps young audiences connect more closely with characters and the important stories they tell. Many young people are exposed to theater for the first time when they come to First Stage and this year the Wisconsin Arts Board recognized our efforts in “cultivating future audiences.” First Stage has always been committed to developing new work and to date has presented 43 world premieres, collaborating with renowned artists including Harry Connick, Jr., composer Stephen Schwartz, award-winning author Lois Lowry and Wisconsin playwright/actor James DeVita.
Debuting in 1992, the First Stage Theater Academy has become the largest and finest theater training program of its kind in the nation. More than 1,800 students age 5-18 participated in the program last year (3,000 enrollments). Academy classes are offered year-round and teach “life skills through stage skills” with a curriculum goal to build character and develop leadership skills. Financial aid is provided to economically disadvantaged children and no child has ever been turned away because of financial need. These programs are based at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, a national model for youth training in the performing arts. To accommodate the increasing number of students we serve in diverse locations, First Stage also offers Theater Academy programming at five satellite locations including the Oconomowoc Arts Center, Sharon Lynne Wilson Center in Brookfield, Schauer Arts Center in Hartford, Wauwatosa Recreation Department and for the first time ever, in the summer of 2011 we will offer a residency at Carthage College in Kenosha. This exciting overnight program allows students entering grades 9 - 12 to eat, sleep, and breathe the First Stage experience for two full weeks and will help each student take their next step forward as an artist and as a person.
First Stage has offered Theater in Education programs for all 25 years of the company’s existence with the goal of inciting young people’s excitement for learning and helping classroom teachers explore curriculum using interactive, imaginative and integrated methods. Through our professional theater performances, classroom workshops and residencies, we encourage students of all ages to experience their world differently and find new connections to their school curriculum. 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 students that thrive when they are allowed to express themselves and use their natural creativity in the classroom.
The three components of our mission above are fundamental to the First Stage brand and all programming works toward the same end – the education and personal development of our community’s children. First Stage has a significant reputation in our community for producing truly great theater but what many don’t fully understand is how successfully we use art to teach. First Stage believes in the transformational power of theater and is dedicated to using theater to drive education, creating programs that produce measured results and help students set and meet high standards of academic and personal achievement. Through our professional theater productions, Theater Academy, and classroom workshops and residencies, we encourage students of all ages to experience their world differently by encouraging them to learn in a creative and innovative way.