Tag Archives: camp

First Stage Academy offers a dramatic summer camp

Summer is here, and the familiar activities of the season are in full swing in Milwaukee. Head to Bradford Beach and you will find volleyball scrimmages all day long. Local beer gardens are filled to the brim, with customers sampling some of the finest beers that Milwaukee has to offer. 

For students, summer often means summer camp. But not every camp requires you to head to the woods. One of the city’s most beloved just requires you to step on a stage.

First Stage Academy, an education program from the children’s theater company of the same name, will enter its 23rd summer this year, welcoming more than 1,300 students from kindergartners to high school seniors. With classes designed to challenge students at each level as actors, playwrights and singers, this experience is truly one of a kind, teaching kids life skills through theater and providing growth opportunities even to those participants who don’t have their hearts set on stardom.

Academy director Jennifer Adams says First Stage Academy sessions range from a week to a month in length, and always end with a performance that shows off the students’ hard work.

Much like in professional theater, what non-participants don’t see is all the work that goes on behind the scenes to produce that performance. The academy features a daily curriculum taught by members of the local theater community. Students arrive around 8 a.m. and subsequently rotate through classes on subjects including playwrights, acting and improvisation until they return home in the afternoon. Sessions for older students are even more intensive — Adams says they are allowed to “major” in an area of their choice: Shakespeare, perhaps, or musical theater. “It really gives them an opportunity to develop their craft over the four-week course period,” she says.

Program durations largely depend on the age of the participants. Elementary school students generally attend weeklong sessions, with the youngest kids only required to participate for a half-day. Three-to-four week programs are geared toward middle and high school students who want that more focused work.

Adams says each year features a mix of new and returning students, keeping each summer a fresh experience. “It doesn’t matter if you are new to the Academy or have attended several times — there’s always something for everyone,” she says. “Each session brings new scenes and challenges, plus our staff changes each year. Veteran or not, the students get to work with professional, regional actors — it’s a great opportunity for them.”

The current Summer Academy is underway, but that doesn’t mean planning hasn’t already started for the 2016 session. “We keep a running list of what is working well and what could be tweaked. Some items get added onto the curriculum right away while others are notated to add next summer,” says Adams.

And it isn’t too late to sign up for this year’s program, Adams says. The company has classes all summer long and has added two new locations this year: the United Community Center on Milwaukee’s South Side and St. Rafael’s School in the Layton Boulevard West neighborhood.

“It doesn’t matter if you have been to First Stage zero times or 20,” Adams says. “There is something for everyone. We aren’t just teaching acting skills, but also life skills. That is incredibly important to us, and to our students. It’s what we’ve built the Academy on.”

Join the Academy

Interested students and their families can find more information about First Stage classes or register for future sessions at firststage.org or by calling 414-267-2970.

Year in Review: Top 10 in U.S. theater in 2013

This year’s best-in-theater list is overstuffed: There are revolting children, classic plays and circus acrobats. There are two knights playing two clowns and a guy in a one-man show, which somehow also features Barbra Streisand. Even a production that never actually made it onstage gets some applause. What? Our Top 10 list of the best in theater in 2013:

1. “The Glass Menagerie”: There’s magic from start to finish in this new production of Tennessee William’s great play about regret starring a superb Cherry Jones and a revelatory Zachary Quinto. It’s evocative, sometimes surreal and sublimely organic – the perfect package for a play about faded and frayed memories.

2. “Pippin”: The revival of the Stephen Schwartz musical led by director Diane Paulus packs plenty of bang, lots of flips and real value for your money: A ticket buys you not just a musical but also a trip to the circus. There are fire jugglers, teeterboards, knife throwing and contortionists, as well as Bob Fosse-style dancing and great performances.

3. “Matilda”: Great sets, choreography and songs make this British import hard to resist. Music and lyrics by Tim Minchin stick with you – especially “Miracle,” “Telly,” “When I Grow Up” and “The Smell of Rebellion” – and the whole show thrillingly reminds you of the darkness of being a kid.

4. “Kinky Boots”: The new Tony Award musical winner with infectious songs by Cyndi Lauper and a sloppy kiss of a story by Harvey Fierstein is unabashedly sentimental, with a classic message of acceptance. Billy Porter, as the drag queen at its heart, can make tears fall down your cheeks and he’s sticking with the show into 2014.

5. “The Sound of Music”: This Carrie Underwood-led show was on TV, of course, but Broadway was in its DNA, from the supporting cast – Christian Borle, Laura Benanti and Audra McDonald – to co-director Rob Ashford. It was the first full-scale musical staged live for television in more than a half-century and drew an impressive 18.6 million viewers. (By way of comparison, total attendances for all of Broadway last season was 11.6 million). It was simply a brilliant advertisement for live theater.

6. “The Last Five Years:” A revival of Jason Robert Brown’s song cycle about a troubled marriage was a highlight of Second Stage Theatre’s last season. But if you missed it, look out for a movie version soon with “Smash” star Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick from “Up in the Air.” It’s good to see this fabulous show get another bout of attention.

7. Mark Rylance as the white-faced and trembling noblewoman Olivia in “Twelfth Night.” Rylance, sharing his Shakespearian skills on Broadway for the first time, is also playing the evil title monarch in “Richard III” in repertory, but seeing his Olivia get unglued in the presence of a young man, who is, in fact, a young woman in disguise, is a pure delight.

8. Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” and Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” may not be your double cup of existential tea, but watching Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart at the top of their game make these the definite versions to see, despite the obtuseness and angst. You’ll be applauding loudly even while scratching your head.

9. “Buyer & Cellar:” Michael Urie plays a struggling actor who goes to work for Barbra Streisand as a clerk in her underground mall of quaint shops, which no one but Streisand goes to. Over 100 minutes, Urie plays out more than 30 scenes in which his character has a fraught tango with the fictional Babs. It’s moving and sweet and funny. Urie also helped the off-Broadway one-man show do something few can boast: recoup.

10. The look of “Macbeth:” The acting led by Ethan Hawke may be uneven, the addition of creatures that look like rejects from “Cats” is unfortunate and the use of three scenery chewing men to play the Three Witches breaks the spell, but there’s no denying this is the most handsome show on Broadway. Scott Pask’s sets include giant moveable slabs, a vase of flowers that suddenly loses its petals and a bright, airy, leaf-covered canopy. Japhy Weideman’s stunning lighting turns everyone into rock gods. And Catherine Zuber’s timeless, ultra-sexy costumes make everyone gorgeous.

Honorable Mention: “Fun Home”: A rich, clever and moving musical adapted by the playwright Lisa Kron and the composer Jeanine Tesori from Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about growing up with a gay dad. This show at the Public Theater is refreshing and intimate and satisfying.

Gifts inspired by Judy Garland

If you find yourself (or someone on your holiday gift list) asking WWJD (What would Judy do?), consider the following.

If she were still here among us, Judy might want to pour herself a drink to wash down one of her pills. Ole Smoky Tennessee Moonshine comes in eight authentic East Tennessee recipes — Original, White Lightnin’, Moonshine Cherries, Peach, Apple Pie, Blackberry, Strawberry and Lemon Drop. All are shipped from the company’s famed Gatlinburg distillery, known as The Holler. Ole Smoky Moonshine is made “from the hand-crafted recipes of the Tennessee families who have been filling moonshine jars and jugs in the Smoky Mountains for more than a century.” Learn more online at olesmokymoonshine.com.

How would Judy (or her friends) keep that drink cold? Stainless steel n’ICE Cubes chill drinks without watering them down. They’re made of food-grade stainless steel and available in sets of six liquid-filled cubes. After being stored in the freezer for about four hours, the cubes function as a “non-diluting alternative” to melting ice. The right accompaniment to just about any chilled beverages. n’ICE Cubes can be purchased at brookstone.com and other retailers.

Once a few drinks are downed, everyone will want to step out of her/his pumps and slip into a pair of Red Ruby Slipper Flip Flops. You read that right. They’re black-rubber soled and blue-strapped flip-flops with a silk-screened “sparkly” red image on which to rest your tootsies. Available at cafepress.com.

After the slippers, you’ve probably reached the hour when drunk-dialing begins. Grab your mobile in its Ruby Slippers iPhone case — they come in a variety of patterns — and start calling. Available at wbshop.com.

Of course, after your Judy Garland evening, there’s the possibility of waking up with one heck of a hangover. The solution? Wrap your head in an Ostrich Pillow. Described as the “perfect companion to nap anywhere,” the Ostrich Pillow slips over your head with an oval opening for your face, and a pair of holes to rest your hands (if you so choose). An invitation to dream and recharge, the Ostrich Pillow is a great conversation starter — after you wake up, naturally. Visit ostrichpillow.com.

Last, but certainly not least, Judy (and friends of Judy) must experience Milwaukee Rep’s production of the Tony-nominated musical End of the Rainbow, playing Jan. 7-March 9 in the Quadracci Powerhouse main stage theater. Starring Hollis Resnick (currently playing the Mother Superior in the national tour of Sister Act), End of the Rainbow is set during the late 1960s near the end of Garland’s, short, tragic, but most importantly, celebrated life. Tickets, which would make a smashing gift, are available by calling 414-224-4140 or online at milwaukeerep.com.

No doubt, Judy would approve.

Scout leaders focus on jamboree not gay vote

Two months after a vote that accepted openly gay boys as Scouts, officials for the Boy Scouts of America say they’ve put the issue aside and are focused on their 10-day national Jamboree.

Some 30,000 Scouts and their leaders arrived Monday at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in southern West Virginia. Thousands more staff and volunteers have been at the 1,000-acre site since last week.

Months of divisive debate led to May’s vote by the BSA’s National Council to allow gay Scouts to participate while keeping a ban on gay adults. The policy change is effective next January.

“We don’t see any changes in the way we do things at the jamboree at all,” Wayne Brock, the BSA’s chief executive, told The Associated Press. “We don’t see where it would have any kind of impact.”

With much negative attention directed toward the Boy Scouts in recent months, Brock said the hope is that the Jamboree proves to be a positive event. Although there already has been some controversy over an eligibility requirement for the camp: To attend, Scouts and their leaders have to meet standards for the Body Mass Index and other health factors. So youthwhose BMI is 40 or above were banned.

Regarding the gay policy, BSA national president Wayne Perry said Scouting leaders have been too active to reflect much on the decision.

“We’ve debated this issue, but we’ve moved on,” Perry said.

As Scouts get settled into their tents on six base camps and dive into the dozens of amenities that include whitewater rafting, mountain and BMX biking, and rock climbing, national BSA spokesman Deron Smith said the organization is unaware of any openly gay Scouts attending the Jamboree, noting “we do not proactively inquire about the sexuality of Scouts, or leaders.”

But Pascal Tessier, 16, of Kensington, Md., an openly gay scout who isn’t attending the Jamboree because of prior commitments, said some of his gay friends who are Scouts are attending.

“I don’t think they’re too worried about anything happening there,” he said. “They’ve already been accepted. But they’re also not making a big deal about it. They’re regular Scouts.”

Tessier believes it’s inevitable that Scouts will discuss the BSA’s decision at the Jamboree.

“Not officially, but by themselves,” he said.

Scout officials said they’re unaware of any scheduled protests at the Jamboree. Rich Ferraro of GLAAD, formerly known as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, said the media watchdog group has no planned events around the Jamboree and is continuing work to end the Scouts’ ban on gay adults.

“The Boy Scouts took an important first step, but there’s still a long way to go,” Ferraro said.

Earlier this year, GLAAD led a successful campaign to get two musical acts – Carly Rae Jepsen and Train – to drop their planned appearances at the summer event. Jamboree officials have not announced the act for a July 20 concert.

John Paterson and John Bode from the Pikes Peak Council in Colorado Springs, Colo., helped bring 50 Scouts to West Virginia on Monday.

Paterson is at his seventh Jamboree. And it will be his last because of the vote to allow gay Scouts and the push to include gay adults and others.

“It will effectively change Scouting forever. It has,” Paterson said. “And not just because of what the ramifications are. Eagle Scouts will be in next, and then gay leaders. It’s a ripple effect. It will happen. It may take three years. I think it will happen pretty quickly.”

Paterson said the parents of one of his Scouts also said they’re dropping out of the organization over the vote.

Bode, who previous attended a Jamboree as a youth in 1977, said he’ll stick with the Scouts – for now. He has younger boys in Scouting, so he’d like to see them continue into Eagle Scouts.

Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, an activist raised by lesbian mothers in Iowa, is executive director of Scouts for Equality, a group he started last summer whose membership has grown to more than 15,000.

Wahls said despite the policy change, “99 things out of 100 will continue to be the same for the Boy Scouts of America. And I think it’s important for everybody to remember that. As far as our expectations, we hope it’s a great Jamboree.”

John Stemberger, a conservative activist and former Scout from Florida who led a group opposing the policy change, said he expects to see openly gay activism at the Jamboree. He questioned how leaders will handle the issue of tenting of “boys who openly announce their attraction to other boys.”

Stemberger founded a national coalition of parents, Scoutmasters, Eagle Scouts, donors and other BSA members working to create an alternative program to the Boy Scouts.

“For many of our members, this will be the last scouting event they attend before resigning from the BSA,” he wrote in an email.

At an annual meeting in Houston last month, the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution expressing its opposition to the new policy allowing gay Scouts, but it didn’t explicitly call for churches to drop all ties with the organization.

“In terms of the Jamboree and summer activities … really at this point nothing has changed,” said Roger Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention. “Nobody should have concerns about (openly gay Scouts) at this year’s Jamboree because the membership policy has not changed.”

Malaysia sending effeminate boys to butch camp

LGBT activists have denounced a move by Malaysian school officials to send 66 effeminate boys to a special camp for counseling on masculine behavior. In Malaysia, a Muslim- country, homosexuality is a criminal offense.

The Joint Action Group for Gender Equality said in a statement the policy “should be strongly opposed and challenged as it promotes homophobia and prejudice. … We should send a clear message to institutions that they have no business meddling with an individual’s identity and personal preference.”

The BBC reported that the camp provides boys with four days of religious and physical education designed to address their effeminacy “before the young ones misunderstand people and reach the point of no return,” a Malaysian state education director told a newspaper.

According to the official, “some people end up as transvestite or a homosexual, but we will do our best to limit the number.”

Malaysia also came under fire recently from equality advocates for censoring the lyrics to Lady Gaga’s hit song “Born This Way.”