Entries in Gathering Blue (3)

Sunday
May122013

Beauty of the Arts Beckon in Young Company’s Gathering Blue

Acclaimed children’s author Lois Lowry sets her book Gathering Blue, and the play adapted by Eric Coble “in and around a village.” The time frame she chooses: “Soon.” Do Lowry’s post apocalyptic stories foretell the near future?

First Stage Children’s Theater tackles Lowry's Gathering Blue in their premiere collaboration with Marquette University’s Theater Department at the Helfaer Theatre when showcasing their Young Company performers with poignant results. The play from her popular trilogy opened Friday under Todd Denning’s direction and showcases the select Young Company in their first, full stage production.

Assistant Artistic Director John Maclay heads Young Company, the college level actor training program geared for the 15 to 18 year olds that has garnered numerous awards in national competitions. In this production, Christine Pollnow, Erin Stapleton and Jordan Horne, all Young Company members, were cast as the main characters: weaver of threads, Kira, and carver of wood, Thomas. Orphans that invest valuable gifts to create beauty from ordinary materials in a society that might have been destroyed by a nuclear war, burned into living in this primitive setting.

Scenic Designer Stephen Hudson-Mariet (Chair of Performing Arts at Marquette) envisioned this through his bi-level stage where banners of golden cloth, similar to woven wild silk, were dropped from the ceiling to frame rustic wood furniture. A lush wooden flower box holds all the herbs that Kira plants to make her dyes that color the threads. She must weave these threads to repair an important robe that recalls the history of the world for the village.

In Lowry’s story, a celebration every year marks the villagers retelling their civilization’s history, one where bigger cities were built, with bigger destructions that followed.  A song, a staff and an embellished robe recall this for the village, all produced by artists, “the people who do and make things beautiful. “

The weaver of threads Kira is an artist who was born with a physical limitation, a twisted leg, and then survived the culture’s laws that anyone born imperfect should be left to die at birth. Saved by her powerful father at the time, he was then killed, and Kira learned her weaving skills, gifts passed to her from her mother. Kira even realizes, “Those who first appear imperfect are stronger and have valuable gifts to contribute to the village, sometimes more than those that are perfect.”

Friday night the Stitcher’s Cast performed with Erin Stapleton playing Kira with determination and grit that Lowry would have applauded. Jordan Horne’s Thomas kindly befriends Kira as the carver. Young Performer Josh MacCudden embodies a small boy Matt, another child without a father, who “carries” Kira’s supplies, protects her on her journeys to learn the secrets of the colors from the crone Annabella (Marquette Student Hannah Klapperich-Mueller, and steals some scenes with his impish charm. As Jo, the small future singer Kira befriends, Young Performer Claire Holtebeck captures a frightened child, scared without her mother.

In the production, the title Gathering Blue represents the very difficult task of producing the color indigo---the infinite color of sea and sky---a color that Lowry also chooses to represent freedom. Something as artists, Kira, Thomas and Jo hope to gather for themselves and the villagers in need of hope. Matt eventually travels a long, dangerous distance to find the herb that produces blue for Kira’s weaving, his special gift to her, in a tale that cherishes friendship.  

Perhaps more importantly, First Stage illustrates the beauty of the arts by staging this production, their students’ expanding talents, and then through Lowry’s play depiciting artists that reflect every genre. Essential arts that encourage, nurture and support any society. Otherwise the possibility exists that culture will disintegrate into Lowry’s very primal based, wild world, a world rejecting the creative potential of the arts. Do support First Stage, their Young Company and Marquette University’s Theater program, a new generation working to preserve the arts, and see this evocative production before Lowry’s fictional vision appears in reality sooner than one imagines.

First Stage Children’s Theater in partnership with Oregon Children's Theatre presents a limited production of Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue at Marquette University’s Helfaer Theatre through May 19. Please call for performance times at 414.267.2961 to reserve the $10.00 general admission seating tickets by clicking the First Stage link to the left, or find them in the previous preview of Gathering Blue on this same page.            by Peggy Sue Dunigan   

Monday
May062013

Preview: First Stage’s Young Company Graduates To Full Staged Production

Young Company at First Stage Children’s Theater begins a new tradition. Instead of producing their work at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, the Young Company graduates to a fully staged, complete with every costume, prop and scenery in place, to attract a wider audience for their professional efforts. 

This begins with the world premiere of an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue on May 10 at the Marquette University’s Helfaer Theatre, courtesy of the award winning First Stage Young Company. Eric Cole’s adaptation of Gathering Blue, the second in a trilogy of Lowry’s post apocalyptic novels, happens when Young Company collaborates with the University’s Theater Department, although the script was developed in partnership with Oregon Children’s Theatre.

By chance or choice, the two Young Company actors Christine Pollnow and Erin Stapleton will also be graduating from high school and their time at First Stage Theater Academy. Gathering Blue will be their final performances before heading to college in the fall.

Gathering Blue casts Pollnow and Stapleton as the main character in the drama, Kira, a teenager who has a visible physical limitation, a person considered unworthy in Lowry's post apocalyptic society. However, Kira’s mother was an accomplished weaver and passed this gift to her daughter before she died. A significant gift where Kira’s talent becomes more valuable to the primitive culture where she lives, despite her physical imperfections. In an interview with Polllnow, the high school senior said Lowry’s play addresses, “That a person can be stronger because of a limitation than others who are considered physically perfect.”

Gathering Blue requires Pollnow to walk with a twisted leg, supposedly a limitation her character was born with. She also discovered when rehearshing that this physical characteristic helped considerably in “getting into Kira’s personality much earlier because this usually happens when you step into the costumes and then are completely immersed in the character.” 

For Pollnow, to christen the first, fully staged Young Company production was definately worth waiting for, and also incorporates a First Stage outreach to capture teenage audiences. When a teen sees someone on stage, near their age, that individual can be challenged to embrace other new accomplishments or experiences.  At 19, Pollnow sets an inspiring example because after graduation she plans to attend New York University this fall to major in Theater. The other actor alternating as Kira and a friend of Pollnow, Stapleton, will also be majoring in Theater at Webster College.

Another high school senior. Jordan Horne. was cast as Thomas in the play, a talented carver who befriends Kira. While he connects with Kira as one more orphan in the village, Thomas is expected to restore several lost arts to the village's special celebrations. Horne came away with this perspective on the play that he chatted about when sitting at the MYAC while he related, “The arts have fallen by the wayside in Lowry's play, in this setting, because the village fights for food, their survival.”

Horne has performed with First Stage in the Young Company’s Cymbelline, Tom Sawyer, The Thief Lord, and Peter Pan. He emphasized how Lowry’s story “glorifies the arts” in this desperately grim culture. The carver, singer and weaver in her story represent all the arts and eventually become valuable to the villagers. Arts that need to flourish and provide soul sustenance similar to the mere necessities in any time period. Horne will also be graduating to the Theater program at Carthage College, ready to grow into the next phase of his life. He explains, “I think of leaving First Stage similar to any actor who also graduates from role to role.”

Pollnow then related that Lowry’s production will be a great last performance, with so many senior Young Company members in the show: ten young company members, three young performers and five Marquette colleges students, two who are First Stage Theater Academy alums. After 25 years, First Stage tries to keep in touch with their many graduates to note what they have accomplished after leaving, whether working full time in some aspect of theater or in another profession. 

Whatever life course First Stage Theater Academy graduates choose, the young adults take the principles they learned at the First Stage Academy to heart. As the Young Company expands to more full stage productions, this year with Gathering Blue and in the 2013-2014 season with Romeo and Juliet, students following behind Horne, Pollnow and Stapleton will be further inspired. Pollnow expresses these exact sentiments where she believes playing Kira has been a great role model for her, and she hopes for the audiences, when she says: “Kira's not one to take no for an answer, she keeps searching to make something right…and is willing to make a difference in the world.”

First Stage Children’s Theater presents a limited run of Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue at Marquette University’s Helfaer Theatre, 525 North 13th Street, and opens on Friday, May 10, 7:00 p.m. The production recommends viewing for those 12 years and older. General Admission seating is $10, with other performances at Saturday, May 11, 7:00 p.m., Sunday, May 12, 3:30 p.m., May 17 & 18, 7:00 p..m. and a final performance on May 19, 3:30 p.m.. First Stage plans a breakfast with author Lois Lowry on May 19, and for tickets or information please call 414.267.2961 or click the link to the left.                     by Peggy Sue Dunigan

 

Tuesday
Oct092012

PREVIEW: FIRST FLIGHT INTO A 26TH SEASON AT FIRST STAGE 

An elegant ten feet tall Richard Taylor sculpture stands outside the Milwaukee Youth Art Center on 6th and Walnut. The city’s renowned Taylor installed the work titled First Flight this summer that he constructed in pure white painted steel, the first Taylor sculpture to be completely white.  At the base of the sculpture Taylor incorporated his various inspirations:  believe, confidence, creativity, leadership, passion, respect, risks name only a few. The landmark sculpture symbolizes a beacon of openness and collaboration First Stage Children’s Theater commits to for its brave new 26th season that opens this October.  

The brave new season partially belongs to the recently installed Managing Director Best Corry, who follows the legacy of founder Rob Goodman. Corry described the Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) has improved dramatically throughout the country and at First Stage over the past decade. Which means the acting abilities of young performers and the plays being written for TYA have become, as Corry says, “top level quality.” 

First Stage chooses their selections based on these top-level qualities, evaluating a play’s artistic challenges and emotional rewards that will connect multiple generations. This philosophy inherently acknowledges that TYA will be educating and grooming audiences for the future, to ensure that TYA will be around well into the 21st century. While connecting with theatre companies across the country to ensure better economic stability because the costs to producing theater are now shared, this philsophy also initiates an important plus for theater companies who can produce the same show in several locations. Corry explains, “The cross country collaborations produce this ‘economy of scale’.”

Corry further explained this 26th season fulfilled many of these goals and that begins October 19 with BIG, THE MUSICAL and presents a TYA version adapted by Artistic Director Jeff Frank and Adventure Theater (Maryland) Artistic Director Michael Bobbitt. Frank also directs the Milwaukee musical previously based on the 1987 film familiar to adults, Big. This family oriented entertainment refocuses the romance in the movie Big around the friendship between Josh and Billy, who remains age 13 for the entire play while Josh morphs into an adult. Corry envisions, “It will be fun to have that memory base in the audience to build on, where adults have an affinity for the story.” 

The holidays bring another premiere to Milwaukee with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, also directed by Frank. The vintage 1967 made for television special airs only once a season, while the stage presentation will evoke nostalgia from the adult and youth audiences. A classic brought to life in the theater. “This play leaps from screen to stage,” Corry comments, “So that contemporary children will lose the fourth wall to create a genuine immediacy to the story that shines through."

Two special performances at the MYAC cater to the preschool set with the company’s First Step series. For this year’s offerings, one opens November 3 to relate the tale Five Little Monkeys with a special sensory friendly performance designated for children living with or on the autism spectrum. The collaboration broadens the First Stage reach with an outstretched hand to the Autism Center of Wisconsin. 

The second selection will begin in January and involves coordinating with Milwaukee’s Danceworks, Inc. in a world premiere of an adaptation from Lois Ehlert’s Mole Hill Stories. In this innovative production, Ehlert’s award winning picture books will be condensed into a format choreographed by Danceworks and accompanied by an English and Spanish script for a bilingual animal adventure suitable for the tiniest audiences.  

Afterwards, the beloved Milwaukee actor Jonathan Gillard Daly acts in The Promised Land. A play Daly also wrote for the First Stage Wisconsin Cycle. The play represents the second in the series of six new plays based on Wisconsin history, while several others will follow after further development for future seasons. Sheri Williams Parnell directs this story about a young Milwaukee girl inspired by Golda Meir in yet another original work, which builds community partnerships with the Jewish Milwaukee Museum and the Jewish Community Center. 

Following in Spring, First Stage produces Pinkaliscious,  a modern tale about a brother and sister who must survive an attack of the color pink and will speak to enjoying “too much of a good thing.” And to welcome Opening Day at Miller Park for baseball season, the biopic Jackie and Me relates a story for the sports fan about Hall of Fame player Jackie Robinson, for the young and young at heart  The Brewers Community Foundation presents coordinating programming that addresses racial issues in while sustaining a belief in making dreams come true.

A very special production ends the First Stage season in a first time collaboration with Marquette University’s Helfaer Theater, their faculty and the First Stage Young Company. In an effort to cross over and reach teens, the Young Company youth performers present Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue. The play represents another adaptation taken from Lowry’s trilogy that included the company’s 2007 production of The Giver. 

These exceptional theater experiences offer only one of many first flights soaring into brave new collaborations and productions, esepcially for the 26th season, destined to make the Milwaukee arts community stronger. Unprecedented opportunities First Stage Children’s Theater provides while promising entertainment and emotional substance for the city’s younger population. Today and into a future as faraway as the stars the children wish on and older imaginations still dream about.

First Stage Children's Theater presents BIG, THE MUSICAL at the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts from October 19 through November 11. The First Steps production Five Little Monkeys has already been sold out and new performances have been added for November 24 and 25. Season tickets and family packages are still available for the 2012-2013 season. The company hosts their 3rd annual Apri il Vino, a wine tasting and dinner on Saturday, November 10. For further information and tickets please call 414.273.7206 or click the link to the left.                    by Peggy Sue Dunigan