First Stage’s Young Company Presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

The Young Company is First Stage’s troupe of advanced high school age actors. And in the performances that I have experienced and again here with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, they are playing beyond expectations for such a youthful cast.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is one of Shakespeare’s most popular and accessible and a great play to work with…because even audiences not familiar with Shakespeare in general know something of the plot and characters…and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t enjoy this play.

The Young Company is presenting the play at their Goodman Mainstage Hall in the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center on Walnut just a bit north of the Deer District.

The Company is presenting the play in the round with very minimal staging. A barely raised circular stage with a low platform along one arc to provide space for speeches, resting, sleeping, and fairies! And that minimal set and restrained space can be challenging for the action and large ensemble required for A Midsummer Night’s Dream but these young actors make the most of it! Director Molly Rhode, a First Stage alumna, deserves a lot of credit for orchestrating the comings and goings as the scenes change and of course the cast for their perfect execution as fairies make way for nobles and nobles make way for craftsmen, and town or palace make way for the forest. And the physical comedy inherent in the play are also clearly apparent and the audience reactions made clear that we were all having fun!

And costuming too isn’t rich or over the top…but you will be able to discern when a character is a fairy! Or a noble! Or a craftsman! And that is important since a number of the actors are playing multiple roles. So pay attention but you with just a little care, you’ll be able to follow the characters as they progress through the story and the dreams Shakespeare wrote into this comedy. And if you lose track for even a moment, the various bells, horns, drums, and other sound effects will clue you in as to which scene and which group of characters is about to fill the stage in front of you. Although I doubt anyone will mistake a fairy for a noble!

But the limited scenic space and simple costuming lets the language come through. And the cast has mastered the language and the story here is told via the language and the actor’s commitment to the language. Truly remarkable for such a young cast. I think we will see any number of these young actors on Milwaukee’s adult stages in a few years.

One of stand outs on Sunday, was Zachary Nowacek as Nick Bottom. Nowacek brings all the requisite humor and boastfulness required for the role…particularly as the roles for the play within the play are announced…and despite securing the lead role Pyramus, Nowacek exhibits a perfect swagger as he suggests that he can play all of the roles. And when we finally get to see the play presented for the duke’s nuptials, Nowacek presents the appropriate bit of slapstick as he brandishes his prop sword causing his onstage audience to duck on cue…and then plays the death scene to the hilt (pun intended)…to all of our amusement…including the good duke!

And then we have Angel Rivera as Helena and Alice Rivera as Hermia. Two BFFs whose affections toward one another turn as the misdirections and mishaps in the court and the forest cause their suitors to inexplicably change their affections. Both of these young actors start from the love struck young women and move to some very adult confrontations as the actual Midsummer Night’s Dreams affected their love interests. Both roles were played with the correct intensity and emotion and really brought the stories home. And of course their eventual shift to happily wed noblewomen was played with the appropriate calm and regal bearing!

And you can’t leave a discussion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream without discussing Robin Goodfellow! And on Sunday afternoon, Robin was played by Mara Holzen, who was subbing for Josie Van Slyke. And Holzen gave us the proper feeling of spunk, frivolity, and mischief that you would expect from a puck. A proper very Puck indeed!!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is suggested for families and young people, ages 11+. And I will suggest that this a perfect production and a perfect venue to introduce young people to the language and poetry of Shakespeare! All seating is close to the stage and provides an intimate relationship with actors and the story.

It runs one more weekend, with performances on December 16th, 17th, and 18th. Tickets can be ordered here! There is ample free parking in their lot next to the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and additional street parking.

Extra credit reading: The Playbill! and if you want to get a head start on the play or prepare those Shakespeare rookies: The Enrichment Guide

P.S. I will add photos later as they become available.

PSA: First Stage To Present: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I am a little bit tardy in getting this out…but here’s what you need to know!

Milwaukee, WI –November 30, 2022 – First Stage’s Young Company, the Theater Academy’s award-winning training program for advanced high school actors, will present A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, one of Shakespeare’s most popular and influential plays. The play will be performed in the recently renovated, theater-in-the round Goodman Mainstage Hall at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. Noted Wisconsin director/actor, Associate Artistic Director at Northern Sky Theater and First Stage alum Molly Rhode will direct this production. In A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, audiences will follow the misadventures of fairies, nobles and craftsmen through the forests of Athens over the course of one magical evening. Love triangles, mistaken identities and alarming transformations abound in Shakespeare’s most enchanting comedy. Sponsored by the United Performing Arts Fund

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM runs December 9 – 18 at Goodman Mainstage Hall, MilwaukeeYouth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets are $15. Tickets are available online at or through the First Stage Box Office at (414) 267-2961. Performance runtime is approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes plus a brief intermission. Suggested for families and young people ages 11+.  

This is a Young Company Performance Project – an actor-driven presentation using elemental production values. By stripping down to a nearly bare stage, the connection of actor to audience is enhanced, and the words of the play come alive in exciting ways, allowing First Stage’s award-winning students to showcase their graduate level skills with full-length material, from Shakespeare to American classics to pieces commissioned specially for them. 

From Director of the Young Company Matt Daniels: “A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and popular plays for a reason. It is full of fun, fantasy, mischief and beautiful language, making it a perfect fit for our award-winning Young Company. I first encountered this play as an actor when I was in high school, and it left an indelible mark, setting me on a path to a life rich in Shakespeare’s work. I trust it will be the same for these seasoned young artists.” 

Added Director Molly Rhode: “At 14 years old, I was an original student of the Theater Academy when First Stage opened its doors to students in the summer of 1992. I feel so lucky that my teen years intersected with the creation of the Academy. It changed my life. The teachers I met that summer remain some of my most powerful mentors today. Returning to work with the Young Company feels like reconnecting with my roots. These students are exceptional. It’s a real honor to be their guide through this production.” 

The Young Company has provided me with a number of stellar theater experiences. If you can fit one more theater piece into your holiday season, you will be rewarded.

Additional info and extra credit reading!

Digital Playbill:The digital playbill includes artistic/actor/designer and cast bios. To view the digital playbill when it gets posted closer to the show opening, please go to: 

Enrichment Guide: An Enrichment Guide for the production can be found here: 

Tickets are $15 – Tickets may be purchased at or by phone (414) 267-2961

Pay What You Choose Performance: Friday, December 16, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. 

Pay What You Choose tickets are available on a first come, first served basis with a minimum suggested donation of $5 per person. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. on the day of the performance. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early. Tickets may also be reserved in advance by phone at (414) 267-2961, weekdays 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. To learn more visit: 

PSA: FIRST STAGE announces a season filled with music, joy and adventure for 2022/23  

This past season was my first experience with First Stage. And I was more than pleasantly surprised by the quality of the plays presented and the youthful cast members and the skills and enthusiasm that they bring to the stage in every performance.

So I am more than happy to publish their schedule for the 2022/2023 season and recommend them to our readers:

Milwaukee, WI – May 17, 2022 – First Stage, one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families, is excited to announce their 2022/23 season. The full season kicks off in October at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater with the fun world premiere musical ARTHUR AND FRIENDS MAKE A MUSICAL! written by First Stage Resident Playwright John Maclay (THE LEGEND OF ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS), with music and lyrics by Brett Ryback. Then in November, RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER™: THE MUSICAL returns to the Todd Wehr to get audiences young and old into the holiday spirit. The new year begins with a loving ode to family, CARMELA FULL OF WISHES, an adaption by First Stage Resident Playwright Alvaro Saar Rios (ON THE WINGS OF A MARIPOSA) and based on the book by Matt de La Peña and illustrated by Christian Robinson. (LAST STOP ON MARKET STREET, another play adapted from a Matt de La Peña book, is currently running at Milwaukee Youth Arts Center through June 12, 2022.) In March, the delightfully quirky and hopeful THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL newly adapted for Young Audiences comes to the Todd Wehr, a production bursting at the seams with optimism and loaded with songs from popular musicians like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend and Panic! At The Disco, to name a few. The final production at the Todd Wehr will be Bob Marley’s THREE LITTLE BIRDS, a timeless tale of peace and love filled with music from the legendary reggae artist.  

First Stage has scheduled a variety of offerings in the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center’s newly remodeled theater-in-the-round Goodman Mainstage Hall. Opening in early February 2023 will be the THE HOBBIT, an energetic adaptation by Greg Banks and based on the book The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Directed by Jeff Frank, the play follows Bilbo Baggins on an epic magical journey showing us that courage is about taking on a challenge despite our fears while also reminding us of what it is to be a true friend.  

First Stage’s award-winning Young Company will also present two Performance Projects at Milwaukee Youth Arts Center beginning with William Shakespeare’s enchanting comedy A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM in December. That will be followed by a production in March of LITTLE WOMEN, by Kate Hamill, adapted from the celebrated coming-of-age novel by Louisa May Alcott. The final Young Company presentation for the 2022/23 season will be the fully mounted world premiere production of THE GRACIOUS SISTERS, by First Stage Resident Playwright Alice Austen (GIRLS IN THE BOAT), and freely adapted from The Eumenides, by Aeschylus. It is an exploration of the balance of a desire for vengeance and the need for grace. This play is part of World Premiere Wisconsin, a statewide festival celebrating new plays and musicals.  

From: The Watsons Go To Birmigham (2021/2022 season) courtesy of First Stage


Book and Lyrics by John Maclay, Music and Lyrics by Brett Ryback
Adapted from the books and characters created by Marc Brown 

Directed and Choreographed by Khalia Davis
Music Direction by Brett Ryback 

October 7 – November 6, 2022
Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater 

Sponsored by Children’s Wisconsin  

Big things are happening at Lakewood Elementary School! Mr. Ratburn’s class is asked to write and perform a big show for all of Elwood City. Everyone is so excited! Everyone, except for Arthur. What should he do? Arthur feels more nervous as the big performance gets closer and closer. With the help of his family and friends Buster, Brain, Francine, Muffy – and even little sister D.W. – Arthur learns the importance of being his best, unique self. All aboard for an incredibly fun ride with this world premiere musical! Suggested for families with young people ages 5+. 

From Director Khalia Davis: “Arthur was such a beloved part of my childhood so to get the opportunity to celebrate the legacy of the books and television series by expanding the world into a fun, family-friendly musical, is a dream! I am most excited for audiences to see their favorite characters in new, timely stories that maintain the beautiful essence and spirit of the work.”


Based on the animated television special “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and the stage production directed and conceived by Jeff Frank and First Stage

Script adaptation by Robert Penola. Arrangements and orchestrations by Timothy Splain.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” animated television special adapted from a story by Robert L. May and the song by Johnny Marks, music and lyrics by Johnny Marks. All elements © and ™ under license to Character Arts, LLC.

Directed by Jeff Frank

November 25 – December 24, 2022

Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater 

Sponsored by Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren and Associated Bank.

And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows! The beloved TV classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer soars off the screen and returns to our stage this holiday season. From fleeing the Abominable Snow Monster to saving Christmas, join Rudolph and his friends, Hermey the Elf and Yukon Cornelius, as their adventures teach us that what makes you different can be what makes you special. Don’t miss this wonderful holiday tradition that speaks to the little misfit in all of us. Suggested for families with young people ages 4+. 

From Jeff: “This joyful holiday tale will once again come to life at the Todd Wehr courtesy of some clever staging, the remarkable design work of Brandon Kirkham and our incredible production department who crafted this piece with such care and detail. Rudolph, Hermey and the Toys remind us all that there is a place for everyone. There really is no such thing as a misfit – just a world that needs to learn to welcome people as they are. No one should have to worry about covering up who they are to seek acceptance. After all – it turns out that even the Bumble is misunderstood. From the incredible music of Johnny Marks, to the adventures with the Bumble, to the lovable inhabitants of the Island of Misfit Toys, to the hilarious antics of Yukon Cornelius, to the heartwarming storytelling of Sam the Snowman – Rudolph has something for the entire family to celebrate this holiday season.”

Adapted by Alvaro Saar Rios
From the book by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers 

“Carmela Full of Wishes” was Co-Commissioned by and received its World Premiere Productions at Chicago Children’s Theatre, Jacqueline Russell, Artistic Director;  

and The Rose Theatre of Nebraska, Matt Gutschick, Artistic Director 

Directed by Michelle Lopez-Rios

January 20 – February 12, 2023
Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater 

Sponsored by PNC.

It’s Carmela’s birthday, and her wish has already come true – she’s finally old enough to join her big brother as he does the family errands! As they travel through the neighborhood, Carmela finds a lone dandelion growing in the pavement. Before she can blow its puffy white fluff away, her brother tells her she has to make a wish. If only she can think of just the right wish to make. Delight in this moving ode to family, to dreamers and to finding hope in the most unexpected places. Suggested for families with young people ages 3+. 

From Director Michelle Lopez-Rios: “In CARMELA FULL OF WISHES, we take a big journey with Carmela on her birthday. Like the book, the play delivers a world that stimulates all the senses. The imaginative set, costume, sound and lighting designs of the production will play a vital role in bringing this world to life. There are fields of bright orange marigolds, tastes of paletas (popsicles), smells of fresh laundry and the beauty of life by the sea. As she tags along to run errands with her Big Brother, we travel through the vibrant community that is their home. We watch as Carmela dreams up the perfect wish for her birthday and reveals what life is like for her family. Family is at the heart of this journey. . . . It is a story that we all need to know and understand. As Carmela dashes along the streets on her worn green scooter taking in the world around her, we witness the deep and endless love of this family and we feel the resilience of hope.”

Based on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Licensed by Middle-earth Enterprises
Adapted for the Stage by Greg Banks
Produced by special arrangement with Plays for New Audiences 

Directed by Jeff Frank 

February 3 – March 5, 2023
Goodman Mainstage Hall, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center 

Our unlikely hero, Bilbo Baggins, would much rather be sitting in their cozy Hobbit Hole with a cup of tea and a plate of bacon and eggs. However, they somehow find themselves on a magically mystical adventure. Staged with speed and surprises, you’ll be delighted as things change before your very eyes. Discover what happens as Bilbo travels on an epic journey over freezing mountains and a frightening forest, meeting all sorts of fierce creatures – some who want to eat them, others who turn into dear friends. Suggested for families with young people ages 8+. 

From Jeff: “5 actors. 1 musician. 32 characters. 90 minutes. 1 epic tale brought magically to life on a theatrical adventure unlike anything seen before at First Stage! I love the fast-paced, energetic adaptation by Greg Banks with actors switching characters at the drop of a hat or the donning of a costume piece. He has distilled the adventure to its essential elements and the audience is quickly swept up along with Bilbo. The intimate nature of the Goodman Mainstage Hall with the audience surrounding the stage, invites them to join Bilbo’s adventure. I envision the production set in the broken down, war-ravaged remains of a library. When reason has left us and greed and a lust for power have taken over – the pillars of society have crumbled – knowledge, truth, self-growth, empathy and understanding that our stories have provided us have been lost and must be looked to again. Bilbo shows us that courage is about taking on a challenge despite our fears and reminds us what it means to be a friend. They are the hero we all long to be.” 

From: The Legend Of Rock, Paper, Scissors (2021/2022 season) courtesy of First Stage

THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL for Young Audiences 

Based on the series by Stephen Hillenberg

Book by Kyle Jarrow

Original songs by Yolanda Adams, Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Sara Bareilles, Jonathan Coulton, Alexander Ebert of Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, The Flaming Lips, Lady A, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! At the Disco, Plain White T’s, They Might Be Giants and T.I., and songs by David Bowie, Tom Kenny and Andy Paley

Additional lyrics are by Jonathan Coulton, with additional music by Tom Kitt

The musical production was conceived by Tina Landau

Directed by Tommy Novak

Choreographed by Katelin Zelon

March 3 – April 2, 2023
Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater 

Sponsored by the Molitor Foundation  

Are you ready, kids? Dive into the undersea town of Bikini Bottom with SpongeBob and his quirky circle of friends and neighbors – Patrick, Sandy, Squidward, Mr. Krabs and even Plankton – in this dynamic stage musical with songs from music’s most legendary artists. Chaos erupts when SpongeBob and all of Bikini Bottom face the total annihilation at the threat of Mt. Humongous. Just when all hope seems lost, a most unexpected hero rises up and takes center stage. The power of optimism really can save the world! Suggested for families with young people ages 6+. 

From Director Tommy Novak: “‘Who lives in a pineapple under the Sea?’ SPONGEBOB SQUARE PANTS!!!!!” The thing about SpongeBob is that he is a simple sponge with a huge heroic heart. When the world is a horrible, miserable place, we need optimism and positivity that only SpongeBob can bring to the any situation. SpongeBob is the biggest example of “I can’t is not in my vocabulary.” There is no task too large or too scary. Any task can be accomplished with teamwork and a community of support. This show reminds us that we are a community responsible for working together and taking care of each other. Today is a gift and tomorrow is not promised so live each day as if it is your last with a full heart of kindness, joy and laughter.” 

Based on a story by Cedella Marley
Music and Lyrics by Bob Marley
Adapted for the stage by Michael J. Bobbitt 

Arrangements, Orchestrations, Additional Musical & Lyrics by John L. Cornelius II
Directed by Samantha D. Montgomery
Choreographed by Sonya Thompson of Ko-Thi Dance Company April 21 – May 21, 2023
Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater 

Ziggy’s afraid to leave the house. He’s too busy worrying about tropical storms, evil spirits, and the sneaky, hair-grabbing trickster, Duppy. With the help of his feathered friends, Ziggy will learn that “every little thing is gonna be all right!” With music from the legendary reggae artist, get jammin’ with this timeless tale of peace and love. Suggested for families with young people ages 3+.

From Director Samantha Montgomery: “Ziggy is fearful about what might happen to him and this restricts him from living and enjoying the adventures of life. This play, Bob Marley’s  THREE LITTLE BIRDS, adapted for the stage by Michael J. Bobbitt, encourages us to enjoy the adventures of life by not allowing our fears to stifle us. Instead, we must rebuild ourselves and overcome our fears by finding the strength within ourselves to make bravery our only choice.” 


By William Shakespeare

December 9 – 18, 2022
Goodman Mainstage Hall, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center 

Sponsored by UPAF 

Follow the misadventures of fairies, nobles, and craftsmen through the forests of Athens over the course of one magical evening. Love triangles, mistaken identities and alarming transformations are abound in Shakespeare’s most enchanting comedy. Suggested for families with young people ages 11+. 

From Director of the Young Company Matt Daniels: “A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM is one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and popular plays for a reason. It is full of fun, fantasy, mischief and beautiful language, making it a perfect fit for our award-winning Young Company. I first encountered this play as an actor when I was in high school, and it left an indelible mark, setting me on a path to a life rich in Shakespeare’s work. I trust it will be the same for these seasoned young artists.” 

By Kate Hamill
Adapted from the novel by Louisa May Alcott

March 24 – April 2, 2023
Goodman Mainstage Hall, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center 

Sponsored by UPAF 

Jo March isn’t your typical Victorian lady. She’s ruthless and headstrong, and destined to be a great American novelist. As Jo and her sisters grow up in the middle of the Civil War, they strive to be brave, intelligent and imaginative young women, while reconciling their own ambitions with society’s expectations. Alcott’s celebrated coming-of-age novel comes to stage in this modern and relevant adaptation. Suggested for families with young people ages 12+.

From Matt: “Kate Hamill’s adaptation of this essential American story manages to be startlingly modern even as it explores a long-gone era. This play is about whip-smart, resilient, sparkling young women looking to make their mark on a world that may not be ready for them. Sounds like an ideal match for YC’s excellent performers! This version of the story is intimate, beautiful and surprising, just as Alcott’s novel is to anyone who picks it up for the first time.” 

By Alice Austen 

World Premiere
A free adaptation of The Eumenides, by Aeschylus 

Directed by Matt Daniels

May 5 – 21, 2023
Goodman Mainstage Hall, Milwaukee Youth Arts Center 

Sponsored by UPAF. 

When archaeological intern Alice falls down an ancient Greek rabbit hole, she discovers the aftermath of a violent murder, with the goddesses of vengeance, or “Furies,” chasing down the accused to exact bloody retribution. Athena, the goddess of wisdom (and war), persuades the Furies that the accused should have a fair trial before a jury. When the jury is divided in a split decision, all must come to terms with the balance of a desire for vengeance, and the need for grace. Suggested for families with young people ages 13+. 

From Matt: “I love ancient Greek plays almost as much as I love Shakespeare, so the opportunity to partner with one of First Stage’s playwrights in residence to bring one of these pieces into our modern age was too good to pass up. After her amazing work on GIRLS IN THE BOAT, I knew Alice Austen was the ultimate fit for creating a play for our young people that highlights their unique blend of curiosity and determinism. Especially as we all traverse this incredibly unstable era of modern history.”

This play is part of World Premiere Wisconsin, a statewide festival celebrating new plays and musicals. 

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM and LITTLE WOMEN are Young Company Performance Projects. These actor-driven presentations use elemental production values, enhancing the connection of actor to audience, allowing the words of the play to come alive in exciting ways. These award-winning students will showcase their graduate level skills with full-length material, from Shakespeare to American classics to pieces commissioned specially for them.


First Stage offers three ways to purchase tickets for its 2022/23 season. The All-Access Membership will give families the opportunity to purchase tickets at 25% off regular single ticket prices, receive discounts on Theater Academy classes, invitations to special Preview Events and more. The cost of the All-Access Membership is $75 per household and are on sale now. Families can also purchase the traditional Family Package, which offers a 30% discount off regular single ticket prices when building a season package of three or more plays. Family Packages are also now on sale. Single tickets to First Stage’s 2022/23 season will go on sale August 1, 2022. 

I suggest reading through these offerings and select those that fit your family age groups and plan your outings to First Stage. From my personal experience and observations while attending shows this past season, children are simply enthralled with these plays and ask some pretty pertinent and aware questions during the talk backs that follow many of the shows. And as an adult, I too was entertained! No reason to feel this is only a kids thing!!

and once more: For additional information about the 2022/23 season, please visit to or call (414) 267-2961. 

From: The Amazing Lemonade Girl (2021/2022 season) courtesy of First Stage

P.S. Amplify Reading Series

Understanding the power of connection that young people feel when they see themselves and their stories on stage, First Stage is excited to begin the next phase of the Amplify series featuring new and developing work from traditionally underrepresented playwrights and directors whose voices offer an opportunity to expand First Stage’s artistic horizons and develop its audience’s perspective. During the 2022/23 season, the focus shifts from producing short plays to presenting readings of three plays in various stages of development. The Amplify Reading Series gives First Stage a chance to explore new work that is being considered for a full production while also engaging the community in discussion about the process of developing new plays. Please note: Dates and title are still being finalized for the Amplify Reading Series. Please visit for the latest updates.