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First Stage’s Latino Youth Program

Off The Cuff with Jeff Frank

Jul. 23, 2014
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For the second consecutive summer, First Stage is producing Latino youth-focused programming on Milwaukee’s South Side. Artistic Director Jeff Frank is a Janesville native (UW-Whitewater, University of Utah MFA) who leads the endeavor. He sat down with Off the Cuff to discuss vacant lots and luchador masks. 


Como esta todo?

How’s everything? I’m sore. Summer Theater Academy fundraiser yesterday—for every dollar raised, myself and two others agreed to do a burpee. We shared 500.


What is the new Latino programming? And who’s involved? 

First Stage is all about opening doors. During our 25th anniversary strategic session we considered ways to expand reach, deepen impact and engage new neighborhoods. At the same time, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors was looking for ways to support youth. Faith Santa Fe Lutheran Church graciously provided space. 


This is the second year? 

We had 10 kids last summer all from Layton Boulevard—basically, a four-block radius around the church. We used the theme of community gardens and growing for scene work and improv games, and looked at Paul Fleischman’s Seedfolks. It’s about a lot mostly used to deposit trash, which a girl reclaims. Tremendous metaphor for who they are, where they live and great things found in unlikely places. We also covered basics—voice and movement, pantomime, diction and projection—and focused on “life skills, through stage skills.” There are real parallels there. 


Like what? 

Body awareness and expression. Self-esteem, communication, cooperation, problem solving and creative thinking. Both theater and life are paths, beset with choices, consequences and obstacles to overcome. 


How is all this funded? 

Haha. Good one. It is basically volunteers getting things started. But it is so great. I wouldn’t trade it. I grow so fond of everyone so quickly. Time blazes by. I just want it all to continue. 


How does this summer look? 

We begin work July 28. Hopefully with 20-25 kids. The program runs through August 1. We’ll reintroduce all the parties, keep a lot of the curriculum and switch the theme. This year it is “Let It Go.” We’ll do workshops, improve and process drama work, and hone listening, spontaneity and imagination through different exercises.

The folks at the United Community Center are involved, too. Dinorah Marquez has a mariachi group through Esperanza Rising’s Latino Strings program—Mariachi Juvenil. So I’ve worked with kids playing violins, viola, bass and guitars. She wants to work on stage presence and story telling. 


For the Future? 

I’ll be back in fall for auditioning workshops, and maybe some other classes. This season we are also producing Luchadora—about a young girl from Texas who moves to Milwaukee and finds a lucha libre mask in her grandma’s closet. She discovers her grandmother was one of Mexico’s best wrestlers. The play is about honor and identity, and the masks we all wear. Other than that? Continue to grow. Really, I’m just looking forward to doing it again next summer.


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