Rachel Schmeling, a 15-year-old actress who has studied with the First Stage Theater Academy for eight years, will soon be appearing in the role of Molly in First Stage’s premiere of The Happy Elf. She talks about her experience of working alongside the production’s prestigious New York directors, choreographers and set designers.
What did you learn by working with the First Stage Theater Academy?
At First Stage we work with very talented people from the Milwaukee theater community, along with other actors from the surrounding areas— including Chicago and New York. It’s really important to see how they approach acting as a career while we’re taking these classes.
You’ve been in five First Stage productions. Is there a difference between the youth actors and an adult actor?
All the company treats youth actors like professionals. There’s a level of expectation that you act like professional actors, but yet they remember we’re not quite adults. But they always treat us with respect.
What type of acting do you enjoy the most?
I’m a singer and I love acting, and putting them together is fantastic. But at First Stage they expect us to try all different types of acting. They don’t teach you to love Shakespeare, but through First Stage I’ve grown to love Shakespeare and dramatic acting.
Have you had any opportunities to perform in Shakespearean productions?
Stage sends their “Young Company,” an audition-level and in-depth acting
class for advanced students, to national competitions. This year the
class was sent to the Utah Shakespearean Festival, where First Stage actors have won several awards. They performed scenes from Othello and Much Ado About Nothing. In the past we’ve placed first and second.
And it was very disappointing to lose Milwaukee Shakespeare—they were one of the best theaters in the city!
Where else does the Young Company perform?
The Young Company performs three times a year doing dramatic works. Their first production was Night of the Living Dead when they worked with the Improv Team. But Young Company often does Shakespeare. This operates like college-level acting. It offers opportunities for high-school students.
What’s the most rewarding part of performing with the Young Company?
Several professionals from the Milwaukee community teach the class. John Maclay, Todd Denning and Angela Iannone collaborate to teach the class along with guest speakers to help you with your acting plans in the future. And I just want to act somewhere in the Milwaukee-Chicago area after college. No matter what happens—even at the show each night—the show must always go on!