Transforming Lives Through Theater

One of the nation's most acclaimed children's theaters, First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences for young people and families through professional theater productions, unparalleled Theater Academy training, and dynamic Theater in Education programs.

About First Stage

Founded in 1987, First Stage is one of the nation’s most acclaimed children’s theaters and the second largest theater company in Milwaukee. 

Our Mission

First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences for young people and families through:

Our Vision

First Stage strives to be the national leader and driving force behind the creation of the best and most innovative plays for family audiences, theater training programs for young people, and education initiatives for our schools and our community.  These three interwoven programming pillars are accessible to, and reflective of, our increasingly diverse community.  Through our exceptional leadership, dedicated team, and commitment to financial sustainability, First Stage will broaden the reach and impact of our transformational programs, thus enabling dreams to be fulfilled, hope to be fostered, and families to enjoy the lasting legacy of a profound shared experience.

Theater for all ages

First Stage touches hearts and transforms lives through professional theater productions that engage, enlighten and entertain. 

The Family Series at the Todd Wehr Theater presents up to six plays each season, geared towards children from ages 3 and up to ages 10 and up. 

The First Steps series at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center presents plays suited for children ages 3 to 6, introducing them to the theater in an engaging, interactive, and lively environment.  A select performance of each First Steps series play is adapted to a sensory-friendly performance, specially designed to serve children with autism and their families.       

First Stage Young Company – the Theater Academy’s advanced actor training program for high school students – presents a full-scale productions each season, with performances held at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and other venues.

Young performers

First Stage’s professional theater productions use age-appropriate casting – professional actors to portray the adult-aged roles, and young people to play the roles of young people.  Two casts of young people perform in rotation, to balance performance and school commitments.  Young people working alongside adult professionals also benefit greatly in terms of their own personal development, gaining life skills such as confidence, focus and cooperation through the rehearsal and production process.

New play development

First Stage is committed to new play development, finding innovative ways to tell beloved stories old and new, with nearly 50 world premieres.  First Stage has collaborated with renowned artists including Harry Connick Jr. and Stephen Schwartz, and award-winning authors Lois Lowry and Cornelia Funke.  Continuing this focus, First Stage launched The Wisconsin Cycle in 2011, a series of six plays over six seasons that celebrate the rich heritage of our state.

Theater Academy: Life skills through stage skills

First Stage Theater Academy is the nation’s largest theater training program for young people.  Founded in 1992, First Stage Theater Academy teaches young people life skills through stage skills, serving approximately 3,000 enrollments per year, with students coming from communities throughout southeastern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and beyond.  

The Academy offers a unique experience for students far beyond basic actor training.  First Stage recognizes that theater is a wonderful tool to develop skills not limited to the stage.  It fosters a positive atmosphere in which young people see that it is OK to take risks and be themselves.  It helps build self-esteem and cultivates the vital skills that will help young people throughout everyday life, such as collaboration, empathy, creative thinking and focus.

Among the Academy’s most celebrated programs are Young Company – the advanced actor training program for high school students, and Next Steps – an Academy program designed for students on the autism spectrum.  Year-round, school year and summer sessions are offered each year at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield.

Theater in Education: Inspire. Motivate. Educate.

Throughout its history, First Stage’s Theater in Education programs aim to incite young people’s desire for learning and help classroom teachers explore curriculum using interactive, imaginative and integrated methods.  First Stage uses theater to drive education, creating programs that produce measured results and help students set and meet high standards of academic and personal achievement.  Through theater productions, classroom workshops and residencies, First Stage encourages students to experience their world differently and find new connections to their school curriculum.  First Stage serves over 20,000 students each year in its Theater in Education programs, making First Stage Wisconsin’s leader in arts-in-education programming. 

First Stage’s Theater in Education programs include:

First Stage is a member of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Arts Wisconsin and TYA/USA, the international association of theater for children and young people.  First Stage is a proud cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund.