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First Stage gives young people chance to perform

Posted at 6:56 AM, Apr 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-09 09:47:19-04

“Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” is on stage now at the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater. The play is a journey about Huck and his pal Jim, but the production is part of a larger mission from First Stage to make sure all young people in our community have access to the arts.

The show features Milwaukee native DiMonte Henning, an emerging talent who has twice appeared in episodes of NBC’s 'Chicago PD'.

Performace of 'Big River' at First Stage theater
Paul Ruffalo Photography

Acting out a story with heavy themes like racial justice and equality, Henning thinks 'Big River' is an important show for this, his hometown.

“I love the city of Milwaukee,” Henning said. “Milwaukee is a great city. I think that it has a reputation of being segregated, but I think that this show allows us to have a different opportunity, a different approach to things.”

Though it’s focus is youth theater, First Stage is Milwaukee’s second-largest theater company. In productions, educational programs, even in theater audiences, First Stage aims to break down barriers.

Terynn Erby-Walker is a young performer in her third First Stage show.

“Seeing the play gets you interested,” Erby-Walker said. “Like, I wish I could do that but how can I? When you see other children here do that you’re like, there’s a place for us to do that. It’s fun for everyone.”

Each First Stage season, more than 60,000 students see a show with their schools. Deeply discounted tickets make it possible for so many to have their first theater experiences.

Performace of 'Big River' at First Stage theater
Paul Ruffalo Photography

First Stage Artistic Director Jeff Frank points out, “When you people see other young people on stage they, A, connect with the material more deeply, and B, often find inspiration like, I want to do that. I want a chance to be up there and tell my story as well.”

Especially since he’s local. Henning feels a real responsibility to make each performance for these school audiences count.

“Every time I go out,” Henning said. “I always say a prayer and ask God to move through me so that I can inspire someone.”

For those who are inspired, First Stage offers hundreds of scholarships every year for its Theater Academy classes.

Public shows of Big River run through the weekend.