“There lives a very special young man in Milwaukee, who sees the city more deeply than others. He sees so much to love about his hometown, but he also a witness to its fractures. When this special boy begins to see icebergs floating into Milwaukee, he alone must find a way to help his community navigate through the dangerous waters.”

The contemporary folk tale from internationally recognized playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer was designed to inspire conversations with the Milwaukee community. The First Stage production of Antarctica, WI  opened on April 6 at the Todd Wehr Theater.

The world premiere of Antarctica, WI came about from Kruckemeyer having discussions with local young people. The play presented a unique opportunity to extend the theater experience beyond the stage, and explore its deeper themes.

“The play for me is a contemporary folktale inspired by conversations that the playwright, who is literally from the other side of the world, had with the youth of Milwaukee,” said Jeff Frank, the artistic director for First Stage. “It focuses on a couple of days in the lives of seven teenagers, about how much more challenging their lives are in Milwaukee right now.”

The companion booklet Diving Down Below was published to encourage youth engagement in the process of self-discovery. The booklet will be distributed to all young people attending both public and school performances of Antarctica, WI as a way to assist them in recognizing how they can personally contribute to helping their communities heal.

“As young people learn to see themselves more clearly, they may also learn to understand others and the world around them better,” said Lozano, who created this booklet in collaboration with Artistic Associate Sheri Williams Pannell and Frank. “This booklet will also help young people think deeper, use their creative powers, and take risks.”

Local artist and muralist James Tomasello collaborated with First Stage and eight students from Milwaukee’s TRUE Skool on the Coming Together mural, inspired by Antarctica, WI. After reading the most compelling parts of the script, the group discussed different concepts and each created a draft of the mural. The final product combines all of the student concepts and visual efforts. The Coming Together mural will be displayed between the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and Milwaukee’s City Hall Rotunda.

Renowned local photographer Paul Calhoun created the Portraits & Stories Project, for which 33 students from Maryland Montessori School, Parkside Middle School, Milwaukee High School for the Arts, Ronald Reagan High School, and University School of Milwaukee were photographed. These portraits are accompanied by personal stories by the students, developed through theater workshops led by Pannell. The project is on display in the upper lobby of the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater throughout the run of Antarctica, WI.

“Sheri was instrumental in inspiring students to share the experiences that have shaped who they are,” said Lucia Lozano, First Stage Community Engagement Manager. “Using theater techniques, Mrs. Pannell built trust with the students to help craft their stories.”

New plays like Antarctica, WI are part of The Foundry, First Stage’s new play development initiative. The program’s goal is to forge the next generation of plays, programming, artists, and audiences, while fostering a healthy community and empathy. Its Theater Academy is also the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fostering life skills through stage skills by serving thousands of students each year.

© Photo

Paul Ruffolo