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As Community Engagement Manager at First Stage from 2015 to 2019, I was in charge of expanding the reach and deepening the impact of this leading children's theater company in the community through its productions and Academy & Education programming. I worked closely with the Marketing Department to engage traditional and non-traditional audiences in creative and innovative ways, particularly around the productions that were most relevant to Milwaukee’s communities of color. The projects highlighted below are part of integrated community engagement strategies around each of these plays.


WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE - January-February, 2017

Conceived and managed all Community Engagement projects and events around WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE. Click to expand.

Created photography exhibit for the theater lobby during the run of the show. Click to expand.

WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE is a First Stage production written and directed by local playwright and dramaturge Sheri Williams Pannell. Set in 1957, WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE tells the fictional, coming-of-age story of a young African American boy, Michael Jr.. The play follows Michael Jr. as he prepares for a talent show with his siblings and cousins, struggles with peer pressure from the “Market Square Boys,” and faces the consequences of his actions from the firm but fair Sergeant Chaney. Michael Jr. receives guidance along his journey from family, neighbors, and iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday during one of her visits to Milwaukee. Pulsing to the beat of jazz and doo-wop, this play explores the universal themes of growing up, finding one’s true self, and how a community can work together to uplift and empower its young people. With input from Bronzeville community elders, Sheri Williams Pannell honors this historic and revered community, revealing a humorous and touching tale of growing up in a truly special place and time.

Worked with writer Adam Carr and designer Nate Piper to create the WELCOME TO BRONZEVILLE guide, distributed to audience members and school groups during the run of the show. Click to expand.

ANTARCTICA, WI - April, 2018

ANTARCTICA, WI tells the story of a very special boy who lives in Milwaukee. He sees more deeply than others. He sees so much that he loves in his city, but he also sees the fractures. When he begins to see icebergs floating into Milwaukee, he alone must find a way to help his community navigate through the dangerous waters. From internationally recognized, award-winning playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer comes this world premiere, a contemporary folk tale inspired by Kruckemeyer’s own conversations with young people in Milwaukee.

Conceived and managed all Community Engagement projects and events around ANTARCTICA, WI.

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Wrote, designed and illustrated this self-exploration booklet distributed to the young people and school groups who attended ANTARCTICA, WI. Click to expand.

Worked with award-winning photographer Paul Calhoun and educator Sheri Williams Pannell, to create the Portraits & Stories exhibit, showcasing middle and high school students from Milwaukee and their personal stories. The exhibit was displayed at the theater during the run of ANTARCTICA, WI. Click to expand.

First Stage's Coming Together mural. Project led by James Tomasello with the participation of TrueSkool

Coordinated creation and production of the "Coming Together" mural. Local artist and muralist James Tomasello worked with eight TrueSkool students to create this mural inspired by ANTARCTICA, WI. The mural was installed in the lobby of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center.


BIG RIVER, THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN, is based on Mark Twain’s timeless classic, and tells the story of Huck as he helps his friend Jim, a slave, escape to freedom and reunite with his family. This coming-of-age musical has been adapted for family audiences from the award-winning Broadway musical, and celebrates a journey of discovery and spiritual awakening. First Stage's production explored the growing friendship between Huck and Jim as they drifted down the Mississippi, moving from slavery toward freedom. 

Worked with Mike Fischer, theater critic, dramarturg and Assistant Director for BIG RIVER, to write content for booklet and exhibit. Designed and produced both pieces. Click to expand.

BIG RIVER is an epic journey into the heart of America, as it was in 1885 when the novel was written. In Huck Finn, Mark Twain fiercely denounced the injustices of his time. To enhance the audience’s experience of BIG RIVER, First Stage curated a theater exhibit and an accompanying booklet, both called What it Takes to Unlearn. These two projects provided a framework to better understand what prompted Mark Twain to write such a poignant story. Both the exhibit and the booklet, which were distributed to all audience members after each performance, inspired individual reflection and conversation regarding our own ongoing journey toward becoming our best selves.

What it Takes to Unlearn lobby exhibit for First Stage's production of BIG RIVER.
ON THE WINGS OF A MARIPOSA - October-November, 2019
On the Wings of a Mariposa

ON THE WINGS OF A MARIPOSA is a lyrical, bilingual play written for First Stage by playwright Alvaro Saar Rios. This world premiere production is adapted from the book "Ghost Wings" by popular Milwaukee author Barbara Joosse. In this play, ten-year-old Pilar breathes deeply of her grandmother’s rebozo to relive memories of her beloved abuelita – making corn tortillas, dueling the monsters under the bed and journeying to the forest known as El Círculo Mágico. Slowly, the scent begins to fade – and with it, Pilar’s memories of her grandmother. Amidst the monarch butterflies’ annual migration and Día de los Muertos celebrations, audiences can soar with Pilar on her journey as she discovers that “when you love someone, they never really leave you.”

MARIPOSA email banner in Spanish

Conceived and managed all Community Engagement projects and events around ON THE WINGS OF A MARIPOSA. Click to expand.

MARIPOSA email banner in English.png

Wrote and translated text for theater exhibit. Designed and produced exhibit. Click to expand.

Dia de los Muertos exhibit at Todd Wehr's Theatre
First Stage's "Art Matters" theater lobby exhibit.
First Stage's "Art Matters" theater lobby exhibit

Conceived project, worked with students, took photographs, and designed posters for lobby exhibit. Click to expand.

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