Theater Company Works With MPS Students

When Milwaukee -based theatre company. The Skylight, learned that some Milwaukee Public Schools could only afford to put on one musical every other year, the company decided to do something about it.

[Image] Theater Company Works With MPS Students

When Milwaukee -based theatre company. The Skylight, learned that some Milwaukee Public Schools could only afford to put on one musical every other year, the company decided to do something about it.
This December, the Skylight held a free Musical Theatre Residency at Milwaukee High School of the Arts, teaching students music and dance from a popular musical.

A professional choreographer and music director, hired by The Skylight, are working daily with the students to learn content from “Sweeney Todd,” a musical that was recently made into a Hollywood film starring Johnny Depp.

The three-week long residency culminated at the end of December, when students performed for their parents and peers at the high school, located at 2300 W. Highland Ave.

The Skylight offers free theatre education programs and residencies to Milwaukee Public School students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The high school Musical Theatre Residency began three years ago, according to The Skylight’s Education Manager, Rebecca Nielsen.

Nielsen says that High School of the Arts can only afford to put on one musical every other year and that this residency gives students an opportunity that they can’t get from their school alone.

“A lot of the arts have been cut out of schools -- even at a school like High School of the Arts where they have arts education in their curriculum -- they still only have so many resources that they’re able to tap into,” she said.

As a teen, Nielsen attended High School of the Arts. She says that at the time, the school’s theatre program was more comprehensive than it is today. “We had a lot more when I was there,” she said. “The opportunity to work with professionals in a classroom setting when you’re that young would have been really exciting and really valuable.”

Cody Raasch, a senior at High School of the Arts, agrees. “A lot of times they’ll tell you about stuff in the professional world that you can’t necessarily get from a teacher,” he said. “They tell you what it’s like to be out there and doing that type of work,” he added.

Kelsey La Porte graduated from High School of the Arts last year and was a participant in The Skylight’s residency. “It was always interesting working with teachers outside of the regulars. It provided a different prospective and made us want to work even harder.”

La Porte thinks it’s important for local theatre companies to offer these types of programs to public schools. “People don’t realize how vital the Arts are to becoming a well rounded person and it’s unfortunate that we seem to have no money for that anymore,” she said. “Offering these programs and putting on a show at the end shows the community how simple it is for a student to thrive artistically and academically when provided with the right resources,” she added.

Ralph Janes, a theatre teacher at High School of the Arts, appreciates The Skylight’s program. “As budgets have diminished to an absurd point of non-viability over the last ten 10 years, The Skylight has enabled us to continue to maintain elements of Musical Theatre within the curriculum, where they would otherwise have been lost,” he said.

Raasch seems content with The Skylight’s decision to use “Sweeney Todd” as this year’s musical.

“I like it. I think it’s an interesting choice. It’s one of those plays that allows the entire class to be part of,” he said. 

As for the upcoming culminating performance, Janes says “kids are excited and becoming increasingly confident.”

Nielsen adds, “They have a very new appreciation for the amount of work that has to go into such a difficult process because you have to be able to sing, act, and dance all at the same time. From what I’ve seen, there’s a great process that happens and the students really get a big sense of accomplishment at the end of it.”

Students will perform for their parents on Dec.18 and again for their peers on Dec.19. All High School of the Arts students are invited to attend the performances.

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