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Future Perfect

Sitting on a couch in a basement office of the Marcus Center, a group of young actors and musicians from First Stage Children’s Theatre and the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra happily gab about (can you believe it?) — rehearsing! Soon they will practice, practice, practice in a 56,000 square-foot Youth Performing Arts Center located on Martin Luther King Drive and West Walnut Street, where a portion of the Schlitz Brewery once stood. It will be their new home, and what a home it is. Plenty of rehearsal rooms, plus rooms for education, a theater resource center, a costume shop, a music library and administrative offices. “Our programs have outgrown the Marcus Center,” said Mara Duckens, MYSO’s development director, and it’s her hope that the new space will allow for expanded enrollment. To date, long waiting lists and lack of rehearsal space make it difficult to accommodate MYSO’s 700 and First Stage’s 1,625 enrollees. The $12 million dollar facility, designed by Uihlein/Wilson Architects, began construction in May, 2004 and is expected to be completed in February of 2005. The good news is that $10 million of that estimated cost was raised by MYSO and First Stage, through corporations, foundations, and individual donations a strong vote for the future of the arts in our town. Furthermore, a $500,000 Kresge Foundation grant waits in the wings when the campaign is completed in January of 2005. That’s just around the bend in the New Year, and things are looking good. Although First Stage and MYSO will remain individual entities, it is Duckens’ hope that the two well-established entities will foster further artistic collaborations, eventually having a major impact on Milwaukee youth. Mario Constantini, a member of the Center’s Steering Committee (and campaign cabinet), believes the Center will give MPS children more opportunities to join art and music programs, as it is located near several MPS schools, including Roosevelt and Golda Meir. Urban kids who formerly missed out on music lessons (too expensive!), will soon be able to link up with scholarships. Constantini likens it to having a “Julliard in Milwaukee.” Fifteen-year-old Ali Frana, who plays the clarinet in MYSO, is enthusiastic about the project because not only will she have a place to practice, but she and other youngsters will have a chance to meet others who enjoy a broader spectrum of the arts. Not everyone feels the same, indeed some are downright nostalgic about their present, cramped but cozy quarters. First Stage member, Naomi Waxman, will find it hard leaving, but recognizes the importance of new opportunities. Jean Carlo Mercado, a First Stage intern, sees the move as positive because he can take what he learned at the old facility and share it with others at the new building. It takes major effort to move a big project forward, and in the case of the community plus contributors, it can only equal success.
by Julia Kolker