First Stage Presents Inaugural Forge Production LOCOMOTION

-First Stage’s Inaugural Forge Production-


A Lyrical Exploration of How Art Can Change Lives

By Jacqueline Woodson

Directed by Aaron Todd Douglas


Milwaukee, WI – January 16, 2019 – Acclaimed as “lively” and “lyrical” by The Washington Post and written by award-winning author/playwright Jacqueline Woodson, LOCOMOTION chronicles the thoughtful, creative, 11-year-old Lonnie Collins Motion, who discovers a passion for poetry as a way to express his feelings as he navigates life following his parents’ death and his placement in the foster care system. Weaving together Lonnie’s past and present, humor flows through the play’s eccentric and witty characters poignantly revealing his journey of hope from tragedy to a brighter future.


LOCOMOTION runs January 25 – February 24, 2019 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut Street in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets are $16. Tickets are available are available online at or through the First Stage Box Office at (414) 267-2961.Performance runtime is approximately 90 minutes, including intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 9 – 17+.


“With LOCOMOTION, Woodson presents us with rich, compelling characters we are able to identify with and invest in,” commented Director Aaron Todd Douglas, “Our young protagonist, Lonnie, finds that his infectious appreciation for poetry can serve as a powerful cathartic means of expressing his own grief. Woodson herself, a self-identified skinny girl who sat in the back of the classroom and got into trouble for telling lies, talking and not turning in homework, learned through her writing how to sit up straighter and believe in herself. Thus, Lonnie learns through writing poetry he’s able to sit up straighter, believe in himself and move forward in hope.

LOCOMOTION asks us whether the exploration of art can change lives, and the answer is a resounding, YES!”


With LOCOMOTION First Stage launches FORGE Productions – the latest and greatest in groundbreaking new works for family audiences. This series of plays will be presented at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, an intimate venue that allows audiences to engage with powerful stories and have the opportunity to attend special workshops, discussions and receptions, with the intent of sparking conversations and deepening the shared theater experience.


As Artistic Director Jeff Frank commented, “Crafting new plays for young people and their families has been part of First Stage’s artistic vision from the very beginning. Thought-provoking, risk-taking and community-building plays are what make theater a powerful vehicle to tell stories relevant to young people and their communities. I am thrilled to share Jacqueline Woodson’s play LOCOMOTION as our first FORGE Production and also eager to offer our Free Theater Workshops to enhance the theatergoing experience for our audiences.” (Please see below under Special Events for LOCOMOTION for more details on Free Theater Workshops.) 


This program is supported by a grant from the Milwaukee Arts Board and the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts.




Jacqueline Woodson (Playwright) is an award-winning author of young adult books. Raised and educated in Greenville, South Carolina, and Brooklyn, New York, Woodson graduated from college with a B.A. in English, and then worked in New York City as a drama therapist for runaways and homeless children. She now writes full-time in Brooklyn. Woodson often writes about characters that feel out of place and the difficulties young people face. Woodson won a Newbery Honor in 2006 for Show WayLocomotion was a National Book Award finalist and won a Coretta Scott King Honor in 2004. Woodson also won a Coretta Scott King Honor in 2001 and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Miracle’s Boys, which was made into a mini-series. In 2006, she won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults from the Young Adult Library Services Association.


Aaron Todd Douglas (Director) is a theatre artist, who directs, acts, writes and teaches. He is a member of AEA and SAG/AFTRA, and he is a former NEA Art Works Panelist. Based in Chicago, Aaron is a founding ensemble member and a Playwright in Residence of Congo Square Theatre Company. He received an International Ibsen Scholarship from The Norwegian Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with Theater Ibsen for his script, THE MASTER COMICAaron made his playwriting debut with UPSTATE. He is the inaugural Next Generation Management Fellow at Victory Gardens Theater.Aaron has acted and directed at many of Chicago’s finest theater companies, including The Goodman, ETA Creative Arts, Chicago Theatre Company, Victory Gardens Theater, Chicago Shakespeare, Raven Theatre, The Court and Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Some directing projects include KIA CORTHRON’S MEGASTASIS, RUINED and ULTRA AMERICAN: A PATRIOT ACT.



Ronnel Taylor (Agency Man/Dad/Ensemble) was born on Chicago’s Southside and is the eldest of 11 siblings. He attended Columbia College for a few years, majoring in theater, film and music. He has appeared in many shows in the city and abroad including: THE HORN (Steppenwolf Theatre Company); THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI VS. EMMET TILL, BILLY, CUT FLOWERS and STAGE DIRECTIONS (Chicago Theater Company); WILL YOU STAND UP and COMING HOME (Erasing The Distance Theater); MOTHER ROAD (The Goodman) and WHAT I LEARNED IN PARIS (Congo Square Theatre). Outside of his homeland, credits include THE PIANO LESSON and TOPDOG/UNDERDOG (Madison Repertory Theatre) and I HEART MIXTAPES (Lillian Theatre) in Los Angeles.

Tosha Freeman (Miss Edna/Ensemble) makes her First Stage debut with this production. Her theatrical experiences include performances with Bronzeville Arts Ensemble, Black Arts MKE and Hansberry-Sands Theater Company in Milwaukee and Nubian Theatre Company and Blues City Cultural Center in Memphis. Tosha also has a special love for children. She has worked as an Artist-in-Residence for the Oklahoma State Arts Council, Memphis Arts Council, Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, San Bernardino Arts Council, Riverside Arts Council, and as a Teaching Artist with The Music Center of Los Angeles, Milwaukee Public Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater and Arts @ Large.

Nadja Simmonds (Miss Marcus/Ensemble) also makes her First Stage debut with LOCOMOTION. Nadja is a local Milwaukee actor and a recent Marquette University graduate. She was last seen in Milwaukee Chamber Theatre’s Young Playwrights Festival and in Northern Sky Theater’s production of BOXCAR AND MUSKIE LOVE. Past favorite roles include Pilot in GROUNDED, Alex in ON THE VERGEand Luciana in THE COMEDY OF ERRORS with Summit Players Theatre.

Natalie Harris (Understudy for Ms. Freeman and Ms. Simmonds) is a multi-talented performer including singing, dancing, acting, directing and teaching. She has taught drama in schools, given acting and voice workshops and been offered opportunities in television, film and theatre. She starred in the Lena Baker biopic and appeared in Honeydripper with Danny Glover. She is also a recording artist and writer with songs that have been on radio stations across the U.S. Natalie recently released her debut album, We Believe. She has shared the stage with many gospel greats from Tasha Cobbs to Donnie McClurkin. Natalie is the founder of Tree Theatre Company.

Sherrick Robinson (Understudy for Mr. Taylor) is delighted to return to First Stage! A Milwaukee native, he was last seen in Forward Theater’s SKELETON CREWOther recent performances include Cat in the Hat in SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL! andDonkey in SHREK THE MUSICAL (Children’s Theater of Madison) and Sam in HOLES(First Stage).

The adult cast for LOCOMOTION at First Stage includes: Ronnel Taylor, Member of Actor’s Equity Association, as Agency Man/Dad/Ensemble; Tosha Freeman as Miss Edna/Ensemble; Nadja Simmonds as Miss Marcus/Ensemble; Natalie Harris as Understudy for Ms. Freeman and Ms. Simmonds and Sherrick Robinson as Understudy for Mr. Taylor.

Young Performer roles are double cast. Young Performers in the Rainbow Cast include: Kamani Graham (from Milwaukee) as Lonnie; Aura Grant (from Milwaukee) as Lili and Derrick Taylor (from Milwaukee) as Enrique.


Young Performers in the Honeysuckle Cast include: Jakobie Jackson(from Milwaukee) as Lonnie; Ronna Kelly (from Milwaukee) as Lili and Nahjee Robinson (from Milwaukee) as Enrique.


The Artistic Staff for LOCOMOTION includes: Aaron Todd Douglas (Director); Martin McClendon (Scenic Designer); Greg Hofmann, Member of United Scenic Artists Association, (Lighting Designer); Samantha Jones, Member of United Scenic Artists Association, (Costume Designer); Josh Schmidt, Member of United Scenic Artists Association, (Sound Designer); Colin Kovarik (Associate Sound Designer); Josiah Williams (Spoken Word Coach); Seth Kieser, Member of Actor’s Equity Association, (Stage Manager) and Kyle Winkelmann (Assistant Stage Manager).


Tickets are $16 – Tickets may be purchased at or by phone (414) 267-2961.

Group Sales – Groups of 10 or more receive discounts off regular single ticket prices on most First Stage performances at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. Call (414) 267-2964 or email groups@firststage.orgfor more information.

First Stage Family Packages – any combination of tickets for three or more plays in the 2018/19 season – are on sale now. Family package prices are available at up to 30% off the cost of regular single ticket prices. Benefits include unlimited ticket exchanges, backstage tours and more.


Special events for LOCOMOTION


Pay What You Choose Performance: Tuesday, January 29, 2019 at 7:00 p.m.

Pay What You Choose tickets are available on a first come, first served basis with a minimum suggested donation of $5 per person. Doors open at 6:00 p.m. on the day of the performance. Patrons are encouraged to arrive early.


Free Theater Workshops: Saturday, January 26, February 2, 9, 16 and 23 from 2:30-3:15 p.m. 

Enhance your theater experience with First Stage’s free FORGE Workshops, available on Saturday afternoons from 2:30-3:15pm. Audience members who attend the 1:00 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. performances of LOCOMOTION may attend.


These workshops will explore The Power of Poetry – how poetry and spoken word can be a positive coping skill that helps build empathy and connect us to our community. Families will explore the play’s themes of resiliency, hope and friendship, through focused dramatic work, group discussion and spoken word. Attendees will begin the process of creating their own poetry and young people will leave the workshop with their own poetry journal.


FORGE Workshops will be guided by First Stage Teaching Artists, with the input of humanities expert, Sheri Williams Pannell; local performance poet Samantha Montgomery; and nationally recognized performance poet and Milwaukee Public Schools’ Turnaround Arts Mentor, Jacqueline SuskinWorkshop space reservations may be made online at


The FORGE Workshops are funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.






Location: TheMilwaukee Youth Arts Center, 325 W. Walnut Street, Milwaukee


Dates: January 25 – February 24, 2019


Description: Lonnie Collins Motion has had some tough breaks in his young life. When he discovers a passion for writing poetry, he finds a way to express his feelings about the foster system, his friends and his school, while sharing his unique perspective on the world. Lyrically weaving together Lonnie’s past and present life, this poignant story reveals one boy’s journey of hope from tragedy to a brighter future. Performance runtime is approximately 90 minutes, including intermission. Suggested for families with young people ages 9 – 17+.



  • Friday, January 25 at 7:00 p.m. – OPENING NIGHT
  • Saturday, January 26 at 1:00, 3:30 p.m. & 7:00 p.m. –FREE THEATER WORKSHOP AT 2:30 p.m. 
  • Sunday, January 27 at 1:00 & 3:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, January 29 at 7:00 p.m. –PAY WHAT YOU CHOOSE
  • Saturday, February 2 at 1:00, 3:30 p.m. & 7:00 p.m. –FREE THEATER WORKSHOP AT 2:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, February 3 at 1:00 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 9 at 1:00, 3:30 & 7:00 p.m. –FREE THEATER WORKSHOP AT 2:30 p.m. 
  • Sunday, February 10 at 1:00 & 3:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 16 at 1:00, 3:30 & 7:00 p.m. –FREE THEATER WORKSHOP AT 2:30 p.m. 
  • Sunday, February 17 at 1:00 & 3:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, February 23 at 1:00, 3:30 & 7:00 p.m. –FREE THEATER WORKSHOP AT 2:30 p.m. 
  • Sunday, February 24 at 1:00 & 3:30 p.m.

Ticket and information: 
Tickets are $16. Call (414) 267-2961 or online at



About First Stage

First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young people and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences through professional theater productions that inspire, enlighten and entertain. Its Theater Academy, the nation’s largest high-impact theater training program for young people, fosters life skills through stage skills and serves over 2,100 students each year. As Wisconsin’s leader in arts-integrated education in schools, First Stage’s dynamic Theater in Education programs promote literacy, character building and experiential learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students each year. First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2012), and was the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’sEureka Award, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education and the arts for its Next Steps program for students on the autism spectrum (2013, 2015). First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Milwaukee Arts Partners and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).

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