By Mary Boyle
Nearly every high school student in the US is required to read Animal Farm, the allegorical novella by George Orwell, published in 1945, that tells the cautionary tale of the 1917 Russian Revolution, played out in an English barnyard. Since our recent Presidential election, sales of Orwell's other well-known book, 1984, have skyrocketed; between "alternative facts" and the constant accusations of Russian involvement in our government, there's never been a better time to reacquaint yourself with this iconic tale, and the high school-aged cast of Young Company, First Stage's advanced, college-level actor training program, most certainly does it justice.
Adapted from Orwell's book by Ian Woolridge, and directed by Matt Daniels, Young Company's Animal Farm is powerful, shocking, and beautifully modern, yet wonderfully traditional, thanks to the brilliant costume designs of Kristina Sneshkoff and the scenic design of Madelyn Yee.
Old Major (Claire Zempel), Manor Farm's prize-winning boar, gathers the animals together to tell them something important: man is their enemy. If ever animals are to be free of the tyranny of men, they must revolt, and never adopt the habits of men. Shortly after Old Major dies, three younger pigs, Snowball (Jake Badovski), Napoleon (Mary Jensik), and Squealer (Sydney Salter), consolidate Old Major's words into a philosophy called Animalism. With the help of their fellow animal comrades, they take the farm from Mr. Jones, change "Manor Farm" to "Animal Farm," and seem to be well on their way to freedom and harmony.
Perhaps nobody is more zealous a believer in their leader than Boxer (Elliott Brotherhood), a strong draft horse who knows that if he just keeps working harder, everything will work out in the end; however, his helpmate, Clover (Alex Salter), and Benjamin the Donkey (Abby Barbeau), aren't as certain. As the animals work harder, their rations get smaller, and the rules seem to keep changing; they look to the raven, Moses (Matthias Wong), who promises they will all go to live on Sugarcandy Mountain when they die, and place what hope, if any, they have left with him.
Elliott Brotherhood is a homeschooled Junior from Mequon, and while he has been in multiple productions with First Stage, Animal Farm is his Young Company debut.
"Being in Animal Farm reminded me not to take my freedom for granted...it’s scary to think that the Bolshevik Revolution, and the various political movements in Eastern Europe after World War II that serve as the model for the Animal Farm story, all took place in the 20th Century -- not that long ago."
Both Elliott and Grace Reasoner, a sophomore at Cedarburg High School who plays a pig, are grateful for their experience with Young Company.
"First Stage provided a safe environment to learn about things that were sometimes difficult, or to have a window into someone else’s life or situation," said Elliott. "They helped me to realize that everyone comes from a different place, but that we all have value. They have helped to teach me responsibility, showed me how to problem solve, taught me how to work with others as a team and, most importantly, helped me to gain a strong work ethic. First Stage has been a huge part of my life."
Grace feels that her time with Young Company will help her towards a career in acting. "Animal Farm has been an amazing experience -- probably one of my favorite shows I've ever been in. Our director, Matt Daniels, is a genius, and helped us work out the kinks in all of our different animal movement and sounds. I wouldn't have wanted to do this show with any other director. I am truly proud of the work we have done and the show we are now able to present."
There are two more performances of Animal Farm this Saturay, May 20th, at 3:30 and 7 p.m. at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center, located at 325 W. Walnut Street in Milwaukee. Tickets are $14 and are available online at www.FirstStage.org or through the First Stage Box Office at (414) 267-2961. This production is recommended for ages 12 and up.
About First Stage
Celebrating its 30th anniversary in the 2016-2017 season, First Stage is one of the nation’s leading theaters for young audiences and families. First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences for young people and families 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 use theater to promote active learning throughout the curriculum, serving over 20,000 students throughout southeastern Wisconsin each year. In 2012, First Stage was selected to participate in the Partners in Education program of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. First Stage is the recipient of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Eureka Award in 2013 and 2015, recognizing creativity and innovation in business, education, and the arts. First Stage is a member of TYA/USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, the Wisconsin Alliance for Arts Education, Theatre Wisconsin, and Milwaukee Arts Partners, and is a cornerstone member of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF).