Milwaukee Youth Theatre
MYT Alumni News
Emily Fons
August 12, 2017

Therese Burazin
Milwaukee Youth Theatre
Lincoln Center of the Arts
820 E Knapp St. Milwaukee, WI 53202

Dear Therese,
I am writing to you to thank you for making
Milwaukee Youth Theatre available to the
children of Milwaukee. I write not as a
parent, teacher, or donor, but as an
alumna of MYT over a quarter century
after my time as an MYT student.
People may wonder what lasting impact an
experience like MYT can have on a child, or
even wonder if any MYT alumni have gone
on to have performing careers. Well, for
what it's worth, I am a Grammy
nominated, internationally known opera
singer, named by my industry's leading
magazine as one of the best singing actors
of my generation. I'm not telling you any of
this to brag or promote myself, but to
make a point regarding the value of arts
education, the idea of what's possible, and
the value of an organization like Milwaukee
Youth Theatre.
As a performer, I frequently attend events
where I interact with patrons of the arts.
The question I am most commonly asked,
by far, is "When did you know you wanted
to be an opera singer?" For many years I
didn't know how to answer that question, I
could tell that people were hoping that I'd
say "Oh I knew when I was six years old
singing in choir", but that wasn't at all the
case. In fact, I didn't know until college
that I wanted to study and perform opera.
It bothered me a little that I didn't have a
longer standing relationship with my art
form, until one day sitting at my parents'
kitchen table.
My mom had been cleaning out the attic,
and had found a box of papers and projects
from when my two sisters and I were in
grade school. Many of the papers were
writing prompts asking me things like
"What do you want to be when you grow
up?", or "What is your favorite subject?".
Do you know how I answered that first
question? I said "I want to be an actor, and
I want a cool red car." I also talked a lot
about dogs.
If I turn my head far enough right now, I
can see my red Subaru Forester parked
outside, my rescue dog Lupita is curled up
near me, and guess what...I'm an actor. I
cried when I read that paper. I felt this
beautiful connection to my seven or eight
year old self that knew herself so well. It
was then that I realized that I hadn't
always known I wanted to sing, but I had
most certainly always known I wanted to
perform. The magical gift of stories, sets,
costumes, and makeup was given to me by
Milwaukee Youth Theatre.
When I first attended MYT, it was in the
summer, probably in the very early 1990's,
maybe even late 80's. There was a small
group of us, and our mission was to learn
the scripts for some fairy tales like The
Three Little Pigs, Three Billy Goats Gruff,
and the Tortoise and the Hare. I'll never
forget how my dad helped make the troll
bridge, and how my mom helped make a
turtle shell costume. We had simple sets
and simple costumes. We all had to learn
all the different parts so that nobody was
singled out as a star. One day you might be
a little pig, one day you might be the wolf.
We took our performances to inner city
public schools during the summer and
performed for the kids who were in
summer school. We also had our own
performances in the original MYT location
next to the Avalon Theater. Peter Daniels
would usually kick off the evening by
playing banjo, we did poem readings, and
we did short plays. I think somewhere at
my parents' house a video is floating
around of me dressed in green tights and a
little green tunic with my hair braided and
bright pink blush on playing the character
of Genie O'Kelly. I can't tell you anything
else about that play, but I know what it
meant to me to be a part of it. I remember
that night after our performance, there
was a bucket of carnations back stage. It
was the first time I'd ever been given a
flower for performing. I've since received
countless impressive bouquets on opening
nights, but none of them had the same
effect as my carnation. I'm not a saver, I
try not to get attached to things, so my
mementos are few and far between, but I
can tell you that I dried that carnation,
and I still have it.
The things I took away from my time at
MYT have had a ripple effect throughout
my life. I think some of the skills and
qualities are like a slow release pill, you
almost don't notice how they affect and
change you until you are farther removed
from the initial experience. I learned how
to present myself with confidence, how to
work as a member of a team, how to
memorize text and speak in public, how to
think outside the box, how to
communicate effectively, how to
improvise, how to use the resources on
hand to create what is needed, and how to
care for an art form that would come to
mean so much to me. As you can see these
skills are hardly descriptive of only a
career in the arts. These are life skills that
no matter a child's journey, they will rely
on, and benefit from.
I can proudly tell you that now when I am
asked "When did you know you wanted to
be an opera singer?" I can answer by saying
"I knew I wanted to be a performer when I
was eight years old and first experienced
the magic of theater at Milwaukee Youth
Theater." Our arts communities around the
world need people on stage, in the wings,
in the administrative offices, and in the
seats. The experiences that children can
have at a place like MYT may be the first
step on their journey into any one of those
important positions. The arts change us as
humans. Through theater, story telling,
and music we learn to see the world from
different perspectives, confront relevant
topics, beautify our communities, connect
with each other, and offer a contrast to
the daily grind. As an adult who has reaped
the benefits of a life in the arts, I want
desperately to give back and pass that on
to children who may be searching for a
safe form of self expression, a
non-judgmental environment, a connection
to others, and a creative release.
I hope those of you involved in keeping
MYT running, and those with the ability to
support MYT financially, can see through
just one story that your mission is
important, because each child who comes
through the doors of MYT is important. At
a time when arts funding in the schools is
suffering so greatly, I think of little eight
year old me biding my time at school until
art or music class, or until I could go to
acting classes. Children with creative
passions have fewer and fewer outlets
available to them, which is why
organizations like MYT are vital to the
Milwaukee area. The arts transcend all the
artificial boundaries of age, economic
position, gender, or race that we as
humans have constructed for ourselves.
Places like MYT need to be available to
children across all those divides.
I wish you all the best in your mission to
serve the children of the Milwaukee area
by helping them to serve each other,
"Theater by children for children", it's a
unique and beautiful thing. Don't hesitate
to be in touch if I can be of help in any
way.
Thankfully and Sincerely,
Emily Fons