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