Two talented girls, “100 Dresses”
Many theater companies cater to children. Milwaukee’s First Stage Children’s Theatre stands out because, by policy, it puts children not only in the seats but also on stage.
Two full casts of children will appear in First Stage’s upcoming The Hundred Dresses, Mary Hall Surface’s treatment of Eleanor Estes’ 1944 novel. Actors Katherine Pollnow (age 14, homeschooled) and Marion Frank (age 11, Longfellow Middle School) are rehearsing four hours a day this week, leading up to the March 25 opening. Of course, they still have to do their schoolwork and other activities.
When I caught up with Pollonow for an interview outside the theater, she was practicing her Polish to play Wanda, a new student at school who is different from every one else. Wanda has an unusual accent and a long name difficult to spell and pronounce. She also claims she has 100 dresses in her closet, even though she wears the same dress every day. The play is set 1930, when families suffered due to the Great Depression and owning 100 dresses would be an unimaginable dream.
Marion plays Maddie, a central character, who at first gives in to pressure from her friends and teases Wanda. Then, through the mystery and magic in the play, Maddie reconsiders what’s important in life and for her friend Wanda.
Opening night was a week away as the two young ingénues answered a few questions on being a young performer for First Stage.
Peggy Sue Dunigan: What do you enjoy about performing in a play set in a different time period, the 1930’s?
Katherine Pollnow: You look up the time and era, and learn something, and have different costumes. I’m Polish [in the play] and playing someone who’s different, and I talk with an accent the entire play. It’s hard to do and fun at the same time.
Marion Frank: There are new phrases to learn, and you learn about living in that time period. You had to go to the theatre to watch movies, for only 25 cents, but they did have radios. It’s also harder because you think of adding something to the play and it hasn’t been invented yet. Or you want to say, “Oh My Gosh” but you need to say “Jeepers.” You need to keep the acting in the time period.
PSD: How much experience on stage have you had?
KP: This is my first time on stage. I’ve taken one theater class, but I’ll be taking more this summer and working it in with my home schooling.
MF: I’ve been in several First Stage productions and I love First Stage Camp. It’s like school only better because you take Acting Theory, Improv, Musical Theater and Shakespeare. You bond with everybody there and I cry the last day.
KP: This play has a really important meaning. It will make me think before I tease anyone or treat them a certain way. We’re also like family here, and we love each other, and that’s the way it is. And now, every time I go for an audition, I have more confidence.
MF: The experience from being around all the people, the adult actors, they’re nice to be around. It’s also easier when you’re three [years old] and young to ask someone new to do something than when you’re 30. Now when I’m in a place where I don’t know anyone I can go up and introduce myself to someone and start talking to them.
PSD: What’s important to each of you about the play?
KP: I learned you can’t change your past actions but you can still change the ones that are ahead.
MF: It has a very important story. We each had to write a bio for the playbill and I said it was important to learn to stand up for someone else like Maddie does in the story.
Katherine and Marion act in alternate casts for the First Stage production, which opens Friday, March 25 at the Todd Wehr Theater and runs through April 16. These young performers will learn from the adult actors in the play: Bo Johnson, Mary McDonald Kerr and Sherri Williams-Pannel.
Tickets range from $10 to $33, depending on performance day and time, seat location and adult, teen or child status. Call 414 273-7206 or visit the First Stage website.