Children's Theater of Madison Revisits Milwaukee Playwright's Work This Spring
Photo Credit: Children's Theater of Madison
In 1969, newly appointed Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir visited Fourth Street School in Milwaukee – the same school that Meir had attended when she was a young girl growing up in the city, and the same school that would become Golda Meir Middle School. It is that unique combination – Milwaukee, Meir and the civil rights era – that led to the creation of Jonathan Daly’s original work To the Promised Land, which received it’s world premiere in 2013 at First Stage.
Now, after several edits and updates, Daly’s play is getting a second go-around with Children’s Theater of Madison.
“I grew up in Milwaukee in the 1960s, and witnessed the open housing marches and political uprisings connected to the civil rights movement,” Daly, who is well known in Milwaukee and beyond for both his acting and playwriting, said via email. “In her memoir, Meir spoke of her feelings of commonality and empathy with black Americans in their struggle for equality.”
Further inspired by a photograph of Meir embracing one of the students from her visit to Fourth Street School, the vision for Daly’s play became clear. “I decided to write a story about two lives intersecting: a young Golda, living in Milwaukee at the turn of the 20th century, and a young African-American girl, growing up in the same neighborhood over half a century later.
It was just the kind of story Children’s Theater of Madison (CTM) artistic director Roseann Sheridan was looking for when she was seeking a way to include more diversity in CTM’s 2016-2017 season. “I wanted to complement the musicals with something meatier for different age groups,” Sheridan said as we chatted at Michaelangelo’s off State Street.
To the Promised Land has experienced several rounds of edits and changes, with both Sheridan and Daly revising the 2013 version. And, while the 2013 production incited some controversy, Sheridan reassured that the biggest change for CTM’s production was re-focusing attention on the time-transcending and fictional friendship that develops between Meir and Ruth.
“I wanted it to be a mutual learning,” Sheridan elaborated. “Not Golda coming in and saving this young girl. I wanted them to learn from each other.”
However, while Ruth is a fictional character, Sheridan confirmed everything pertaining to Meir is historically accurate, which makes this particular CTM production a great pick for school groups. “We have some pre-show workshops for schools, post show talk-backs – [anything] to make it helpful and ease the burden of making it relevant for the teacher.”
Sheridan and Daly both hope it is a story that other cities around the country will want to share with their community’s youth. “I love to provide the seeds for activism,” Sheridan said as we wrapped up our conversation. “Not preaching, but allowing our own stories to be the catalysts for change and learning what’s true now.”
To the Promised Land will be performed at the Playhouse at Overture Center April 22-30, and will star local talents Marques Causey, Paula Daniel, and CTM Actors Academy students Laetitia Hollard and Alice Wenzlow. For more information and tickets, please visit ctmtheater.org.