Meet our 2017 Next Actors

Next Act Theatre
Intimate, Powerful

Meet Our 2017 Next Actors

This summer we have 16 students from the Metro Milwaukee area in the Next Actors Summer Theatre for Teens program. Two weeks ago, these teens came under the direction of professional teaching artists Karen Estrada and Grace DeWolff.

Grace has been a teaching artist for over five years. Her goals with Next Actors include teamwork, self-discovery and confidence in freedom of expression. “I don’t think the program is about manufacturing more career actors or getting young people into ‘the business.’ What we do is create a small community of diverse experiences; we learn from each other and create something together.”

In just a few weeks, Next Actors will take their show on the road, performing their production for area senior centers and community organizations, “The tour is such an important part of the program; having an opportunity as a young person to spread a message and have your voice heard is really incredible,” says 2015 Next Actor, Elena.

Next Actors finishes their six-week intensive at our theatre on Saturday, July 22, at 4:30 pm to share their creation with family, friends, and you, the Next Act Community. Please join us to support and congratulate the Next Actors on their hard work and amazing accomplishment.


What was Before Next?

Over three decades ago, a parishioner of Ascension Lutheran Church asked himself, what legacy do you want to leave? His answer came in the form of a bequest to his church, specifically for youth programming to serve kids in the surrounding community. Thanks to that generosity from Dr. Clifford Schneider, the program we now know as Next Actors was born, twenty nine years ago.

How did a kids program in a church basement turn into Next Actors? It was thanks to the dedication, direction and hard work of local artist, Ray Jivoff, current Artistic Director of Skylight Music Theatre. In 1989, Ray responded to the call for a Director to run the Schneider Arts Academy at Ascension Lutheran. It’s no wonder they chose him for the job – with years of teaching and directing experience, a passion for working with high school students, a degree in Acting and Children’s Theatre and a Teaching Credential from San Francisco State University, he was a perfect fit. Ray recruited other professional artists to work with him and crafted a program that encouraged communication and collaboration, creativity and confidence.

Although popular and well received, the program’s survival came into question in 1997 when the bequest funding was running out. Determined to keep the program alive, Ray searched for a permanent home for the orphaned Schneider Arts Academy, finally landing at Next Act Theatre – with a brand new name, The Next Actors.

One hallmark of the program is the intensive time commitment, with daily, five-hour long sessions. As Ray says, “That kind of time is a real luxury you don’t have in school.” The program evolved as other artists became involved. Eventually, Ray handed program direction over to Next Actors alumnus, Nat Miller, who ran it for several years. Karen Estrada then took the reins and has been directing since, with the exception of 2016, when Grace DeWolff substituted for her and is now co-directing with Karen this summer.

Reflecting on how the program has changed, Ray observes, “… I think they’ve gone more toward having the kids do all the writing, or they decide they want to dance, compose, act or whatever...That’s a great improvement.

“We had really good experiences, and it was really hard work… Patience was tested… We had to try and find a balance between the kids that were bouncing off the walls and could do a one man show, and those who were really blocked and you can’t get to participate, “I don’t wanna sing,” “I’m not ready to do that.””

Ray says…he sees alumni on Facebook, there’s one that went on to work at an architectural firm, another is a writer. “Everybody’s got a youth program, they do different things, writing workshops, directing… A lot of opportunities for kids to be involved in the arts have come up, but still, I‘m not sure there are other projects like Next Actors where kids are performing their own work. And that’s terrific.”