Making Theater the Priority

by | Jan 1, 2024 | 0 comments

Laura McMillan is a whirlwind force. Just reading her biography on the back of a playbill makes one out of breath. Actor, director, choreographer, producer, educator—holding several of those titles while simultaneously serving in the US Navy. She is also one of the many amazing—and queer—individuals that help lead the Children’s Theater of Madison (CTM). She also happens to be one of my favorite theater friends to run into at the bar after a show!

I was excited to ask her a few questions about her life in the arts. In the coming issues, I look forward to sharing more of the amazing CTM staff with readers and their views on the role of theater in young people’s lives—especially young queer people’s lives.

What were some of your first experiences with theater?

My first theatrical experience was when I was growing up in Southern California. My grandparents took me to see Smokey Joe’s Cafe at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. When I was young, I was the Wicked Witch of the West. I ended up scratching my makeup off part of my face during the show because it itched. I funnily remember my grandma kept telling me to stop touching my face.

Did you always want this career?

I always knew theater was going to be a part of my life in some way. Most of us dream of making it a career, but the realist in me always kept other jobs (sometimes five at once) in the mix, as I didn’t think I could do theater full time. So, after joining the Navy and still making theater the priority during military intel exercises, I knew that it was always going to be my priority. After four years, I got out and went back to college to pursue my passion.

Now you’re with Children’s Theater of Madison. What brought you to CTM?

I am the Education Manager at CTM, and I have been with the organization for four years. My day-to-day responsibilities include being the Student Matinee Coordinator and working with schools and educators to fill out matinee shows. I am also the Registrar, so I answer all parent questions about our academic programs and registration as well as building the classes in our registration system to go live on our website. As part of my registrar duties, I am the Financial Aid Coordinator, in which I work closely with families to give financial assistance for students to be able to attend a variety of our programs. I am also lovingly known as Space Queen, as I oversee booking all space for the education department.

When I first moved here in 2015, I saw an opportunity to intern at this organization where the focus is to bring arts to the youth in our community. I knew connecting with CTM would be a good opportunity to get my foot in the door in the theater scene. I had also done my research and knew they were a well-known company with high-quality artistry. After going back to college and receiving my degree in theater and theater studies, a job opportunity was sent to me by my dean for a role she thought I’d be perfect for. The rest is history!

Identity has such a profound effect on artists and shapes the art that they make. How have you seen it affect you?

As a queer, BIPOC, bi-racial, woman and a US Navy Veteran, identity and representation has always been important to me. Finding where I fit has been a lifelong journey and very difficult at times. I am starting to realize that my story is not one that is often told. With all my identities, I heard pieces of myself in many different stories, but never one that I can say fully, “That’s me.” With that being said, the arts and the stage are my space to express my unique self. That is what I love about it so much—if I can’t find my story, I can create it.

How do you view the importance of theater/arts in the lives of young people?

The arts are vital to any community. It’s a space where children can create, build relationships, and grow their self confidence. I always want to make sure young people are seeing themselves on stage and on the page.

What are some of the most fun projects you’ve gotten to be a part of over the years?

I’ve had so much fun as part of the cast of CTM’s A Christmas Carol. My Madison community theater debut was with Mercury Payers in The Revolutionists, and that was a blast! I have been honored to work all over the country including WI, CA, AZ, FL, and HI. Hawaii has given me some of my most cherished memories with being in Zombie Prom, Rocky Horror Picture Show, and an award-winning Broadway revue at the beautiful Paliku Theater.

I’d be remiss not to mention The Goodwin Project, a series of plays written by Idris Goodwin to spark tough conversations around race for youth. I was humbled that Roseann Sheridan had given me my first opportunity to work as a producer on this. I believe it was CTM’s first fully BIPOC team, and I was very proud of that—to have our voices heard not just on camera but behind the scenes as well. That was the one good thing about it being during the pandemic, I was so fortunate to be able to work with the people I did who spanned across the United States. We came together to tell these stories in a time when we needed to hear them the most. We ended up getting national recognition from not only TYA/USA but also from the creator himself, Idris Goodwin.

What about the arts keeps you coming back? What or who inspires you to continue?

The arts offer spaces where I can authentically be myself while also stepping into the shoes of others. The opportunity theater provides to immerse myself in different perspectives inspires me to continue. This process of exploration and empathy is rewarding and keeps me passionate about the arts.

With such a diverse background, how do you view Madison’s art and theater scene?

Madison boasts a robust theater scene, offering a wide range of artistic experiences for a city of its size. It’s truly a gem, providing big city amenities in a compact and vibrant community. Madison’s untapped resource lies in its diversity, which is reflected in the multitude of voices and perspectives found here. Arts organizations in Madison have a remarkable opportunity to collaborate and leverage this diversity to propel both the industry and the community forward.

What are some projects that you are working on or would love to work on in the future? 

I just played Fred’s wife, Lucy, in CTM’s A Christmas Carol, and I’m excited about the rest of CTM’s season: World Premiere of Life Doesn’t Frighten Me, a hip-hop tale for the young created by Paige Hernandez; Percy Jackson’s The Lightning Thief, which is selling out fast; and The Diary of Anne Frank. The other project I’m excited for/love to work on is Charles Payne’s Da Classroom Ain’t Enuf. I was in one of the readings of it early on, and now it’s being produced at Broom Theater. I’m so excited for all involved and hope the community will support it in April!

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