Marcella Kearns: Behind the Curtain
Director of award winning production, Mockingbird, Marcella Kearns is an adjunct instructor of theatre at Carthage. She works at First Stage in Milwaukee as a theatre coach and educator for children and is Associate Artistic Director at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre. Impressively, she has recently won Director of Play of the Decade, Production of a Play of a Decade and the lead actor, Alex Salter, won Performer of a Decade for her play, Mockingbird at the 2020 BroadwayWorld Milwaukee Awards, a production she adapted by playwright Julie Jensen from a novel by Kathryn Erskine.
Winning play of the decade is an extremely impressive honor. How does it feel to have won so many awards for a production you developed and directed?
Any theatrical honor, whether a critic’s award or a people’s choice, reflects the strength of the collaborators on the production. The script of Mockingbird, adapted from Kathryn Erskine’s moving book; the production team, from designers to staff to stage management; and the acting team cared deeply about the subject matter and shepherded this piece together. So how do I feel? Grateful that some folx voted to lift it up and remember it as a worthy piece of art.
You do a very wide variety of teaching at FirstStage. Was educating and coaching children and clients on lifelong skills something you have always wanted to do?
Indeed, I’ve worked with the littlest of littles on workshops all the way through professional development for educators at First Stage and through other organizations such as Milwaukee Chamber Theatre and the Milwaukee Rep. I think just as a human I’ve always been interested in fostering curiosity and joy through whatever channel I could find. What can I say? I’m a gleeful nerd. Theatre in education presented itself as one of those channels early in my professional journey, when I used theatre techniques to assist in English-language classes for secondary students in Austria.
Where does your own confidence and drive originate from and what motivates you?
Story motivates me. Humans love stories. Stories sustain us, fill us, inspire us. I’ve worked in the theatre industry wearing several hats—actor, director, educator, administrator—because I believe in the power of story to connect us with one another and with the mysteries of the world and universe yet to be explored.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your career? Is there anything you would change?
I have multiple answers for the multiple hats I wear! As an actor, I love anonymity and transformation. As a director and educator, I love witnessing and celebrating others’ co-creation. As an administrator, I love introducing new artists to an organization and hearing from audiences how a piece affected them.
What would I change? If I could go back and encourage my younger self to speak up for herself and others, I would. That’s not a regret; rather, it’s a cognizance that informs my core values in my approach to students now. I hope to foster the sense in each that they are whole and worthy, no matter where they are on their learning arc.
What’s next for you? Do you have any current projects you are working on?
On the work front: this spring, in my capacity as Associate Artistic Director for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, I’m doing my part with a small but mighty staff to bring a virtually-reimagined theatrical season to audiences. I’m also working behind the scenes on research for Forward Theater’s production of 46 Plays for America’s First Ladies. The most important project, though, is imagining the road trip I’ll take to visit distant family on the other side of the pandemic. There will be so many roadside attractions and snacks and hugs at the end of the trail. I can’t wait.