Managing Director

First Stage / Milwaukee, WI


The annual salary for the Managing Director role at First Stage is in parity with the Artistic Director as co-leader and is in the $125,000 range with a full benefit package commensurate with other organizations of its size.

First Stage, a national leader in theater and education for young people, invites qualified individuals to present themselves as candidates for Managing Director. Working in partnership with First Stage’s long-serving Artistic Director, the Managing Director must be an inspirational and collaborative leader with a strategic and innovative thought process and mindset. The Managing Director must also share the organization’s commitment and passion for transforming lives through theater. The Managing Director will have overall strategic and operational responsibility of staff, programs, fundraising and execution of its mission. More importantly, this is a chance to lead a vibrant, nationally recognized arts organization through an important time of reflection and evolution to further its impact and better meet demands and needs of a rapidly evolving environment. The Managing Director candidate must embrace innovation and demonstrate the strategic ability to reimagine First Stage’s business model and embrace new formats and ways to deliver high quality programming and education, locally and nationally. The First Stage culture is strong and supportive and defined by passion, care, and collaboration.  The Managing Director will be committed to nurturing the culture and will embody the heart and soul of the organization. First Stage has engaged Management Consultants for the Arts to lead this important search, and a full position description may be found here.

Founded in 1987, First Stage is a national leader in the Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA/USA) field and the second largest professional theater company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. First Stage has three guiding principles as articulated in its well-considered mission:

First Stage touches hearts, engages minds, and transforms lives by creating extraordinary theater experiences for young people and families through…

  • Professional Theater Productions that inspire, enlighten, and entertain
  • Unparalleled Theater Academy training that fosters life skills through stage skills
  • Dynamic Theater in Education programs that promote active learning in our schools and community

Alongside the Mission, First Stage’s aspirational Vision is:
First Stage strives to be the national leader and driving force behind the creation of the best and most innovative plays for family audiences, theater training programs for young people, and education initiatives for our schools and our community. These three interwoven programming pillars are accessible to, and reflective of our increasingly diverse community. Through our exceptional leadership, dedicated team, and commitment to financial sustainability, First Stage will broaden the reach and impact of our transformational programs, thus enabling dreams to be fulfilled, hope to be fostered, and families to enjoy the lasting legacy of a profound shared experience.

The three activity pillars of Productions, Academy, and Education are First Stage’s unique value proposition.

Productions. In a typical season, more than 100,000 young people and families attend First Stage theater performances, either at The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ Todd Wehr Theater (498-seats) or at the Goodman Mainstage Hall (142-seats) inside of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center where the First Stage offices, rehearsal and classroom spaces, and costume shop are also located. First Stage builds its own productions with a talented local seasonal production staff in its own off-site leased production facility. First Stage chooses all productions based on artistic excellence, educational content, social significance, and the potential to spark meaningful conversations. First Stage is one of the country’s few professional TYA/USA theaters committed to age-appropriate casting. By featuring young performers in all productions, First Stage ensures the artistic integrity of the characters onstage and allows audiences to connect more deeply with its performances, while young performers gain invaluable experience working alongside professional Equity and non-Equity adult actors, directors, and artisans. Committed to new play development, First Stage has presented more than 70 world premieres (and counting) that address important subject matters relevant to today’s youth, utilize celebrated literary works, and feature local themes and stories as inspiration.

Theater Academy: First Stage runs one of the nation’s largest high-impact theater training academies for students in grades K3-12. The Theater Academy has something for every stage along the actor’s journey—from early actors all the way to those who are mastering the craft, highlighted by the Young Company, a group of serious-minded young performers who produce two plays per season guided by professional directors as part of First Stage’s annual season. Through a challenging curriculum taught by professional teaching artists, the Academy offers more than 100 different theater classes with curriculum varying in intensity based on age, experience, and length of session—including the Next Steps program for young people on the autism spectrum. The Academy uses theater as a vehicle for our students’ development of essential life skills—self-discipline, self-identity, confidence, collaboration, empathy, and more. Approximately 2,000 students, ages 3-18, participate in the Academy during a typical season (totaling nearly 3,000 enrollments). By fostering life skills through stage skills, Academy students become exceptionally skilled young actors, excellent public speakers, leaders in their classrooms and communities, and lifelong supporters of the arts. The Academy operates at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center as its home base.

Education: Recognizing the intrinsic educational value of exposing young people to theater, First Stage has offered Theater in Education programs since the company’s founding. Acknowledged by the Wisconsin Arts Board as the state’s leader in arts-integrated education, First Stage engages more than 10,000 students through more than 2,000 workshops in a typical season. As schools are forced to spend less on arts programming, First Stage cleverly blends the arts with the standard curriculum, allowing students to learn traditional academic subjects through creativity and self-expression. The  arts-integrated programs present curriculum effectively to all types of learners, improve students’ literacy development and language comprehension skills, instill 21st century workforce skills, and promote character development. First Stage also offers professional development experiences for teachers with the goal of theater playing a role in every child’s classroom experience. First Stage’s Theater in Education programs include: Field Trip Plus Packages that include a trip to the theater with a variety of related workshops that range in length and depth of arts-integrated exploration, Early Literacy Residencies, Teaching through Theater—Arts Integrated Lessons, Pre and Post-Show workshops, the Bully Ban Program, and more.

Woven throughout all of these efforts is a strong dedication to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice. This commitment shows up in all three of First Stage’s organizational pillars, manifest in such transformative activities such as the AMPLIFY Series uplifting BIPOC playwrights and directors, Next Steps for students on the autism spectrum, and financial assistance intended to mitigate economic challenges families may be experiencing and to lift barriers for access to First Stage’s programs.

The bulk of First Stage operational activities centers around the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center (MYAC). Opened in 2005 as a separate 501c3 organization, MYAC is a shared facility just North of Downtown Milwaukee created as a home for youth arts education that serves First Stage and the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra (MYSO) as its core partners. As the landholder for this unique collaborative youth arts space, MYAC leases space to First Stage and MYSO and provides facilities management at a preferred market rate while also promoting ideals around the positive impact of shared services and strategic partnering to maximize each core partner’s own dedication to their specific missions. In recent years, the physical spaces at MYAC have been expanded to add additional class, rehearsal, and gathering space.  Looking to the future, MYAC has also acquired a building across the street from its current location and discussions are ongoing about the possible development of that property and its added benefit to both First Stage and MYSO.

First Stage operates under a TYA contract with Actors’ Equity Association and works with IATSE production staff for performances at the Todd Wehr Theater. With a talented full-time administrative staff, seasonal production staff, and network of contracted teaching artists and professional artists and artisans, First Stage is an important employer in the State of Wisconsin’s cultural community.  Jeff Frank serves as the company’s Artistic Director, a role he has held for 20 years moving into that leadership capacity after previously serving as Education Director. First Stage is governed by a 25-member Board of Directors and operates on an annual budget of approximately $5 million deriving its revenue through tickets sales, enrollment fees from the Theater Academy, and a diverse portfolio of contributed revenue. Earned revenue (ticket sales, Theater Academy, and education offerings) accounts for approximately 45% of the budget, with 55% derived through contributed revenue. As a Cornerstone Member of Milwaukee’s United Performing Arts Fund, First Stage is the beneficiary of significant contributed support from this important community arts funding source. Learn more about First Stage here:

Located on the shores of Lake Michigan in Southeastern, WI, Milwaukee is a thriving mid-sized Midwestern city (around 1 Million residents in the greater Milwaukee region) with an attractive cost of living that boasts a remarkable cultural community and bustling economy focused on 21st century innovation.  The Milwaukee metropolitan area ranks fifth in the United States in terms of the number of Fortune 500 company headquarters as a share of the population and is the home to the international headquarters of Johnson Controls, Northwestern Mutual, Manpower, Rockwell Automation, Harley-Davidson, WEC Energy Group, and others. The lovingly protected shoreline on Milwaukee’s Eastern perimeter is a popular destination for recreation and community festivals and the site of the highly regarded Milwaukee Art Museum designed by internationally renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava.  More about Milwaukee can be found at

The Managing Director will serve as a co-leader in partnership with the Artistic Director and will report directly to First Stage’s Board of Directors. The primary responsibility for the Managing Director is to manage the existing business and deepen relationships and impact in Milwaukee.  A strong business model and foundation exists as a result of many years of exceptional leadership, a dedicated team, strong local support and a commitment to financial stability.  At an important moment of evolution, the Managing Director will also be a critical strategic leader in navigating effective ways to meet the needs of an evolving environment.  The Managing Director will embrace innovation and demonstrate the strategic ability to evolve First Stage’s business model.  As a caring, collaborative, strategic, and innovative leader, the Managing Director’s primary responsibilities include:

Collaborative and Strategic Executive Leadership

  • Manage all administrative functions of the organization to enable it to meet long- term goals of strategic plan and mission. Areas of oversight include, strategy, finance, marketing, board management, fundraising, programming & education,
  • Develop and instill a culture of strategic thought and planning where the reasoning and rationale behind execution of activities are clearly articulated to Staff and Board.
  • Establish effective decision-making processes that will enable organization to achieve goals.
  • Participate with the Board in further development of a bridge plan; implement the vision and strategic plan in furtherance of First Stage’s mission.

Financial Management and Resource Development

  • Oversee the management of the annual budgeting and resource allocation; monitor financial performance against goals, always anticipating changes in advance of need.
  • Drive and embrace innovative thinking around ways to meet the needs of a rapidly evolving society and arts environment and ways to extend First Stage’s business model and reach nationally.
  • Enthusiastically participate in fundraising efforts with a priority on major gifts cultivation.

Stewardship of Values and Commitment to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice

  • Ensure that First Stage’s strong dedication to Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice is always considered as part planning and decision-making.
  • Create an environment that supports staff development and growth through inspirational and mentor-focused leadership.
  • Help to build a diverse and inclusive Board that is representative of community and highly engaged and willing to leverage and secure resources.
  • Nurture the First Stage culture, which is defined by passion, care, and collaboration; lead by example and set high standards for others in support of the culture.

Communications and Relationship Curation

  • Cultivate a strong working relationship of trust, transparency, and collaboration, with First Stage’s Artistic Director, staff, Board, artists, students/families, donors, UPAF, community partnerships and community at-large.
  • Serve as a primary spokesperson for First Stage alongside the Artistic Director and communicate with stakeholders to keep them informed of the organization’s work.
  • Serve as the key liaison between Milwaukee Youth Arts Center and Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra; cultivate a collaborative and transparent working relationship that supports long-term success of the partnership.
  • Foster strong communication within the organization with a focus on cross-departmental collaboration.

Ideally, the Managing Director will have relevant experiences that have prepared them for the rigors of serving in this important organizational role. The Search Committee is also seeking these and other qualities in interested and well-aligned candidates:

  • A demonstratable commitment to supporting youth and youth arts efforts.
  • An authentic love for theater, ideally grounded in experience in a producing environment.
  • An inspirational leader; enjoys and places high value on managing people, building teams around a shared purpose and affording people opportunities to grow.
  • A desire to be an active and engaged leader in the civic and cultural community in Milwaukee and beyond.
  • Significant experience and a passion for sharing the story of an organization, relationship building and effective fundraising.
  • A demonstrated ability to recruit, inspire and work collaboratively with Board members.
  • Collaborative and transparent leader with ability to set clear priorities, strategic direction, guide investment of limited resources, problem solving and decision-making skills.
  • Strong fiscal management and experience is a must.
  • Forward thinking and innovative approach to strategic planning.
  • Excellent collaboration skills with an ability to communicate and work effectively with a variety of internal and external stakeholders.

The annual salary for the Managing Director role at First Stage is in parity with the Artistic Director as co-leader and is in the $125,000 range with a full benefit package commensurate with other organizations of its size. The company hopes to make its decision by Summer of 2023 with the chosen candidate transitioning into the position shortly thereafter.

First Stage is an equal opportunity employer that does not discriminate based upon race, religion, color, national origin, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth, reproductive health decisions, or related medical conditions), sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, status as a protected veteran, status as an individual with a disability, genetic information, political views or activity, or other applicable legally protected characteristics.

Jonathan West from Management Consultants for the Arts is leading this important search. To be considered for this position, you must submit pertinent information including name, contact information, and salary requirement and attach a current résumé, a cover letter (no more than 1½ pages describing why this post and organization is attractive to you and what about you and your work makes you a potentially strong contributor to First Stage), and four professional references (name, work relationship, email, phone) using the online application system. Once all materials have been submitted online, the applicant will receive a confirmation of their submission via the email address provided in the application. For clarification on any of this information, please contact Christy Wall at