Wisconsin has a deep conservation history and Wauwatosa grade school children have an opportunity to discover that due to Kohl's Wild Theater.
The program is organized and performed by theater coordinator Dave McLellan and the Zoological Society of Milwaukee and provides conservation-themed performances using drama, songs and puppetry to children and their families. Due to Kohl's sponsorship they are able to offer the shows free of charge to organizations within a one-hour radius of the Milwaukee County Zoo.
"This is our sixth year of going to schools," McLellan said. "We also put on shows for community organizations or festivals."
They recently debuted their newest musical, “Aldo Leopold and the Ghost of Sand County,” a collaboration with the Wisconsin-based Aldo Leopold Foundation and the last surviving child of Aldo, Estella Leopold. The 45-minute musical teaches children in kindergarten through fifth grade about the importance of preserving nature for future generations.
According to the Zoological Society, Aldo Leopold is considered by many as the father of wildlife management and of the United States’ wilderness system.
"Aldo Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer and outdoor enthusiast," a news release from the society said. "In 1935, he and his family initiated their own ecological restoration experiment on a worn-out farm along the Wisconsin River outside of Baraboo, Wisconsin, known as The Shack. His most famous work, “A Sand County Almanac,” was published a year after he died in 1948 and has been translated into 13 languages."
Kids attending shows learn the ways people can help and hurt nature through the eyes of Leopold’s three youngest children, Estella, Carl and Nina. When their father mysteriously disappears at the hands of a bearded ghost, the children must solve the curse of Sand County to find him.
“There’s a legacy of people from John Muir to Aldo Leopold to children today who can make a difference,” Dave McLellan said. “This show is about children being empowered to speak up on behalf of nature.”
The majority of the shows are best suited for elementary schools, but McLellan said the group performs in front of varied audiences and have put on performances at middle schools and Summerfest. The idea for the shows was born from a desire to create something new and fresh.
"We were talking to Kohl's and through those conversations they came through with a large donation," McLellan said.
McLellan lives in Wauwatosa, has two children and his oldest, a daughter, attends Lincoln Elementary School.
The shows are very popular and McLellan said they book up quickly. They begin to book for the following school year each April and interested schools should get in touch with Kohl's Wild Theater early in the month. Interested schools can call 414-258-2333 or visit wildtheater.org for more information or to book a show. Shows at schools are not open to the public.
Kohl's Wild Theater's upcoming Wauwatosa schools schedule:
- Feb. 13: Madison Elementary, 2:15 p.m. - Aldo Leopold and the Ghost of Sand County
- Feb. 23: Wauwatosa Catholic School, 9:30 p.m. - A World of Water
- March 2: Christ King Elementary, 9:30 a.m. - What We Eat
- April 4: Lincoln Elementary, 9 a.m. - A Tale of Two Hemispheres
- April 6: St. John’s Lutheran School, 10 a.m. - What We Eat