1. WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
I was born in Chicago, then moved to Mendenhall, Mississippi and came to Milwaukee when I was in 6th grade and have never left. My family lived in the Harambee, Franklin Heights and Washington Park neighborhoods and I graduated from Washington High School. From there, I enlisted in the Army and served my tour based in Hanau, Germany. I served as an equipment parts and records specialist, and had to make sure all the weapons had ammunition and computer systems were functioning properly.
|La Toya Sykes with students from Our Next Generation|
2. HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT MCT?
I learned about MCT from current board member Mickey Ripp. In collaboration with my work at Our Next Generation in Milwaukee, Mickey invited a group of Our Next Generation students to attend an MCT show and expose them to a part of the city’s culture they had never experienced before. The show was LOBBY HERO and the students loved it! Afterwards, they were treated to a talkback program with the actors and production staff. It was such a positive and amazing experience that I felt I had to do some work with MCT and that was part of the reason why I joined the board.
The other part was artistic director Michael Wright and managing director Kirsten Finn. They are so open, honest and transparent — you can ask them anything. They are also really good at articulating what a show is about in “real world” terms and selling their product to diverse audiences.
3. WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO BRING TO THE TABLE AS A NEW BOARD MEMBER?
I hope to bring a more diverse population of theatregoers to MCT. I work in a part of Milwaukee where families often budget more to go to the movies and not the theatre because they think it’s too expensive. I want to let them know that seeing a play can be affordable and you won’t “break the bank.” There are so many things that companies, like MCT, do to bring in patrons, like “pay what you can” nights and a variety of subscription packages at different rates. I want my community to become season ticket holders — we just have to get the message to the masses!
4. FAVORITE MCT PLAYS YET?
So far, my favorite play has been SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY. It was very entertaining and had a lot more laughs than I anticipated. I also really enjoyed the pace of the production. I brought some of my students from Our Next Generation (third to seventh-graders) and the play kept them engaged the whole time! When we were on the bus getting ready to leave, one of the actors from the show was heading out and came on board to say hi and the kids thought that was so cool! It was the icing on the cake for that visit!
|Students from Our Next Generation after a matinee performance of|
SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY.
Since 2014, I have served as the President and CEO of Our Next Generation (ONG) in Milwaukee. It’s a nonprofit youth organization with after-school programming during the school year and camp in summer time.
We offer Homework Club which is ONG’s oldest and most time-tested method of academic intervention and relationship building. Our award-winning Outbound Learning Program combines the academic support and one-on-one mentoring of Homework Club with opportunities to expand students' horizons beyond their own neighborhood. We bus students to participating corporate and community partner sites, where they meet employee and community member volunteers. This gives students the opportunity to see the possibilities!
We also offer art and literacy programming that most students don’t always get in school anymore. When they came to MCT, they found out that the theatre is a rich space with so many roles to pursue — actors, writers, production staff, administration and more. Over the course of the year, we touch about 1,000 youth and their families. One of the things I love about the opportunity to lead this organization is that, often times, the children are introducing their families to something new and positive in the community based on their experiences at Our Next Generation.
Before Our Next Generation, I worked for the YMCA of the USA. I ran a college access program in 40 states and created cohorts of professionals to come together to help students find pathways to higher education.
6. WHAT DO YOU DO FOR FUN? ANY HOBBIES?
I love food! I like to go out and try different restaurants and cuisines around Milwaukee.
I love to travel, too. Over the last few years, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to do more travel and visit new places in the world. Last year, I traveled to cities in 10 countries, including Hong Kong in China, Thailand, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, and Israel. Thailand was probably one of my favorites — the food was great and the people were really friendly and welcoming. When I was there, I had a chance to experience some of the communities more intimately and see how the natives live and eat and just get a whole different level of appreciation there. I love sharing my travel experiences with family and friends and introducing them to parts of the world they’ve never been to. I want to show them that if you work hard, you can play hard, too!
7. WHERE TO EAT BEFORE A SHOW?
I love Mason Street Grill downtown, that’s one of my favorite spots. Emperor of China on Brady Street has really good Chinese food. Five O’Clock Steak House is my favorite place to get a steak in town and they make fantastic homemade desserts. They are not only “bananas” with the steak but “bananas” with the dessert, too!
8. FAVORITE WISCONSIN SPOTS
I like taking getaways to Wausau. The city has a nice small-town feel with great food and a great space for “R and R.” You can really clear your mind for the road ahead.
I really like the Fifth Ward area in Milwaukee. It’s wonderful to see how the neighborhood is changing with new restaurants and revitalized spaces.
I’m a big sports fan and I’m excited about the new Fiserv Forum. I love living in a city where we have so many professional sports and the level of access is really good to get tickets.
I’ve really grown to enjoy what Milwaukee has to offer, and it’s even better now as an adult being able to sprinkle in different entertainment options, like shows at MCT.
9. ANY OTHER ORGANIZATIONS YOU ARE A PART OF THAT YOU ENJOY AND WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT?
I serve as Vice President of the Zonta Foundation Board, an entity that exists to raise and disburse funds to organizations who share our mission of empowering women and girls through service and advocacy. I also serve on the President’s Advisory Board at Carroll University. I am a member of African American Ladies Empowered to Grow Opportunities (A-LEGO) and the Milwaukee – WI Chapter of The Links, Incorporated.
10. BACK TO MCT: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE PEOPLE IN THE AREA TO KNOW ABOUT THIS THEATRE COMPANY WHO MAY NOT BE FAMILIAR WITH IT?
I would tell people first that MCT is just a darling place to be. There is not a bad seat in the house.
You don’t have to dress up, you can just come as you are and you’ll find the staff is very friendly.
The plays are amazing. These are New York-style shows produced right here in our backyard. The artists are so at point in their craft.
I also tell people that coming to an MCT show is a great date thing to do but coming as a group is a lot of fun, too!