Tosa Connection presents an interview with the Burns Family Bladen, Julia, Jack, Reed, Margaux, Colin & Grace

TC: How long have you lived in Wauwatosa and what brought you here? 

JB: Bladen and I moved to Wauwatosa from Boston in May 1996. A colleague from Cambridge Technology Partners in Cambridge, MA recruited me to join a small software company in Waukesha that had received venture funding and was a candidate to go public. It sounded like an exciting opportunity so Bladen and I, newly married, took the leap to move to the Midwest. I grew up in upstate New York and Bladen is from New Jersey, and neither of us had been to Wisconsin before. The software firm never went public, but Bladen found a job at a local money management firm, and then joined Fiduciary Management Inc. in 2002. Moving to Wauwatosa was one of the best things that could have happened to us.

TC: Why is that? 

JB: Both Bladen and I have had excellent work experiences in Wisconsin, and we are very fortunate to be raising five wonderful kids!TeamBurns.069 Resized

I’m quite sure had we stayed in Boston, we would have had two kids, maximum. The quality of life in Milwaukee and Tosa, in particular, is hard to find anywhere else. Milwaukee has the wide range of offerings of a larger city–great restaurants, amazing theater and wonderful outdoor recreation–without the headaches of crowds and traffic. We especially appreciate the centrality of Tosa. It takes 20 minutes or less to get anywhere you’d want to go in the metro-Milwaukee area. The neighborhood schools also contribute to the strong sense of community in Tosa.

TC: Five kids–you’ve got a basketball team! Please give us the line-up and tell us more about their interests and pursuits. 

JB: They are an active group! Jack, our oldest, is a seventh-grader at Longfellow Middle School and loves theater and singing. Jack (and now all five kids) sing in the children’s choir at the First Congregational Church in Wauwatosa. Jack’s interest in theater started at age 7, when he took his first summer academy class at First Stage. The First Stage Theater Academy experience has helped him in roles in multiple theater productions at both First Stage and the Waukesha Civic Theatre. This season Jack will be in the ensemble of A Christmas Carol at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Dec. 2-24, and then Little Critter in Just a Little Critter Musical, a premier at First Stage, Feb. 13-Mar. 13.

TC: Jack, what do you enjoy most about your involvement in theater? 

Jack: I enjoy experiencing the transformation that occurs from the start of the rehearsal process to the end of a show’s run. It’s amazing to see how much a cast and production staff can put together in such a short period of time. Theater has introduced me to so many inspiring individuals, both young performers and adults.

JB: Moving on to the rest of the line-up, Reed is a fourth grader at Washington Elementary School and enjoys both sports and theater. He has taken First Stage Academy classes for several years and was recently cast in his first show, and will play the role of Billy in Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse at First Stage, May 12-June 13. Reed has played for several seasons in the North Central Little League, Milwaukee Bombers baseball team, and Tosa basketball.  Our twins, Colin and Margaux are second graders at Washington and enjoy First Stage classes, playing tennis and participating in Destination Imagination (DI). Our four oldest children are on DI teams, and our youngest, Grace, a JK student at Washington, will join DI next year. Grace is an energetic, outgoing child who loves trying to keep up with her older siblings. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see her on stage in the near future.

TeamBurns.094TC: What is Destination Imagination and how long has your family been involved with DI? 

JB: Destination Imagination is a global non-profit, volunteer-led organization whose purpose is to inspire and equip students to become the next generation of innovators and leaders. DI offers project-based programs that help students develop important 21st century skills, including creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. During the school year, DI students work on one of six team-based challenges (scientific, technical, structural, fine arts, improvisation and service learning) and then publicly present their challenge solutions to appraisers at tournaments, beginning in mid March. Top-scoring teams advance to their state/country level tournament and then the Global Finals tournament, which had students from 48 states and 18 countries. Our family has been involved with DI for six years since Jack first joined a DI team in second grade at Washington. I began coordinating the program at Washington when Jack was in third grade and then started coaching Reed’s team in addition to coordinating the program DI is incredibly fun and rewarding for students and parents, alike. Watching the developmental transformation of the students over the course of a DI season is inspiring. Students gain tremendous confidence with public speaking and understand how to tackle complex, multifaceted challenges in a team-based environment. I’m not aware of any other program in Tosa that provides students with such a close simulation of real world work environments and the opportunity to compete internationally. This past year, I was particularly fortunate to coach Reed’s improvisational team (The Improv Irregulars) who progressed to the Global Finals tournament in Knoxville, Tenn. and placed ninth out of 76 elementary teams from all over the world!

TC: Wow, ninth place in the world! Reed, what are some of your favorite memories from attending DI Globals? 

Reed: It was really amazing to be on the University of Tennessee’s campus for the tournament and meet kids from all over the world. I loved the Instant Challenge Bootcamp where our team worked with a team from Columbia, South America. Also, everywhere you went on campus you could meet people who were trading cool pins from their region, state or country. We met students from China, Poland and South Korea as well as Joplin, Mo.!

JB: One of the reasons I feel so blessed to live in Tosa is that I am part of a wonderful team of parents who share my passion for DI. These parents are DI coordinators at multiple schools across Tosa, and after working independently for several years, we have now formed the Friends of Tosa DI organization to promote student and adult volunteer participation in DI across Tosa and fundraise for student participation in tournaments. There are over 225 Tosa students participating in DI this year. We just hosted our second annual Duct Tape Fashion Show where 75 students showcased movie-themed fashions made from duct tape and recycled materials. The kids’ creativity and hard work was very impressive. The event was successful in raising money and awareness for DI as well as fostering good will in the community.  We have two other events coming up in December. The first is a screening of the highly praised and sought-after documentary, Most Likely to Succeed, on Tuesday, December 1, 6:30-8:30p.m. at the Tosa East Theater. The event is open to the public and free. Treats and beverages will be available for a donation. It’s a hot ticket as the film can only be viewed as a community screening. It’s NOT available on Netflix. The second event is a s hopping day at Ruckus & Glee on Saturday, December 5 when 10 percent of all sales will be donated to the Friends of Tosa DI.



TC: It sounds like DI keeps you very busy. Do you have time for other interests? 

JB: Bladen and I are passionate about theater in our community, and especially First Stage and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. We’ve been Milwaukee Rep subscribers since we moved to Tosa and we are proud to help support the Milwaukee Rep’s Artistic Intern program, one of the top three in the nation. We became First Stage subscribers when Jack was 5. It’s become our tradition to take the entire family to First Stage shows. The high quality of their productions, extensive new play development and outstanding theater academy and education programs puts First Stage in a league of their own among children’s theaters. Everything First Stage does is consistent with developing future adults who are confident, kind, open-minded and respectful of others. Although neither of us has a theater background, we appreciate the opportunity theater, in general, and First Stage, in particular, gives our kids through both the academy classes and involvement in productions. First Stage’s mission of developing life skills through stage skills is extremely valuable for children in our increasingly complex and demanding world. Bladen and I are happy to have the opportunity to give back this year as the co-chairs of the 22nd Annual Make Believe Ball, First Stage’s largest annual fundraiser. We’ve attended the event as a family, including grandparents, for the past two years, and everyone has had so much fun. To my knowledge, it’s the only fancy dress evening fundraiser in Milwaukee for children and adults. The ball provides numerous activities for children, including arts and crafts projects, dance instruction, improvisational entertainment and lots of dancing! We had to pull our kids off the dance floor at last year’s ball when it was time to go home. The theme of the 2016 Ball is based on First Stage’s spring production of Ella Enchanted. The Enchanted Evening will be held on Saturday, March 12, 5:00-10:00pm at the Hilton Milwaukee Center. March 12th will be very busy for our family as earlier in the day we will be at the DI regional tournament in Muskego! We’ll be running hard that day!

TC: Julia seems plenty busy, what about you Bladen? 

BB: In my spare time, I enjoy coaching baseball. The older four kids have played in North Central Little League (NCLL) and I have coached all of their teams. Reed also plays on the Milwaukee Bombers traveling baseball team. One of the challenges with our Wisconsin spring (or “sprinter”) is it does not mesh well with outdoor baseball. After the harsh winter of 2013-14, I started searching for some warehouse space so we could have practice indoors. We purchased a 14,000 square foot warehouse that is in the Havenwoods section of Milwaukee. We converted half the space into an indoor “field of dreams” that is used by the North Central Little League. We added new LED lighting and had turf and nets installed to make batting cages. The new facility, called the “Hangar”, is a flexible space that enables teams to practice batting, pitching, fielding at the same time. NCLL has over 700 kids from both Wauwatosa and Milwaukee, so the space is getting plenty of use from January to June. It’s great to see so many kids enjoying playing baseball without needing to worry about the weather!

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