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Cosmic Fairy Tales visual art & production designer: Justin Thomas

JUSTIN THOMAS is associate professor of theatre and design and chair of the theatre and dance department at Grinnell College. He holds a Master of Fine Arts in theatrical design from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in theatre and communication from Kalamazoo College.  At Grinnell, Thomas has been able to pursue two of his greatest passions: teaching and making theatre.  Thomas’ courses run the gamut of theatrical design and technology, theatre history, dramatic literature, and disability, accessibility, and inclusive arts practices. As a professional designer, his work includes lighting, scenery, and projections, which have been produced by the Lincoln Center, Studio Theatre, Arden Theatre Company, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, Round House Theatre, Olney Theatre Center for the Arts, Farmers’ Alley Theatre, Theatre Gigante, Happenstance Theatre, the 21st Century Consort, the Washington National Cathedral, Daniel Phoenix Singh/Dakshina Dance Company, Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, and John Britto Dance Company.  Internationally, Thomas’ work has been presented throughout India, Bangladesh, France, and Russia.

Cosmic Fairy Tales director: Isabelle Kralj

ISABELLE KRALJ works as an auteur, director, choreographer, and performer.  Besides Gigante, she has directed and/or choreographed for, among others, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, First Stage, DBUS (Ballet Assn. of Slovenia), Florentine Opera, and Door Shakespeare.  Abroad, she has performed in Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, Austria, and Germany.  Isabelle has an MFA and has received a New Choreography Award from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the award of High Artistic Achievement from UWM’s Slovenian Arts Council, and grants from the US State Department, U.S. Embassy in Slovenia, and the Slovenian Ministry of Culture. She has written/created over seventy works, many of them in collaboration with Mark Anderson.

Cosmic Fairy Tales composer & sound designer: Frank Pahl

FRANK PAHL is a Michigan-based musician/composer, working in several styles including “toy pop,” or music made with toys. Frank chose to learn the euphonium (a smaller version of the tuba) in high school. This would be the first of many unusual instruments he would later add to his arsenal, including the harmonium (a pump organ), the ukulele, and the banjo, along with the clarinet, guitar, and piano.  He works primarily in Wyandotte and Ann Arbor, Michigan, and has exhibited his work in Canada, Europe and Japan, as well as the United States.   He has worked in several groups, including Only a Mother, Sublime Wedge, Immigrant Suns, Scavenger Quartet, a freeform musical group.  “Sonic artist” is often the term used to classify Frank Pahl.  Within his stockpile is a collection of toy instruments, a fascination that has developed into the toy-pop chamber trio Little Bang Theory, a “toy” music trio.  The clever, innovative, and unique group is made up of three gifted artists: Frank, Terri Sarris, and Doug Shimmin. Frank is a frequent collaborator with Isabelle, Mark and Theatre Gigante, as is Little Bang Theory — definitely part of the Gigante family!

Cosmic Fairy Tales production team


Written by Rok Vilčnik
Visual Art and Production Design by Justin Thomas
Music by Frank Pahl & Little Bang Theory
Directed by Isabelle Kralj
Production Manager Mark Anderson
Technical Assistants Caulden Parkel and Anna Bundy

Translations prepared by the students of Translation Studies
at the Faculty of Arts, University of Maribor, primarily
Ana Arnejčič
Nejc Golob
under the mentorship of Professor Melita Koletnik,
and Isabelle Kralj

Mark Anderson, Sade Ayodele, Kathryn Cesarz
Marissa Clayton, Nathan Danzer, Mohammad ElBsat
Leslie Fitzwater, Tony Flinn, David Flores
Ron Scot Fry, Rose Grizzell, Megan Kaminsky
Hannah Klapperich-Mueller, Posy Knight, Evan Koepnick
Isabelle Kralj, Diane Lane, Jordan Mackin
A.J. Magoon, Selena Milewski, Peter Mulvey
Frank Pahl, Sheri Williams Pannell, Jason Powell
Nate Press, Craig Quintero, Alessandro Renda
Thomas Simpson, Matt Specht
Shawn Smith, Christine Zufferey

Theatre Gigante’s 2020 Holiday Newsletter


A year we will all remember for a long time to come!

During this COVID-19 pandemic, we hope you are staying safe and healthy. We miss you and look forward to the day we will be together in a beautiful theatre again! Until then, we will continue to connect with you, our audience, supporters, and friends, on social media, and virtually.

At this time, we feel it is safer to communicate through social media than through postal mail. Therefore, if you are not already on Gigante’s e-list, we would be very happy and appreciative if you sent your email address to That way we will be able to inform you of all Gigante shenanigans!

With the holidays and a new year fast approaching, let’s take a look at our past year…

Back in January, Gigante was working in Ravenna and Milan, Italy, as part of a collaboration with Teatro delle Albe. The companies, who struck up a friendship in 2014 when Gigante presented Alessandro Renda in Marco Martinelli’s RUMORE DI ACQUE, are incredibly excited to be working together! We began work with Alessandro on the creation of a new piece, IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST, in Ravenna. Then the residency moved to Milan. This new work was to premiere in Milwaukee in May, then in Italy, to be performed in Ravenna and Milan in July, October, and November. Unfortunately, the COVID crisis caused all the performances to be postponed.

In February, after returning to Milwaukee, Gigante took BUILDING THEATRE THE GIGANTE WAY to 3rd graders throughout Milwaukee and Waukesha Counties through the Milwaukee Symphony ACE Program, emphasizing the importance of creative, inventive thinking, thinking out of the box, the power of the imagination, and the beauty of hybrid work. Gigante has been performing two shows through the ACE program for many years.

Then, in March we were thrilled to present the Milwaukee premiere of CRAVE, a thought provoking, enigmatic play by renowned British playwright Sarah Kane. The play is amazing, poetic and unique in its lyrical, free writing style for four voices. This was Gigante’s first production in the magnificent Jan Serr Studio in the Kenilworth Building. With beautiful city lights as background, performers David Flores, Kralj, and Anderson were joined on stage by award winning, amazing actor Jane Kaczmarek. Gigante’s CRAVE was further enhanced by the fabulous jazz musicians Aaron Gardner, Steve Peplin, Sam Winternheimer, and Clay Schaub, and the performances played out beautifully in front of a live audience!

The talent of all four actors shines through as they capture the attention of the audience and words flow melodiously, bouncing from one perspective to the other, from one truth to another, seamlessly. They infuse the words with humanity. Russ Bickerstaff Shepherd Express

Sadly, the day after CRAVE closed, Milwaukee went into lockdown, and COVID-19 became a reality for all of us. We postponed the Milwaukee premiere of IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST and all the scheduled performances in Italy, a reading of A PRISON MADE OF LIGHT, and a Wine Tasting Fundraiser.

Now, you, your families and friends, schools, businesses, and non-profits – among them Theatre Gigante – are all dealing with an abhorrent pandemic, coping to the best of our abilities, and surviving as best we can. Thanks to all donors, the CARES grant from WI Arts Board and the National Endowment for the Arts, the WI State COVID-19 Cultural Organization Grant, and the generosity of Sound Check 4 Arts, Gigante is holding its own.

Operating through social media and virtual events for the time being, in July and August we posted a music series, highlighting composers/musicians who have been a part of Gigante productions throughout the past 32 years. It was uplifting to see what these gifted artists are up to these days.

In September, we presented a Zoom performance of A PRISON MADE OF LIGHT. Thomas Simpson’s new, playful, otherworldly, existential play, written for four, featured John Kishline, Ben Yela, Kralj, and Anderson, and played to an audience of 122.  Simpson gifted us with a piece that was perfect for the Zoom format, and viewers tuned in from Hawaii, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Connecticut, New York, England, Slovenia, and Italy, as well as our neighborhood, which extends to Madison and Chicago!  It may not be live theatre, but it sure was fun!

Theatre Gigante continued its tradition of presenting challenging dramatic abstractions for performance this week with a debut of Thomas Haskell Simpson’s A Prison Made of Light.  Simpson’s dreamy poetics washed over the evening in a brief and haunting progression of ideas passionately searching for meaning in life, death and everything else.   Russ Bickerstaff  Shepherd Express

We are now in our 33rd Season, and we have achieved a lot of successes together – with you, with creative teams, fabulous artists, generous donors, and wonderful audiences!  As this difficult 2020 is winding down and 2021 is about to begin, we are determined to come out on the other side with strong, innovative, thought provoking and dynamic live theatre!  Until then, we will continue creating and spending time with you on social media and Zoom.

To successfully do this, we need your help!  Please consider making a contribution to Theatre Gigante at this time.  Survival is always challenging for performance arts organizations, but particularly challenging during COVID-19.  We greatly appreciate your support as audience, friends, and donors, and look forward to our future projects in virtual time, until we’re back to real time. We can’t wait to see you again at a live Gigante performance!!!

At this time, we wish you a very happy, merry, cheery, jovial and glowing Holiday Season! Stay safe and healthy!



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or mail a check to:
Theatre Gigante
P.O. Box 1999
Milwaukee, WI 53201-1999



Selena Milewski watched a run of A PRISON MADE OF LIGHT today.  Here’s what she had to say:

Beautiful work today! Thank you so much for your insightful treatment of consciousness within and after life.

Thomas Haskell Simpson’s text brought me into a sort of waking dream. The associative flow of ideas interspersed with potent images and frequent returns to body-centered language (the permanence/impermanence of bones, in particular) creates a truly unique audience experience. The playwright’s references and quotations from history and literature are poignant and well chosen and, again, the overall sense created is one of non-linear journeying—the kind undertaken by a dreaming mind.

Thornton Wilder’s hilltop ghosts in Our Town were undeniably channeled as well, especially in the suggestion that we’re hearing the musings of four souls after death reflecting on the nature of life. The rim-of-the-world green screen backgrounds used by the brilliant performance quartet underscored this sense of floating in space and time.

On the whole, I was struck by the efficacious use of Zoom to create a theatrical event. Digital artifacts such as the occasional melding of a performer’s body with his or her cosmic background fit the play’s otherworldly setting exquisitely.

A perfect piece to support the endurance of theatre in the midst of global pandemic, Prison pulls no punches about life and death, yet treats its audience humanely in its philosophical discourse, even interspersing moments of intimate a cappella singing.

Near or far, we truly are in this together.

Gigante on Active Culture radio program

A PRISON MADE OF LIGHT is discussed on Will LaDuke’s Active Culture radio program, on Milwaukee’s Riverwest Radio.

If you’d like to hear playwright Thomas Simpson and Gigante Artistic Directors Isabelle Kralj & Mark Anderson talk with Will, CLICK HERE.

“A Prison Made of Light” Playwright Thomas Simpson

We’re very excited to be working with our friend,
writer/performer/translator Thomas Simpson,
on the upcoming reading of A PRISON MADE OF LIGHT.

Thomas Haskell Simpson (Phd University of Chicago, 1997) has performed in several Theatre Gigante productions, most recently as the onstage translator and alter ego of the main character in the company’s version of Noise in the Waters, which he translated from Italian. Formerly a professor at Northwestern University, Tom has translated many plays and numerous books and articles from Italian into English, including both classics (Pirandello, De Filippo, Goldoni) and contemporary works by Marco Martinelli/Teatro delle Albe and others. With Rita Filanti he has translated American poets into Italian, and he is the author of Murder and Media in the New Rome (2010), a study of a sensational trial that became a media circus in the first years after Italy’s unification.

September 16th at 7pm CST

This is a FREE reading of a work in progress, performed by Mark Anderson, John Kishline, Isabelle Kralj, Ben Yela.
The reading will be followed by a talkback, moderated by Michael Stebbins.

RSVP necessary. Dress optional. 🙂

Send us an email today at to reserve a Zoomspot!
We will confirm your reservation, and send you an invite on the day of.

Rehearsing for our first Zoom!

The Gigante company in rehearsal for our September 16, 2020 reading of A PRISON MADE OF LIGHT, by Thomas Simpson.

(clockwise, from top left) Isabelle Kralj, Mark Anderson,
Thomas Simpson, Ben Yela, John Kishline

Free reading of a work-in-progress
Wednesday, Sept 16 @ 7pm CST

to reserve:

The great musicians: Christine Zufferey


video links
La vie en rose  Ziaf reunion concert (2018)
Medley of Christine’s songs  solo concert (2010)
Mirror  concert at Olympia, in Paris (2019)
Padam, padam… with Catherine Capozzi – Gigante’s Studio Series (2015)

Christine Zufferey (aka Mary Zoo) is a Paris, France based singer/songwriter/musician. Originating from the Boston underground rock scene, the Swiss native is an enchantress in her own singular folk alternative style.  Her unique style comes to life as she performs songs in English and French, on her acoustic or twelve string guitar. Depths and colors of her subtle arrangements range from electric to floaty, melancholic to eerie and are evident in the acoustic, sober and raw quality of her performances. In addition to her original material, Christine interprets a set of Edith Piaf songs that she performs solo or with Catherine Capozzi, as a duo or as the band “Ziaf.” 

Theatre Gigante is wild about working with
the talented Christine Zufferey
and can’t wait for another opportunity to work with her again!!!

Gigante productions:

Studio Series Concert 
(2015) with guitarist Catherine Capozzi