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Orphan Train


2015 - Present

Orphan Train is a newly devised heritage theatre piece that premiered in April 2016 at the UWM 508 Kenilworth Studio Theatre. This production, created by Robin Mello and the cast of UWM Theatre students captures the lived experience of Orphan Train riders and the people who sent them west.

This unsung piece follows the real life stories of fourteen individuals who rode the trains. We meet Newsies from the Sentinel, farmers from Janesville, teachers and students at Milwaukee Female Seminary (Downer College), and the maverick Congregationalist minister Charles Loring Brace, whose vision impacted hundreds of thousands of children with laudable and tragic results.

Mello and The cast began devising this presentation in February 2016 using a script that Robin wrote during her sabbatical research semester. The actors also had an opportunity to engage with MultiStory Theatre, from Barnstable, England who helped bring an international connection to the work. The script is based on true stories taken from primary and secondary sources (diaries, photographs, interviews, newspaper reports, letters, and oral histories preserved in archives and dating from 1853 to 1929).

Orphan Train explores the courage and perseverance demonstrated by the children who survived the Orphan Train journey west. It engages audiences in an evening of storytelling, song, improvisation, and characters who ultimately became the heart of Wisconsin.

Orphan Train research and production was funded, in part, by a UWM RACAS grant. We're happy to announce that in September 2016 the cast of Orphan Train was given an Undergraduate Research Grant to continue their work in bringing this hidden piece of Wisconsin history to light.


Lake Effect Interview: R.Mello, E.Wenker, K.Minelli

Orphan Train Dramaturgy
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Orphan Train Poster
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Orphan Train Play Bill
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Orphan Train Review
Link to Shepard Express