Tag Archives: Arizona culture

Book to stage: The Great Gatsby

Last year at about this time, Stephen Wrentmore dug out his very old copy of “The Great Gatsby,” the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel published in 1925 — considered by many the “great American novel.”

He was talking at the time with David Ira Goldstein, artistic director for Arizona Theatre Company, about possible programming for the 2011-12 Arizona Theatre Company season. Wrentmore was named the company’s associate artistic director in January, and will be directing “The Great Gatsby” for ATC later this season.

The thrill of returning to “The Great Gatsby,” says Wrentmore, was greater than any other experience revisiting works he’d previously read. Reading it cold as an adult, he muses, beats being force fed the novel as a child. “It’s such complex and rich writing for a hungry mind,” shares Wrentmore.

This first edition of The Great Gatsby was sold at auction by Christie's for $163,500

American students are expected to read “The Great Gatsby” but that’s not the case for students in London, where Wrentmore was born and raised. “I read ‘Huckleberry Finn’ by accident when I was 11 or 12,” recalls Wrentmore. Seems immersion in the writings of modern American authors isn’t considered essential within the British education system.

Wrentmore discovered American novels shortly after taking his exams at age 16, and says he soon became “obsessed with American literature.” Wrentmore recounts reading American novelists like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald through the end of his university studies — when he finally got to visit America.

He first traveled to Arizona in 2000, and still marvels today at the differences between British and American culture. Comparing life in Arizona to life in London, he says, is like comparing two distinct languages. “I knew in my head that it would be different,” shares Wrentmore. But “the different energy levels” of Arizona life and London life are more stark than he’d imagined — by virtue, he says, of both climate and distance.

“Europeans walk everywhere,” reflects Wrentmore. “And there’s a greater sense of the outdoors in Europe.” In London, he says, you meet people on the pathways. “There are more opportunities for random encounters.” In Arizona, he’s observed, people seem to live in their cars. There’s no popping out to the market late at night unless car keys are involved, and it’s isolating.

Hence the added importance of arts and culture to Arizona communities, reflects Wrentmore. People who attend a concert or play have a shared experience. They develop a sense of community — something Wrentmore says we need more of. The arts, adds Wrentmore, forge a connection between “our common humanity.”

Wrentmore has been busy casting “The Great Gatsby” in Tucson, Phoenix and NYC — but says he’s only about 70% there so far. The Arizona Theatre Company production of “The Great Gatsby,” the final work in their “America Plays! Celebrating Great American Stories” series, runs Feb. 25-March 17 in Tucson and March 22-April 8 in Phoenix.

Cover of my daughter Jennifer's $12.95 copy of The Great Gatsby

“People have great expectations,” reflects Wrentmore. “We have to tell the story in a way that resonates with contemporary audiences.” Wrentmore recognizes that whatever they do, it’s likely to collide with various audience member visions of the work. “For every reader of ‘The Great Gatsby,’ there’s a different Gatsby,” says Wrentmore. “It’s completely liberating.”

“Some people won’t get it,” says Wrentmore, “and some will see a truth in it.” Wrentmore says he feels more freedom to choose historical periods and other elements when directing the works of Shakespeare. But “The Great Gatsby,” he says, must “relate with the period and how people remember the story.”

Still, Wrentmore says he’s observed that people’s memories of “The Great Gatsby” are hazy. You can ask anyone, he says, about “The Great Gatsby.” They all know it and they all have an answer — a different answer. Not all novels translate well to the stage, according to Wrentmore. But he sees “great theatricality” in the work, and is certain it’ll travel to the stage “with elegance.”

“The Great Gatsby” has been adapted several times for the big screen. The 1974 film starred Robert Redford and a 2012 film will star Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s being filmed in Australia and directed by Baz Luhrmann, and will be released by Warner Brothers Pictures in both 2D and 3D on Christmas Day 2012. But it’s rare, according to Goldstein, for the Fitzgerald estate to grant rights for theatrical adaptations. They’ll be performing an adaptation by Simon Levy.

Wrentmore notes that “The Great Gatsby” is supremely relevant for contemporary American society. “These characters live in a bubble of privilege,” says Wrentmore. “They drink, lay about and engage in dangerous liaisons.” It’s hardly a reflection, says Wrentmore, of the Protestant work ethic in which folks work hard for money they then put to good use.

“I come from a society that believes in a sense of society and culture,” says Wrentmore. “We give back.” But the characters in “The Great Gatsby” don’t give back. Wrentmore notes that the Gatsy story “kicks us again about the elusive idea of the American dream.”

“These characters are, for the most part, the one percent,” says Wrentmore. Just a few of them “represent the 99 percent.” Fitzgerald’s tale reminds us all to ask ourselves what it really means to be successful. And to consider, once we’ve achieved wealth and status, what we ought to be doing with it.

– Lynn

Note: The West Valley Arts Council is featuring “The Great Gatsby” in “The Big Read,” a program of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest. A visual arts competition for ages 12-22 closes on Dec. 8 so click here ASAP for details if you or someone you know might like to participate. 

Coming up: Musings on “Mozart’s Sister,” Visual arts classes for youth, Ethnic studies translated for the stage

Update: Arizona Theatre Company is seeking donations of new and used copies of the book “The Great Gatsby” — which can be dropped off at The Temple of Music and Art in Tucson or one of three Phoenix locations — the Herberger Theater Center, the ATC Phoenix box office and the Downtown Phoenix Partnership. Watch the education section of the ATC website for details coming soon. And click here to check out the NEA’s “Big Read” blog.  12/06/11

Art meets airport

Having an interest in art always makes time spent at airports a little more bearable. Rather than settling for sitting in a terminal, I sometimes stroll in search of paintings, sculpture and such.

A while back, I enjoyed works by Navajo Master Weavers exhibited at Sky Harbor International Airport thanks to the Phoenix Airport Museum, one of the largest airport museums in the country.

The Phoenix Airport Museum serves not only Sky Harbor but also Phoenix Deer Valley Airport and Phoenix Goodyear Airport. The museum is sponsored by the City of Phoenix Aviation Department — which seeks to “showcase Arizona’s unique artistic and cultural heritage.”

The museum includes “an art collection of more than 500 works, 25 exhibition spaces in six buildings, and the Phoenix Aviation Archive.” Next time you’re at Sky Harbor, look for the museum’s “Art & Exhibition Guide.” It features a map showing art locations in Terminal 4 and the Rental Car Center.

I stumbled on the Phoenix Airport Museum gallery during my recent travels to New York City — exploring an exhibit called “100 Years 100 Ranchers: Photography by Scott Baxter.”

The exhibit includes a selection of black and white photographs taken during the course of a decade — all featuring subjects whose families have been ranching in Arizona for a century or more.

When friends and family come to visit during the holiday season, allow a little extra time at the airport for exploring local art offerings. When art meets airport, travel and its trappings seem a bit less tedious.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Scott Baxter Photography

Coming up: Protest art from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan

Art meets Arizona Town Hall

Some pretty cool things happened during 1962 in the arts world…

Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev first danced together — during a performance of “Giselle” with the Royal Ballet in London. Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans” exhibit opened in L.A.

The Beatles released their first EMI single — “Love Me Do.” The play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opened on Broadway. And songwriter/rocker Jon Bon Jovi was born in New Jersey.

In Arizona, something called “Arizona Town Hall” was born. It’s an “independent, nonprofit membership organization that identifies critical issues facing Arizona, creates the forum for education and exploration of the topic and fosters leadership development.”

They’ve held nearly 100 “Arizona Town Hall” events since 1962, but this year’s event is their first to focus on Arizona arts and culture. You’d have a hard time convincing me that 97 other issues have been more important to our state through the years. Still, I’m thrilled that arts and culture finally made it to the top of their list.

The 98th “Arizona Town Hall” convenes this week (May 1-4) in Tucson, with approximately 150 Arizona citizens taking part. I recognized plenty of names when I checked out the list at www.www.aztownhall.org. Steve Martin of Childsplay. Dan Schay of Phoenix Theatre. Bill DeWalt of the Musical Instrument Museum.

You can hit the “Arizona Town Hall” website for a full list of folks taking part. The Arizona Commission on the Arts promises daily coverage of the event for those of us not fortunate enough to be there. And a final report will be issued with the groups’s findings, which will be available to the public online.

You can read this Arizona Town Hall Background Report online

I’m not keen on waiting for the final report, so I’ve been reading the “Arizona Town Hall” background report – put together in large measure by Arizona State University, with Betsy Fahlman serving as editor.

The curated report “combines the work of nearly 30 Arizona author-contributors, and 10 artists and poets.”

Its 236 pages include a comprehensive history of Arizona arts and culture that should be required reading for anyone who works or plays with the arts.

Specific chapters of the report address areas such as arts education, tourism and cultural heritage, historic preservation, public libraries, museums, parks and the performing arts. Also economic issues, urban revitalization, public art and more.

There’s even fun show and tell type stuff. Figures on the “creative industries in Arizona.” Tables on arts-related employment, state art budgets, federal arts funding and the ever-sexy “per capita spending on states arts agencies.” Graphs showing “availability of arts education” and “per-pupil arts spending.”

But what exactly will “Arizona Town Hall” participants be talking about in Tucson? I browsed a few of their discussion outlines, and found topics like these: What’s unique about Arizona arts and culture? How does the Arizona arts spectrum represent diverse populations?

They’ll also discuss the impact of Arizona arts and culture on our economy, education and quality of life. Plus the roles of private enterprise, private philanthropy, governments and other types of support for arts and culture.

When all is said and done, and their final report is issued, I’m guessing the impact — assuming we all own up to our own responsibilities for enhancing Arizona arts and culture — will make 2011 a year to rival 1962. Except, of course, for that whole Bon Jovi thing.

– Lynn

Coming up: Dance meets fashion, Celebrating “Book Week,” Put on your party clothes!

Update: Final recommendations from the 98th Arizona Town Hall are now available. Click here to see them. The 5/12/11 episode of “Horizon” on Eight, Arizona PBS focused on findings and recommendations from the 98th Arizona Town Hall. Click here to learn more about “Horizon” and the “Arizona ArtBeat” program.

Real drama in Wisconsin

Citizens opposing proposed changes to collective bargaining options in Wisconsin have been protesting at the State Capitol in Madison since mid-February. For folks unfamiliar with American theater history, it might feel like the first time high drama has come to Wisconsin.

But those who know the story of acting duo Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne, who graced American stages from the 1920s through the 1950s, know that plenty of drama took place at their summer home — an estate called “Ten Chimneys” that’s now a historical landmark.

This weekend is your last chance to see Arizona Theatre Company perform "Ten Chimneys" (Photo by Ed Flores)

It’s high on my list of places to tour if I ever find myself in that neck of the woods — a small town called Genessee Depot that’s just 60 miles from Madison. In the meantime, I can get my Lunt & Fontanne fix from Arizona Theatre Company’s production of “Ten Chimneys.”

This world-premiere by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, with direction by David Ira Goldstein, is being performed through Sun, March 6 at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix. The uber-eager can go online for a play guide covering all things Lunt & Fontanne, which I read with rapt attention from front to back.

The play “Ten Chimeys” imagines Lunt & Fontanne working at their summer home to prepare for roles in Chekhov’s “The Sea Gull.” I’m especially grateful now that I attended a production of this Chekhov classic during my last trip to Pepperdine University in Malibu.

Next time you’re glued to the television watching something mediocre that passes for real drama, remember the tale of “Ten Chimneys.” Then make your way to the Herberger Theater Center for a magic blend of classic and contemporary theater.

Because that, my friends, is real drama.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about a new PBS “American Experience” titled “Triangle Fire” which examines historical events and issues related to labor unions. (Students from Arizona School for the Arts perform the play “Triangle” next month). Another episode titled “Hoover Dam” also examines these issues. Click here to enjoy a taste of the “Odd Wisconsin” exhibit at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Coming up: A plethora of puppets, Theater tales from Scottsdale Community College

Museums matter

If you think of museums as rare or irrelevant, you might want to think again. In Central Arizona alone (including Gila, Maricopa, Pinal and Yavapai counties) there are close to 100 diverse museums, according to the Central Arizona Museum Association (CAMA).

Hopi Katsini Doll at The Heard Museum

The largest museums in this region include the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden, the Arizona Science Center, the Heard Museum and the Phoenix Art Museum. Not a bad “to do” list if you’re eager to enjoy some boredom busters with your family once school lets out for the summer.

Plenty of folks have discovered the magic of museums. Consider the results of a 2006 CAMA survey revealing that 4.5 million visitors enjoy Central Arizona museums each year.

The survey also notes the economic impact of museums—which at the time of the survey had a combined operating budget of $57 million dollars and a combined number of 762 full-time employees.

Here’s a bit of nifty museum math for you…

Desert Botanical Garden Flashlight Tour

CAMA compared their annual number of visitors (4.5 million) to the total number of attendees at major sporting events during the same period (per the Greater Phoenix Economic Council).

Turns out Central Arizona museums welcomed more people than the Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Suns, Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Coyotes combined.

National studies (reported by the American Association of Museums) show similar findings. Seems there are nearly 850 million visits to U.S. museums each year, but just 478 million attendees at all the country’s professional sporting events and theme parks combined.

Hanging Drum from Japan at the MIM

Now if only we could get our local schools to invest in arts classes and performing arts spaces with the same fervor we’ve long had for sports equipment and athletic facilities.

Museums matter in all kinds of ways.

They inspire us. Cause us to question. Give us reason to pause—or to pick up the pace. They educate us, bring us together, help us heal and offer hope. They help us express the ways we feel unique as well as the ways we strive to be similar.

A more recent study, conducted by AAM in 2009, demonstrates that “a third of US museums are always free to the public” and that “more than 97% of the rest offer discounts, special fee schedules, or free admission days.”

Hands-on activity at Arizona Science Center

Only a small percentage receive federal funding, so admissions fees and contributions are essential to keeping museums alive.

What might we lose in the absence of museums? How about the more than a billion objects our museums protect and preserve each year. Think of it as cultural hoarding—in a good way.

And what have we to gain by their ongoing presence?

The AAM notes that museums nationwide employ “as many as half a million Americans” and “contributed approximately $20.7 billion dollars to the US economy in 2008.”

Arizona Doll & Toy Museum

Museums, according to the AAM, rank “among the top three family vacation destinations.” The U.S. Travel Association reports that “trips including cultural and heritage activities comprise one of the most popular and significant segments in the travel industry.”

Seems they account for 23% of all domestic trips. And that visitors to “historic sites and cultural attractions” stay 53% longer and spend 36% more money than other types of tourists. Clearly, supporting our local museums is a great way to boost the economy so intertwined with each of our lives.

I don’t suppose they’d let me write in a little something today when I go to cast my vote on “Prop 100”–more support for museums and cultural facilities wouldn’t be a hard sell in these parts, given the way the arts have enriched the lives of each of my three children and our family experiences as a whole.

Arizona Natural History Museum

The U.S. Conference of Mayors considers museums “critical to the quality of life and livability of America’s cities.” The non-profit arts and culture industry generates more than $116 billion dollars in economic activity each year—as well as supporting more than 5.7 million full-time jobs. Reports show that the industry “returns over $12 billion in federal income taxes annually.”

The AAM notes that “governments which support the arts on average see a return on investment of over $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.” Sounds like just the opposite of what happens at my house. For every $7 we invest in our teens, we’re lucky to see even $1 head back our way.

More fun at the Arizona Science Center

Support our local museums. You’ll learn cool stuff. You’ll make fun memories with your kids. You’ll meet other folks who care about arts and culture. You’ll discover neat classes and summer camp options. You’ll support our local economy. You’ll have fun. You’ll make a difference.

Museums matter, and so do you…

–Lynn

Note: Today is International Museum Day, so it’s the perfect time to explore a museum with friends or family. Feel free to comment below to share tips with other readers for enjoying family museum time.

Coming up: How museums contribute to education, Theater camps gear up for summer, Family drama “Broadway” style