Tag Archives: Knuffle Bunny

Going rogue?

I've always got my eye out for art -- like this "Right Eye from an Arthropoid Coffin" (1539-30 B.C., Egypt) recently spotted at the Brooklyn Museum in NYC

I feel a bit rogue sometimes — writing for an Arizona magazine, but finding such delight in covering NYC arts and culture. So I decided maybe it was time to share with readers in both states, plus others, my rationale for marrying the two. The initial lure, of course, was our youngest daughter Lizabeth. Like many born and raised in Arizona, she’s chosen to further her arts education in NYC — so I visit several times a year in “mom mode.”

But the bridge between Arizona and NYC (plus Chicago and other communities with a heavy arts footprint) is a two-way street. Many who teach and create art in Arizona communities hail from NYC or other parts of the country, and I enjoy giving voice to the places and spaces that’ve nurtured the gifts enjoyed by Arizona art lovers.

Art is all around and deep within us. Traveling without covering regional arts and culture would be like refusing to breath another city’s air. Suffocating. Rather than distracting Arizona readers from the beauty of our own arts bounty, I hope my writing “on the road” inspires a greater appreciation for the multitude of marvels here at home. Photos from a children’s museum in Manhattan or Las Vegas might inspire a family to visit the Children’s Museum of Phoenix or the Tucson Children’s Museum. So it’s all good.

Sometimes it feels like the art is keeping an eye on you -- like "Curious and Curiouser" by Mary Lucking and David Tinapple in the Arizona Science Center lobby

I’m fortunate to have lots of “Stage Mom” readers in NYC, and hope my blogging on both states’ offerings inspires them to consider the depth and breadth of Arizona arts and culture. We get plenty of bad press, and I’m privileged to cover what’s best about our state. Young poets, skilled playwrights, talented musicians, inspiring dancers, gifted actors. Also arts educators in our schools, museums and various community venues. Tourism takes place in both directions — and I’m an unapologetic missionary for the Arizona arts scene.

I suppose some of my kinship with NYC was born of years attending touring Broadway productions at ASU Gammage. I take special delight on reporting from NYC about shows I’ve seen on Valley stages — plus shows that’ll likely head our way during future tours. Only seeing “War Horse” performed at Lincoln Center in NYC enabled me to appreciate how fortunate we are that it’ll gallop into ASU Gammage during their 2012-13 season.

Some people seem to spy art wherever they go -- like this "Untitled" (1961) by Lee Bontecou that's exhibited at the Phoenix Art Museum

Some assume that Arizonans are settling for mediocre on-stage and museum fare, but trips to NYC have heightened my appreciation for local offerings. Sometimes I find things that Arizona could use a lot more of — like arts and culture originating in Africa. Other times, I find modest NYC exhibits of Native American or Latino artworks that make clear the excellence of Arizona collections.

Stumbling on the Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s “Pattern Wizardry” in NYC years after I’d taken my children to enjoy the traveling exhibit at Mesa’s Arizona Museum for Youth reminded me, like Dorothy in her ruby red slippers, that you needn’t head over the rainbow to find what’s good and right in the world.

Still, we know that plenty of Arizona families travel — making choices when they do about where to invest precious resources like time and money. In an amusement park world, I’m keen on reminding parents to consider arts and cultural destinations too. Youth theater in San Diego. Orchestral concerts in Los Angeles. Public art in Las Vegas. Dance performance in Orlando. It’s all part of upping their appreciation for aesthetics, and the arts and culture industry so critical to a healthy American economy.

Teach your kids to look for art wherever they go -- like this eye detail on the glass house by Therman Statom located just outside the SMoCA young@art gallery in Scottsdale

It’s easy to take Arizona arts and culture for granted, forgetting just how exceptional our own theater companies from Childsplay to Valley Youth Theatre can be. Seeing touring productions from other parts of the country often reminds me that some of the country’s best artists live right here among us. Wowed as I was by a touring Kennedy Center production of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” performed a while back at Higley Center for the Performing Arts, it confirmed my suspicion that Childsplay in Tempe routinely achieves the same high quality of theater performance for students and families.

Seeing works performed during the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City each summer always makes me more committed to attending Southwest Shakespeare Company productions here at home. Admiring works of glass art at the Brooklyn Museum last week left me eager to explore more glass art here at home. Similarly, performances enjoyed here in the Valley up my appreciation for works by artists in other places. During my last trip to NYC, I spent an evening watching local arts programming from Thirteen WNET New York Public Media — eager to watch a show about young poets after covering state Poetry Out Loud finals here in the Valley.

Comparing and contrasting are essential to the craft of theater criticism and other elements of arts reporting, so I’d be foolish to check my memories of places like the Louvre, the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the door when entering “Stage Mom” mode. The more I experience, the more I have to share with Arizona readers. “Going rogue” has a lovely ring to it, but there’s a circle to what I do — and Arizona will always be my center.

– Lynn

Coming up: Let’s talk “Bully”

From JFK to Father’s Day

This poster resembles a T-shirt my daughter Jennifer loves to wear

For most, the name Kennedy conjures thoughts of politics. My own daughter Jennifer, a 20-year-old antroplogy student at ASU who aspires to work for the United Nations, loves wearing a T-shirt that bears the likeness of a 1960 poster supporting JFK’s presidential campaign.

John F. Kennedy was born in Massachusetts on May 29, 1917. Had he not been assassinated in November 1963, today would be JFK’s 94th birthday. And while opinions of his politics may vary, it’s hard to find fault in his avid support for the arts.

After Kennedy’s death, a work in progress originally dubbed the National Culture Center became the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It’s located near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. and there are three ways folks in Arizona can enjoy its offerings.

Those visiting D.C. can attend diverse music, dance and theater performance at the Kennedy Center — assuming tickets are available when you’re ready to buy them. The rest of us can watch for touring productions of Kennedy Center programs like the Theater for Young Audiences performance of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” presented last year at Higley Center for the Performing Arts, Or go online for daily webcasts from the Center’s Millennium Stage.

The Kennedy Center offers free daily performances (at 6pm EST) on its Millennium Stage. Saturday night I watched streaming video of the Beach Fossils. Sunday night will feature a D.C. trio called “Medications,” described as “an 18-year collaboration between multi-instrumentalists Devin Ocampo and Chad Molter with drummer Mark Cisneros” that “combines a love of ’60s and ’70s pop, as well as the visceral pulse of ’70s punk.”

There’s plenty of live performance art right here in Arizona, but Kennedy Center Millennium Stage offerings are perfect for evenings you’re content to stay home but still want to get your daily dose of arts and culture. While you’re online, consider exploring the Kennedy Center website to learn about its many collaborations with Arizona artists.

Ballet Arizona performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as part of the Center’s “Ballet Across America II” program in June 2010. And Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company presenting works for youth and families, has participated four times in the Center’s “New Visions/New Voices” playwriting development program — with “The Yellow Boat,” “Even Steven Goes to War,” “Salt & Pepper,” and “Telemera: Stories My Mother Told Me.”

But the Kennedy family legacy goes beyond the realms of politics and art.

Patrick J. Kennedy, son of JFK’s brother Edward M. Kennedy and former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is coupling his personal experience with bipolar disorder and addiction with his expertise in public policy to further the work of the newly-established “One Mind for Research” campaign — which aims to unify the science, technology, research and knowledge needed to battle brain disorders.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, JFK’s sister, founded the Special Olympics in 1968. The organization — which describes itself as “the world’s largest movement dedicated to promoting respect, acceptance, inclusion, and human dignity for people with intellectual disabilities” — serves more than 3.5 million people through a variety of programs. From June 25 to July 4, 7,500 athletes from 185 countries will participate in the Special Olympics “World Summer Games” in Athens — which includes 22 Olympic-type sports.

Today the only surviving child of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Caroline Kennedy, continues making her own contributions to arts and culture. She serves as honorary chairman of the American Ballet Theatre governing board and has authored several books including “A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children” and the recently released “She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems.”

I imagine what it must have been like to grow up surrounded by the countless words of others attempting to decipher or describe your father’s legacy. If you’d like to try writing about your own father, consider attending a “Father’s Day Writing Workshop” Fri, June 9, from 6-8pm at MADE Art Boutique on Roosevelt Row in downtown Phoenix. Here’s a little blurb about the event from the “Mothers Who Write” website:

A good dad is hard to find. If you’ve got one, let him know how you feel by writing something for him this Father’s Day. And if you don’t, write about him anyway — it just might be cathartic. Bring 17 copies of your two-page (typed, double spaced) piece to MADE and fine-tune it with MWW instructors Amy Silverman (Phoenix New Times) and Deborah Sussman (ASU Art Museum). Spaces are limited; registration is required. To register, call 602.256.MADE.

We all spend far too much time delving into the private lives of other families, famous and otherwise. And while I find the topic of JFK fascinating, I can assure you that my own father is every bit as interesting and complex — albeit in a wholly different sort of a way. Maybe he’s the one I should be writing about…

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about Special Olymics Arizona

Coming up: Local twists on the Tony Awards®, Last chance! Art camps, Do the math: Arizona arts & culture by the numbers

Bridge to somewhere

Golden Gate Bridge by Margie Smeller

I’ve had enough with talk of so-called “bridges to nowhere.” If you want to build a bridge to somewhere, build it with music.

Tom Chapin, a three-time Grammy Award winner, will be doing just that as he performs a “Building Bridges Family Concert” in Arizona next month.

It’s refreshing news for the many Arizonans who prefer building bridges over building walls.

If the name Chapin sounds familiar, perhaps you’re thinking of brother Harry Chapin or Steve Chapin – just a couple of the artists grown from the same family tree.

Bridge to Terabithia by Margie Smeller

Tom’s “Building Bridges” concert features original songs “in a fun array of musical styles” — teaching life lessons about “inclusiveness, making healthy choices, tolerance, respect and the environment.”

Turns out the Higley Center for the Performing Arts, located in the East Valley, presents all sorts of family-friendly fare — like “The Music Man” being performed through Feb 26 in partnership with Copperstar Repertory Co. and Higley Community Education.

They also welcome plenty of touring productions you may not have the opportunity to see at other Valley venues. Just last November, I enjoyed “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” presented by the Kennedy Center for Young Audiences on Tour” at the Higley venue.

Bridge to a New Life by Margie Smeller

The 2011 Educational Tour of the Utah Shakespeare Festival will present “Macbeth” at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts Mon, March 7, at 9:45am.

You might think of Higley as a sleepy little town on the outskirts of metropolitan Phoenix, but those who appreciate rare and unique art opportunities for building bridges between children and culture know better.

– Lynn

Rainbow Bridge by Margie Smeller

Note: The ASU School of Theatre and Film in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts presents “A Bridge to the Stars” March 3-11. The play (which is appropriate for all ages) follows a character named Joel (age 11) as he searches for “family, community and meaning” in a mythical Scandinavian village.

Coming up: New seasons for venues presenting touring Broadway productions

Artwork by Margie Smeller, a self-described “outsider artist” in Maryland, who works at home, at “Art Enables” and at “Scott Key Center.” Visit her website for information on commissioning work and works currently for sale.

Art adventures, ambush style

My latest ambush? The Higley High School office next to the Higley Center for the Performing Arts...

When’s the last time you walked into a high school and let them know you wanted to learn more about the good things they’re doing? It never happens, right?

That might explain the look of shock, but eventually pleasant surprise, when I sauntered into Higley High School with my camera in tow.

I’d just come from seeing a touring production of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale” presented at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts by the Kennedy Center’s “Theater for Young Audiences” program.

There was a long line of yellow school buses parked outside the theater, which shares space with the local high school — something I also encountered during a recent “art adventure” in Queen Creek.

Like many of Arizona's schools, Higley High School is inviting parents and community members to make donations through the tax credit program

I’ll share photos and more details about my Higley adventures in a future post, but wanted to share with you how much I’m enjoying the new “ambush” approach that’s evolving along with the blog.

I’m grateful for the folks who graciously talk with me about what they do and what they enjoy within the realm of arts and culture.

Several things have changed between that first post and today’s post — which marks #400 for this “Stage Mom.” I’m spending more time exploring parts of the Valley with art treasures too few folks make time to enjoy.

I hope these trips, and the photos I come home with, will encourage you to try more art and culture-related day trips with your own children — which I would love for you to tell me about. It’s the finds of fellow parents that often prove most fruitful.

It’s easier for me to share my discoveries with you now that I am the proud owner of a new laptop. It’s a humble computer, which suits me just fine — but it’s vastly different in several ways from the computer I used for nearly 400 posts.

This volunteer with Friends of the Surprise Libraries was gracious and helpful when I popped in to one of two Surprise library branches to explore their offerings last weekend

My old computer had a non-working battery and was slower than the dickens to process any command — which left me chained to the kitchen table I call my writing home. I’m enjoying my new freedom to write in other rooms and even out there in the big wide world beyond suburbia.

I’ve also gone for a year or so with a non-working backspace key, which can really slow you down when you tend to make at least one mistake a minute. I could get the job done with a delete button, but my family got tired of hearing me pound on the thing like it needed tenderizing.

My old computer was also fond of dropping the first few letters of random words, so there was always that to go back and take care of. The new laptop gives me more time away from the keyboard, and more time out there in the community.

It’s a much more exciting place to be — and I look forward to meeting more of you along the journey. Until my next ambush…

– Lynn

Note: Thanks to all those I’ve chatted with along the way who are still waiting patiently to see the posts featuring their fabulous offerings. Turns out I have more show and tell items than there are days for posting. Who knew?

Coming up: Musings on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at ASU Gammage and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I)”

The fine art of animals

Scene from Childsplay's "A Year With Frog and Toad"

I got to thinking about art with an animal theme as I was making plans to attend “A Year With Frog and Toad,” the opening production of Childsplay’s 33rd season, which runs Sept 18 to Oct 16 (Sat/Sun 1pm & 4pm) at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Turns out there are plenty of theater works for children who enjoy animals of all shapes and sizes — including another Childsplay offering (“Go, Dog, Go!”) scheduled for Jan 29-March 6 of next year, and a Phoenix Theatre Cookie Company production of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” to run Nov 19-28 at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale.

The Great Arizona Puppet Theater closes its run of “Baby Bear Goes to School” on Sept 12, but has oodles of animal fare lined up for the rest of their season — including “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “Apolodo,” “Little Bunny’s Halloween,” “The Little Red Hen,” “Cinderella,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” “The Monkey and the Pirate,” “The Three Little Pigs” and more.

Scene from Childsplay's "Go, Dog, Go!"

I’m especially intrigued by “Apolodo” — which the puppet meisters will perform one night only, Sept 17, at 8pm. It’s based on a poem by Gellu Naum, “one of the greatest Romanian avant-garde poets.”

It’s the tale of a little penguin from a great circus in Budapest who has a full time job as a tenor and entertainer — and “is a bit of an actor on the ice rink.” Sounds like most of my multi-tasking theater friends.

Scene from Great Arizona Puppet Theater's "Apolodor"

Great Arizona Puppet Theater often presents work that increases youth appreciation for wildlife and their habitats.

In “Hotel Saguaro” (Feb 2-20, 2011), grandpa Sammy tells little Sammy about the relationship between desert animals and the saguaro cactus. With “Canyon Condor” (Feb 23-March 6) children learn about the importance of the condor and protecting its environmental niche.

I recall enjoying many a show by the Great Arizona Puppet Theater when my three children, now ages 17-21, were younger. It’s a wonderful introduction to the joys of storytelling, live theater and communal arts experiences.

"Dancing Bear" by Inuit artist Pauta Siala (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

Many a Valley museum features animal-related arts and culture — including the Heard Museum (which has both Phoenix and North Scottsdale locations). I’m especially fond of the polar bears and other North American wildlife depicted in their “Inuit Art” collection, but visitors also can enjoy a host of other animal art from several different cultures — created in all sorts of mediums. The Heard Museum is an especially fun place to play games like “How many fish can you see in this room?” or “Can you find a wolf in this exhibit?”

Keep an eye out for animal-related art at local zoos, nature centers, animal rescue organizations and wildlife habitats. The Phoenix Zoo offers their next “Wild Art” class for 2-5 year olds at 9:30am on Sept 25. (Did you know that koalas are headed their way?) Take a sketch pad and some charcoal or colored pencils along on animal/nature adventures and create your own animal-inspired art.

"Animals and People" by Inuit artist Winnie Tatla (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

If birds or butterflies are your thing, check the offerings at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

Upcoming art gallery exhibits at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum include an “Art Institute Student Show” opening Oct 2 and “The World of Nature in Miniatures” opening Dec 11.

Several of the Native American petroglyphs at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center depict animals. The museum also offers an educational program called “Ollie’s Storybook Adventures” which offers “fun and interactive ways for children to learn about…plants, animals and archeology of the American southwest.”

Cat in the Hat” fans (of all ages) can now enjoy a new television series on PBS. “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That,” which first aired on Monday, introduces young children to the wonders of science and the natural world. Comedy lovers may be especially delighted with the choice of actors to voice the role of the Cat — Martin Short (featured just last season at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts).

"Raptors of Arizona" opens Sept 11 at the ASDM Art Institute (Pictured is Richard Sloan's "Harris' Hawk")

Movie buffs who love animal fare can look for a 3-D film about two wolves named Kate and Humphrey opening soon in theaters Valleywide. “Alpha and Omega” also features angry bears, prickly porcupines and a golfing goose with a duck for a caddy.

Remember too that museum gift shops often offer unique animal-related gifts like the mouse-shaped cheese grater I recently picked up at the Phoenix Art Museum gift shop for a certain pasta-lover at our house. I also found a fanciful stuffed animal (a “Deglingos” offering called “Pikos the Hedgehog”) at the Phoenix Art Museum online shop. Alas — I have so far been unsuccessful in landing the rare “Mr. Pricklepants” of thespian and “Toy Story 3″ fame.

Mireya Mayor (photo by Mark Thiessen) comes to the MAC in 2011

Finally, you can enjoy any or all of four “National Geographic Live!” events coming to Mesa Arts Center this season. The first, featuring “Ocean Adventures” with Jean-Michel Cousteau, takes place Oct 20. The final event in the series this season  (March 23, 2011) will feature Mireya Mayor — pictured above with a new lemur species she discovered.

If your organization or venue offers visual or performing arts with an animal theme, please comment below to let our readers know.

– Lynn

Kennedy Center tour hits Higley

Note: Higley Center for the Performing Arts presents a rare treat on Nov 16 for school children pre-K to 1st grade — the touring production of “Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Musical” presented by Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences. Reservations are required.

Coming up: Sampling of symphonies, A weekend of “Bollywood & beyond”

Here are the answers to trivia questions posed in a recent “Laugh Your Brass Off” post about this weekend’s production of “The Music Man” with The Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre: “The Music Man” received the 1958 Tony Award for “Best Musical” nominated alongside “New Girl in Town,” “Oh, Captain!,” “Jamaica,” and “West Side Story.” Actors who have performed the role of Winthrop Paroo on stage or screen include Ron (then “Ronnie”) Howard, Eddie Hodges, Cameron Monaghan and Christian Slater.

A modern day campfire?

I felt like a tiny twig used to kindle a much greater fire when I spoke recently with Kim Peter Novak, Director of Theater for Young Audiences with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“What’s a humble blogger got to contribute in a world full of experts,” I wondered. Then I remembered gathering around the campire as a young Girl Scout, recalling the way we’d all head out to gather small bits of wood that would forge a fantastic flame once we threw them all together.

Kovac considers theater for young audiences a modern day campfire of sorts. It’s a place we gather to share our stories.

I like the campfire analogy, because sitting around a campfire with friends or family feels warm and welcoming. I hope it speaks to parents who hesitate to take their children to see live theater performance fearing it will be boring or stuffy.

Children aren’t exposed to theater or other live performance art unless they’re taken to see it by a “gatekeeper” of sorts–the parent, youth organization, school or other entity that finds the opportunities and purchases the tickets.

Sometimes parents are reticent because they fear theater produced or presented specifically for youth will be just plain awful. Kovac admits to seeing quite a few poor quality productions during his own young years.

But, he adds, the tide is turning on this one. More and more venues are offering theater for young audiences (which is different than “youth theater” presented by young performers). And more of them are upping the quality quotient.

Kovac reflects that during the past 10 to 15 years, those who put on performances for youth have realized that “the focus should be on quality.”

Cultural views of children have changed in this country, he says. Children are increasingly seen as “real” rather than “second hand” audiences.

That’s a plus for all of us, given that parents, teachers and caretakers are more inclined to take children to activities they enjoy as well.

What the Kennedy Center is really trying to do through their 2010-2011 performances for young audiences season–which includes everything from circus performance and adaptations of children’s literature to original works and jazz coupled with puppetry–is “really good work so a young person will understand and appreciate it.”

The Kennedy Center has an education department designed “to foster understanding of and participation in the arts through exemplary programs and performances for diverse populations of all ages that represent the unique cultural life and heritage of the United States.”

I’m particularly intrigued by their lineup for the 18th year of their “Theater for Young Audiences on Tour Program”–which includes two works commissioned by The Kennedy Center.

“Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” will tour Oct 2010 to May 2011 with “a story about family, best friends, baby steps, and memories that last a lifetime.”

“Barrio Grrrl!,” which caught my eye after seeing “In the Heights” peformed recently at ASU Gammage in Tempe, will tour Jan to April 2011. It’s about a spunky girl and the imaginary friend who live with her “abuelo” (grandfather) while mom is serving as a soldier in Iraq.

While messages abound, Kovac notes that it’s the storytelling that counts.

A good story can share many a life lesson, but the message should never trump the tale.

What we’re really doing when we present or partake of live theater for youth, says Kovac, is what all civilizations did at the beginning.

We’re sitting around the campfire telling our stories.

Marshmallow, anyone?

–Lynn

Note: Watch for a future post sharing Kovak’s tips on creating quality theater for young audiences as well as his observations about trends he expects to see during the next decade or so.

Coming up: Lynn and Liz explore Cedar City, a fabulous destination for all sorts of festivals and fun.