Tag Archives: Melissa James Gibson

This is it!

We put Lizabeth on a plane this morning — bound for college theater auditions in New York City. It’s a moment she’s long dreamed of, and we couldn’t be more proud of her.

As the weather chilled in Arizona this week, Lizabeth donned the boots and scarves that seem to suit her so well — remarking that she actually likes the cold.

She enjoyed telling me about a former voice teacher, Michelle Hakala, who now lives in NYC with her hubby Jeff and “puppy” Jasper. Seems the streets are so slippery that even his little doggie cleats don’t provide enough traction for those much-needed outings.

We returned from the airport to find the sheets we’d placed over delicate plants were frozen stiff. But nothing like the streets of NYC, where icy sidewalks require strategic strolling.

Though she’s a performance artist through and through, I think sometimes how much I’d enjoy reading Lizabeth’s theater reviews.

After seeing Actors Theatre perform the Melissa James Gibson play “This” last weekend, she shared insights on everything from dialogue to staging.

She learned during a post-show talkback with the fine folks of Actors Theatre that a theater company in another part of the country had performed the work with a much slower pace and an intermission.

But Lizabeth was intrigued by the rapid-fire dialogue of the Actors Theatre production. And unlike many who’ve worked on or seen the show, she finds that the title “This” makes perfect sense.

She was struck by the word “this” as spoken by Yolanda London, one of just five actors in this small cast that’s big on talent.

London is one of many theater professionals Lizabeth is taking along in spirit as she auditions for B.F.A. programs — because London is one of several Childsplay actors that Lizabeth has trained with through the years.

I know Lizabeth is equally grateful for the actors she’s been fortunate to perform with — including Michael Peck, another member of the cast for “This.”

Lizabeth performed in the Chyro Arts production of Eric Bogosian’s “Talk Radio” last year, which featured Peck as a biting talk radio host named Barry Champlain.

I don’t know where she’ll end up training or performing as she graduates from Arizona School for the Arts this year and moves on to other stages.

But I know she’ll be taking oodles of Valley theater professionals and friends along with her, and for that I am grateful.

– Lynn

Note: This weekend is your last chance to see “This” at the Herberger Theater Center. For a list of more kid-friendly fare, visit the online calendar for Raising Arizona Kids magazine by clicking here.

Coming up: Translating theater speak, Reflections on “Rosie’s House,” Dogs v. cats in Valley theater, Mardi Gras musings

Tough choices

I’ve faced some tough choices lately…

What to pack for a theater trip to San Diego. Whether to try the pepperoni pizza or the rosemary chicken during my first trip to the new cafeteria at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

These are choices plenty of folks never have the luxury of facing, and I feel grateful for them. Last weekend’s tough choices involved Valley theater productions.

Lizabeth and I hoped to get to “No Way to Treat a Lady” at Phoenix Theatre (we heard the leads were phenomenal), “Unstoppable Me!” performed by Cookie Company at Scottsdale’s Greasepaint Youtheatre (we love the casting) and “THIS” — being performed by Actors Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center.

Artwork by Anthony Ulinski

A friend we met for coffee at “Urban Beans” in midtown Phoenix no doubt meant to be helpful when reminding us that “Devil Boys from Beyond” is also on tap these days, but the choice there was a bit easier to make.

“Watching naked men or supporting women playwrights?,” I mused. “THIS,” written by Melissa James Gibson, won out — and Lizabeth ended up going the next day while I took Jennifer, my 19-year-old, to lunch at Chili’s near ASU.

Seems each time I’m there I remind my children that Chili’s was a favorite haunt when I was pregnant. “So,” asked Jennifer, “does this mean I will be getting a new baby brother or sister?” Another not so tough choice. I have a cat.

Lizabeth was quite fond of “THIS” and I hope to share some of her thoughts on the show in a future post. But for now I find myself pondering the weekend ahead, which offers another dizzying array of options in the arts and culture department.

There’s a film called “nomadak tx” playing at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix on Sat, Feb 5, at 2:30pm — which profiles musicians who play an instrument built for two, only to discover it’s a meeting point between both two beings and two cultures.

There’s “The Crucible” — directed by Childsplay’s Debra K. Stevens — being performed Feb 3-5 at Mesa Community College’s Theatre Outback. Every student reads “The Crucible” in school, making this a fun and educational choice.

Lizabeth worked on “The Crucible” during a weeklong Childsplay workshop with Stevens and playwright Dwayne Hartford, which truly enriched her perspective on the Arthur Miller play she was already very familiar with and fond of. 

And yes — it is time already to begin making tough choices about spring break and summer camps. Hence the RAK Camp Fair coming up later this month. If you wait too long to choose, the choice will be made for you as the best camps fill up early on.

I should mention that we faced another tough choice last weekend during our first exploration of “Bards Books” — located next to our latest coffee grind find. Whether to buy all the treasures we found on the spot or wait until we could bring in some no longer needed titles for trade. We chose immediate gratification.

Our latest tough choice was simply whether to get flu shots in the left or right arm. Thank goodness we got that over with, because we’ve got bigger and better choices to make this weekend. And we’re grateful for each and every one.

– Lynn

Note: It’s an especially busy time for theater companies presenting shows for youth, all of whom need your support to continue their good works. Please visit the RAK calendar online to see your many choices of family-friendly performance art in the Valley this month.

Coming up: SCC theatre students hit the road, Pondering 5oo posts

This and that

Ron May directs a contemporary play titled "This" for Actors Theatre

Recently I enjoyed a fast-paced conversation with Ron May, a Valley director known to many as founding artistic director of Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe.

He’s either way ahead of me in the espresso department or seriously working a juggling riff. Maybe both.

May is readying for this Friday’s opening of “This” — a work by contemporary playwright Melissa James Gibson described in December 2009 by Charles Isherwood of The New York Times as “the best new play to open Off Broadway this fall.”

Anne Marie Falvey (Jane) in the Actors Theatre production of "This" by playwright Melissa James Gibson (Photo: John Groseclose)

It’s one of several works by women playwrights being produced by Actors Theatre this season. We can look forward to the Arizona premiere of Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” in April and May.

Gibson’s “This” resonates with May for several reasons, including its treatment of love and loss. Last year May lost both his mother and a friend named Scotty Jeffers — a beloved Valley actor last seen performing in “Androcles and the Lion” with Childsplay.

Hence the tribute “For my mom. And for Scotty J.” at the end of a bio May has posted on the Stray Cat Theatre website — which also notes his long list of directing credits, a couple of his acting gigs and the glamorous stint that “pays the bills.”

Previous shows he’s directed for Actors Theatre include the Arizona premiere of “Boom” — as well as “A View of the Harbor,” “Augusta” and “The Pursuit of Happiness.”

The central character in “This,” which runs Jan 21-Feb 6 at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix, is a woman in midlife whose husband recently died. As the teaser for the show notes: Jane is not alright.

Jane’s friends, says May, aren’t exactly helping. Seems they think that fixing Jane up with a “hottie” might do the trick, but things don’t quite unfold as expected.

David Dickinson (Jean-Pierre) in "This" -- which opens this Friday at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix (Photo: John Groseclose)

May hails from Chicago — a city he clearly loves, and honors right up there with New York City and Los Angeles when it comes to stage offerings and opportunities.

Chicago is home to a diverse assortment of unique and intriguing theater experiences for both practitioners of the theater craft and those of us who fill the house every night. Think The Second City, American Theater Company and Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

He first experienced the wonders of live theater as a junior high school student. Seems the same gentleman who coached May’s speech team also ran the school’s theater department.

The teacher encouraged May to audition for a play — something about a man in grey flannel, recalls May. May was cast. But more importantly, he was “bit by the bug.”

May headed to college to study acting — in a program that required actors to take a directing class. A directing teacher told May at one point that although his acting was just fine — he might be even better at directing.

He suspected at the time that this was simply her gentle way of telling him to throw in the acting towel. But she’d seen something in May that he had yet to see in himself.

May ended up studying at Arizona State University in Tempe, where he earned a B.A. in theater with a directing emphasis. Stray Cat Theatre grew out of work with nine of May’s ASU friends who “all had a taste for a certain kind of theater.”

Most were from other parts of the country and dreamed of working in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. May hadn’t yet heard of Actors Theatre, despite the fact that it will soon be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Stray Cat Theatre began as a class project for a theater organization and management class. “We had to make up a theater company,” recalls May — who describes himself as “a huge cat fan.”

Like the theater May most enjoys watching and working with, cats are “rougher around the edges.” Knowing the company would likely live for many years without a permanent home, May dubbed it “Stray Cat Theatre.”

Today, Stray Cat Theatre makes its home in a charming red brick building once occupied by Childsplay Theatre, a professional theater company performing works for children and families.

Childsplay’s founder and artistic director, David Saar, is another gifted artist who graduated from ASU. My 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth grew up watching Childsplay performances and participating in Childsplay workshops, camps and conservatory — and will soon be heading off to study theater in college.

I’m thrilled that she’s been able to experience the works of Actors Theatre, Stray Cat Theatre and so many other outstanding companies here in her own hometown. The Arizona theater community has given her roots, and now wings.

But what of May? Doesn’t he long to return to Chicago’s vibrant theater vibe? “Arizona has been good to me,” muses May. He’s able to do the work he enjoys in a place where he sees a real need.

May likens the work of Actors Theatre to the sort of movies you’ll see at Harkins Theatre Camelview 5, a Scottsdale cinema that presents works a bit more provocative than most. In contemporary parlance, says May, the best descriptor might be “Indie.”

Actors Theatre describes its own work as “vital, contemporary, electric, thought-provoking theatre.” It’s hard to disagree.

Yolanda London (Marrell) and Anne Marie Falvey (Jane) in the Actors Theatre production of "This" (Photo: John Groseclose)

Part of the appeal of directing “This” for Actors Theatre is the obvious parallel to May’s own life in terms of midlife musings. “This script reallly spoke to me,” reflects May.

“It’s about that whole choppy middle-age thing, which is where I hit right now,” adds May.

Like May and his circle of college friends from the early days of Stray Cat Theatre, the central character Jane has a group of friends who’ve been together for years.

But life is intervening, and it isn’t always pretty. Babies happen. Unexpected relationships happen. Friendships splinter or wither away.

Like so many of us who’ve matured, sometimes kicking and screaming, into middle age — Jane realizes that “the cards she was dealt aren’t the cards she expected to be holding.”

Anne Marie Falvey (Jane) and Oliver Wadsworth (Alan) perform with Actors Theatre (Photo: John Groseclose)

May says he has “a tremendous affection for the play,” describing it as “incredibly funny and smart.” Yet the name of the play doesn’t exactly wow him. Given May’s fondness for word play, I suspect he’s toyed with an imaginary title or two.

After all, May did a bang-up job naming the pet he describes as “a gift from an ex of mine.” Seems the cat came to him with a lot of what May describes as “eye boogers.” So now he’s more than mere actor or director. He’s daddy to a black cat named “Boogers.”

A little this, a little that. It’s really all any of us can wish for.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “This,” being presented Jan 21-Feb 8 by Actors Theatre at the newly-renovated Herberger Theater Center (near the Arizona Center and Sympony Hall).

Coming up: Unstoppable theater, More fun with theater cats (and dogs)

Photos by John Groseclose, courtesy of Actors Theatre

Women playwrights & Arizona theater

Katsina Dolls and Hopi Ceremonial Calendar on exhibit at the Heard Museum North Scottsdale

I was struck, during a recent trip to the Heard Museum North Scottsdale, by a round graphic of the Hopi ceremonial calendar. The calendar depicts time in circular rather than linear fashion — speaking volumes about differing ways diverse cultures sometimes view time.

The image of an unbroken circle came to mind the other day when I got to thinking about Valley writer and performer Kathleen Buckstaff — who will present a piece titled “The Tiffany Box” at Theatre Artists Studio in Phoenix Nov 4-14.

Our children attended the same elementary school, though I don’t recall that we ever had the opportunity to spend all that much time together. Still, I am eager to see the work — a “unique and intimate performance piece” in which Buckstaff shares a “touching and uplifting journey from love to loss.”

"The Tiffany Box", written and performed by Kathleen Buckstaff, comes to Theatre Artists Studio in Phoenix Nov 4-14

I spoke recently with Matthew Wiener, producing artistic director for Actors Theatre of Phoenix, who noted that three of the offerings in their current season are works by women playwrights.

Wiener takes great pride in bringing “recent, contemporary shows from New York” to the Valley. The company’s 2010-2011 season includes “three of the most exciting playwriting women today.”

In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)” by Sarah Ruhl runs Oct 29-Nov 14. It’s “a comedy about marriage, intimacy and electricity” set in the 1880s.

This” by Melissa James Gibson runs Jan 21-Feb 6, 2011. It’s a “bright, witty, un-romantic comedy” about “the uncertain steps of a circle of friends backing their way into middle age.”

Circle Mirror Transformation” by Annie Baker runs Apr 22-May 8, 2011. It’s the Arizona premiere of an “inventive and absorbing comedy” exploring “the impact we can have on each other’s lives.”

Actors Theatre presents "In the Next Room" by Sarah Ruhl Oct 29-Nov 14 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. Pictured here are Angelica Howland (Catherine Givings) and Erica Connell (Sabrina Daldry). Photo: John Groseclose

The Arizona Women’s Theatre Company, established in 2003 and based in Scottsdale, produces “contemporary, provocative, thought provoking plays written by women.”

The company is working to provide “an innovative forum for women’s issues” — revealing women’s lives and documenting women’s experiences.

Their “Pandora Showcase,” taking place Nov 12-13 and Nov 19-20 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, will feature “contemporary and new plays by Arizona women playwrights.”

Women playwrights from across the country are invited to submit works for consideration as Arizona Women’s Theatre Company seeks scripts for its 5th Annual Pandora Festival.

A juried panel will select unpublished full length, one act and 10 minutes plays for staged readings during the May 20-22, 2011 festival at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Check the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company website for submission details, instructions and deadlines.

And keep an eye on Theatre Artists Studio, which often features the work of Arizona playwrights and actors including the magazine’s own Debra Rich Gettleman.

Like so many women writers, there’s more to Gettleman than just a pretty blog.

– Lynn

Note: Local writers Amy Silverman and Deborah Sussman Susser offer two “Mothers Who Write” workshops each year. The next 10-week series begins Feb 24 at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Coming up: Playwriting contests