Tag Archives: one woman show

The many faces of Childsplay

I’ll be donning my party clothes Friday night to join the fine folks of Childsplay for their “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits Gala,” which kicks off at 6pm at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort.

Memories of my last Childsplay shindig are still fresh. And fabulous. Think all the energy and fun of a Childsplay production for children translated into the realm of grown-ups — but with no less imagination and wonder.

Lillian Castillo with Childsplay associate artist D. Scott Withers, who appeared in HAIRSPRAY with Phoenix Theatre late last year (Photo: Laura Durant)

Lillian Castillo (L) and D. Scott Withers in a Phoenix Theatre photo by Laura Durant

I’ve had Childsplay on the brain lately because it seems that everywhere I turn I discover another Childsplay artist lending his or her talents to additional creative enterprises — from television commercials to musical theater productions in other parts of the country.

D. Scott Withers, who performed the role of “Edna Turnblad” in this season’s Phoenix Theatre production of “Hairspray,” has been reprising the role with Arkansas Repertory Theatre (along with Lillian Castillo, who plays “Tracy Turnblad”) in a production that runs through May 8.

Jon Gentry (L) and D. Scott Withers perform in a Childsplay production of A Year With Frog and Toad (Photo: Heather Hill)

Allison Couture, whose husband recently left the touring production of “Billy Elliot The Musical” to accept a role in “Jersey Boys” on Broadway, worked for a time with the children in the “Billy Elliot” cast. Both are now NYC-bound.

Israel Jimenez, who teaches at Arizona School for the Arts, is known to many as “the face of SRP.” You’ll see his mug in commercials and on billboards throughout the Valley. Jimenez teaches ballroom dance at a local Fred Astaire Dance Studio (swoon) and is readying to direct “Frida” for Teatro Bravo.

Kim Manning is currently performing the role of “Liliane La Fleur” in the musical “Nine” at Phoenix Theatre, which you can enjoy through May 8.

Molly Lajoie Plutnicki teaches dance at Mesa Arts Academy and also keeps busy choreographing various theater productions. She’s both director and choreographer for Greasepaint Youtheatre’s “Schoolhouse Rock,” opening Fri, May 6 at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale.

Yolanda London in a Black Theatre Troupe photo by Laura Durant

Yolanda London is rehearsing for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a one-woman show about the life of singer Billie Holiday that Black Theatre Troupe of Phoenix opens May 13.

Todd Hulet recently staged a production of his original musical titled “The Wheels on the Bus” for Ovation! Musical Theatre Bainbridge in Washington.

Toby Yatso teaches at Arizona School for the Arts, and is nearly impossible to keep up with when it comes to acting, directing and other theater gigs throughout the Valley.

Yolanda London performs in the Childsplay production of Tomato Plant Girl (Photo: Heather Hill)

My soon to be 18-year-old daughter Lizabeth has trained with the talented artists of Childsplay for at least half her lifetime. She’s taken classes, attended summer camps, participated in the Childsplay conservatory program and more.

Childsplay has given her extraordinary opportunities to study with several of the Valley’s very finest theater talents — those noted above and many others. 

As we attend the “Childsplay Celebrates” gala Friday night, I’ll be celebrating not only the arts in education programs that’ll be funded with event proceeds, but the many gifts this theater company has bestowed on us.

– Lynn

Note: Click here  for “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits Gala” event and ticketing information. The evening features cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction, dinner and entertainment. (Bring your teacher, birthday and holiday gift lists to snag all sorts of fun finds at the auction.) Click here for a full roster of Childsplay company and staff (including associate artists, members of the acting company, teaching artists and others).

Coming: Valley museums celebrate “International Museum Day” with special events and discounts

Call for children’s artwork: I’m looking for photos, drawings, paintings and such with a garden theme for Friday’s post celebrating “National Public Gardens Day.” To submit your child’s work for possible use in the garden post, please send it to me at rakstagemom@gmail.com no later than 5pm Thurs, May 5 (include your child’s first name, age, city and your contact info too). Thanks!

Art for lunch?

There’s plenty of news about Arizona nightlife. But what of daytime arts offerings? Several Valley venues offer morning or afternoon performance art.

The ASU Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale offers several daytime options.

“Coffee at Kerr” is an informal series of free performances and discussions with guest artists. Patrons are encouraged to bring a can of food or sealed personal item for the Vista Del Camino Food Bank. The next performance (Jan 5, 2011) features an “Introduction to Turandot” presented by Arizona Opera.

ASU Kerr co-presents “Tuesday Morning Music Concerts” with the ASU School of Music. The free concerts feature performances and commentary by  ASU faculty and graduate students. The ASU Student Jazz Combo performs Dec 7.

“Monday Morning Musicale” performances at ASU Kerr feature intimate chamber music — and are also free of charge. The next event takes place Dec 6.

The Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix has a “Lunch Time Theatre” program that showcases the work of young, emerging theater companies.

Each one-act play lasts 30-45 minutes — and patrons are free to bring their own lunch or pre-order a box lunch through the Herberger’s caterer.

In most cases, shows open their run with a Monday night preview with tickets at a reduced price (or free for actors who bring resume and headshot).

The next show, a seasonal cabaret titled “A Dreamers Holiday,” is sold out — so don’t delay if you’d like to see the first 2011 offering. It’s a one woman play about the first African American female correspondent to receive White House credentials.

Mesa Arts Center presents an “Out to Lunch Concert Series” and invites patrons to bring their own lunches to enjoy during these outdoor performances.

December concerts include jazz/pop by Kirsten (Dec 9) and jazz by Nuance Jazz Trio (Dec 16).

Phoenix Art Museum hosts film and musical performances, which are free or included with museum admission (depending on the event).

December films include an art world documentary titled “The Art of the Steal” and an Italian comedy titled “Swept Away” (in Italian, with English subtitles).

The Phoenix Art Museum presents the film “Waste Land” (English and Portugese with English subtitles) on Jan 16, and a “Music Inspiring Vision” performance on Jan 29 (featuring the photography of Brett Weston and the music of Bach).

These performances are typically free or very affordable, and feature artists you might not otherwise get to enjoy.

Consider daytime art offerings next time you’re meeting a friend for lunch, looking for something unique to enjoy with co-workers, needing a little time away from children during the day or just looking for ways to support some of our newer or smaller arts organizations.

– Lynn

Note: Please confirm all event details before attending — including date, time, location, ticketing policy, pricing, parking and such.

Coming up: Symphony in the schools; Christmas, cacti and candles

School is a feeling place

School is a feeling place… 

It’s one of many pearls shared by actor and playwright Nilaja Sun of New York, who’s performing her critically-acclaimed one-woman, self-authored play “No Child” through Sunday, May 9, at the Herberger Theater Center. 

Matthew Wiener, producing artistic director for Actors Theatre in Phoenix, says the company chose “No Child” because there’s “something special about bringing out an original voice and artist.” 

“This is an important play for our community at this time,” reflects Wiener. “The work is very appropriate for Arizona given our educational world. It has something to say without being an ‘I told you so’ or judgment thing.” 

Wiener diplomatically refrained from elaborating but I suspect many of you can fill in the possible blanks here. Lousy funding for education. Low appreciation for the importance of arts in education. Little regard for the value of diverse voices. Take your pick. 

Nilaja Sun of "No Child"

Sun’s play is populated by people you’d find in a public school in the Bronx, which is the setting for her riff–both reflective and riotous. “No Child” follows a teaching artist as she engages students who’ve been written off by others and, in many cases, themselves. 

There’s the janitor, who opens and closes the play—all the while pushing a wide broom as he sings a blues song that alludes to finding one’s way to a brighter day. There’s the new teacher thrown into a world that might as well be galaxies away—and others. 

Sun says she chose to open the work with the school janitor as an homage—she uses the term “love letter”—to all those unsung heroes in our schools: the janitors, cafeteria workers and crosswalk guards among us. 

And there are the students. They’ve been through several teachers just this year alone, but warm after a time to the woman who tells them “From now on, we are nothing but thespians.” (It’s a line one of her students repeatedly meets with “Lesbians?”) 

Sun’s mission is to journey with the students through a six-week teaching gig that culminates in the presentation of a school play about a group of convicts. The play is titled “Our Country’s Good.” 

It doesn’t take long for students to recognize the parallels between low expectations of convicts and low perceptions of students–or for Sun to wonder whether preparing students to be convicts might be what some of our schools seem to do best these days. 

The students complain of hunger, too many rules and boredom—which prompts Sun, in her role of teaching artist, to offer the following: “Boredom, my love, usually comes from boring people.” 

There’s nothing boring about this play. It’s saturated with subject matter that matters. It’s a humanizing force in a world where students are too often viewed as a collective mob rather than individual muses. 

The students Sun portrays, all compilations of students she worked with during eight years as a tenacious teaching artist in New York’s toughest classrooms, have distinctive dialects, physical movement and views of the world. 

During a post-performance talk back with the audience Sunday afternoon, she likened switching between characters to snapping fresh, crisp asparagus—noting her director’s insistence that there be a clean, clear break at every juncture (even if a character’s only contribution might be a glance or a sigh). 

Sun’s generosity of spirit is evident in both her performance and her attention to the details of each audience member’s question. She’s a captivating channel for a world few of us may ever experience in a time where it matters to each and every one of us. 

Make space in your world for “No Child.” If you’ve ever been a teacher, in any sense of the word—or a student—this work will resonate with things you’ve felt, wondered about and imagined. 

Theater, thanks to Sun, is a feeling place—and we’re all better for it. 

–Lynn 

Note: “No Child” contains mature language (including racial slurs hurled between students of different ethnicities), so be prepared to address this element of the work if you chose to take your child or teen to see this production. 

Coming up: Review of Arizona Theatre Company’s presentation of “The Second City Does Arizona, or Close, But No Saguaro”—being performed at the Herberger Theater Center through May 16.

Today’s tidbits: FREE concert tonight featuring South Mountain Community College Community Band and Jazz Ensemble with young musicians from Valley schools–NFL YET Academy, Bernard Black Elementary School and Cloves C. Campbell Elementary School. Concert is at 7pm at SCMM, located at 7050 S. 24th St. in Phoenix. Info at www.southmountaincc.edu or 602-243-8353.

Theater tackles “No Child” policy

Ever wonder what actors do when they’re not on stage? I got a glimpse while speaking by phone recently with actor and playwright Nilaja Sun.

Sun’s one woman show about “everyday life in a low-income Bronx classroom” comes to Phoenix later this month, so we chatted a bit about how she gave birth to—and continues to nurture—the work.

But first Sun shared with me that she’d recently seen the movie “Date Night” with Tina Fey and Steve Carell. Seems we’re fellow Fey fans (that woman can write), and that Sun felt the flick was “a lot of fun.”

If a genie shows up at my door anytime soon, I’m using one of my three wishes to arrange a coffee and cheesecake fest with these two women. Then I’m asking for a ticket to every single performance of Sun’s show, being presented by Actors Theatre at Herberger Theater Center’s Stage West April 23-May 9.

In case you’re wondering, my third wish will be for world peace. But never mind that right now. I’m keen on making sure you get yourself, your teens, your kids’ teachers and pretty much everyone else you know to this show—called “No Child.”

Think Mother’s Day gifts. Think teacher gifts. Think parent date night. Think girls night out. Just get those tickets—before my genie gets to the box office.

I happen to think that more time at the theater for us all might just bring my third wish to life. If you doubt the transformative power of live theater performance, prepare for a conversion. I suspect that Sun’s prophetic piece may change the way we look at education forever.

It’s about time.

“The passing of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act was not without its share of criticism” is the diplomatic statement offered by Actors Theatre in their “What It’s Really About” description of Sun’s work.

You know the basics. Lagging in education performance worldwide, U.S. officials decided it was time for math and English to take not just center stage—but nearly all the stage. It was back into the wings for the arts, or all the way out to the gutter.

So has it proven effective in preparing our children for the many challenges of the modern world? I’m all for math and English, but something is missing when music, theater, dance and the visual arts fall by the wayside.

What Sun has wrought, by her own admission, is “a bit of a revolution happening.” She didn’t wait for someone else to start it, fix it or spread it. She did it—and it sounds amazing.

I’ll share a bit more about Sun’s journey from student in the New York public schools to portrayer of all that is possible for our schools going into the future in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, I leave you with Sun’s final remarks as our call drew to a close. “What value,” I asked, “do the arts have for students who won’t grow up to work as artists?”

“The arts,” shared Sun, “begin opening up kids’ hearts and souls to the world and to their own humanity.

“The arts,” she added, “help us all to be a little more human and to have a greater grasp of all that we can do.”

–Lynn