Tag Archives: QSpeak

Seasons of change

Home Free, Cheyne - Sanctuary Art Center

With just a week before next Sunday’s CBS broadcast of the 2011 Tony Awards®, I’ve got a serious case of Tony fever. How kind of the Metropolitan Men’s Chorus to open Friday night’s benefit performance of “At the End of the Day…” with the song “Seasons of Love” from the Tony Award®-winning musical “Rent.” Also “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd,” another Tony Award® winner, and two other selections.

I loved the fact that chorus members donned street clothes instead of traditional choir garb. Think red check flannel and Hawaiian print shirts. Khakis and flip-flops. And that they sang surrounded by set pieces resembling old aluminum siding spray painted with brightly-colored graffiti.

Open Heart, 2004, Gary - Sanctuary Art Center

“At the End of the Day…” — presented by QSpeak Theatre (of Phoenix Theatre) in collaboration with Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix — is “a play based on true stories and experiences of LGBTQ and homeless youth living in the Phoenix Valley.”

The play was “written in collaboration with program participants of START and GreenHouse Project programs at Tumbelweed Center for Youth Development, and youth participants at 1n10 and Y.E.P.” The one night benefit performance was directed by A. Beck, who describes it as the outgrowth of work with more than fifty youth during the course of nearly a year.

My daughter Lizabeth participated in several QSpeak projects (including “At the End of the Day…”) while attending high school at Arizona School for the Arts. Tomorrow afternoon, June 5, we’ll be seeing “Like Everyone Else” — developed by Xanthia Walker’s “Theatre for Social Change” class at ASA in partnership with Phoenix Theatre and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center.” Both works feature snippets of stories meant to convey youth experiences in their own voices.

The 12-member cast did an exceptional job conveying the hopes and fears of LGBTQ youth struggling with homelessness and all that can entail — poverty, hunger, unwanted sexual encounters and more. Plus the issues that plague all teens and young adults, from self-identity to choice of values.

Choose, 2006, Ashley - Sanctuary Art Center

The work sheds light on complexities of societal supports for people experiencing homelessness. Bed shortages. Inadequate training for professionals. Budget cuts. And the tendency of too many to say they want to help the homeless without taking a single step to actually do so.

One message in particular stood out. These youth and young adults don’t want to be stereotyped or stigmatized. They’re people. Period. Yet portions of the dialogue revealed stereotypes some homeless youth hold against peers with mental health disorders, described in the work as “crazy,” “mental” or “psycho.”

Some aspects of life on the streets, including encounters with law enforcement, were deliberately excluded from the piece. The depiction of a youth who feels forced into prostitution by the need to pay rent was done with real artistry, but the sheer number of encounters “shadowed” through a piece of hanging cloth made this scene feel almost gratuitious to some in the audience.

At times, comments by cast and creative team during the post-show talk back were needed to elucidate points conveyed somewhat vaguely during the show. The fact that churches and temples, even those offering free food and clothing, feel unsafe to youth who grew up feeling judged by religious family and friends. And the aversion to accepting help that comes with strings attached. Think sermon first, meal later.

Coffee Shop, 2004, Scott - Sanctuary Art Center

If you missed the performance of “At the End of the Day…” but want to learn more about helping LGBTQ and/or homeless youth, click here to visit the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix. And stay tuned for future “theater for social change” fare from Phoenix Theatre and its many community partners.

– Lynn

Note: Additional information on programs and policies related to homelessness is available from the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.

Coming up: Valley stages featuring Tony Award®-winning works

All artwork from the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle at www.sanctuaryartcenter.org

Play it forward

Phoenix Theater will soon be “playing it forward” with a pair of original works titled “At the End of the Day” and “Like Everyone Else” — both part of a “Weekend of Change” taking place June 3-5 at Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale.

Both works bring “youth theatre for social change” to the stage. Think arts and activism with a local twist. The “Weekend of Change” project has given youth ages 13 to 24 the chance to “participate in theatrical performance designed to create dialogue around social issues affecting an entire community.”

Both are part of the Phoenix Theatre education department, headed by A. Beck, who also serves as theatre arts coordinator for Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix.

The “Theater for Social Change” class at Arizona School for the Arts partnered with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center to develop a work titled “Like Everyone Else.” 

The play is helping students, families and SARRC staff raise community awareness about autism spectrum disorders and the resources provided by SARRC for families affected by them. Click here to enjoy a trailer.

Ticket sales from “Like Everyone Else” — which is being performed Sunday, June 5 at 2pm – will raise funds for SAARC’s “Autism Artisans” program, a “series of art workshops that expose emerging and established artists with autism spectrum disorders ages 13 and older to a variety of art mediums.”

The “Autism Artisans” program at SARRC “utilizes art to promote autism awareness, therapeutic intervention and opportunities for the talents and contributions of individuals with autism spectrum disorders to be recognized.”

My daughter, Lizabeth, is privileged to be a part of the ASA “Theatre for Social Change” class, taught by Xanthia Walker – and also worked with Beck and fellow “QSpeak” youth to develop the other work being presented during Phoenix Theatre’s “Weekend of Change.”

“At the End of the Day: True Stories of LGBTQ and Homeless Youth” is being presented by Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development and QSpeak, both of Phoenix.

QSpeak’s mission is to “provide a safe space for queer youth and their straight allies to engage in community dialogue and affect positive change through storytelling and performance in order to bring awareness to their own lives and experiences.”

Tumbleweed serves youth ages 11-22 in Maricopa County who are “abused, abandoned, troubled, and neglected.” Many are runaways or homeless youth.

Tumbleweed helps these youth to understand and achieve their individual potential, increase their personal and social skills, and “become self-directed, socially responsible, and productive citizens.”

“At the End of the Day” will be performed Fri, June 3 at 7pm — also at Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale. Ticket sales benefit Tumbleweed’s GreenHouse Project, the Valley’s only LGBTQ transitional living program.

Tickets to “At the End of the Day” and “Like Everyone Else” are available online from Brown Paper Tickets or at the door the day of the show. Those wishing to make a donation or secure a sponsorship to support the “Weekend of Change” can contact Beck at Phoenix Theatre.

– Lynn

Coming up: 12 Arizona artists play 20 questions

Get a Q!

When the morning news turned too vitriolic last week, I knew just who to turn to – Elmo. The furry little puppet with the ever-happy face never fails to cheer.

But I’ll be enjoying puppets of another sort today as Lizabeth and I head out to see Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Avenue Q” — a Broadway musical with mature content and “full puppet nudity” you might not want to share with your little ones.

There are tons of competing activities out there this weekend — from the Scottsdale Arts Festival to the Ostrich Festival in Chandler. I’m making my choice about what to hit based on where the teen taxi takes me.

Lizabeth has a volunteer gig with “QSpeak” this afternoon, so I’ll be taking her there before heading out for a few art adventures of my own. Then we’ll meet back at Phoenix Theatre for the matinee performance of “Avenue Q.”

I’ll need to be quick, however, because there are quite a few things I’m eager to experience — including today’s “Devoured” event at the Phoenix Art Museum, just a short stroll from Phoenix Theatre.

Then I’m off to enjoy the quaint and quiet grounds of the Japanese Friendship Garden, where I’ll take some photos to share with you later as I preview their upcoming events — including the “Children’s Day Kite Festival” and “Zen Garden Music and Art Festival.”

Next I’ll experience some quintessential Irish fare at the Arizona Irish Festival, also taking place downtown. Think Irish food, music, dance and all-around merriment — plus another opportunity to whip out my camera.

If I haven’t yet inspired you to get out and enjoy the Arizona sunshine, perhaps you’ll find something else that strikes your fancy by browsing through today’s family-friendly events listed in the online calendar from Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

I suppose I should quit now and get on with my plans — quixotic though they may be. I certainly don’t want to quibble with my teenage daughter over whether or not the teen taxi will be running on time today.

– Lynn

Note: I came home with lots of photos, some of which are included in a slide show at the end of this post (“Avenue Q” logo courtesy of Phoenix Theatre). Watch for another post coming soon with some of the many adorable children who attended this year’s Arizona Irish Festival — as well as a future post with more highlights from the Japanese Friendship Garden.

Coming up: Charlie Sheen “is only for now”

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Saturdays & serendipity

My plans for Saturday included attending Phoenix Theatre’s matinee performance of “Hairspray,” a musical that promotes equality on and beyond the dance floor.

I got downtown two hours early to drop Lizabeth off for a QSpeak gathering and decided to poke around what I’m coming to consider the most valuable piece of real estate in the Valley — the museum and theater complex at the corner of McDowell Rd. and 3rd St.

I haven’t any idea of its actual worth in dollars. But I do know that I’ve never set foot on the grounds without enjoying one or more valuable experiences with interesting people and engaging art.

Thankfully, I’d left time for spontaneity — and the serendipity that so often accompanies it.

While strolling amidst the newly planted flowers and bronze statues along the walkway from Phoenix Theatre to the Phoenix Art Museum, I saw a sign with an arrow pointing the way to “PhxArtKids,” a hands-on art activity for children ages 5-12.

I headed over to check it out — and the first person I met was ASU business major Isaac Willard, who was helping kids settle into a drawing activity. The room was lined with lifesize self-portraits by children made on brown paper bag type material — and the walls above were covered with pictures created by local school children who’d attended the museum’s “Cowboy Artists of America” exhibition.

Willard shared with me that he’s required to perform 25 hours of community service as part of a class in “responsible management.” I learned a great deal from our conversation and plan to share more of his insights in a future post.

I meandered into another room where two other ASU students and several art museum folks were supervising more than a dozen kids busy making treasure boxes and cigar box purses using lovely boxes someone was kind enough to donate for the occasion.

It made me wish I had Lizabeth and Jennifer along, because I remember how they loved these hands-on Phoenix Art Museum activities when they were in elementary school.

I was struck by the wealth of colorful art supplies in a myriad of textures, sizes and such — rolls and rolls of ribbon from seafoam green to bright magenta, fabric from tulle to felt, and all sorts of buttons and shapes for gluing onto these handsome boxes.

But more than that, I was struck by the tenor of the room. Parents and kids sat side by side, enjoying one another’s company. And though there were no screens, big or small, in sight — nobody looked bored. These kids were patient, creative, attentive, kind to others — all the things parents and teachers wish for.

And all they needed was a little down time, a quiet space with lots of open-ended art materials and the freedom to work at their own pace. No one who saw these children would even consider reducing arts funding for our schools.

This was a place of happiness, of hard work, of hope.

My next stop was the Phoenix Art Museum gift shop, where I shared with one of the employees that a recent birthday gift purchased there had been a big hit with the 18-year-old who now sports it (the gift was a scarf that looks like yellow crime scene tape).

I can’t say that I’ll ever be in a position to make a large financial contribution to the museum, but I am a longtime member and like to get a little something from the gift shop each time I go just to support the cause.

Saturday it was a “Walls” notebook with photos of assorted walls rather than blank pages. It never hurts to inject a bit of whimsy into the writing process.

I also took notes for an upcoming post on holiday gift ideas because I find that museum gift shops have the most unique offerings for the most diverse audience, often with something wonderful in every price range.

While walking back over to Phoenix Theatre, I ran into a fellow stage mom whose daughter also attends Arizona School for the Arts. Her daughter told me about an art event being organized by a student at Metropolitan Arts Institute, and I learned that the ASA glee/show choir will be performing Dec 1 at an event to mark 2010 World AIDS Day.

Soon I wandered towards Phoenix Theatre, where the head of ASA’s glee/show choir is performing the role of Corny Collins, and one of Childsplay’s many incredible actors is performing the role of Edna Turnblad.

I’ll be posting a review in the next day or two, but for now I’m happy to share that “Hairspray” easily makes my list of all time musical theater favorites from Arizona theater companies.

Simply put, you can’t stop the beat.

The final highlight of my day was talking with the many Girl Scouts who attended the performance with troop leaders, parents and grandparents. What a bright, energetic, smart group of young ladies. And yes, the young man with them was equally energetic and inspiring to be around.

I especially enjoyed chatting with a young lady who sings with the Phoenix Girls Chorus. She listened patiently as I recounted my days of chaperoning chorus camp when my daughter Jennifer was a choir member, and asked if I remembered the infamous “rice pudding” skit from talent night.

My Saturday of seredipity brought back cherished memories and reminded me again of the many riches the arts have brought to my own life and to the community.

I hope to enjoy many more of them — and encourage you to get out there and enjoy more spontaneous moments with your own family and friends.

– Lynn

Note: “Hairspray” is fun for all ages, and runs through Dec 12 at Phoenix Theatre. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: Big is beautiful; The “Grinch” sleighs into Tempe for “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at ASU Gammage, Pondering 400 posts

Cupcakes for peace?

Photo: Getty Images

I was in great company Saturday as I commemorated the 70th birthday of musician, artist and peace activist John Lennon at the MIM — the majestic Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

I was lucky to get there after my car died, apparently to show me who was boss as it slowed to a crawl on the freeway and I begged it to give me just one more round of 100,000 miles.

I was on the way downtown to drop Lizabeth off for a QSpeak Theatre event before heading to the MIM when my car started shifting itself into lower and lower gears.

This has become a rather unwelcome tradition for our family.

The last one to go was a white Volvo station wagon that never made it through the day long ago when I had three “stage mom” gigs — getting the kids to their annual piano recital, getting Lizabeth to something “Nutcracker” related and something else that has slipped my mind over time.

My husband James came to our rescue soon after we’d coasted to a local gas station, so I was able to get to the MIM in time for the 2:30pm performance by Tetra String Quartet playing works by John Lennon.

This gracious fellow was ever so patient as museum patrons made that all important decision -- chocolate or vanilla (Photo: The MIM)

I stopped first by the MIM Cafe, where elegant black and white cupcakes decorated with various musical symbols (what, no peace signs?) were being given out for free — and had to check a mirror soon after to assure I wasn’t making my way through the MIM with a cupcake moustache a la those lovely “Got Milk?” commercials.

The cupcakes were from the newly renovated Fry’s Marketplace at Tatum & Shea, which seems to have become a sort of museum of menu items and more in its own right. They’re especially yummy for those of us who enjoy a bit of cake with our frosting.

Soon the musical performance began, as well over 100 museum patrons looked on — sometimes humming, singing and clapping along while others the world over were similarly engaged in communal birthday celebrations for the legendary John Lennon.

Everywhere I turned there was an homage to Lennon. Greeters at the ticket counter donned eyeglasses with round rose- or blue-colored lenses. Middle age music lovers sported endless variations of Lennon t-shirts. I even ran into a young couple who told me of another museum guest whose arm is tatooted with Lennon’s self-portrait.

I never found the man with the inked homage, but I did locate the exhibit featuring the upright Steinway Lennon used to compose “Imagine” — and something called the “Peace Piano” nearby.

Displayed on the wall were guitars from various artists including Eric Clapton and Paul Simon. The MIM is a vast treasure trove of instruments from around the world — but you feel after seeing just this one space, dubbed the “Artist Gallery,” that you’ve died and gone to music nutopia.

The Tetra String Quartet performed for MIM patrons

Just next door on the first of two floors there’s a room where you can try your hand at all kinds of instruments from around the globe — drums, stringed-instruments, a giant gong and more. Kids find the “Experience Gallery” in a heartbeat and know instinctively what they need to do: Play!

At the other end of the first floor, there’s an open performance space for “museum encounters” featuring diverse musical styles, plus a gift shop full of things you just won’t find elsewhere — exquisite jewelry (much of it with tasteful musical themes), CDs and books featuring the music and people of dozens of countries and nations, and percussion pieces as essential as books to developing young imaginations.

I came home with black “MIM” guitar picks, bookmarks and postcards (including one depicting “Strawberry Fields” in NYC’s Central Park). I’m also the proud new owner of a children’s book titled “M is for Music” (written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Stacy Innerst).

The book opens with music-related quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche, Charlie Parker, Helen Keller and Frank Zappa. “B” is for Beatles. “K” is for Klezmer. “M” is for music, music teachers, mistakes and Mozart. And “W” is for whistling. What’s not to love?

My other favorite finds of the day included the books “Do Re Mi: If You Can Read Music, Thank Guido d’Arezzo” and “Opera Cat” — plus a long list of CDs featuring everything from Persian classical music and traditional Navajo songs to Sufi music for whirling meditation and live performance by “Playing for Change.”

Jennifer and I first heard “Playing for Change” perform at the Mesa Arts Center, and hope to see them again when they perform at the MIM on Oct 26. While at the MIM on Saturday, I picked up the brochure for their 2010-2011 Concert & Film Season.

Upcoming performers include Lakota Sioux Indian Dance Theatre, Harlem Gospel Choir, ASU African Drum Ensemble, Young Sounds of Arizona and many more. I’ll profile the MIM’s film line-up in a future post.

One of many snappy dressers who embraced the spirit of the day (Photo: The MIM)

Before leaving the museum on Saturday, I headed to the MIM Music Theater – where a self-playing piano sat center stage, bathed in multic-color lights, playing Lennon’s music for those who’d made the musical pilgrimage that day.

One floor above sat a baby grand piano with an empty bench, available for anyone to play. A nearby sign beckoned folks to play their own variations of “Imagine.” No one heeded the invitation while I was there, but I suspect they were simply mindful of not getting all that cupcake icing on those glistening ivories.

Somehow I don’t think Lennon would mind.

–Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about an upcoming ASU event featuring Bill DeWalt, director and president of the MIM (which I learned about from my husband James).

Coming up: “Fences” and family foibles, Mesa meets Denmark?

Notes from an NYT award winner

By Lindsey Stegemoller, Guest blogger

Lindsey Stegemoller performs at VYT during a recent National Youth Theatre awards ceremony

The National Youth Theater Awards are always something to look forward to every year, whether it be the performances, the speeches, or the outstanding podiums.

This year it was held on September 12 at Valley Youth Theatre in downtown Phoenix. The theater was filled with people from different areas in Arizona and they were lively and spirited with everything that happened.

"The Ugly Duckling" cast members (Desert Stages Theatre)

I usually try to dress formal-casual for the event with some stunning heels and apparently the rest of the audience picked up on that idea.

Everyone in the theater was wearing a suit or a nice dress with their hair done amazingly.

Madeline Wessel (Musical Theatre of Anthem) performs "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"

One of the funniest speeches was done by a male winner. He wrote a 1 1/2 page speech with theater puns in every sentence. The crowd loved it!

Everyone had great speeches and touching remarks but I think D. Scott Withers’ speech was great. He set up a standard for accepting the award with his choice of words and honest point of view.

Part of "The Laramie Project" ensemble (Greasepaint Youtheatre/QSpeak) accepting an award

I had a great time at the NYTs this year and from what I saw, so did everyone else. Going to events like this really creates a special experience whether you’re 47 or just 7.

When the NYTs come around next year, you know I’ll be there just to experience the lively atmosphere and the great people.

–Lindsey

Above photos courtesy of Rob Hopper, executive director of National Youth Theatre

Pinnacle High School student Lindsey Stegemoller (Photo by Laura Durant)

Note: Lindsey Stegemoller, of Phoenix, is a 16-year-old Pinnacle High School student. Stegemoller was one of five Valley actresses to receive the “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical” award and also performed during the NYT award ceremony. She was honored for her work in Greasepaint Youtheatre’s “Oliver!,” directed by D. Scott Withers.

Fun fact: You can click here to read my ‘review’ of “Oliver!” (I’m only so objective because my daughter Lizabeth was also in the cast). My first draft of the review likened Stegemoller’s vocals during “Oliver!” to vocals I enjoyed during the touring Broadway production of “Wicked”–a line I deleted prior to posting (now to my great embarassment) after I was told that Stegemoller wasn’t the world’s greatest “Wicked” fan. I hope she won’t mind me making the comparison now. It’s a good thing.

National Youth Theatre awards

The National Youth Theatre awards were first presented in 2006 “to honor outstanding work in youth theatre throughout the country.”

Award recipients for the 2009-2010 season were recently announced for several different regions, including northern California, southern California, the western region (for the rest of the western half of the country) and the eastern region.

Arizona winners will be honored at the western regional ceremony scheduled for Sept. 12 at Valley Youth Theatre (VYT) in Phoenix.

Space is limited so here’s the rundown for any of you who might not be able to attend the event…

Outstanding production: The Laramie Project (Greasepaint Youtheatre and QSpeak Theatre), Peter Pan (VYT)

Outstanding lead actor in a musical: David Buehlre as Captain Hook in Peter Pan (Desert Stages Theatre), Cole Cuomo as Fagin in Oliver! (Greasepaint)

Outstanding lead actress in a musical: Katie Cook as Adelaine in Guys and Dolls (Mesa High School), Adriene Dugger as Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls (Mesa High School), Sarah Hollands as Peter Pan in Peter Pan (VYT), Lindsey Stegemoller as Nancy in Oliver! (Greasepaint)

Outstanding lead actress (13 and under): Madeline Wessel as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz (Musical Theatre of Anthem), Zoe Whiting as Millie Goat Gruff in The Goats Gruff (East Valley Children’s Theatre)

Outstanding lead actor in a play: Zander Trisoliere as Julius in funny at birth (Creative Stages Youth Theatre)

Outstanding lead actress in a play: Megan O’Grady as Amy in funny at birth (Creative Stages)

Outstanding supporting actor in a musical: Chandler Dugger as Trevor Gray in Thoroughly Modern Millie (Actor’s Youth Theatre), Vince James as Levi/Potiphar in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Young Star Musical Theatre), Dallas Mogensen as The Artful Dodger in Oliver! (Greasepaint)

Outstanding supporting actress in a musical: Alex Carter as Genie in Aladdin (Desert Stages), Haley Cohn as Poindexter in The Ugly Duckling (Desert Stages), Becca Courtney as Rizzo in Grease (Desert Stages), Elizabeth Pabst as Miss Dorothy Brown in Thoroughly Modern Millie (Actor’s Youth Theatre), Sascha Peralta-Ramos as Lucy in 13 (VYT)

Outstanding supporting actor (13 and under): Maxx Carlisle-King as Archie in 13 (VYT)

Outstanding supporting actress (13 and under): Alana Doyle as Tiger Lily in Peter Pan (Desert Stages), Hannah Long as Lion in The Wizard of Oz (Musical Theatre of Anthem)

Outstanding supporting actor in a play: Paul Thompson in The Laramie Project (Greasepaint)

Outstanding featured actor in a play: Connor Sample as Bear in The World of the Brothers Grimm (Creative Stages)

Outstanding featured actress in a play: Michaela Slezak as Rose-Red in The World of the Brothers Grimm (Creative Stages)

Outstanding featured actor in a musical: Chas Zachar as King Herod in Jesus Christ Superstar (Prescott High School), Nick Greenleaf as Lt. Brannigan in Guys and Dolls (Mesa High School)

Outstanding featured actress in a musical: Kaitlyn Ramsey as General Cartwright in Guys and Dolls (Young Star Musical Theatre)

Outstanding ensemble: 13 (VYT), funny at birth (Creative Stages), The Goats Gruff (East Valley Youth Theatre), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Young Star Musical Theatre), The Laramie Project (Greasepaint and QSpeak), Peter Pan (Desert Stages), See How They Run (Mesa High School), Thoroughly Modern Millie (Actor’s Youth Theatre)

Outstanding ensemble (13 and under): The Wizard of Oz (Musical Theatre of Anthem)

Outstanding costume design: Cheryl Gerle for The Little Mermaid (East Valley Children’s Theatre)

Outstanding lighting design: Daniel Davisson for The Little Mermaid (East Valley Children’s Theatre), Mike Eddy for 13 (VYT)

Outstanding set design: Dori Brown for The Goats Gruff (East Valley Children’s Theatre)

Outstanding direction: Tiffany Atkinson for Peter Pan (Desert Stages), Bobb Cooper for 13 (VYT), Maren Mascarelli for The Laramie Project (Greasepaint and QSpeak), D. Scott Withers for Oliver! (Greasepaint)

This marks the fifth year for the awards, with consideration given to more than 200 productions (including shows from 100 different theaters in more than 50 cities across 15 states).

Award recipients were selected from nominees by a panel of 18 judges and reviewers.

Congratulations to all the winners–especially Arizona’s own!

–Lynn

Note: If you enjoyed the graphics above, check them out on the t-shirts, bumper stickers, buttons and more from CafePress at www.cafepress.com.

Coming up: Weekend fare featuring Broadway for baseball fans, an adults-only puppet slam, a film festival and free music/dance events

Just listen…

I admit to sometimes straying from my favorite radio station, a Sirius XM channel dedicated to Broadway show tunes, to listen to talk radio. I try to give equal time to both programs and people I tend to disagree with and programs and people that seem more simpatico.

Friday morning felt like “let’s pick on artists day,” as a renowned host of conservative talk radio insulted both a particular actor and referred to artists such as writers and photographers as wanting to ‘check out’ so the rest of society could ‘show up’ for work and take care of them.

But artists weren’t the only ones taking the heat, because Friday also brought news of a Mississippi teen who requested that she be allowed to bring her girlfriend to the school prom only to have the school cancel the entire event rather than face the alleged turmoil they suspected a ‘lesbian couple’ might ignite.

[Coincidentally, the young woman was interviewed on television just minutes after I wrote the preceding paragraph—and proved herself to be much more rational, articulate and respectful than her critics.]

I was downright stunned, and frightened, by a talk show host who seemed to offer the glib suggestion that folks should head down to the region with their weapons and take care of the situation—playing a pre-recorded track of people clapping just seconds later.

I was once again reminded of the importance understanding plays in overcoming the ugliness of hate, and hopeful about the role artists are playing in turning hate to hope. Valley audiences have at least three opportunities this weekend to explore issues related to sexual orientation through theater productions.

If you’ve been thinking these shows are no longer relevant because there’s been some progress in terms of talking about and ‘tolerating’ gay rights, think again. I’m convinced that the need for social justice theater is greater now than ever before.

So is Lisa Pittari, who crossed my path thanks to my daughter Jennifer—a proud ASU Sun Devil skilled in the fine art of networking and collecting business cards. Jennifer told me about Pittari, an LGBTQ specialist at ASU’s Tempe campus, who graciously shared some thoughts with me not in her official capacity but as an individual passionate about LGBTQ issues.

“I believe,” says Pittari, “that social justice performance is still quite relevant today.” She notes its growing popularity and the various forms it takes, from gallery events to poetry slams. “I believe there is great significance in theater in how it can be used to incite ideas, bring about awareness and engage individuals in narratives told from an alternative perspective.”

Pittari adds that “anti-LGBTQ murders” like Shepard’s are “still a very alarming reality”—citing statistics that place the number of murders due to transgender bias just since the time of Shepard’s death at 400. “In 2008 alone,” says Pittari, “there were 21 transgender and gender non-conforming people murdered.”

“Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes are the third most frequent kind of hate crimes in America after race and religion,” according to Pittari. I imagine the many challenges my children face in the world each day, and wonder how terrifying it must be for parents of LGBTQ youth who have yet another reason to fear for their children’s safety.

If you agree that our conversations, and actions, in the realm of human rights still have a long way to go, consider supporting the cause by attending one or more of these shows. In theater, as in politics, we vote with our feet (not our firearms). Two of these productions close on Sunday, so this is your last chance to take part.

ASU Gammage presents “Avenue Q” through Sunday, March 14th on the ASU campus in Tempe. This touring Broadway musical follows the lives of diverse young people making their way in New York City. But there’s a twist. Some of the characters aren’t people at all. They’re puppets—and at least one of them is gay.

Desert Stages Theatre presents “Zanna, Don’t!” through Sunday, April 25th at their Actor’s Cafe in Scottsdale. This upbeat musical examines the lives of teens in a town where homosexuality is the norm, and what happens when a young man and woman find themselves falling for one another despite society’s very different expectations.

QSpeak and Greasepaint Youtheatre, both affiliated with Phoenix Theatre, present “The Laramie Project” through Sunday, March 14th at Stagebrush Theatre in ‘old town’ Scottsdale (Phoenix Theatre in downtown Phoenix is home to mainstage productions, including their current show “The Light in the Piazza.”). This poignant play explores the individual lives and communities affected by the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming.

Pittari recalls seeing “The Laramie Project” both on film and on stage, and describes the work (along with a follow-up piece titled “Ten Years Later”) as “very impactful.” But why? Because they have “the ability to put a face, a life, a person into this intangible concept, this thing, this word: homosexual, gay, fag, queer, tranny.”

“Callous hatred,” reflects Pittari, is easier to feel towards a “faceless concept” than a “living person who has a family, a job, friends.” She notes that “pieces like The Laramie Project can play a part in transforming hate into dialogue.” And dialogue, adds Pittari, “has the potential to produce understanding and acceptance.”

I asked Pittari whether she feels American society is growing more or less tolerant, and why. “I think,” she replied, “that American society as a whole is gradually becoming more tolerant as LGBTQ issues are being more openly advocated for.”

“However,” Pittari adds, “I also think there is a widening gap between those who are tolerant and those who are intolerant.” After a day of touring talk radio, I couldn’t agree more. But I’m glad I made time to listen.

–Lynn

Programs for “The Laramie Project” include a QSpeak ‘Youth Resource List’ featuring organizations that specialize in child abuse, domestic and dating violence, housing/youth homelessness/transitional living programs, mental and behavioral health services, education/GED/employment assistance, legal advocacy and LGBTQ youth support.

The list of GLBTQ resources is as follows:

YEP! Youth Empowerment Project: 602-277-5166 • QSpeak Theatre: 602-889-5282 or a.beck@phoenixtheatre.com • Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN): 602-705-9780 or info@glsenphoenix.org • Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG): 602-843-1404 or info@pflagphoenix.org • QLine (resources and 24-hour helpline): 1-800-527-4747 or 480-736-4925 • 1 in 10 Youth Services: 602-475-7456 or 602-754-1175 • Teen Lifeline (suicide prevention): 602-248-TEEN • Gay & Lesbian National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

Note: For local opinion on the case of the Mississippi teen mentioned above, go to the online newspaper for the University of Arizona at http://wildcat.arizona.edu/opinions/schools-should-permit-same-sex-prom-dates-1.1266251

Coming up: Cast members share their reflections on “The Laramie Project,” and ways their participation in this ensemble project has shaped them personally and professionally.

ASU Gammage welcomes “Avenue Q”

Take puppets pondering their purpose, punctuated by profanity and pseudo-porn, and you’ve got a hit musical called “Avenue Q,” currently playing at ASU Gammage in Tempe. Outrageous? Yes. Offensive. Not so much.

What’s a brief interlude of puppet sex considering everything we’re subjected to in movies and television shows these days? I wouldn’t take a tween, but most teens and up should be fine with this show if they can take some colorful language and “full puppet nudity.”

I went last night to see “Avenue Q” with my 16-year-old daughter, who spent most of the evening in side-splitting laughter. She wasn’t alone but her laughter may have lingered a bit longer or louder than the rest.

Lizabeth spent much of the night mouthing along with the words to the show, which she apparently memorized long ago, and was one of the few who caught the insertion of “Glenn Beck” into one of the show’s musical numbers.

I’ve been an ASU Gammage season ticket holder for umpteen years and have seen dozens upon dozens of productions in this historic venue designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

I have never seen a more engaged audience, nor heard as much uproarious laughter as I did Tuesday night as the “Avenue Q” cast sang their way through racism, sexual orientation and other topics too-often taboo.

Everything about the show seems remarkably simple.

There’s a single set, a neighborhood ala the fictional “Sesame Street” of public television fame, and lighting with just a few surprises (all of them crowd-pleasers). The music is lively, inspiring toe-tapping from the get go—but nothing that you’d single out as spectacular.

But don’t mistake seamless for simple.

The puppetry in this production is masterful—even sophisticated. Like champion ice dancers, cast members paired with puppets perfectly match their muse’s movements and expressions.

When Lizabeth ran into a fellow cast member of QSpeak and Greasepaint Youtheatre’s production of “The Laramie Project” during the “Avenue Q” intermission, and learned the teen was sitting in the front row with her mom, we asked whether the puppet play had seemed too graphic up close.

But their fascination wasn’t with the puppet hanky-panky. Instead, they were awed by the actors’ finesse in conveying the puppets’ emotions and expressions. Never fear, there’s just one puppet couple involved. No kinky group puppet sex here.

I stress the friskier elements of the show because you really wouldn’t want to invite a friend along thinking you were attending a G-rated puppet show. “Avenue Q” carries a parental advisory for good reason, so just know what you’re getting into before you go.

But go.

It’s one of the most unique pieces of theater we’ve ever experienced at ASU Gammage, and certainly the most fun. We were especially charmed by hometown girl Jacqueline Grabois, a graduate of Chaparral High School who has also performed in the touring production of Hairspray (and several other shows as well).

We spoke a bit with cast members after the show, all of whom were very gracious and seemed genuinely pleased with Tuesday night’s audience (who rose quickly to offer a standing ovation for all cast members and the orchestra).

I got the feeling that they’re used to the crowd going wild, yet felt especially energized on stage because the Arizona audience was so exuberant.

I noticed a large crowd for the show while picking my older daughter Jennifer up after her Wednesday ASU classes, so don’t dilly dally if you have yet to get tickets for “Avenue Q.”

Fur’s never felt so fun.

–Lynn

Note: “Avenue Q” plays at ASU Gammage through March 14th. To read additional reviews (by Gammage Goers) as well as blog posts from ASU Gammage (including a post from Jacqueline Grabois), visit the ASU Gammage website.

My sign reads “Love…”

I flipped on the television shortly after awakening one morning last week, only to be met with a scene of signs reading “God hates….”

I turned away in disgust before I got any farther with reading the signs, but I can guess at their content given the event being covered—the availability in Washington, D.C. of marriage licenses for gay couples.

We’re all free to carry whatever signs we like, but you’ll never see me with a sign claiming to speak for God—unless, perhaps, it reads “God hates hate.”

I feel akin to more than a few groups of folks considered minorities by the mainstream, so I wasn’t a bit surprised when my younger daughter, a high school theater major, felt an immediate affinity for “The Laramie Project” when she first learned of it.

And I’m proud beyond belief that she chose to audition for a role in the QSpeak/Greasepaint Youtheatre production, knowing full well that similar signs could greet the cast and crew at any time.

I imagine what my own sign might look like (I’ve carried plenty of them, mostly for the cause of mental health insurance parity). It would start with “Love….”

I spent much of last week researching “LGBTQ” issues, hoping to provide a context for folks who might wonder why a piece like “The Laramie Project” matters, or whether it’s stll relevant.

It’s been more than a decade since the events in Laramie, Wyoming that led the artists of the Tectonic Theatre Project in New York to explore how the small Wyoming town dealt with this tragedy in their midst.

But I learned Friday night, after my first experience with a live production of the piece, that it’s not an “LGBTQ” work of art. It’s a human work of art, and it’s profound.

I leave others to judge the merits of this particular production. As the parent of a cast member, I’m hardly objective—although there are two things I think other reviewers would be hard pressed to argue with.

First, that the cast is capable and consistent. It’s a true ensemble piece, and this was clear as the young actors—with no one, yet every one, a star—took us through the lives of those who experienced that Laramie tragedy firsthand, as well as the journey of the artists who crafted the piece. And second, that the direction—by Maren Mascarelli—is brilliant.

The audience, who offered a somber standing ovation, was clearly moved.

It’s rarely wise to approach a piece of art laden with expectations. Whether you’re eager or hesitant to see “The Laramie Project” because it tells the tale of a vicious hate crime, you may be surprised to discover that the questions it raises are not only bold, but broad.

To say this work is simply about sexual orientation is to sell it short, because it seamlessly weaves together reflections about culture, history, values, religion and so much more—including the ways parents and children care for and communicate with one another.

I found myself considering a wide range of questions as I watched the opening night performance, and hope that by sharing some of these with you I’ll convey a sense of the ongoing value of this work and an appreciation for the craft this young cast brought to the work (you’ll learn more about their collective and individual experiences in bringing “The Laramie Project” to life when you attend the production).

What authorities do we, or should we, embrace? Why do some judge themselves more harshly than others, while some judge others more harshly than themselves? Should we settle for tolerance or demand true appreciation and acceptance?

What role does denial play in our ability to cope with crisis? Should families let differences in ideas or values divide them? Can we ever really distance ourselves from ugly events within our communities or must we somehow own them?

How do we balance what we’ve been taught and what we’ve experienced? Where should adolescents draw the line between seeking acceptance and forging independence? Might verbal violence be just as dangerous as physical violence?

Why do so many onlookers seem malevolent or misinformed? Will we ever stop blaming victims for the brutalities that befall them? When does journalism obfuscate rather than elucidate?

What comfort lies in finding something good amidst a voracious evil? How is history shaped by storytelling? Who is the best judge of what is necessary or fair? What impact does remembering the past have on our future?

“The Laramie Project” is powerful in its entirety, but I found certain moments particularly poignant—hearing the cast sing “Amazing Grace,” listening to descriptions of the fence in a remote part of town where Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten and abandoned.

They’re all the more powerful if you spend some time in the Stagebrush Theatre lobby before taking your seat (the house was rather full, by the way, so your best bet is calling to reserve tickets before you go).

Patrons see samples of signs used by prior protestors against gay rights, watch video footage of passionate advocates, and hear audio clips of speeches by Matthew Shepard’s parents, President Barack Obama and the late Harvey Milk.

“I’m here,” says Matthew’s father, “because I lost my son to hate.”

I thought, while experiencing the show Friday night, of the many people I know who would appreciate this work, too often viewed as a niche piece of theater that appeals exclusively to those who self-identify as champions for the rights of gay Americans.

I thought of a colleague who did graduate study on the role of memoir in recounting women’s history, of a friend who has often been blamed and shamed because her son lives with schizophrenia, of a college student with an interest in storytelling—and so many others.

If you think you know what “The Laramie Project” is all about, this production may surprise you. If you’ve seen the work before and wonder whether a group of local teens can really do it justice, this production may surprise you.

Set aside your expectations, and two hours of your time. You won’t be disappointed.

–Lynn

Note: “The Laramie Project,” presented by Phoenix Theatre partners QSpeak and Greasepaint Youtheatre, runs through Sunday, March 14th. Learn more at www.phoenixtheatre.com.