Tag Archives: San Francisco

When pigs fly

When our son Christopher was born, we used a “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip to announce his birth. “Calvin and Hobbes” is the work of advertising exec turned cartoonist Bill Watterson, who named the 6-year-old boy and his stuffed tiger after a French theologian and an English philosopher.

I left doctoral studies in philosopy and religion to be a stay-at-home mom, so it’s no surprise that “Calvin and Hobbes” resonated at the time. But nowadays another comic strip speaks to us as parents — and people. It’s Stephan Pastis’ “Pearls Before Swine.”

The first Pearls Before Swine compilation was published by Andrews McMeel in 2003

Pastis is a second-generation Greek American born and raised in an L.A. suburb who says he’s never had formal training as an artist or cartoonist. Seems Pastis honed his art with lots of drawing time alone in his room. He began drawing “Pearls Before Swine” in 1997.

Pastis holds a political science degree from UC Berkeley and a law degree from UCLA. He drew his first “Pearls Before Swine” character (Rat) during a class on the European economic community. Seems boredom was an early secret to Pastis’ success.

I recall Tony-Award winner Lin-Manuel Miranda sharing a similar tale when we chatted a few years ago during the cast party for “In the Heights” at ASU Gammage. Apparently the playwright and actor first penned parts of the musical during astronomy classes when he should have been taking notes.

Croc and Rat plush toys

“Pearls Before Swine,” now published in more than 600 newspapers worldwide, was named after a famous saying from the New Testament. It’s about the friendship and foibles of an arrogant rat and a dim-witted pig. Together, Rat and Pig offer “caustic commentary on humanity’s quest for the unattainable.”

Pastis once practiced law in San Francisco. Today he lives in Santa Rosa with his wife Staci and their two children — reading American history books in his spare time. It’s no wonder his work resonates so well here in our house, where Jennifer dreams of a life in San Francisco and swaps history books with her equally history-obsessed dad.

Pearls Before Swine Pig

I used to dream of retiring so I’d have time to read my swelling stack of Sunday magazines from The New York Times. These days I’m leaning more towards Pastis pearls like “The Ratvolution Will Not be Televised,” “The Crass Menagerie,” “When Pigs Fly” and “Lions and Tigers and Crocs, Oh My!” All illustrate “the flaws and shortcomings of human nature.”

Pastis’ latest work, titled “Larry in Wonderland: A Pearls Before Swine Collection,” will be released on Oct 4. It features the antics of Mad Ducker, Cheshire Snuffles, Tweedledum Pig and Tweedledee Idiot Pig. Also Raterpillar, Zebra and Larry the Croc — all well-known to fans of the award-winning comic strip.

You can meet Pastis at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe Thurs, Oct 20, at 7pm. I learned of the teen & adult event thanks to a Changing Hands “Educators Preview” e-mail listing an impressive slate of author events. The e-mail also notes that Pastis is available for high school visits that day.

When Pigs Fly was published by Andrews McNeel in 2010

Be sure and look for us in the history, art or philosophy sections if you attend. In the meantime, head to www.comics.com to explore animated versions of the “Pearls Before Swine” comic strip. They debuted in late January, but you can catch up thanks to the online archive.

Remimd me to use a “Pearls Before Swine” strip the next time we want to announce news of a new baby. Though, come to think of it, that’ll only happen “when pigs fly.”

– Lynn

Coming up: A double dose of fairy tales, Valley theater by the numbers, Fun with free concerts, AriZoni nominations

NYC in Scottsdale?

My husband James stumbled on a great pizza joint last Friday night while making a pet store run. Lovebirds can’t do pizza, so Trixy got bird food and we got slices from Joe’s New York Pizza in Scottsdale. Cheese for Lizabeth and Hawaiian for me.

March for gay rights in NYC, 1976 (Photo: Warren K. Leffler)

He walked in the door with dinner just after I’d watched a CNN broadcast of a short speech by New York governor Andrew Cuomo. The occasion for Cuomo’s remarks was the passage of a marriage equality act in the New York legislature.

I already had New York on the brain because I was readying for this week’s trip to NYC for Lizabeth’s college orientation. Lizabeth starts a B.F.A. in acting program this fall.

As Lizabeth weighed possible colleges earlier in the year, I was mindful of the political landscape in the various states where she might go to school — though I never mentioned things like my Cuomo versus Christie musings.

Cuomo spoke last Friday night of New York as a “social justice” state. “I’m always proud to be a New Yorker,” said Cuomo. “But tonight I’m especially proud to be a New Yorker.” Cuomo was among those leading the fight for marriage equality in New York.

In his remarks, Cuomo spoke of New York’s leadership in several fights for equal rights — the movement for women’s rights, the push for worker’s rights after the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the most recent battle — equal marriage rights for gay and straight couples.

“Social justice,” said Cuomo, “is an evolutionary process.” He recognized others who’d championed this cause for New York citizens, and praised “the advocacy community from across the nation.” I’m sure some in Scottsdale embraced the vote with a “we’re all New Yorkers tonight” mindset.

I’m thrilled to be enjoying NYC with Lizabeth this week, but there are folks in Scottsdale that I’ll be missing while we’re away. Trixy, Pinky, Rugby — plus James and our other two children, also college students. But also Lizabeth’s teachers from the Scottsdale Conservatory Theatre, where she studied theater last summer.

Before we marched for marriage equality, we marched for women's rights and workers' rights

The conservatory presents its 2011 performance at the Scottsdale Community College Performing Arts Center Wed, June 29 and Thurs, June 30. They’re presenting “Strange Bedfellows,” which is set in my daughter Jennifer’s favorite city — San Francisco. They have a thing for civil rights too.

“Strange Bedfellows” is the tale of Senator Cromwell, “a politician who keeps his women under stern rule.” His son, Matthew Cromwell, is a young congressman who “dutifully follows in his father’s political footsteps — except when he marries a beautiful and determined suffragette.”

It examines “the coming of age of a woman’s right to vote” — and features “the escapades that ensue as the suffragette converts the women in the Cromwell family to her way of thinking.” Who doesn’t love a good conversion story?

I’m told that “shades of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and San Francisco’s brothel district come into play as each side tries to out-maneuver and out-smart the other.” Aristophanes, by the way, was a comedic playwright of ancient Greece.

I know the actors, theater professionals and teachers of Scottsdale Conservatory Theatre played a part in helping Lizabeth achieve her dream of studying and making theater in NYC — and I’m grateful.

Thanks to James and Joe’s New York Pizza, we can always enjoy a bit of NYC in Scottsdale. But this week, we’re carrying thoughts of Scottsdale with us in New York.

– Lynn

Note: Check out the “Stay Fancy Free” blog for more nifty black-and-white photos of suffragettes — plus lovely fiber arts fare. Click here to check out the site where I found the photo shot while the Democratic National Convention was in NYC during 1976.

Coming up: Shakespeare NYC-style, A stroll through the theater district, NYC: museum highlights

Last chance: Latino roots

Learn about the Latino roots of American pop music at the Musical Instrument Museum in north Phoenix through May 18

Arizona is home to all sorts of Latino arts and culture. There’s nothing last chance about that. But one offering, the “American Sabor” exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, will hit the road in just a few shorts days so folks in other parts can experience its splendor.

“American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music” is the first touring exhibit to land at the MIM, a global instrument museum that recently celebrated its first anniversary. But the exhibit’s last day is May 18 — so your opportunity to enjoy it will soon pass.

Though this might not apply to those of you who feel about Latino music the way others feel about Springsteen or the Grateful Dead. I suppose you could just jump into your van with a couple of friends and follow “American Sabor” to future destinations. I can imagine worse fates, like following people whose heads sport giant cheese wedges.

American Sabor features musical intruments, costumes, artifacts and more

Maybe you don’t consider yourself a fan of Latino music. But that means you’ve never turned on a radio or been to a dance featuring DJ stylings.

Because there are Latino roots in all sorts of places you might not expect them. Figuring out where is half the fun of experiencing “American Sabor.”

If you’re still picturing museums as stuffy, boring places — you’ve yet to see, hear and feel all that is the MIM. You don’t visit the MIM. You experience the MIM. And “American Sabor” is a perfect match with its “use of film, artifacts, historic musical instruments, listening kiosks, and a full-sized dance floor.”

Normally I don my tennis shoes for trips through the MIM (which truly are trips around the world). But I may have to see if I can squeeze into Lizabeth’s character shoes for this one, just in case the mambo, rhumba or cha cha beats lure me to the dance floor.

The “American Sabor” exhibit is a window into “the excitement, diversity, and beauty of Latin music as it developed in five key U.S. cities.” Think Houston, Los Angeles and Miami. Also San Francisco, a favorite of my 20-year-old daughter Jennifer. And NYC, a favorite of 17-year-old Lizabeth.

The “American Sabor” exhibit was developed by the “Experience Music Project” in Seattle and the University of Washington. It’s a well-kept secret that Seattle has actually given the world all sorts of things every bit as glorious (and maybe more glorious) than Starbucks.

“Latino musicians and the contributions they have made to musical styles like jazz, country, rock, and hip hop, among others, have scarcely been acknowledged until now,” reflects MIM exhibit manager April Salomon.

“American Sabor” aims to change all that — with its “collection of instruments, costumes. and other artifacts from musical icons.” Think Fania All-Stars and Flaco Jimenez. Celia Cruz and Carlos Santana. Los Lobos and Tito Puente.

Even a singer my hubby seemed a bit sweet on during college — Linda Ronstadt (whose vinyls still rest on the lower shelf of a towering bookcase). He once helped fellow Pepperdine students fill sandbags to protect her beachfront home. But listening to her mariachi music is a whole lot more fun…

– Lynn

Note: Click here to watch the May 12, 2011 episode of “Horizonte” on Eight, Arizona PBS — which features the “American Sabor” exhibit and a local expert on Latino arts and culture.

Coming up: The Sleeping Beauty

Images courtesy of the Musical Instrument Museum

Art meets egghead

Now you can enjoy great art in museums, books and online exhibitions

I’ve been meaning for some time to explore a bit of the new Google “Art Project” that allows visitors to tour various museums and enjoy close-ups of more than 1,000 artworks.

This morning I fired up my laptop to discover the Google logo decked out in sculpture by Romanian artist Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957), considered by many a father of modern art.

The first thing I noticed was the egg-shaped appearance of some of the works – an observation that surely betrays my lack of sophistication in this realm of the art world. But, hey — we all have to start somewhere.

I’ve toured several of the world’s great museums, including those of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. My favorites include the British Museum in London and the Louvre in Paris.

For museums not featured in the Google Art Project, there are always books and airplane tickets

Though I can’t tour them anew using Google’s “Art Project,” I can “visit” two other museums high on my list of favorites — including the Uffizi Gallery in Florence (one of my favorite European cities) and the Museum of Modern Art in NYC.

You don’t even want to know my reaction to learning while my husband was back East with Lizabeth recently that they’d made it one day to the NYC M & M factory but not the MoMA. (I calmed a bit, but only a bit, after he explained that only one of the two is open on Mondays.)

If I kept a “bucket list,” it would likely include touring the many art museums of Chicago, plus museums in several regions of California from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

I’m also ever so eager to tour the National Museum of the American Indian and the Newseum in D.C. — home to another personal favorite, the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum.

The Google Art Project features museums in America and abroad

Google’s “Art Project” features museums in several cities (sometimes more than one museum in a single city) — including Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Madrid, St. Petersburg and others.

Visitors to the Google “Art Project” are met with two immediate choices — viewing artwork or exploring a museum.

The “create an artwork collection” feature allows folks to create personalized online collections complete with comments, and to share their collections with others.

While I’d rather Valley families explore our local museums, youth theaters and other performing arts venues during the long President’s Day weekend — I have to admit that the Google “Art Project” makes for a mighty fine “plan B” for those who prefer to sit out the rainstorms.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, MA — and here to learn about our very own Phoenix Art Museum

Coming up: Classic tales (and tails) come to Scottsdale theaters

One road trip is never enough

I'm already planning my next mother/daughter road trip

With my youngest heading off to college this fall, the days of mother/daughter road trips may soon be behind us.

So I’m eager to find any opportunity for a weekend getaway that will give me precious time my 17-year-old Lizabeth.

I enjoyed a road trip to San Francisco with my now 19-year-old daughter Jennifer several years ago — an experience I will always cherish.

Our trips together find us enjoying funkier fare, like hole-in-the-wall cafes with Turkish coffee or spicy offerings from India and street fairs with handcrafted wares.

I love experiencing one-on-one travel time with my children, getting to know them a bit better as they journey out of childhood and ready to travel their own road through adulthood.

Several films being featured at the festival have an Arizona connection

Come February, I’m hoping to hit some of the Sedona International Film Festival offerings with Lizabeth. By then, she’ll have finished her cross-country trips for college theater program auditions.

The 17th Annual International Sedona Film Festival takes place Feb 20-27 and features more than 145 films shown at three Sedona venues, including the Sedona Harkins 6 Luxury Cinema.

A special preview premiere screening of “Sedona: The Motion Picture” (shot in and around Sedona) will kick-off the festival one night early on Sat, Feb 19.

The film’s soundtrack features “indigenous sounds of the region” and performance by musicians from The Juilliard School.

Many of the films being shown address arts and culture

So what’s on the movie menu at this year’s festival? Foreign films from 18 countries. Seven films focused on the environment. A Lifetime Achievement Award for Jonathan Winters, and a tribute to character actor Rip Torn.

Films tackle diverse subjects — including border issues, indigenous cultures, gay and lesbian themes, war and politics, women’s issues, and individuals living with physical or mental challenges.

Also aging, animals, education, the worlds of children and many more — in categories that include animation, documentary, feature and short films.

I’m plenty intrigued just reading through the list of film titles, which include “Voodoo,” “Old People Driving,” “The Butterfly Circus,” “My Dog Tulip,” and “Arpaio’s America.”

Visit http://www.sedonafilmfestival.com to learn more about film offerings and ticket packages

Films titled “The Parking Lot Movie,” “Cast Me If You Can,” “The Desert of Forbidden Art,” “The First Grader,” “A Marine Story” and “The Man Who Knew How to Fly” also caught my eye.

Various types of passes and ticket packages are available, including a 10-ticket package for full-time students that runs just $80 (it will be available only through the box office and require a valid student I.D.). Individual film tickets will be available in February.

At this point, there’s really only one thing that could make a road trip to the Sedona International Film Festival any more enjoyable — news that Arizona schools are changing spring break to Feb 20-27.

–Lynn

Note: To learn more about film in Arizona, visit the Arizona Production Association

Coming up: Q & A with “Spring Awakening” cast members (who’ll perform a final Phoenix show at ASU Gammage  at 7pm on Fri, Jan 28)

“Hairspray” is big fun

Shawna Quain, Chase Todd, Lillian Castillo, Antyon Le Monte and D. Scott Withers (center) of Phoenix Theatre's "Hairspray" Photo: Laura Durant

Big hair. Big props. Big set pieces. Big band. Big vocals. Big dance numbers. Big talent. Big message. Big fun.

You’ll find it all in Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Hairspray,” which runs through Dec 12.

I’m often drawn to particular shows for sentimental reasons. They remind me of an early childhood experience, relate somehow to a cause I support or feature folks we know as teachers or friends.

This time around it was three actors in particular.  

D. Scott Withers, who’s been with Childsplay in Tempe just a wee bit longer than I’ve been a mom, perfectly plays Edna Turnblad’s transformation from mousy to magnificent. (Though, sadly, his ironing skills appear to be lacking.)

Toby Yatso, a Phoenix Theatre artist-in-residence and member of the theater faculty at Arizona School for the Arts who plays Corny Collins, offers a performance that blends pristine attention to detail with a big, bold bundle of energy. (An observation shared with me by an astute ASA student who also attended on Saturday.) 

And Dion Johnson, who we first met a decade or so ago when Lizabeth was one of many daughters to his King in the Greasepaint Youtheatre production of “The King and I,” makes for a hilarious hat-donning and hip-thrusting Wilbur Turnblad. (With him, Edna doesn’t hear the bells — she feels them.)

I also give big marks to Antyon Le Monte, who makes his Phoenix Theatre debut as Seaweed, and Chase Todd, whose performance as Link Larkin makes you wonder whether the stork delivered him in a skinny tie and dancing shoes.

My daughter Lizabeth was thrilled to see Yolanda London make her Phoenix Theatre debut in “Hairspray” (Kamilah, Hooker, Female Ensemble). She’s another longtime favorite from Childsplay, where Lizabeth has enjoyed London’s big talent and big heart as an instructor in their Childsplay Academy.

She’s one of many women whose performances made us smile ourselves silly and tap our toes like there’s no tomorrow.

Jacqueline Rushing (Little Inez) was last seen in Mesa Encore Theatre’s “Once on This Island” and I became a fan the second I read these words in her “Hairspray” bio — “In her spare time she enjoys writing stories and inhaling books.”

Andi Watson, who plays the delightfully devious Velma Von Tussle, was last seen as Poppy in Phoenix Theatre’s “Noises Off.” Her off-stage adventures include “photography and maternity casting.” She’s also co-founder of Living Arts Studio.

Daughter Amber Von Tussle is capably played by Jacqueline Dunford, a music major at Scottsdale Community College making her professional theater debut.

Shawna Weitekamp (Penny Pingleton) is a Phoenix Theatre repeat offender (it’s a good thing) whose bio advocates the benefits of eating healthy chocolate. Perhaps she can get the folks in San Francisco to replace all those banned Happy Meal toys with candy bars.

Lillian Castillo plays trailblazing teen Tracy Turnblad in Phoenix Theatre's "Hairspray" Photo: Laura Durant

Audience favorites included Lillian Castillo as the spunky and single-minded Tracy Turnblad, whose insistence on racial integration on the dance floor shows that one person (often a teen) truly can change the world.

Also De Angelus Grisby (Motormouth Maybelle), whose bio includes this note to sons Roman and Elijah — “Thank you for allowing your mother to dream out loud on the stage.” Her vocal performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been” left the woman sitting next to me dabbing tears away with a tissue while other audience members stood to applaud.

They didn’t wait until the show was over, which tells you just how moved they were by her soul — and the collective strength of the ensemble singing behind her. It was the finest vocal performance I’ve ever experienced in Valley theater.

The creative team is no less impressive. It includes director Michael Barnard, choreographer Robert Kolby Harper, and resident music director Alan Ruch. Michael J. Eddy, also well loved in youth theater circles, is production manager and lighting designer.

Phoenix native Katie McNamara, a graduate of Southern Utah University and one-time prop artisan with the Utah Shakespearean Festival (now the Utah Shakespeare Festival), does property design with pizzazz. The equally impressive scenic design is by Robert Andrew Kovach.

Wig designer Gerard Kelly did “Hair” on Broadway, but my one criticism of the show is that not all the coiffed cast members turned it loose during their final dance numbers — looking like they feared their hair might end up flying across the room. So ladies, let your hair down.

A few things of note in this particular musical…

References to bygone days and ways are plentiful. The more you know about Geritol, Perry Como, Ripple, Cooties, Mydol and Green Stamps — the more lines you’ll meet with laughter.

The sexual inuendo is relatively tame but there’s enough of it to satisfy those who go for such things. And “Hairspray” is a dream for one-liner lovers with quips like “I lost my man and my hair deflated in one day.”

Lillian Castillo and D. Scott Withers of Phoenix Theatre's "Hairspray" Photo: Laura Durant

Whether you go just for the fun of it or for the fabulous social justice vibe of this “Welcome to the ’60s” musical, you’ll find plenty of what you’re looking for.

I think it’s an especially powerful show for teens in an age of face-to-face and online bullying.

The message is simple, but timeless.

Big is beautiful. Black is beautiful. Being yourself is beautiful.

Above all, follow your dreams. Remain loyal. And keep moving forward.

– Lynn

Note: The musical “Hairspray” features book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman. Click here for Phoenix Theatre ticket information. Read yesterday’s post titled “Saturdays & serendipity” to learn more about Lynn’s “Stage Mom” adventures before and after the show.

Coming up: Art in the animal world, Pearls from “Playing for Change,” Art adventures: City of Surprise, Museum exhibit that asks “Are we that different?”

Shakespeare and SB 1070?

I did everything a ‘good mother’ should do before leaving on vacation–made sure that all my kids had needed appointments scheduled, decluttered what would serve as a bachelor pad for my husband and son while I was away, did mountains of laundry–even wrote all the blogs you read last week while I was in Cedar City, Utah.

I vacation about once every ten years or so, though this was my second trip of the decade. A few years ago, I enjoyed a week in San Francisco with my oldest daughter, Jennifer, who feels more at home there than anywhere else she has traveled. The Embarcadero, by the way, is a glorious place to witness Fourth of July fireworks.

Most recently, I was in Cedar City, Utah with my youngest daughter, Lizabeth, who has been attending acting classes with the Utah Shakespearean Festival education program (which I’ll share more about in a future post). At first, I planned to leave my laptop at home–a clear signal to my daughter that she’s more important than work.

I ended up taking it along for recreational purposes–finding tourist attractions, learning more about all things Shakespeare while we enjoyed the Utah Shakespearean Festival. I felt a bit less guilty when Lizabeth shot text messages back and forth to friends as we drove around Cedar City in search of ‘slow food’ and serenity.

My first full day in town, I attended the “Works in Progress” show presented on the campus of Southern Utah University by acting and directing students at various stages in their Shakespeare journeys. 

As in all good love affairs, those who adore Shakespeare seem to find something new and intriguing at every turn. I’m beginning to appreciate, for the first time, the full measure of his hilarity and even the sexiness of some of his work.

Shakespeare appears to be my favorite sort of fellow–intelligent but rather odd. Astute. Sarcastic. Curious. Playful.  He’s an easy guy to hang around with for several days, and clearly habit forming.

Of course, we also did our part for Valley theater while we were there as Lizabeth ran around town sporting her black “Childsplay” t-shirt complete with their “Theatre for Everyone” motto and website. I hope some of the families who enjoyed the festival together will find their way to Arizona to witness one of our own theatrical wonders.

We were in Cedar City together as the national news was taking note of Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation, so we had only to turn on the television (which we did infrequently) to catch a glimpse of home. Coincidentally, I got to chatting with one of Lizabeth’s Shakespeare friends about immigration-related issues.

She shared with me her family’s own story of immigrating to the U.S. many generations ago from Italy–reflecting on the sadness felt by many immigrants who love their homeland but feel no choice but to leave it in order to provide richer opportunities for the children they love. 

She also spoke of the young Spanish-speaking students she tutors in phonics (actors often work in more than one profession to pay the bills and find other outlets for their creativity). She described their eagerness to learn English, and the pride they feel at being able to translate between Spanish- and English-speakers–reflecting that they serve as a beautiful bridge of sorts from one country, from one generation, to the next.

I found it hard not to pull out my laptop at times when Lizabeth was napping during the day. We were on festival time–enjoying shows at night and sleeping in each day.  Tuesday morning, after seeing a CNN broadcast on the big screen at a local restaurant, I decided to search for “art and immigration.”

The first thing I found was “Alto Arizona“–a site dedicated to visual art expressing opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070. Whatever your take on this issue, exploration of the art it inspires is fascinating. Perhaps our own local museums can enlighten us all a bit more about the long history of art in immigration-related discourse.

Like the works of Shakespeare, immigration-related issues are rich in depth and breadth. Both are worthy of further exploration…

–Lynn

Note: Lizabeth and I spent a week together in Cedar City, Utah. Watch for future posts about our adventures, the plays we enjoyed together (including “Much Ado About Nothing,” “The Merchant of Venice,” and “Macbeth”) and all things family-friendly in and around the Utah Shakespearean Festival (which runs through Oct 23 this year).

Coming up: Happenings at the Herberger Theater Center, Movie news and reviews, Thespian festival strikes again, Shakespeare and the superintendent, AriZoni award nominees (please send photos of 2009-2010 nominated shows to rakstagemom@gmail.com ASAP for possible inclusion in this post)

The sun, moon and stars

I was working in the non-profit world when the Helios Education Foundation was established. I recall early conversations with a key player gathering information on Valley programs and priorities as the foundation worked to refine and reflect its focus.

How lovely to learn several years later that they’ve recognized the value of theater in the lives of youth and the world of education.

Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company for young audiences, is one of three Helios Education Foundation grant recipients for programs aligned with the foundation’s “Early Childhood Theory of Change.”

Grants were awarded to three organizations for the “development of programs that are designed to strengthen the literacy and language acquisition knowlegdge and education of early childhood teachers, professionals, and other providers working with children ages birth to 5.”

Paradise Valley Community College, in partnership with Central Arizona College, also received a prestigious Helios grant.

Childsplay’s project will work with early educators to “integrate drama strategies and writing/reading curricula” to support “language acquisition and emergent literacy.”

I thought of the sun when learning of Childplay’s Helios grant, but another bit of Childsplay news took me back to the moon and stars of Childsplay’s extraordinary “Still Life with Iris” sets from so many years ago at the Herberger Theater Center.

I’ve never considered Childsplay anything less than a national treasure, and doubt it would be a stretch to say it shines just as brightly on the international stage.

So I wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that Childsplay founder and artistic director David Saar will receive the 2010 Medallion Award from the Children’s Theatre Foundation of America at a ceremony to be held Aug. 6 in San Francisco.

The Medallion Luncheon will be held in conjunction with the annual convention of the American Alliance for Theatre in Education — which sounds like an ever-so-wonderful place to be. I got a twinkle in my eye just reviewing their workshop topics and featured speakers.

To enjoy your own glimpse of the sun, moon and stars, take your children to enjoy the exceptional work of Childsplay, which presents some of the very best “theater for everyone.”

— Lynn

Note: The Herberger Theater, where I first experienced the magic of Childsplay during a school field trip with my oldest daughter, is currently undergoing renovations. Info/tickets are now available for it Oct 1 “Grand Re-Opening Ceremony” and Oct 2 “Festival of the Arts.” Learn more at herbergertheater.org.

Coming up: The best of symphony, opera and other music for children

Broadway tackles family matters

Rogelio Douglas, Jr. and Arielle Jacobs

Actress Arielle Jacobs, who performs the role of “Nina” in the touring production of “In the Heights” opening tonight at ASU Gammage, probably has a lot to say about Arizona’s immigration debate. 

Her maternal grandfather, originally from the Philippines, petitioned for 17 years before receiving United States citizenship—moving to America with his wife and three children in 1965.

But we didn’t talk politics when we spoke. Instead, we chatted about her early experiences with arts and academics, and the message she hopes “In the Heights” will bring to Valley families. 

Jacobs’ first formal arts training was ballet lessons at the age of three, something she’s certain must have been her idea because her parents “never forced anything on me.” 

When Jacobs tired of ballet, she explored other forms of dance including jazz, tap and flamenco. As a child, she’d “get bored after six months” and want to try something new. 

It was fine with her folks, recalls Jacobs, as long as she gave whatever she was doing her very best. “They had very high expectations for me.” 

Jacobs admits to holding herself by the same high standards, and to having some very big dreams.

"In the Heights" Full Tour Company

“I wanted to be like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston,” she quips. “I was really in love with them back in the day.” 

At the age of seven, Jacobs started voice lessons. 

Jacobs did some community theater in the San Francisco Bay Area where she grew up, including a stint as a Cratchit kid in a local production of “A Christmas Carol” at the age of 10. 

She also took some theater classes and attended theater-related camps. 

When asked about her decision to pursue a theater career, Jacobs offers a surprising response: “I didn’t really make a decision as much as it was made for me.” 

Elise Santoro and Arielle Jacobs

Jacobs graduated from high school with a 4.2 grade point average after taking AP classes, noting that her first love was biology and environmental studies. 

During the college admissions process, Jacobs focused on science programs—with just one exception. She applied to New York University and was admitted to their music theatre program. 

She originated the role of “Gabrielle” in the national tour of Disney’s “High School Musical,” so many of us have already enjoyed her work on the ASU Gammage stage. 

Jacobs sees plenty of parallels between her own life and that of character “Nina Rosario”–a high-achieving woman reticent to ask for help or support in times of stress or struggle. (She’d fit right in with the many RAK staffers who self-identify as ‘creative but compulsive.’)

Natalie Toro and Daniel Bolero

Every Valley theater-goer I know has had “In the Heights” on their ‘must-see’ list forever, but for the uninitiated Jacobs offers the following insight…

“Not all Broadway musicals are like ‘Showboat’ or ‘Carousel.’ “

Jacobs hopes that “In the Heights,” which features Latin, hip-hop, soul and rap music, will introduce musical theater to people who might not explore it otherwise. 

“In the Heights” has a take-away message perhaps most powerful to parents. “One of the deepest themes in this show,” reflects Jacob, “is healing family riffs.” 

“Parenting,” share Jacobs, “can be harmful or supportive and loving.” 

“In the Heights” is a thoughtful yet joyful exploration of ways parents and children wrestle with making choices, claiming power and finding genuine sources of self-worth. 

I’m eager to take the journey… 

–Lynn 

Kyle Beltran

Note: “In the Heights” earned 2008 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations—making it a delight to theater, music and dance aficionados alike. It features music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (who traces the work’s “first incarnation” to his sophomore year at Wesleyan University), and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes. “In the Heights” will be performed June 15-20 at ASU Gammage in Tempe. Weekend matinees will feature Miranda reprising the role of “Usnavi” which he originated on Broadway. Saturday’s afternoon performance includes a talk-back with Miranda for audience members after the show.  

Coming up: Summer arts offerings from local community colleges, Desert dance delights, More new season announcements, Focus on “Free Arts of Arizona”

Photos by Joan Marcus (2009) courtesy of ASU Gammage

Update: Lizabeth and I saw the show Tuesday night. There were some cast changes, so we didn’t get to see Jacobs perform, but the cast we saw was quite remarkable and received an enthusiastic standing ovation from a very-close-to-full house. Visit www.asugammage.com for reviews by “Gammage Goers,” Valley Broadway enthusiasts who share written and videotaped comments after seeing ASU Gammage Broadway series shows.

Sleuthing for weekend adventures

I kicked off my weekend a bit early with last night’s performance of Susan Zeder’s The Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes” at the Paul V. Galvin Playhouse on ASU’s Tempe campus.

I was eager to see the work of Valley musician and designer Todd Hulet, who teaches Lizabeth’s production studies class at Arizona School for the Arts–especially given his experience in everything from “traditional opera and contemporary musicals to experimental theatre and grand straight plays.” Hulet’s scenic design didn’t disappoint.

Hulet managed to make a single set look like several different backdrops–with different shapes, colors and patterns coming to the fore as the show’s lighting shifted thanks to exceptional lighting design by Chris Peterson. I enjoyed Peterson’s lighting more than any I’ve seen since Arizona Theatre Company’s “The Glass Menagerie.”

The show has a charm best appreciated by those who know at least a little something about Sherlock Holmes and his creator. Its strongest appeal may be to writers and those who love them. The work is every bit as much about author Arthur Conan Doyle’s relationship with Holmes as Holmes’ own sleuthing strategies or the ordinary-by-comparison folks who populate his world.

I’ll be seeing four other shows this weekend—featuring saguaros and satire, teaching in the trenches, an oversized optimist and a coddled child. Had I mastered the pesky time/space continuum, I’d also attend some of the following arts-related events your family might enjoy…

DANCE

Dancing with the Docs features Valley physicians paired with professional dancers competing for audience votes ala “Dancing with the Stars.” Sat, May 1, 6pm at Chandler Center for the Arts. $45-$85 (benefits Chandler Regional Medical Center).

Levanto features Calo Flamenco music and dance performance with Chris Burton Jacome. Sun, May 2, 3pm at Chandler Center for the Arts. $25 (includes signed CD).

FESTIVALS

A Taste of Greece features Greek music, dancers and more. Fri, April 30 and Sat, May 1, 11am-11pm (plus Sun, May 2, 11am-7pm) at Tempe Beach Park. $2 (ages 12 & under free).

El Dia de los Ninos features hands-on activities, live entertainment and more. Fri, April 30, 9am-1pm at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix. Free.

MUSIC

Los Texmaniacs features a blend of Texas rock, conjunto and well-cured blues from 2010 Grammy winners with a “unique Tex Mex groove.” Sun, May 2, 2:30pm at the MIM Music Theater in Phoenix. $32-$36.

McCormick-Stillman Railroad Park features live music in an outdoor setting perfect for family picnics. Sun, May 2, 7:30-9pm in Scottsdale. Free (Train/carousel rides $1-$2/each).

Melody of China features a synergy between ancient traditions and American youth culture from San Francisco’s premier Chinese music ensemble. Fri, April 30, 7:30pm at the MIM Music Theater in Phoenix. $25-$30.

Phoenix Boys Choir features Academy-Award nominated songs during their “Hooray for Hollywood” spring concert. Fri, Apr 30, 7:30pm at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. $20-$25 (less for seniors/12 & under).

For other family-friendly activities, including several arts events at the Arizona Museum for Youth and the Special Olympics Summer Games, visit the Raising Arizona Kids magazine daily calendar online.

Have a great time sleuthing with your family for arts and adventures this weekend!

–Lynn

Note: The shows I’ll be reviewing next include Arizona Theatre Company’s “Second City Does Arizona, or Close, But No Saguaro” and  Actors Theatre’s “No Child” at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix, as well as Childsplay’s “Big Friendly Giant” at Tempe Center for the Arts and Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s “The Secret Garden” at Phoenix College. Stay tuned!

Coming up: A review of the movie “Oceans” from Disneynature, My 200th “Stage Mom” post—featuring more reflections on the beauty of blogging and how I decide what’s worthy of a bit of banter, A night of Shakespeare with Richard III and some of my favorite theater students