Tag Archives: Stray Cat

Lemonade for grown-ups

Kaleena Newman and Rod Amez in Milk, Milk Lemonade (Photo: John Groseclose)

You might think, after reading brief histories of favorite childhood rhymes taped to brick walls in the courtyard of the original Tempe Performing Arts Center just off Mill Avenue, that you were about to enjoy a charming bit of theater for children. But you’d be wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.

Look a bit closer and you’ll see that the comics interspersed with these lovely literary snippets feature not only folksy chickens and their farmers, but also choice language not appropriate for the “chicken nuggets” set. That’s half the fun of seeing “Milk, Milk Lemonade,” being presented by Stray Cat Theatre through Sat, Dec. 17.

“Milk, Milk Lemonade” is one of just a few really smart works of gay theater, according to Ron May, artistic director for Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe — who also praises its smart (and rare) treatment of gender issues. “Milk, Milk Lemonade” was written by Joshua Conkel and is directed for Stray Cat Theatre by Louis Farber.

It’s a brilliant piece of theater, full of rich ideas and language, that makes a point without leaving audience members feeling they’re on the wrong end of a lone pointed finger like the one a scolding parent might give an errant child for deeds deemed inappropriate.

“Milk, Milk Lemonade” follows the adventures to two boys publicly at odds but privately involved. One has big and terrifying emotions its hard to control short of setting fires. Another loves to ribbon dance, play with one particular doll and pal around with a chicken who’s growing plumper as processing day approaches. Both sport anatomical props at one point — a bit too racy, perhaps, for your garden variety theater-goer.

As the play opens, we see a big red barn with sliding doors sometimes used by the boys to hide their pubescent playtimes. Also a dozen or so folk art chickens, wooden and brightly painted until transformed by a giant processing machine into something you’ve likely ordered at the local drive-through. It’s an appetizing bit of theater on a Valley menu sometimes lacking real flavor.

L to R: Molly Kurtz, Michael Thompson, Rod Amez, Kaleena Newman and Sam Wilkes in Milk, Milk Lemonade (Photo: John Groseclose)

“Milk, Milk Lemonade” features a cast of five — Rod Amez (Elliot), Molly Kurtz (Linda), Kaleena Newman (Emory), Michael Thompson (Lady in a Leotard) and Sam Wilkes (Nanna). Their collective acting credits include works with Actors Theatre, ASU, Childsplay, Nearly Naked Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Space 55 and Valley Youth Theatre. All deliver a strong performance, eliciting a bevy of belly laughs from happy theater goers.

After opening the play with a familiar childhood ditty, Lady in a Leotard ponders aloud. Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body? Are we our bodies or merely living inside them? “Don’t think too hard,” she cautions. And we don’t — but we all get the message. Bodies matter, and we never leave home without them.

There’s a nostalgic twist to “Milk, Milk Lemonade” that’s especially endearing. Or frightening, I suppose, depending on which parts of your own childhood it conjures. References to Albertson’s and Mountain Dew are perfectly harmless, as are musical homages to “Annie” and various songs circa the disco era. Statements like “use your words” and various episodes of passive aggressive behavior, maybe less so.

There’s plenty of bullying, with words and fists, in “Milk, Milk Lemonade.” “Real men” do this or that. Boys who don’t conform are “little girls,” “sissies” or something worse. Only the chicken stays above the fray, delivering some of the play’s best dialogue as she considers the relative merits of spontaneity and surprise over manifest destiny and role conformity.

The Stray Cat program for “Milk, Milk Lemonade” includes a dandy yellow insert full of fun chicken facts, and a revelation by Farber that he uncovered more than 84 different chicken songs while searching for pre-show tunes to up the audience fun factor. Life is hard. There’s lots of hurt. “Milk, Milk Lemonade” makes that clear. Sometimes you’ve just gotta get up and dance.

– Lynn

Note: “Milk, Milk Lemonade” is not appropriate for young audiences, but does make for a fun date night or outing with grown-up friends. So does “Hunter Gatherers” by Peter Sinn Nachtreib, which Ron May directs for Actors Theatre of Phoenix Dec. 30-Jan. 15. For more family-friendly offerings, click here.

Coming up: Art that’s out of this world

Who let the “Wolves” out?

Mexican Gray Wolf - Photo from the Brookfield Zoo

Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe let the “Wolves” out Saturday night as four Valley actors presented a staged reading of a new Steve Yockey play titled “Wolves.” Yockey’s “Octopus” was part of Stray Cat’s last season and his work appears a perfect fit for Stray Cat audiences.

Seems Yockey has a thing for fairy tales and lava lamps, and for blending comedy with horror. He describes “Wolves” as a “predatory fairy tale for adults” — even referencing Little Red Riding Hood with a red sweat jacket we’re left to imagine hanging on the back of a chair in an apartment shared by two men with very different sorts of delusions.

Imagined because few props are present during a staged reading. In this case the set consisted of several chairs and rooms outlined in tape, and props included a red guitar and an axe. “Wolves” is a bloody affair, but audience members have to use their imagination to get there until the work is farther along in the production process.

Yockey praised founding Stray Cat artistic director Ron May, who’ll soon be presenting his 10th season, for his work with “Wolves” — and noted that the four actors involved made significant contributions to refining the work. After two days of work starting with the customary “table read” (actors reading through the script together), Yockey made several revisions to “Wolves.”

It sounds like he’ll be making plenty more, given his receptivity to several observations and insights offered by audience members. Yokey was enthusiastic about their comments, joking that they beat some of the usual questions (like “How did you memorize all those lines?”) asked by less savvy crowds.

We’re fortunate in the Valley to have a wealth of fresh and experienced talent like performers featured in the Stray Cat reading of “Wolves” — including Drew Leatham and Jonathan Furedy, both seen in Stray Cat performances last season. Also Adam Pinti, who’s sporting a nifty new MFA from ASU. “We snatched him up quick-like,” quips May.

Mexican Gray Wolf - Photo from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

Of course, I’m partial to Yolanda London. Her credits last season include “THIS” with Actors Theatre, “Avenue Q” at Phoenix Theatre and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” with Black Theatre Troupe — but we’ve been enjoying her work at Childsplay in Tempe for years.

I’m also partial to wolves of the real variety because my son Christopher is big on wildlife education and conservation, having surpassed 1,000 hours of volunteer work with the Phoenix Zoo several years ago (after that I stopped counting).

After you’ve checked out Yockey’s online portfolio and future offerings by Stray Cat Theatre, take some time to explore the wild life and times of wolves in Arizona and throughout the Southwest. Believing their fate isn’t tied to our own is its own form of misguided thinking.

• Eight, Arizona PBS airs “Wolves in Paradise” Wed, Aug 3, at 10pm.

• The Phoenix Zoo participates in wolf conservation and offers related information online.

• The Arizona Fish and Game Department provides information on wolf-related policies and programs.

• The “Howling for Justice” blog offers musings on wolf-related advocacy.

My apologies to octopus lovers for the missed opportunity to cover octopus-related issues during Stray Cat’s last season. But hey, at least I did justice to all those sparrows.

– Lynn

Note: Steve Yockey’s “Wolves,” featuring direction by Ron May, was Stray Cat Theatre’s first staged reading of a new work. Stage directions were provided by Kelly Coughlin-Celaya, and “special thanks” to Childsplay and Alfredo Macias were noted.

Coming up: AriZoni nomination night, More playwriting pearls from Steve Yockey, To baby or not to baby…

Stray cat meets sparrow

Our family cat, Pinky, was a stray kitten with searing blue eyes and tiny gnashing teeth before we rescued her from the roof of a local school that borders a park where she used to play.

Nowadays Pinky loves to sit by a window near the kitchen table where I write. It gives her the best view of all those birds who find our backyard a welcoming habitat. Hummingbirds. Quail. Wrens. Grackles.

When I heard about a play titled “Sparrow” making its Southwest premiere later this year, I did a little homework and discovered — thanks to the Arizona Bird Committee – that Arizona is home to all sorts of sparrows. Fox Sparrow. Swamp Sparrow. Lincoln’s Sparrow. And more.

But Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe is bringing a different sort of sparrow to our neck of the woods. It’s a play titled “Sparrow” that originated at The House Theatre of Chicago in 2007 — a work conceived by Nathan Allen and written by Chris Matthews and Jake Minton. “Sparrow” is the tale of a young girl with special powers.

Emily Book is an elementary school student — the sole survivor of a school bus crash that leaves her hometown devastated. She moves away, only to return for her senior year. It’s a painful reminder, and few are happy to see her. What unfolds next will surprise and stir you.

The Strat Cat Theatre audition notice describes “Sparrow” as a “very physical, ensemble-based work” in which many actors play multiple roles. It’s storytelling intertwined with music and dance, plus sci-fi and graphic novel sensibilities. Reviewers have likened it to “Mean Girls,” “Carrie” and “Wicked.”

With direction by Stray Cat founding artistic director Ron May, “Sparrow” should prove edgy yet accessible, like his production of “Columbinus” a couple of seasons ago. I’m eager to experience all four of this season’s Stray Cat productions — including “Milk, Milk Lemonade,” “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” and “Heddatron.”

In the meantime, I have my own cat to keep watch over the world with me.

– Lynn

Note: “Sparrow,” which is recommended for teens & up, runs Sept 23-Oct 8 at the Tempe Performing Arts Center in the Mill Avenue District.

Coming up: Zoot suit tales, From ukes to clogs, Art in motion

Update: Head to Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Phoenix this Thurs, July 28 at 1pm for a “Bird-a-palooza” with the Arizona Animal Welfare League. Click here for details.

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12

Presidents and performing arts

2010 Kennedy Center Honors (Bill T. Jones, far left, President Obama, far right) Photo: Joan Marcus

I got to musing about presidents and the performing arts recently after learning about an upcoming performance at ASU Gammage that explores perspectives on Abraham Lincoln and the civil rights movement.

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company brings “Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray” to ASU Gammage in Tempe for a single performance on Fri, March 5. The title is taken from Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

2010 Kennedy Center honoree Bill T. Jones (Photo: Ron Sachs-Pool for Getty Images)

Bill T. Jones is described as “one of the most celebrated choreographer/  directors in the world.”

He received a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 1994, a 2007 Tony Award for his choreography of “Spring Awakening” and a 2010 Tony Award for his choregraphy of “Fela!” (a musical he also directed).

Jones is also a 2010 Kennedy Center honoree – as are Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, Paul McCartney and Oprah Winfrey.

With this work — a “fusion of dialogue, dance, multi-media, original and traditional music” — Jones is “seeking a way to articulate if not reconcile the view of Abraham Lincoln he had as a young boy growing up during the civil rights struggle.”

A photo on his website showing Jones standing in front of Lincoln’s carefully preserved hat gives a sense of the poignancy of his ongoing encounter with Lincoln’s ideas, words and actions.

It’s a far cry (or meow) from this season’s earlier Lincoln-related piece presented by Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe. But both demonstrate the ongoing fascination of performance artists with presidents and politics.

We’re rather cynical about holidays around here, so I joked with my daughter Lizabeth after hearing a song from the musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” on the radio recently that we should run right out and buy a copy of the original cast recording as a mutual Valentine’s Day gift. (For sweeter holiday fare, follow the adventures of the Blomquist Family.)

Last year Valley theater-goers enjoyed political performance art in the form of “Capitol Steps” at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and “Second City Does Arizona” presented by Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center (their latest offering is “Sex and the Second City 2.0,” coming in March).

The Valley welcomed Ed Asner performing “FDR” last year to benefit the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, and the Cort Theatre on Broadway was home for a time to “You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush” starring Will Ferrell.

But I’m particularly excited about the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company performance because it sounds like a beautiful blend of storytelling with stagecraft.

There’s nothing like live performance art that leaves you not only entertained, but inspired. Pensive yet pushing forward. Screaming, perhaps. But also dreaming. Wondering and working hard to forge a reality more fitting of our personal and collective calling.

– Lynn

Note: Poet Maya Angelou (for whom President Obama’s sister was named) will perform at ASU Gammage in Tempe Sun, March 20, at 3pm (with a special appearance by “Broadway in the Hood“). Angelou is one of 15 people recently awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Learn more at www.uniquelives.com.

Coming up: Art goes Irish!, Musings on modern dance, Valley student directs his first one-act play

This and that

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Lynn

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

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

Photos by John Groseclose, courtesy of Actors Theatre

First chance, last chance

Leave the kittens at home for this baby...

“Does this play make me look fat?” That’s the teaser for a Neil LaBute play opening this weekend as Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe begins its ninth season. It’s your first chance this season to experience the edgy and enlightening work of these creative cats, led by the master of all feline funny business — Ron May. Grab a date or group of friends and leave the kittens at home for this baby, a play that’s heavy on dueling dialogue and relationship revelations.

This weekend is your last chance to see the season opener for the Southwest Shakespeare Company. It’s an original adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy  — “Blood Royal” by Michael Flachmann. Most relationships don’t stand a chance in this play, which could easily be subtitled “Reasons to be petty.” “Blood Royal” is full of men (and a few women) with swords who aren’t afraid to use them, especially if it means securing a royal crown. It’s another option for the teen and up crowd.

Grab some girlfriends for his one...

It’s also your last chance to get in on some festive fundraisers benefiting important arts organizations in Arizona. Tonight the Women’s Metropolitan Arts Council (WoMAC) holds its annual “It’s In The Bag” event to benefit the Phoenix Art Museum. Tomorrow night in Tucson the Arizona Theatre Company holds its “Gala 2010: A Night In Lights” at the Temple of Music and Art. The featured performer at the ATC event is “rising star” Megan Hilty, who played Glinda in “Wicked” and Dora Lee in “9 to 5.”

If supporting scholarships for music students is your thing, you can head to South Mountain Community College tonight for a classical music concert to aid student scholarships. It features two SMCC faculty members. Mezzo soprano Isola Jones performs arias from Verdi, Puccini, Bizet and Saint-Saens. Pianist Henry Rose performs works to include “Preludes” and “Etudes-Tableaux” by Rachmaninoff.

This evening is your only chance to enjoy a free dance performance at the ASU Galvin Playhouse in Tempe (which welcomes the touring production of “Young Frankenstein” this week as it opens the 2010-2011 Broadway Across America Arizona series). The new work (still a “work in progress”), which includes mature content and themes, is co-presented by the ASU School of Dance and ASU Gammage. Dean Moss’ “Nameless forest” explores identity and perception via performance, dance, video, audio and visual design.

A wonderful day for family play...

Saturday in Sedona the whole family can enjoy the “Celtic Harvest Festival” from 10am to 8pm at Tequa Festival Marketplace. The festival features entertainers from diverse Celtic cultures, performances by Sedona-area children who have studied with teaching artists (in music, dance, piping and storytelling) and a children’s courtyard with “fun activities for children of all ages.” Master of Ceremonies for the event is Senator Tom O’Halleran.

Saturday evening in Tucson families can enjoy “A Mexican Celebration” presented by the Arizona Symphony Orchestra. The 7:30pm event takes place in Chowder Hall on the University of Arizona campus, and will feature the music of popular Mexican composers including Chavez, Revueltas and Galinda.

My daughter Jennifer is keen to get over to Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe tonight to hear three teen parnormal authors read from and discuss their work. I’m still trying to figure out how to squeeze in time to be the dessert mom for a Saturday rehearsal of Lizabeth’s school musical. I still can’t bring myself to buy cupcakes or other treats rather than making them myself.

Another fun pick for families...

If you head over to Changing Hands at 10am on Saturday morning, your kiddos (and you) can enjoy one of their many events for children — an “Explore-A-Story” with Childsplay based on Arnold Lobel’s “Frog and Toad” series. Childsplay is performing “A Year With Frog and Toad” through Oct 16 at Tempe Center for the Arts — so you have plenty of chances to see it. But why wait?

–Lynn

Note: For a comprehensive listing of activities for children and families, visit the Raising Arizona Kids magazine online calendar. Always call event presenters before attending to confirm date, time, location, age recommendations, cost and other details.

Coming up: Focus on film, Easing on down the road

Childsplay photo pictures D. Scott Withers, Dwayne Hartford and Katie McFadzen in “A Year With Frog and Toad” (photo by Heather Hill)

AriZoni awards a la Lynn & Liz

AriZoni 2009-2010 winner "The Goats Gruff" by East Valley Children's Theatre

Talented actors at all ages and stages. An honest-to-goodness hilarious accountant. Women whose sign language sings. A professor who specializes in stage combat.

They all came together Monday evening at the Tempe Center for the Arts for the 2009-2010 AriZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence, produced in association with Childsplay.

The event, a celebration of 20 years for the AriZoni organization, was hosted by Katie McFadzen of Childsplay and Ron May of Stray Cat Theatre. Katie was the one in the red dress.

The evening, meant to honor the finest of Valley theater from the previous season, had three “acts” — a youth awards ceremony, an adult awards ceremony and an after party (held at the Fiesta Resort Conference Center). What happens at the after party stays at the after party.

Both ceremonies opened with a video montage of Valley theater productions through the years and a performance of “If They Could See Us Now” — with hosts McFadzen and May exercising enormous restraint in saving the raciest content for act two.

During the youth awards, a bit about dancing cheek to cheek included only a charming bit of face to face time, but the adult ceremony had them bumping cheeks of a different sort (tastefully, of course). The adult ceremony also included more subtle (and not so subtle) political humor.

With the rest of the nation poking fun at Arizona politicians, pink boxer sorts and such, it only seems fair that we reserve the right to poke fun at ourselves.

Speaking of poking, the topic was one of many covered by McFadzen and May during their reading of the rules for the ceremony. “You may not poke me on stage,” quipped May, “or on Facebook.”

The duo also noted that acceptance speeches should be “deliciously short” at 20 seconds or less — although an exception was granted for a young man whose thank yous consisted of a long string of showtune lyrics.

It was sometimes difficult to hear the names of award winners because of the roar of the crowd. I remember Theater Works Youth Works being particularly rowdy at last year’s youth ceremony, but I’d have to give this year’s “loud and proud” award to Spotlight Youth Theatre – who have a real “the little theater that could” vibe.

I promise myself every year that I’m going to use my very best audience member etiquette — and there are plenty of times when I pull it off. But Lizabeth and I couldn’t help ourselves when one of her teachers at ASA, Toby Yatso, won two awards. I fully expect to see him holding a Tony Award one day because, as Lizabeth once told me, “he sparkles.” (To the people who sat behind, beside and in front of us — please pardon our enthusiasm.)

“Thank you mama for being here again to always support me,” chimed Yatso during one of his acceptance speeches. Plenty of award recipients thanked parents and fellow professionals, while some thanked their children for getting them involved with theater and inspiring them in a myriad of ways.

Several spouses (in all combinations of genders) thanked partners who worked alongside them at the theater or tended to home and family so the other could do their theater rat thing. My favorite was a gentleman who thanked his wife for staying home alone most nights to play “Halo” so he could indulge the lure of greasepaint.

Especially touching moments included the presentation of scholarships to three students studying theater, one of whom (Chelsea Groen) Lizabeth recalls acting with at Greasepaint Youtheatre as a young child. I’ll write a bit more about distinguished service and outstanding contribution honorees in a future post because their accomplishments are worthy of a higher word count.

Attendees paused for a moving moment of silence during the adult ceremony to remember three members of the theater arts community who died during the past year — Eleanor Hofmann, Scott Jeffers and Noah Todd — reflecting together that ‘there are now more stars in the sky to light our way and guide our hearts.’

I suspect we could all have some fun inventing our own awards based on Monday night’s ceremonies. My “shiniest” award goes to Katie McFadzen for a sparkling silver bustier (likely borrowed from Betty White) and Zachary Tatus, who donned a gold lame jumpsuit to perform the role of “Conrad” in a number from Spotlight Youth Theatre’s “Bye Bye Birdie.”

The “funniest five seconds” award goes to McFadzen and May for popping up through round holes in the stage to reveal a Viking headpiece and clown wig before the presentation of awards for hair and make-up design. Their use of a Childsplay prop in a rather unconventional manner might win second place — though the competition was stiff.

My “cuter than spit” award would have to go to AriZoni winner Zoe Whiting of “The Goats Gruff” with East Valley Children’s Theatre, who beamed alongside the podium as a tiny bundle of sincerity and enthusiam. I like her style.

Big winners in the 2009-2010 youth theater category included EVCT’s “The Goats Gruff” (Overall Production-Play), Spotlight Youth Theatre’s “The Diary of Anne Frank” (Overall Production-Play) and “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Overall Production-Musical), and Theater Works Youth Works’ “Beauty and the Beast” (Overall Production-Musical).

In the adult category, winners among non-contracted theaters included ASU Lyric Opera Theatre’s “The Rocky Horror Show” (Overall Production-Musical), Nearly Naked Theatre’s “Evil Dead: The Musical” (Overall Production-Musical), Desert Foothills Theater’s “Unnecessary Farce” (Overall Production-Play), Stray Cat Theatre’s “Speech & Debate” (Overall Production-Play) and Theater Works’ “All My Sons” (Overall Production-Play).

Winners among contracted theaters included Actors Theatre’s “No Child” (Overall Production-Play) and Phoenix Theatre’s “The Light in the Piazza” (Overall Production-Musical).

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around Childsplay’s McFadzen performing in “Speech and Debate” and Dwayne Hartford (now appearing in “A Year With Frog and Toad”) directing “The Rocky Horror Show.” Watch for a future post toying with the many talents of Childsplay artists on and off the Childsplay stage.

Click here for a listing of winners in each youth theater and adult theater award category – and to join the AriZoni mailing list if you’d like to receive e-mail alerts including monthly newsletters. It’s a great way to stay informed about Valley theater offerings, resources and opportunities.

– Lynn

Coming up: Real-life high school musicals, Social justice takes the stage, More season previews, The fine art of sign language, Fun with film, Arts organization fundraisers

Cats v. dogs, theater style

There are cat people, and there are dog people. 

The differences might make for an amusing Broadway show, but for now we have to settle for productions that feature one species or the other (the pets, not their people). 

Scene from "Seussical"-Photo by Sara Krulwich appeared in "The New York Times"

There’s “Cats” from composer Andrew Lloyd Webber—based on poet T.S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” I never got this one, despite being a cat-lover. 

There’s “Seussical” from Flaherty and Ahrens, a 2000 Broadway musical based on the works of children’s author Dr. Seuss. Who doesn’t love the song “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think?” 

And there’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” a Tennessee Williams play that has nothing to do with cats, but still strikes my fancy. 

For dog lovers, you’ve got “Annie”–featuring the lovable mutt “Sandy”–which will soon enjoy another Broadway revival.

There’s “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” with everyone’s favorite: “Snoopy.” You gotta love a canine who sits atop his doghouse banging away at a Smith Corona

If you’re not old enough to know what that is, you aren’t old enough to see the shows I’ll be previewing after another couple of paragraphs.

I should confess at this point to being more of a cat person, though I try to be open minded. I grew up enjoying the companionship of both.

Scene from the musical "Annie"

My first pet was actually a little chihuahua named “Nikitita” (no relation to ABBA’s “Chiquitita”) who broke my heart by running away one night during a fierce Colorado thunderstorm. 

I was raised by a single mother who always felt safer with dogs in the house (though our Doberman was milder than milk toast). 

Still, I’ve never gotten the hang of enjoying another creature licking my face. Cats lick themselves. That I can live with. 

If there’s a local theater company dedicated to dogs, I have yet to discover it. (Those of you who find your minds racing with tacky humor at this point need a good lick in the face.) 

Scene from the musical "Cats"

But I so love the alternative theater folks whose name seems a bit of an homage to those fabulous felines. 

It’s Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe, performing at the space once occupied by Childsplay, another Tempe titan of irresistible theater. 

While Childsplay delivers mostly “G-rated” fare, Stray Cat has more of an “R-rated” feel. 

You won’t find anything outrageously controversial in Childsplay’s 2010-2011 season, which includes “Go, Dog. Go!” based on the books by P.D. Eastman. 

Scene from "Reasons to be Pretty"-Photo from "The New York Times"

But Stray Cat Theatre, home of artistic director Ron May, is another story… 

Stray Cat’s ninth season opens with Neil Labute’s “Reasons to be Pretty” directed by April Miller. The show (Sept. 24-Oct. 9) is “a love story about the near impossibility of love.” I can’t wait to see Greg and his girlfriend Steph go at it after he casually mentions a few of her physical imperfections. 

Next up is Enrique Urueta’s “Learn to be Latina” directed by Ron May. At this point, I’d settle for merely learning to speak Spanish. The show (Dec. 3-18) is a comedic look at serious issues of cultural identity and making it in the music business. I’m eager to witness pop singer Hanan’s attempt to transform herself from Lebanese to Latina! 

Stray Cat’s first production of 2011 will be Steve Yockey’s “Octopus,” also directed by Ron May. How terribly thoughtful of them to choose something in keeping with my animal theme. Isn’t it just like a cat to do it’s own thing while leading the humans to believe it was all their idea? This baby (March 25-April 9) deals with the fallout of group sex, so leave the kittens at home if you go there. 

"Abraham Lincoln's Big Gay Dance Party" at SF Playhouse-Photo by Zabrina Tipton

Finally, there’s Aaron Loeb’s “Abraham Lincoln’s Big Gay Dance Party” directed by Ron May—who clearly takes pride in being a provocateur par excellence. This piece (no pun intended) closes out Stray Cat’s 2010-2011 season with a bang (May 20-June 11). It features the “trial of the century” in which Lincoln’s teacher faces charges of asking whether Lincoln might have been gay. I’m not sure how you get from courtroom drama to dance party, but have no doubts that May will pull it off and more. 

For those of you who prefer tamer fare, I’ll offer a future post on the 2010-2011 Childsplay season. I have to wonder, though, whether their choice of “Go, Dog. Go!” reveals a clear canine bias… 

–Lynn

Still using our words

I remember a time when my children—now teens and young adults—were in preschool. Among their many take-away lessons of time spent with skilled and caring early educators was a simple mantra: “Use your words.”

I was reminded of those days yesterday as our celebration of Jennifer’s 19th birthday drew to a close.

We began our all-girls birthday tour after Lizabeth (now 16) got out of school, stopping first at MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain in Phoenix for ice cream and a bit of window shopping through their vintage clothing, jewelry and such. It’s a family-owned business (see “quality control” photo at left) that does ice cream “old-school and very cool.” They even whip up Egg Creams™ and Phosphates™ in 34 flavors!

Though a movie seemed the obvious choice for an early evening outing, we opted instead for a book signing with Tom Leveen at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe.

Jennifer is keen on supporting “indie” businesses like Changing Hands—which describes itself as an “independent community bookstore.”

Lizabeth was eager to support Leveen since she’d recently performed in “Talk Radio” at Chyro Arts Venue in Scottsdale, where Leveen serves as artistic director.

Chyro Arts Venue will close next month after the last performance of its final production, “Orange Flower Water,” which runs April 29-May 15. It’s directed by Michael Peck, and contains mature themes not appropriate for those under 18.

Chyro is renowned for selecting edgier works and presenting them with gusto, and notes that patrons with a taste for alternative theater still have terrific options in the Valley—including Stray Cat Theatre and Nearly Naked Theatre.

I was saddened to learn of their decision to close, but delighted to discover that Leveen and his wife Joy (an Arcadia High School graduate, like Jennifer) are already steeped in other adventures.

They were beaming at last night’s book signing, so I suspect they are enjoying a time in life that Tom Leveen laughingly likens to riding a roller coaster.

I kicked around Hoodlums Music and Movies for a spell after dropping the girls off two doors down at Changing Hands.

Seems I missed my opportunity to get the exclusive release 10-inch vinyl of Springsteen performing at Giants Stadium because they sold out during Hoodlum’s “Record Day” event over the weekend.

But I did get to enjoy an exhibit of painted “album covers” along one wall–a work by Glenn Moust of Denmark and a work featuring small irridescent red glass tiles by Deborah Wahl of Tempe were my favorites.

Then I shot my wad on a button for Jennifer reading “I Still Read Books & I Vote!”–only to learn later as we sat cross-legged in a little corner of Changing Hands comparing book finds that Jennifer had gotten me a bumper sticker with the exact same slogan. 

I’m not sure what’s more intriguing–discovering the many ways our children are different than we are, or uncovering the startling number of ways we seem so very similar.

Once I headed over to Changing Hands, I saw what looked like at least 50 people—including Lizabeth—listening to Leveen talk about his recently published book titled “Party.” It’s a “teen lit” work of fiction that follows the lives of eleven different characters as they attend a single party in Santa Barbara, California.

Leveen talked about his inspirations for the book, his lovely experiences with rejection letters (there were dozens), his hopes for those who read his work and his plans for a second novel for young audiences. He also shared tips for fellow writers and reflected on how theater prepared him for the craft of writing.

In the meantime, Jennifer and I strolled through the store in search of books, gift items and more. We even checked out the children’s area, where I was thrilled to discover some toy makers I hadn’t known about when my kids were younger–including Rubbabu and Jellycat.

I fell in love with the “Goodnight Moon” gift sets—one with a softbound book and little bunny in blue and white striped pajamas, and another with a chunky book coupled with tiny bunny slippers. I managed to leave the “Where the Wild Things Are” characters on their shelves, but I’m beginning to regret that now.

We leave so many things behind as our children grow with such incredible glory. But according to Leveen, artist of both stage and page, one thing remains ever true–and serves as the take-away message from his book…

It’s the importance of using our words.

–Lynn

Note: Lizabeth bought a copy of Leveen’s “Party” so one or both of us will offer a more formal review once we’ve had a chance to read it. Despite the note Leveen wrote for Lizabeth when he signed her copy of his book—which reads “Have fun staying up all night!”—we made Lizabeth go to bed before she’d finished more than the first chapter.

Coming up: More of Leveen’s reflections on the stage and the page, “Hoodstock” event benefiting a local school, Childsplay unveils their 2010-2011 season

Today’s tidbits: Chandler-Gilbert Community College presents a free Community Band Concert tonight at 7pm at the CGCC Performing Arts Center (info: 480-732-7343). The Musical Instrument Museum presents “Nation Beat” (a fusion of music from the southern U.S. and northeast Brazil) tonight at 7:30pm at the MIM Music Theater (tickets $25-$30, info: 480-478-6001).

Desperately seeking Shakespeare

Mr. Bill of SNL Fame

I thought of Shakespeare in some new and surprising ways last Monday after watching the television show “Jeopardy,” which featured a category called “Mr. Bill Plays the Bard.” It was “Saturday Night Live” meets Shakespeare—and I had to wonder why someone hadn’t thought of it sooner.

That same afternoon, I received an e-mail from Ron May, artistic director with Stray Cat Theatre—a company whose recent offerings have included “Columbinus” and “A Very Merry Unauthorized Scientology Christmas Pageant.” It featured another strange spin on Shakespeare—zombies.

So I began to ponder, what else might be out there for those who are desperately seeking Shakespeare (if you’re not old enough to understand this reference, by the way, you need parental permission to attend Stray Cat productions).

Let’s start with Stray Cat, one of the Valley’s best-loved alternative theater companies. They’re presenting Brian MacInnis Smallwood’s “12th Night of the Living Dead” directed by Cale Epps at the original Tempe Performing Arts Center (the former home of Childsplay) April 16 to May 8.

Here’s what I know—there will be lots and lots of zombies. And there’s a disclaimer that reads like this: “For this show, the front row will likely be a splash zone. Just saying.”

So why cover such a thing for a parenting publication? Because I like to believe parents still get out of the house now and then to enjoy date nights or evenings out with friends.

Don’t burst my bubble.

More "Mr. Bill" Art

For something a tad more traditional, try the Paradise Valley Community College production of “Romeo and Juliet” directed by Gary Zaro coming to the PVCC Performing Arts Center April 16 to 25.

Can’t get enough of those star-crossed lovers? Enjoy a “modern version” presented by a professional jazz dance company called Gravity Jazz Dance Theatre. They’ll perform Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” through jazz dance and contemporary music at the Mesa Arts Center April 16-18.

Lovers of all things dance and Shakespeare can also enjoy the Ballet Arizona production of Ib Andersen’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which will feature live music by the Phoenix Symphony. It’s coming to Phoenix Symphony Hall November 5-7.

Of course, folks who are “desperately seeking Shakespeare” can’t wait that long for their next fix.

They can look forward to “Richard III,” being performed by the Southwest Shakespeare Company at Mesa Arts Center April 22 to May 8. It’s a “haunting tragedy” that features “one of the Bard’s most wicked characters.”

What was “wicked” way back then, I wonder. I rather like the idea of seeing this work so I can compare this villain to some of my other favorites—Shakespearean and otherwise.

In the meantime, I’m left to ponder the whimsy of SNL’s “Mr. Bill” playing five

Bye Bye Mr. Bill...

Shakespearean roles for “Jeopardy” contestants and viewers.

In case you’re curious, these were the answers to the five “Jeopardy” questions: Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, Hamlet and Richard II.

Consider yourself warned—I do seem to find art in just about everything…

Talking Play-doh characters are no exception.

–Lynn

Note: If your Shakespeare production isn’t mentioned here, feel free to comment below to alert our readers.

Update: Still looking for the perfect summer theater experience? If you’re at least 17 years old, check out the evening acting intensive being presented by the Southwest Shakespeare Company in association with Mesa Community College. July 6-Aug 7. The intensive is limited to just 16 students, so get in touch with Southwest Shakepeare Company’s artistic director Jared Sakren at jsakren@swshakespeare.org right away if you’re interested. –LT 6/26/10