Tag Archives: Tempe

Weekend of new beginnings

Center Dance Ensemble performs "The Snow Queen" (Photo: Tim Fuller)

I’ve been enjoying Center Dance Ensemble works for more than a decade. If dance companies were shoes, they’d be a cross between my favorite well-worn pair and my shiniest new pair. Both make me smile.

For years they’ve treated Valley audiences to Frances Cohen Smith’s “The Snow Queen” at the Herberger Theater Center. It’s based on a delightful Hans Christian Andersen tale and has terrific appeal to both children and adults.

But this weekend, you can enjoy a performance titled “New Beginnings.” It features the premiere of a new work by Center Dance Ensemble as well as new performances by several guest artists.

It’s being held through Sat, Oct 16 at the newly-renovated Herberger Theater Center, so those of you who’ve been waiting for an excuse to check it out now have one (actually, there are several).

Center Dance Ensemble performs New Beginnings this weekend (Photo: Tim Fuller)

Other weekend happenings in the Valley (and yes, weekends start on Friday for stage moms) include the following:

Goof & Giggle. Fri, Oct 15 at 10am. Children’s Museum of Phoenix. Features a fun class for 1-3 year olds with parents/caregivers. Activities include dance, song, exploring musical instruments and movement.

Tot Art. Fri, Oct 15 at 10:30am. Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Features artmaking for 2-5 year olds with parents/caregivers. Activities include painting, sculpture and collage.

Artful Tales. Fri, Oct 15 at 11am. Arizona Museum for Youth in Mesa. Features an interactive storytime followed by art activities based on the theme of the featured book.

Comprised Voices. Sun, Oct 17 at 4pm. Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Features symphonic music by Musica Nova.

International Horror and Sci-fi Film Festival. Madcap Theaters in Tempe. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features indie, retro and other horror and science fiction titles in this 6th annual event. (It’s not for the kiddos, but parents enjoy the arts too.)

ASU presents 26 Miles this weekend

26 Miles. Lyceum Theatre at ASU in Tempe. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features a coming-of-age “dramedy” about a Cuban American teen who explores her identity while on a road trip with her estranged mother. Playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes wrote the book for the Broadway musical “In The Heights.” (One for parents to enjoy with their older teens, perhaps?)

Cars and Guitars. Through Sat, Oct 16. Tempe Center for the Arts. Features exhibit of some mighty fancy guitars, cars and cool retro finds (including old storybook art). I had a great time exploring this one the day I saw Childsplay’s “A Year With Frog and Toad” at the same venue. (The cars/guitars exhibit makes a cool father/son outing.)

This weekend is your last chance to see this new work by James E. Garcia

The Eagle & The Serpent: A History of Mexico Abridged. Through Sun, Oct 17. Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center in Phoenix. Features New Carpa Theater Company presenting seven actors in 50 roles recreating the history of Mexico from 30,000 B.C. to the present “in 90 minutes or less.”

Romantic Fools. Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Through Sun, Oct 17. Features vaudeville-style comedy “examining love, lust, dating, and romance.” (Also for grown-ups only due to mature content.)

Watch for a second post Friday featuring weekend (and upcoming) theater by youth and for youth.

Ridiculous rulers. Bumbling bears. Colorful cupcakes. They’ve got it all.


Note: Please check details for all events before attending since prices vary, tickets may have limited availability and such.

Coming up: Making art in Mesa, Stage moms changing the world, Playwriting perspectives

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… 


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.

Before there was CSI…

There’s a humble hangout in Phoenix that I’ve taken for granted through the years. It’s smack dab in the middle of two other places where I’ve spent plenty of time—a hip little joint called Mama Java’s and the School of Ballet Arizona.

But the Book Gallery caught my eye recently when I noticed a display of Sherlock Holmes stories in the window, reminding me that ASU’s School of Theatre and Film will bring playwright Suzan Zeder’s “The Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes” to Galvin Playhouse  on the Tempe campus April 16-May 2. (Attend the April 24 matinee to enjoy a Q & A with Zeder.)

I’m eager to see the production for several reasons, including the exceptionally high quality of other performances I’ve seen at this venue. Knowing the scenic designer is Todd Hulet, Lizabeth’s production studies teacher at Arizona School for the Arts, also ups the intrigue quotient.

Zeder’s bio for the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Texas at Austin describes the professor as “one of the nation’s leading playwrights for family audiences.” ASU’s Herberger Institute notes that the play is “suitable for youth” but equally appealing to “mystery lovers of all ages.”

“At its heart,” reflects Zeder, “is a sometimes terrible, sometimes tender, always tentative relationship between creator and creation.” Characters in the play include not only detective Sherlock Holmes, faithful sidekick Dr. Watson and evil nemesis Dr. Moriarty—but also author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his daughter Mary.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read much of Doyle’s work, though my husband James confesses to spending more than a few hours with Sherlock Holmes during high school. I get the feeling the play, featuring “lots of twists and turns that vex and puzzle Holmes,” will appeal to both Holmes aficionados and Holmes amateurs alike.

Sherlock Holmes hits Tempe Friday (Photo: Tim Trumble for ASU)

I mentioned to Jennifer, my ASU “Sun Devil” daughter, that I was eager to learn more about the adventures of the fictional detective. She shared with me that she’d just come from a history class in which Sherlock Holmes was mentioned—and soon had me pondering how superficial the stark line so many of us draw between history and science might be.

Seems the field of criminal anthropology took some disturbing turns in the late 19th century, especially with the work of Caesar Lombroso, who aligned criminal tendencies with particular physical traits. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print with the publication of “Study in Scarlet” in 1887.

I’m always fascinated by the historical context of great playwrights’ work, and decided to do a bit of digging into what else occurred that year in European and American history. Turns out 1887 is the year Anne Sullivan began teaching a young Helen Keller as well as the year the U.S. secured rights to Pearl Harbor.

It was the year of several important patents (to A. Miles for the elevator and Emile Berliner for the Gramophone) and the year that Charles Dickens traveled to NYC for his first public reading in America. These tidbits leave me all the more eager to see Zeder’s twist on Sherlock’s sleuthing. (Don’t even get me started on Doyle’s fascinating childhood.)

The Herberger Institute has developed a nifty study guide of manageable size for parents, teachers or youth eager to learn more before or after seeing the production. It begins by answering the question: “Who is Sherlock Holmes and why is he important today?” It also includes several activities and additional resources.

I’m hoping this production will be playful anecdote to the myriad of mysteries still surrounding the American teen—like why some credit CSI with inventing forensics and why others favor analyses ala “tweet” over steady observation and deductive reasoning.

Alas, no work of art can solve the many mysteries of parenting…


Note: Yesterday Jennifer introduced me to another great place to find used books, videos, CDs and more–it’s the ARC Thrift Shop (tucked away in a strip mall at Mill and Southern in Tempe), which has been “enriching and empowering the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities since 1965.” Most paperbacks are just 25 cents and we came home with a suitcase full–literally–for just $6 thanks to their Wednesday ‘half-off for students’ special!

Coming up: Details about the School of Theatre and Film’s 2010-2011 season, as well as the 2010-2011 Broadway Across America season soon to be announced by ASU Gammage. Also look for reviews of SCC’s “The Diviners” and Childsplay’s “Tomato Plant Girl.”

Too good to be Q?

My neighbors must think it odd. Every day after I take my mail from the mailbox, I stop in my tracks to see what’s arrived. I probably did the same thing umpteen years ago, hoping Donny Osmond would actually reply to some of my fan mail. He never did, and so I’ve moved on. (Davy Jones and Bo Donaldson were no better.)

Nowadays I watch for announcements of upcoming music, dance and theater performances. I learned that lesson the hard way, seeing a poster of the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” featuring Osmond hanging on a wall of the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix only after it had come and gone.

I did a curbside happy dance when I opened a humble looking envelope from Phoenix Theatre the other day. It announced their 2010-2011 season—something not even posted on their website yet. Better yet—they told me I could share it with our readers right away, even though a certain show (a Tony Award winner for best new musical) won’t be ‘official’ until March.

I had an inkling a couple of months ago when a Phoenix Theatre 2010/2011 season survey hit my virtual mailbox—something I received because I’m on their e-list, the modern day version of a mailing list used to send news via e-mail instead of snail mail. The survey, something they’ve done for years, invites patrons to vote on possible shows for the coming season.

The surveys were also available in the programs patrons received when attending Phoenix Theatre productions earlier in the current season, and each survey included a place for respondents to provide their name and such (so stuffing the survey box wasn’t a problem).

Patrons were asked to select two choices in each of four categories, with combined results weighing heavily in the decision making process when it came time for artistic director Michael Barnard and his team at Phoenix Theatre to decide on the 2010-2011 season.

What would you have selected from the following options?

Large musicals: Hairspray, Nine, Damn Yankees, The Drowsy Chaperone, My Favorite Year, Annie, La Cage Aux Folles or The Mystery of Edwin Drood? Mid-season musicals: Avenue Q, Iron Curtain, Hats! The Musical, Working or Wildest? Intimate musicals/revues: The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Big Bang, No Way to Treat a Lady, Twisted TV or Pump Boys and Dinettes? Comedies: Unnecessary Farce, Noises Off, Boeing Boeing or The Wallace and Ladmo Show?

The survey also asked patrons which type of programming they enjoy seeing most at Phoenix Theatre—offering four choices to choose from: new Broadway musicals, classic Broadway musicals, comedies and world premiere musicals. The trend, according to Phoenix Theatre marketing director Brian Kunnari, is towards newer Broadway musicals rather than Broadway classics.

Hence the upcoming season will feature the following:

• “No Way to Treat a Lady”

• “Hairspray”

• “3 Redneck Tenors”

• “Noises Off”

• “Nine”

There’s also a little something almost too good to be true—something, I’m told, involving a Q.

I suspect there will be a happy dance or two Friday evening, Feb. 26th, when Phoenix Theatre takes to the Madison Event Center in downtown Phoenix for its “Phoenix Theatre LIVE” event featuring “song, dance, comedy, cocktails and supper club dining.”

If you’re free, you may want to don your “studio audience glam” and join the fun. Visit www.phoenixtheatre.com ASAP for details and ticket info.

If an evening with Phoenix Theatre sounds fun, imagine joining artistic director Michael Barnard in London this spring for “400 years of theatre in one week.” The deadline to register for this baby is drawing nigh, so check out the details right away if you might want to take part in this April 24th to May 1st adventure.

There’s a trip brochure at the Phoenix Theatre website, or you can contact Beth Reynolds at the theater for more information (602-889-5299 or e.reynolds@phoenixtheatre.com).

Travelers will enjoy three theatre productions, including “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to “Phantom of the Opera”—and excursions to sites every theater buff dreams of seeing (Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon, the Globe Theatre and more).

Today, I fear, will bring a rather uneventful trip to the mailbox. Unless there’s news of a Valley stop for a national tour of “Next to Normal,” nothing’s likely to rival my excitement over all things Q…


Note: The “Broadway Across America” national touring production of “Avenue Q” comes to ASU Gammage in Tempe March 4th-9th. I’m attending opening night so look for a review of the show soon after. Better yet, find me and say “hello” at the show!

Update: It’s official! Phoenix Theatre’s 2010-2011 season includes “Avenue Q.” To enjoy adult puppet theater in the meantime, check out the adult puppet slams presented by Great Arizona Puppet Theater in Phoenix (www.azpuppets.org).

One month & 1,000 art exhibits

“I like to move it, move it.” We’ve had some great times with these lyrics from a song in the DreamWorks Animation film “Madagascar” from 2005.

I was reminded recently of a character from the movie, Marty the Zebra (Chris Rock), when I heard that a circus-owned zebra was making his way through rush hour traffic in Atlanta the other day. Marty, as you may remember, takes his fellow zoo mates on a wild adventure after orchestrating their escape.

Seems the real escapee, a 12-year-old alive-rather-than-animated animal named “Lima,” ran past the window of a restaurant full of children during his 45 minutes of freedom.

The restaurant owner recounted the experience during a recent radio interview, recalling how the children gleefully shouted “Madagascar!” as the zebra ran past.

Cute, perhaps—but also a wee bit sad. Why do I suspect that the movie theater is as close as some of these kids have ever come to an animal other than a kitten or a pup? Please tell me they know wild animals come from the great outdoors rather than the big screen.

I worry sometimes that our kids just aren’t getting off the couch and into the sunshine as often as they should these days. Hence I’ve put together a list of upcoming outdoor arts experiences from festivals to concerts.

Why not make time to enjoy them before warmer weather has you planning your own escape…

Fountain Hills Great Fair. 23rd annual juried art fair featuring more than 400 artists from around the United States and other countries, plus live music. Downtown Fountain Hills. Feb. 26-28. Info at www.fountainhillschamber.com.

Target 3 for Free. Variety of outdoor concerts featuring rock, pop, country, old time rock and roll, and folk. Mesa Arts Center. March 7, April 4, May 2. Info at www.mesaartscenter.com.

Scottsdale Arts Festival. 40th annual event featuring 200 jury-selected artists from around North America, free arts activities for children, live music and more. Outdoor park adjacent to Scottsdale Center for the Arts. March 12-14. Info at www.scottsdalecenterforthearts.org.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Desert Sky Series. Variety of outdoor concerts featuring international, country/western, big band and pop music. Scottsdale Civic Plaza Amphitheater. March 21, March 26, April 9, May 1 and May 8. Info at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.

Tempe Festival of the Arts. Features more than 400 artist booths, plus live music and other performances. Mill Avenue District. March 26-28. Info at www.tempefestivalofthearts.com.

I’ve been enjoying arts festivals with my kiddos since they were stroller-size. Many of our local festivals are free, and those that charge admission are reasonably priced. They’re a great choice for families with toddlers or families with teens (and practically essential for families with both).

And just think about it—attending all three of the arts festivals noted above (in Fountain Hills, Scottsdale and Tempe) will give you 1,000 encounters with art—all within a one month period of time. Where else can you make that happen?

Yes—you could hit the Louvre in Paris or the British Museum in London, but you’d be hard pressed to make it home by bedtime.


Note: Please check event details and ticketing information before attending. If you know of another outdoor arts-related event, please let our readers know via the comment section below. Thanks!

Musings on “Mary Poppins”

Life is full of tough choices, like the one I had to make Friday night.

I had tickets to the musical “Mary Poppins,” being presented through Feb. 28th at ASU Gammage in Tempe. But I also wanted to see the opening ceremony of the 2010 Winter Olympics televised live from Vancouver.

I hit the ‘record’ button and headed out to “Mary Poppins,” which by most accounts may have been the better show. I mean no disrespect to Canada here. I’ve traveled the country many times—and am always struck by its breathtaking beauty and charming citizenry.

I watched my ‘tape’ of the opening ceremony Saturday afternoon and found plenty to appreciate—inspiring odes to indigenous populations, zealous fiddlers, moving musical numbers (go opera!) and more.

Yet the only piece that rivaled what I saw on stage at ASU Gammage last night was a young boy’s aerial performance, which mirrored in some ways the magic of “Mary Poppins.” After learning that the boy had been ‘discovered’ at a circus training program, I have a whole new appreciation for the art of circus performance.

I found a bit of international flair while flipping through my “Mary Poppins” program Friday night. Gavin Lee, who originated the role of Bert—the chipper chimney sweep—in London and New York, is from Britain. Caroline Sheen, performing as the ‘merry with a bit of mischief’ Mary Poppins, hails from Wales. Canada was well represented too, so Friday’s decision was really a ‘win, win’ in terms of supporting our neighbors to the north.

The ASU Gammage performances in Tempe marks Sheen’s “limited engagement” return to the role she originated during the UK tour. My 16-year-old, Lizabeth, tells me she knows someone so smitten with Julie Andrews’ portrayal of Mary Poppins in the Walt Disney movie (which premiered at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood in 1964) that she refuses to see the musical.

Take note: Lightning can strike twice.

I now find myself faced with another tough choice. What will I have to bounce from my list of top three musicals to make way for Mary? Something has to give, because the show was simply phenomenal.

You know if you’ve read my other reviews that I love what I see much more often than I hate it. But there are different degrees of love, yes? And this is among my musical mountaintop moments. I shared in Saturday’s blog post that ‘done’ is sometimes better than ‘perfect.’ But “Mary Poppins” proves that perfect is still seriously spectacular.

Rumor has it that the woman who wrote the Mary Poppins books, upon which the movie and subsequent musical were based, wasn’t terribly fond of some aspects of the film. It’s one of many tidbits I uncovered in a 2005 article from The New Yorker magazine titled “Becoming Mary Poppins”—which traces the work from book to film and musical production.

Their piece also considers the influence of author P.L. Travers’ childhood on her depiction of the Banks family—the father, mother, son and daughter at the heart of Travers’ 1934 nanny tale. I felt compelled to do more homework than usual before seeing this musical since I went into it expecting far too much fluff.

I stand corrected.

I recall chatting a while back with Ellen Harvey, who portrays Miss Andrew, Queen Victoria and Miss Smythe in the musical. Miss Andrew is a new character, the vicious and malicious nanny once charged with the young Mr. Banks.

Harvey’s performance Friday evening conjured images of some of Disney’s best female villains—Cruella De Vil of “101 Dalmatians” and Ursula of “The Little Mermaid.”

Harvey described “Mary Poppins” as the kind of musical that inspires children to love theater for a lifetime. Disney musicals, Harvey shared, are singular in their storytelling and stagecraft. She hardly seemed objective.

But she was right.

See the show, and then try this yourself: Go through your mental checklist of everything that makes a musical magical. Great acting? Check. Great music? Check. Great scenic and costume design? Check. Great choreography? Check. Great lighting design? Check.

You can’t see the production, direction or stage management, so you might be tempted to overlook these checks. But don’t. You know poor production, direction or stage management when you see them, and it’s all seamless here. “Mary Poppins” the musical is produced by Disney, Cameron Mackintosh (its co-creator) and Thomas Schumacher–and directed by Richard Eyre (with co-director and choreographer Matthew Bourne).

I was struck at Friday evening’s performance by the diversity of the audience—a near equal mix of children, seniors and everything in between. It wasn’t an easy crowd. Much of the first of two acts passed without gratuitous glee. But act two brought out some serious hand-clapping and toe-tapping.

I’d expected a few gimmicky moments with flying nannies and such, but I had no idea that nearly every scene and set change would herald its own blend of magic. I wanted to pause long enough to ask “How’d they do that?” But by the time I went there, another lush layer was unfolding. The set pieces alone are a marvel to behold.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been taking my youngest daughter to theater productions for well over a decade. She’s at the point now, having chosen a career in theater, where she barely gets to see other shows because she’s always rehearsing or performing another piece.

I missed Lizabeth Friday night, and thought to myself that were she very young again, I’d be sure she saw this production of “Mary Poppins.” Theater such as this is indeed where great romances with the arts begin…


Note: “Mary Poppins” the musical features book by Julian Fellowes, original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman, new songs, additional music, dance and vocal arrangements by George Stiles and new songs and additional lyrics by Anthony Drewe.

Arizona’s connection to Avenue Q

Chaparral grad Jacqueline Grabois is spending the night in Boise, Idaho—where she and fellow cast members are performing in the touring production of a relatively new musical called “Avenue Q,” which features people and puppets searching for meaning amidst the nitty and gritty of New York City.

Come March 9th to 14th, they’ll be right here in the Valley—performing at ASU Gammage in Tempe as part of the Broadway Across America Series. Grabois is thrilled that her parents (who live in Scottsdale) and oodles of her friends from school and youth theater days will be there to see her portrayal of Kate Monster and Lucy (the slut) and others.

Grabois’ early life and theater experiences, all quite fascinating, are recounted in an earlier blog (which inspired Grabois’ mom to write a beautiful comment paying tribute to her daughter’s talent and tenacity). The previous post left Grabois in L.A., enjoying several theater experiences (along with the sun).

Today we’ll trace a bit of her journey from L.A. to New York (and beyond). While Grabois’ parents have always been wholly supportive of her theater bent, they also encouraged her to go back to school. Is this sounding at all familiar to all you theater folk and the parents who love them?

Grabois applied to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) and went on to complete two years of study in just one-and-a-half years—specializing in musical theater.

She credits one of her second semester teachers, Jeffrey Dunn, with teaching her how to be a good actor. “He was tough,” she recalls. “He’s a no bullshit kind of a guy.” Grabois admits that the approach garnered mixed reviews, but she loved it.

Grabois also mentions teachers Emily Skinner and Phillip George—and notes that “I got my first job from a teacher.” You get the feeling, after talking with Grabois, that her success stems from not only her creativity, but from her ability to genuinely connect with others as well.

I asked Grabois what she thought about AMDA since my 16-year-old daughter is in the process of considering college and conservatory options. “It’s what you put into it,” reflected Grabois. The students who go but don’t take it seriously may not fare as well. “But it’s good if you’re really focused.”

Grabois had several gigs prior to performing the role of Velma Von Tussle in the international and national tour of “Hairspray.” She recalls the many challenges of performing while traveling. “It’s hard” she muses, “on the body, mind, spirit and soul.”

Still she feels grateful for the opportunity, since touring made it possible for her to see things she wouldn’t otherwise get to explore.

Grabois recalls doing “a few small jobs” for about six months after finishing “Hairspray”—including helping a family she knew by watching their son, who was about nine years old and had recently broken a leg.

During this time, a friend offered Grabois a free ticket to “Avenue Q” performing on Broadway. She went, and she loved it.

Just two months later, Grabois saw an open casting call for “Avenue Q” and asked the dad of her young charge whether she could take time for the audition. Happily, he agreed, and Grabois took his son along.

A friend named Danielle also wanted to audition so they hatched a plan “to get up at the crack of dawn and be numbers one and two in line.” They suspected they’d be number 500 in line if they went any later.

Despite being the early birds, they ended up being number 100 or so in line. Grabois says the casting folks spent the first two hours of the call “typecasting through head shots.”

When her turn was up, Grabois sang 16 bars of a song for Adam Caldwell, who then asked her to sing it again—in a puppet voice. “I had to wing it,” she recalls. The audition earned her a callback, then another, and another.

Grabois had been itching for several months to don her traveling shoes, and finally did just that. While visiting Miami, Grabois’ agent called about another audition. But she had something else in mind—wondering what was transpiring with “Avenue Q” casting.

Her agent did some checking, only to learn that Grabois had just two days to get back to New York for puppet training. Grabois describes herself as “practically homeless” at that point, since she’d sublet her apartment expecting to be out of town a while longer.

Grabois stayed with a friend in New York while attending a “two day puppet camp.” She did her final call back just ten days later. But after the final callback, she says, they wanted to see her again. She’d spent June, July and now a part of August going through the audition process.

She describes details for this audition as “more specific.” They wanted to see her in a low pony tail and casual clothes including shorts. She entered the audition to discovers the show’s producers. “They just wanted to talk with me” she recalls. They also had her sing a song from the show called “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.”

An hour later, says Grabois, the call came in. She’d gotten the job. “I called my mom and started screaming” recalls Grabois. “Then” she says “the reality hit.” The rigors of travel. The demands of performing. “The life of the actor,” quips Grabois, “is uncertain and unknown.”

So what’s her advice for aspiring young actors? “You have to know your talent and who you are. Don’t get discouraged. You will get rejected every single day but often this has nothing to do with you. You won’t always be cast.”

It helps, says Grabois, to find interests outside of the theater. For her these include swimming, bike riding, having dinner parties with friends, hanging out at the library, reading new books and plays, meditating and more.

Consider her schedule as you weigh whether or not you have time to see “Avenue Q” when it comes to town next month. If Grabois can do all this, we can spare a few hours to enjoy her performance.

After all, how often can you experience a musical with songs like “It Sucks to be Me,” “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn?”

You won’t want to take the little ones along but it sure makes a fun outing with friends, grown-up family members or savvy teens.


Note : I spoke recently with another Chaparral grad, Krissy Lenz (1999), who’s now with National Comedy Theatre in Phoenix. Lenz works with several teen improv groups in the Valley, including the All Rights Reserved troupe of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company (which is holding auditions Thursday, Feb. 11th). NCT is holding adult imrov auditions on Sunday, Feb. 21st (and has other fun events scheduled–including a Valentine’s Day performance and a benefit for Haiti earthquake relief).

Spotlight on youth symphonies

I’m not sure how or why the violin entered our lives. Lizabeth was just five or so years old, and we heard somewhere about a place called Arcadia Music Academy in Phoenix, which has several music teachers who offer private lessons.

By that time, she’d already been to numerous concerts presented by The Phoenix Symphony (which has a tremendous family series each season) and the Scottsdale Symphony Orchestra (we used to love spending 4th of July holidays at their concerts on the lawn at the Scottsdale Civic Center Mall).

It may have been a young classmate who played violin (his mom is a cellist with The Phoenix Symphony) who first inspired Lizabeth to try the instrument. Or maybe the times we’d taken her to an “instrument petting zoo” before a Phoenix Symphony concert—a free event sometimes held before certain shows, where musicians staggered throughout the lobby help young people try different instruments.

Lizabeth enjoyed trying strings—violin and cello. Her big sister, Jennifer, was more drawn to the brass—tuba and trumpet (she went on to play flute for many years though her school at the time had no orchestra). I played clarinet as a child but never did the youth orchestra thing. (I was more of the grab a guitar and write your own songs kind of a gal. Mercifully, perhaps, none of them have survived.)

Lizabeth might have auditioned for one of our local youth symphonies had she not been busy several nights each week with ballet classes that took up most of her evening. By the time Lizabeth was accomplished enough to join the highest level of orchestra in high school, she’d fallen in love with theater and learned, as we all do, that we can’t always have or do it all.

Letting go of violin was hard, but none of us ever regretted the investment of time and money that went into lessons and daily practice. The daily part is important, says music educator, writer, lyricist and composer Charlotte Brooks of Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale, because there’s just no way to be good at something without working at it. We do a disservice to our kids when we lead them to believe competence can be culled from desire alone, devoid of dedication and determination.

I’m grateful in some ways that Lizabeth had the opportunity to face a choice like this during her teens. We face these choices often as adults, and I’m always pleased when my kids get a chance to practice life skills like problem solving and assessing their values before flying from the nest. (They will fly one day, right?)

Jennifer’s best friend, for practically a lifetime, spent many years playing strings with the Phoenix Youth Symphony. We used to meet after Saturday lessons in Tempe so the girls could stroll along Mill Avenue enjoying the indie shops, street musicians and other local color (this was back in the day when Changing Hands Bookstore was still on this strip).

Though one is now at ASU and another at U of A, Jennifer and Brenna still love their together time in Tempe. Brenna no longer plays with the Phoenix Youth Symphony now that she’s in college, but we have many fine memories of attending concerts and seeing both Brenna and her brother Ian play. They both have oodles of raw talent and became truly exceptional through painstaking practice, lessons and playing with fellow musicians. (Having creative, devoted parents didn’t hurt…)

I don’t know that either will pursue a career in music, but their time with music has been meaningful nonetheless—so much so that I’ve invited Brenna to write a guest blog sharing her experiences with the Phoenix Youth Symphony (look for that tomorrow). Brenna and Jennifer have written for the magazine before—sometimes when limited space has prevented printing their work—and I always enjoy reading their perspectives.

The Phoenix Youth Symphony is comprised of four orchestras—the string orchestra, the symphonic winds, the symphonette orchestra and the youth symphony (the highest level)—along with a percussion ensemble. Members are selected through an audition process, which next takes place in Phoenix during April and May of 2010.

Selected musicians are expected to attend Wednesday evening rehearsals as well as other training opportunities, and should be members of their school band or orchestra if one is available. Additional prerequisites and requirements are detailed on the PYS website—as is other useful information, including links to various youth symphonies, summer camps, festivals, conservatories and competitions

The symphony’s performance schedule is also posted online, and includes a “Side-by-Side Concert” with The Phoenix Symphony on Sunday, Feb. 7th at 3 pm at Phoenix Symphony Hall. Tickets are free (open seating) and available at the concert (the lobby opens at 1 pm). This concert is an especially exciting introduction to orchestral music for children who are often most enraptured by performers close to them in age.

We’re fortunate to have more than one youth symphony in the Valley. The Metropolitan Youth Symphony has more than 300 members who rehearse with their groups weekly and perform at least four formal concerts per year. The MYS includes three string orchestras and one full symphonic orchestra.

It also features a fiddler’s group that left me awestruck when I first heard them perform at a community event many years ago. They weren’t just good, they were “whip out your checkbook and support these kids” good! (Never fear, Phoenix Youth Symphony, I’ve been inspired on more than one occasion to donate to you as well.)

Upcoming Metropolitan Youth Symphony performances are scheduled for Feb. 24th and April 27th (both at 7 pm) at the Mesa Arts Center (have I mentioned lately that their snack bar is far and away our favorite among performing arts venues?). This is such a kid-friendly venue—with plenty of space on the surrounding plaza for walking off the wiggles.

If you assume your child could never enjoy classical music, or fear perhaps that you’d be bored by it yourself, I have a resounding chorus of “I told you so” at the ready. Once you and your child experience other youth playing their hearts out—with remarkable finesse—you might just get hooked. I can think of worse habits…


Note: Read Brenna’s Wednesday post on her experiences with the Phoenix Youth Symphony for a glimpse into how music training and performance opportunities enrich the lives of  youth.

Crepes, jarring journalism and resources for writers

Jennifer and I discovered a lovely little crepe joint in Tempe a few years ago when she had an overnight birthday party at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel (we took a couple crates of craft supplies along and had a giant arts fest between trips to the rooftop swimming pool).

Recently Lizabeth and I headed out on a frosty morning to read our newspapers and enjoy toasty drinks. Liz recalled the lovely artwork and comfy couches at the Mill’s End Café and Creperie on Mill Avenue, so that’s where we headed.

When we got there, a copy of the New Times—strewn with other reading materials atop a two-tiered metal cart near the cash register—grabbed Lizabeth’s attention.

The otherwise stark white cover featured a broken piece of glass covered in blood. A bit jarring for morning reading, but then, sometimes the best reading gives us a jolt. The lead story, by managing editor Amy Silverman, was titled “Suicidal Tendencies.”

Silverman’s story, part of an ongoing series called “Lost Kids,” recounts harrowing tales of youth with serious mental illness within Arizona’s juvenile justice system. (I use the word “justice” here with more than a tad of trepidation.)

Later that day I hit my pile of yet-to-be-read newspapers in search of earlier pieces in Silverman’s series—including “Saving Alex” and “Losing Erica.” They were near the top, and I set about reading them right away.

The series was reading to remember. It was writing that reverberated. It may well be the single best collection of Arizona journalism I’ve read all year. Not surprising, I suppose, when you consider that Silverman has twice been honored as “Journalist of the Year” by the Arizona Press Club.

Work for consideration for the 2009 awards must be submitted per Arizona Press Club guidelines and postmarked no later than Jan. 20th of 2010. Award categories have been modified somewhat to reflect growing trends in journalism such as increased news content on the Internet.

I last saw Silverman at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. She was there with Deborah Sussman Susser, co-instructor for Mothers Who Write—an enterprise that engages writers in developing their craft while sharing feedback on each other’s work.

We’re proud to count one of their alumni—Debra Rich Gettleman—among our fellow writers at Raising Arizona Kids magazine. Gettleman never fails to deliver a lively read, so check the magazine’s online archives when you’re craving a kernel of controversy.

Several of the women who participated in the last Mothers Who Write workshop were at SMOCA with Silverman and Susser to read portions of their work aloud from behind a humble podium located adjacent to a magnificent museum exhibit of Nick Cave “soundsuits.” 

Listening to their works conjured memories and musings—of things simple, scary, sentimental and strong—much like a magical night at the symphony or the theater.

Mothers Who Write is a testament to the power of the pen.

Their next 10-week workshop begins Feb. 25th and I must admit that I’m toying with taking part. (First I have to quell the intimidation factor.) Registration for the workshop, which often fills quickly, begins Jan. 4th. 

We’re partial to parents who write around here, but equally fond of youth who commit pen to paper—so I’m always on the lookout for events that engage children and teens in reading and/or writing. Here’s one that recently caught my eye…

Changing Hands Bookstore and Hoodlums Music and Movies present “YAllapalooza! 2010” from 4-7pm on Saturday, Jan. 9th. They’re located side by side on the corner of S. McClintock Dr. and E. Guadalupe Rd. in Tempe. (The fact that Wildflower Bread Company is next door is an added bonus—especially when you have a hankering for breakfast on a budget.)

The event is described as “a literary musical extravaganza featuring live bands, pizza, games, prizes, and a chance to mix and mingle with your favorite YA authors and get books signed.” (YA is bookstore speak for “young adult.”)

As the proud parent of an ASU student and “indie-minded” consumer, I often hear of these events firsthand. But it doesn’t hurt that I’m on the e-mail alerts for both Hoodlums and Changing Hands.

The Changing Hands e-newsletter alerted me to several writing-related events scheduled for January—some for grown-ups, some for tweens and teens—covering everything from poetry and journaling to how to get published and how to beat writer’s block.

A teen workshop titled “Indie Mini-Comics” (for ages 13 and up) will take place at Changing Hands on Saturday, Jan. 16th. Check the store’s website for event and registration information.

Every author I’ve ever spoken with offers the same advice to potential writers: The best way to improve your writing is simply to write—and write, and write. The most proficient writers are often the most prolific readers, so blossoming writers do well to have their nose in a book when there’s no pen in their hand.

Anyone witnessing the recent exchange of gifts at our house might suspect that we’re destined to become a writing version of the famous singing von Trapp family (whose story is loosely told in the movie “The Sound of Music”). If you can’t eat it, listen to it or read it, it probably wasn’t on any of our holiday wish lists.

The bookseller to whom I handed Jennifer’s list was especially surprised to see one of Freud’s works on the list. I thought I’d get a good chuckle when I mentioned I had one daughter who planned to give it to another, but no—just a blank stare. He wouldn’t have had any fun celebrating the holidays at our house.

If you want your teen to love reading and writing, expose them early and often to good books and writing opportunities.

Aspiring teen writers can learn a thing or two from “how-to” books like “A Teen’s Guide to Getting Published: Publishing for Profit, Recognition and Academic Success” (Jessica Dunn and Danielle Dunn), “The Young Writer’s Guide to Getting Published” (Kathy Henderson) and “Screen Teen Writers: How Young Screenwriters Can Find Success” (Christina Hamlett).

Still, nothing replaces the acts of reading and writing. When you can share them with others—especially while enjoying crepes and coffee or cocoa together—so much the better.


Note: When last I visited the Stone Soup magazine website, it announced blogging opportunities for creative writing teachers. If you’re interested in learning more, check it out at www.stonesoup.com

Coming soon: The Young Writers Program at ASU, Upcoming community college theater productions, Youth symphonies in the Valley of the Sun

More art in unexpected places…

We stopped by a little coffee shop in Phoenix called Hob Nobs the other day when we got downtown early for a theater rehearsal. We chose Hob Nobs so we could thank them for donating coffee for a recent event at Lizabeth’s school. Once I stopped drooling over the mesmerizingly moist chocolate cake in the display case, I realized I was surrounded by intriguing paintings, photographs and glass art—even a wall nearly covered with stained glass that reminded me of my mother’s Tiffany stained glass collection. The art was so captivating that I forgot all about the cake. (Some ever so humble paintings just a few inches tall and wide were my favorites because they made me want to run right home and whip out my own paints and brushes.)

There’s another little coffee-house, Mama Java’s, we like to hit when we have a hankering for art and espresso or Italian sodas. (We discovered it when Lizabeth had dance classes almost daily at the nearby studios for Ballet Arizona.) Their walls offer a casual setting for a rotating display of paintings, photographs and more. I love this joint because for years it’s been a non-intimidating way for me to expose my children to diverse artwork and ideas. (They also make a mean iced Americano and have a back room wall plastered with posters for all kinds of cool things you might not hear about elsewhere.)

A trip to Mayo Clinic in north Scottsdale might not sound that appealing, but it’s another favorite haunt of mine when I’m in the mood for art. Their lobby features rotating displays of photographs and paintings, plus sculpture and even a volunteer piano player. I can get my art, music and walking fix all in one place. (The gift shop is fun too!) Plenty of other hospitals and medical facilities take pride in their visual arts offerings too.

When Christopher took photography classes at Scottsdale Community College, we discovered that their art building foyer often features displays of some really remarkable student art, and that the hallway is often lined with photographs by some truly gifted students. I’m planning to explore the art buildings of a few more community colleges, as well as the many art resources at ASU and our other state universities. (We always enjoy the exhibits inside the ASU Gammage lobby when we’re there to enjoy shows in the Broadway Across America series.)

I recall being struck by the artwork on display at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix—both massive paintings and compelling sculpture—back when our children were younger and Valley resorts made a popular place for poolside birthday parties. I’m also on the hunt for other hotel artwork since I suspect this is another unexpected place to find art in the Valley.

Most people hit the library in search of books but may not realize many libraries also feature interesting arts exhibits. We’ve taken in some spectacular paintings and photographs at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix. (It’s just blocks away from the Phoenix Art Museum so you can enjoy double the fun!)

It’s also close to Margaret T. Hance Park (Deck Park), where you’ll find both the Irish Cultural Center and the Japanese Friendship Garden—both of which feature opportunities to enjoy visual and performing arts. (Check the Japanese Friendship Garden website for an Anime Cartoon Contest they are holding in conjunction with the Burton Barr Central Library.) The COFCO Chinese Cultural Center, located near Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, offers some lavish art as well.

Many cultural centers also offer annual festivals that include both visual and performing arts. Your child can enjoy a diverse selection of visual arts in a myriad of media during Valley festivals and fairs, which include the Tempe Festival of the Arts (coming in December) and the Fountain Festival of Arts & Crafts (coming this weekend).

When my children were just toddlers, I took them to Gymboree classes at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Phoenix, where we also enjoyed impressive displays of everything from complex quilts to tranquil paintings. I’m told that students at the elementary school on site now display their artwork there as well. No doubt the Valley is full of temples, synagogues and churches full of unique works of art that we would really benefit from exploring further.

Now that my children are older, their tastes have turned more off-beat, so we appreciate funky little theaters and arts venues where we can find original art. One of our favorites is Chyro Arts Venue in Scottsdale, where photos, painting and mixed media works grace the walls (right above the sofas they move into rows for seating during theater or band events). Another favorite you might file under “alternative” is the art and theater scene at the annual Phoenix Fringe Festival.

We’ve even found art at the Arizona State Capitol—where children’s artwork exhibited by Young Arts Arizona, a non-profit organization that works with at-risk youth, lines the long hallway you can walk between the executive tower and the legislative chambers. We spent a lot of time there when I was a lobbyist in the non-profit sector. And, wouldn’t you know it, we found a mean grilled cheeseburger there too (although you have to sacrifice your cell phone reception to enjoy it, so that’s a mixed blessing).

Drop me a line in the comment section below and tell me about unexpected places to find art (and cheeseburgers) in your neck of the woods. I’d love to check them out too…


Coming soon: Children’s Museum of Phoenix, Art Awakenings, First Friday Phoenix