Tag Archives: theater for young audiences

A pair of Kennedy sightings

It was a humble sign — just an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of white paper — hanging on a post near the entrance to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. I spotted it while heading to the 9/11 memorial in the arts center atrium.

This story starts with a simple sign

It read “Kennedy Center Partners in Education Workshops.” My heart skipped a beat. I’m a longtime fan of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, located in Washington, D.C. — and love finding them here in our own neck of the woods now and then.

I saw one of their touring Kennedy Center “Theater for Young Audiences” productions at Higley Center for the Performing Arts last season. (Good, but not our beloved Childsplay.) And attended “Arts in Crisis: A Community Conversation with Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser” at Phoenix Theatre in April of 2010. (His advice: Deliver a quality product and market it well.)

I noticed a blurb about the Kennedy Center while reading a recent “Arts Learning Newsletter” from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. It noted that the Kennedy Center is seeking local teams for its “Partners in Education” program — which “facilitates educational partnerships between arts organizations around the nation and their local school systems.” It’s much jazzier than it reads on paper.

Ted Kennedy signed the National Unity Flag in 2002

I spent part of Tuesday evening with about two dozen teachers participating in this very program. Two of them had taken a break from an afternoon session when I spied them near the National Unity Flag exhibit, and pounced (nicely, of course) to ask what they were up to. I’d just finished snapping this picture of Ted Kennedy’s signature for my daughter Jennifer, an ASU student with a thing for history.

I shared my business card, which soon found its way to fine arts coordinator Janet Blum from the Scottsdale School District, who promptly tracked me down and invited me to check out the workshop taking place on the Virginia G. Piper Theater stage where I’d once watched Kristin Chenoweth perform.

I headed home, wrote and posted a piece on the National Unity Flag, whipped up some pork chops and mashed potatoes for one of my kiddos, and headed back for the final hour or so of the workshop.

There I was warmly greeted by Blum, Keith Preston (fine arts coordinator for the Paradise Valley Unified School District), Tammy Hinds (education program coordinator for the Scottsdale Center for the Performiing Arts) and Melanie Layne from the Kennedy Center.

Kennedy Center Arts Integration Workshop

Seems I’d just missed the performance by four small groups of “tableaus” meant to integrate art and history on the topic of the Western expansion — but they were kind enough to run them again, and to let me sit in for the rest of the evening. I came home with oodles of notes and handouts that you’ll likely see reflected in future posts on arts and education.

After an hour of listening to the “learn by doing” mantra, I realized I could offer at least one teacher the opportunity to take what she’s experiencing at the workshop (which continues on Wednesday) and share it with our readers. Soon I connected with a teacher and proud new mama named Patricia.

Teachers meet tableau in Scottsdale

Writing a guest post will be right up her alley. She’s already blogging regularly as “Little Mamma Italiana” — sharing photos and pearls about parenting baby daughter Gia and life with “daddy Sal.” One photo shows Sal and Gia profiles, suggesting their ears are “exactly the same.” Sorry, Sal. Gia’s are actually cuter.

So what were my “take aways” from the evening? That teachers are some of the hardest working people on the planet, that it’s fun to watch teachers act out history whether you’re five or 50, that art is where it’s at when it comes to hands-on learning. Also that arts integration fosters literacy and helps kids remember material longer.

Watch for Patricia’s post in coming weeks, and more pearls from the arts professionals and teachers taking part in workshops this week. I gave lots of teachers my card, and hope they’ll get in touch to brag a bit about their students and their schools.

– Lynn

Note: Find the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org. Visit the Kennedy Center at www.kennedy-center.org. Sign up for the Arizona Commission on the Arts “Arts Learning Newsletter” at www.azarts.gov. Read Patricia’s blog at http://littlemammaitaliana.blogspot.com/.

Coming up: A duo of posts on costume design, Review: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, What’s new in opera?

Charmed (literally) by Childsplay

Though never big on bling, my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth was sporting a new piece of jewely Friday night. It’s a silver necklace with a crystal ball-shaped bobble and a silver charm set with the Childsplay minstrel logo.

I came home with a bright blue hobo style handbag that I can only hope to have the guts to actually carry in public one day. Not because it isn’t amazing, but because it’s such a stark contrast to my usual attack of the black.

Now Lizabeth can take a bit of Childsplay with her to NYC...

We found these puppies at the silent auction for Childsplay’s annual event to support their arts in education program — dubbed “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits” this year.

It’s a good thing we snagged these babies, because there are still far too many kids who need companies like Childsplay to introduce them to the world of live theater.

Steve Martin, managing director for Childsplay, shared some truly sobering statistics about just how little art exists in Arizona schools, and how little we invest as a state in arts education.

We enjoyed the evening at a table of fellow Childsplay fans, who enjoyed chatting with Lizabeth about her experiences growing up with Childsplay and her plans to begin college theater studies in NYC this fall.

To my right sat a longtime supporter of Childsplay named Andy Dzurinko, whose third book espousing “the power of optimism” will be published later this year. I hope to review a copy since Dzurinko shared that the book offers plenty of insights for youth, parents and teachers as well as business folk.

Childsplay’s warm and genuine graphic designer was seated to our left. She gets to play with the Childsplay mistrel on a regular basis. And she was supremely excited to learn at the end of the evening that she’d won the auction prize of her dreams (which I’d best not share here in case it’s a surprise for her 15-year-old son).

Dinner tables were decorated with fiber artist Sonja Saar’s “Benjamin Bears” — Build-a-Bear teddies that tug at the heart with their handmade, no-two-alike sweaters. Guests were invited to purchase a bear and give it a good home, and we all heeded the admonishion to share rather than fighting over them.

The bears raise awareness and money for a special “Benjamin Fund” named in honor of artist Benjamin Saar, son of David and Sonja Faeroy Saar, who died of AIDS-related complications following a blood transfusion to treat his hemophilia. He was just 8 years old, and a well-worn bear named “Muffa” who lives on in each of Sonja’s sweaters, was his constant companion.

I enjoyed learning a bit more about David Saar during his remarks. Seems his first encounter with making theater came after Saar was recruited for a second prop master gig. Later he nailed the role of “Captain Hook” in a production of “Peter Pan,” a real thrill for a boy who’d years before fallen in love with the original “Peter Pan” starring Mary Martin.

Shopping is almost bearable when it's for a good cause...

We enjoyed running into all sorts of creative folk at the gala, including Frances Smith Cohen of Center Dance Ensemble, who was honored with the “Pied Piper Award” at last year’s Childsplay shindig. She was amazed to see Lizabeth, now several feet taller than when she started dance lessons with “Susie” and “Frannie” at Dance Theater West while in preschool.

This year’s “Pied Piper Award” — given to honor achievement in preserving imagination and wonder by supporting and advocating for quality art and education programs — went to Don Dolye and Lin Wright, founders of the “Theatre for Youth” graduate program at ASU.

This year’s “Sonja Award,” named for Sonja Saar and established to honor volunteer service of time given over time, was presented to Donna Gerometta, Jenny Lucier and Dan O’Neill, and the National Charity League-East Valley Chapter.

The evening concluded with a musical presentation by members of the Childsplay acting ensemble, each donning a glorious costume from one of Childsplay’s “greatest hits” — starting with “Still Life With Iris,” the first Childsplay production I enjoyed with my children.

The ensemble sent us off with “Oh, The Thinks You Can Think” — a fitting ode to all the imagination and wonder that is Childsplay. Perhaps Lizabeth will recall its lyrics each time she wears her Childsplay necklace, a talisman of sorts for carrying the good wishes of her many theater friends back home as she makes her own way amidst all the imagination and wonder that is NYC.

– Lynn

Note: Childsplay performs “The Borrowers” through May 22 at Tempe Center for the Arts. Click here for show and ticket information.

Coming up: Summer arts adventures, What’s new: Shakespeare

Art adventures, ambush style

My latest ambush? The Higley High School office next to the Higley Center for the Performing Arts...

When’s the last time you walked into a high school and let them know you wanted to learn more about the good things they’re doing? It never happens, right?

That might explain the look of shock, but eventually pleasant surprise, when I sauntered into Higley High School with my camera in tow.

I’d just come from seeing a touring production of “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale” presented at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts by the Kennedy Center’s “Theater for Young Audiences” program.

There was a long line of yellow school buses parked outside the theater, which shares space with the local high school — something I also encountered during a recent “art adventure” in Queen Creek.

Like many of Arizona's schools, Higley High School is inviting parents and community members to make donations through the tax credit program

I’ll share photos and more details about my Higley adventures in a future post, but wanted to share with you how much I’m enjoying the new “ambush” approach that’s evolving along with the blog.

I’m grateful for the folks who graciously talk with me about what they do and what they enjoy within the realm of arts and culture.

Several things have changed between that first post and today’s post — which marks #400 for this “Stage Mom.” I’m spending more time exploring parts of the Valley with art treasures too few folks make time to enjoy.

I hope these trips, and the photos I come home with, will encourage you to try more art and culture-related day trips with your own children — which I would love for you to tell me about. It’s the finds of fellow parents that often prove most fruitful.

It’s easier for me to share my discoveries with you now that I am the proud owner of a new laptop. It’s a humble computer, which suits me just fine — but it’s vastly different in several ways from the computer I used for nearly 400 posts.

This volunteer with Friends of the Surprise Libraries was gracious and helpful when I popped in to one of two Surprise library branches to explore their offerings last weekend

My old computer had a non-working battery and was slower than the dickens to process any command — which left me chained to the kitchen table I call my writing home. I’m enjoying my new freedom to write in other rooms and even out there in the big wide world beyond suburbia.

I’ve also gone for a year or so with a non-working backspace key, which can really slow you down when you tend to make at least one mistake a minute. I could get the job done with a delete button, but my family got tired of hearing me pound on the thing like it needed tenderizing.

My old computer was also fond of dropping the first few letters of random words, so there was always that to go back and take care of. The new laptop gives me more time away from the keyboard, and more time out there in the community.

It’s a much more exciting place to be — and I look forward to meeting more of you along the journey. Until my next ambush…

– Lynn

Note: Thanks to all those I’ve chatted with along the way who are still waiting patiently to see the posts featuring their fabulous offerings. Turns out I have more show and tell items than there are days for posting. Who knew?

Coming up: Musings on “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at ASU Gammage and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Part I)”

The fine art of animals

Scene from Childsplay's "A Year With Frog and Toad"

I got to thinking about art with an animal theme as I was making plans to attend “A Year With Frog and Toad,” the opening production of Childsplay’s 33rd season, which runs Sept 18 to Oct 16 (Sat/Sun 1pm & 4pm) at Tempe Center for the Arts.

Turns out there are plenty of theater works for children who enjoy animals of all shapes and sizes — including another Childsplay offering (“Go, Dog, Go!”) scheduled for Jan 29-March 6 of next year, and a Phoenix Theatre Cookie Company production of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” to run Nov 19-28 at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale.

The Great Arizona Puppet Theater closes its run of “Baby Bear Goes to School” on Sept 12, but has oodles of animal fare lined up for the rest of their season — including “Jack in the Beanstalk,” “Apolodo,” “Little Bunny’s Halloween,” “The Little Red Hen,” “Cinderella,” “The Tale of Peter Rabbit,” “The Monkey and the Pirate,” “The Three Little Pigs” and more.

Scene from Childsplay's "Go, Dog, Go!"

I’m especially intrigued by “Apolodo” — which the puppet meisters will perform one night only, Sept 17, at 8pm. It’s based on a poem by Gellu Naum, “one of the greatest Romanian avant-garde poets.”

It’s the tale of a little penguin from a great circus in Budapest who has a full time job as a tenor and entertainer — and “is a bit of an actor on the ice rink.” Sounds like most of my multi-tasking theater friends.

Scene from Great Arizona Puppet Theater's "Apolodor"

Great Arizona Puppet Theater often presents work that increases youth appreciation for wildlife and their habitats.

In “Hotel Saguaro” (Feb 2-20, 2011), grandpa Sammy tells little Sammy about the relationship between desert animals and the saguaro cactus. With “Canyon Condor” (Feb 23-March 6) children learn about the importance of the condor and protecting its environmental niche.

I recall enjoying many a show by the Great Arizona Puppet Theater when my three children, now ages 17-21, were younger. It’s a wonderful introduction to the joys of storytelling, live theater and communal arts experiences.

"Dancing Bear" by Inuit artist Pauta Siala (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

Many a Valley museum features animal-related arts and culture — including the Heard Museum (which has both Phoenix and North Scottsdale locations). I’m especially fond of the polar bears and other North American wildlife depicted in their “Inuit Art” collection, but visitors also can enjoy a host of other animal art from several different cultures — created in all sorts of mediums. The Heard Museum is an especially fun place to play games like “How many fish can you see in this room?” or “Can you find a wolf in this exhibit?”

Keep an eye out for animal-related art at local zoos, nature centers, animal rescue organizations and wildlife habitats. The Phoenix Zoo offers their next “Wild Art” class for 2-5 year olds at 9:30am on Sept 25. (Did you know that koalas are headed their way?) Take a sketch pad and some charcoal or colored pencils along on animal/nature adventures and create your own animal-inspired art.

"Animals and People" by Inuit artist Winnie Tatla (from Heard Museum in Phoenix)

If birds or butterflies are your thing, check the offerings at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

Upcoming art gallery exhibits at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum include an “Art Institute Student Show” opening Oct 2 and “The World of Nature in Miniatures” opening Dec 11.

Several of the Native American petroglyphs at the Deer Valley Rock Art Center depict animals. The museum also offers an educational program called “Ollie’s Storybook Adventures” which offers “fun and interactive ways for children to learn about…plants, animals and archeology of the American southwest.”

Cat in the Hat” fans (of all ages) can now enjoy a new television series on PBS. “The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That,” which first aired on Monday, introduces young children to the wonders of science and the natural world. Comedy lovers may be especially delighted with the choice of actors to voice the role of the Cat — Martin Short (featured just last season at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts).

"Raptors of Arizona" opens Sept 11 at the ASDM Art Institute (Pictured is Richard Sloan's "Harris' Hawk")

Movie buffs who love animal fare can look for a 3-D film about two wolves named Kate and Humphrey opening soon in theaters Valleywide. “Alpha and Omega” also features angry bears, prickly porcupines and a golfing goose with a duck for a caddy.

Remember too that museum gift shops often offer unique animal-related gifts like the mouse-shaped cheese grater I recently picked up at the Phoenix Art Museum gift shop for a certain pasta-lover at our house. I also found a fanciful stuffed animal (a “Deglingos” offering called “Pikos the Hedgehog”) at the Phoenix Art Museum online shop. Alas — I have so far been unsuccessful in landing the rare “Mr. Pricklepants” of thespian and “Toy Story 3″ fame.

Mireya Mayor (photo by Mark Thiessen) comes to the MAC in 2011

Finally, you can enjoy any or all of four “National Geographic Live!” events coming to Mesa Arts Center this season. The first, featuring “Ocean Adventures” with Jean-Michel Cousteau, takes place Oct 20. The final event in the series this season  (March 23, 2011) will feature Mireya Mayor — pictured above with a new lemur species she discovered.

If your organization or venue offers visual or performing arts with an animal theme, please comment below to let our readers know.

– Lynn

Kennedy Center tour hits Higley

Note: Higley Center for the Performing Arts presents a rare treat on Nov 16 for school children pre-K to 1st grade — the touring production of “Knuffle Bunny, A Cautionary Musical” presented by Kennedy Center Theater for Young Audiences. Reservations are required.

Coming up: Sampling of symphonies, A weekend of “Bollywood & beyond”

Here are the answers to trivia questions posed in a recent “Laugh Your Brass Off” post about this weekend’s production of “The Music Man” with The Phoenix Symphony and Phoenix Theatre: “The Music Man” received the 1958 Tony Award for “Best Musical” nominated alongside “New Girl in Town,” “Oh, Captain!,” “Jamaica,” and “West Side Story.” Actors who have performed the role of Winthrop Paroo on stage or screen include Ron (then “Ronnie”) Howard, Eddie Hodges, Cameron Monaghan and Christian Slater.

A modern day campfire?

I felt like a tiny twig used to kindle a much greater fire when I spoke recently with Kim Peter Novak, Director of Theater for Young Audiences with The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

“What’s a humble blogger got to contribute in a world full of experts,” I wondered. Then I remembered gathering around the campire as a young Girl Scout, recalling the way we’d all head out to gather small bits of wood that would forge a fantastic flame once we threw them all together.

Kovac considers theater for young audiences a modern day campfire of sorts. It’s a place we gather to share our stories.

I like the campfire analogy, because sitting around a campfire with friends or family feels warm and welcoming. I hope it speaks to parents who hesitate to take their children to see live theater performance fearing it will be boring or stuffy.

Children aren’t exposed to theater or other live performance art unless they’re taken to see it by a “gatekeeper” of sorts–the parent, youth organization, school or other entity that finds the opportunities and purchases the tickets.

Sometimes parents are reticent because they fear theater produced or presented specifically for youth will be just plain awful. Kovac admits to seeing quite a few poor quality productions during his own young years.

But, he adds, the tide is turning on this one. More and more venues are offering theater for young audiences (which is different than “youth theater” presented by young performers). And more of them are upping the quality quotient.

Kovac reflects that during the past 10 to 15 years, those who put on performances for youth have realized that “the focus should be on quality.”

Cultural views of children have changed in this country, he says. Children are increasingly seen as “real” rather than “second hand” audiences.

That’s a plus for all of us, given that parents, teachers and caretakers are more inclined to take children to activities they enjoy as well.

What the Kennedy Center is really trying to do through their 2010-2011 performances for young audiences season–which includes everything from circus performance and adaptations of children’s literature to original works and jazz coupled with puppetry–is “really good work so a young person will understand and appreciate it.”

The Kennedy Center has an education department designed “to foster understanding of and participation in the arts through exemplary programs and performances for diverse populations of all ages that represent the unique cultural life and heritage of the United States.”

I’m particularly intrigued by their lineup for the 18th year of their “Theater for Young Audiences on Tour Program”–which includes two works commissioned by The Kennedy Center.

“Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” will tour Oct 2010 to May 2011 with “a story about family, best friends, baby steps, and memories that last a lifetime.”

“Barrio Grrrl!,” which caught my eye after seeing “In the Heights” peformed recently at ASU Gammage in Tempe, will tour Jan to April 2011. It’s about a spunky girl and the imaginary friend who live with her “abuelo” (grandfather) while mom is serving as a soldier in Iraq.

While messages abound, Kovac notes that it’s the storytelling that counts.

A good story can share many a life lesson, but the message should never trump the tale.

What we’re really doing when we present or partake of live theater for youth, says Kovac, is what all civilizations did at the beginning.

We’re sitting around the campfire telling our stories.

Marshmallow, anyone?

–Lynn

Note: Watch for a future post sharing Kovak’s tips on creating quality theater for young audiences as well as his observations about trends he expects to see during the next decade or so.

Coming up: Lynn and Liz explore Cedar City, a fabulous destination for all sorts of festivals and fun.