Tag Archives: Tyler Pounds

Guest review: “Spring Awakening”

By guest blogger Tyler Pounds

Artistic creators of the theatric, known to the less pretentious as actors, have their work cut out for them as time goes on, with pesky playwrights giving them new cutting edge pieces to put on while directors backed by Red Hat Society chapters demand classics as suitably aged as them.  

That is why a well-rounded training program teaches both new and old styles of acting, and why it was a real treat to see a group of high school students at Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics (ACAA) put on a production of “Spring Awakening,” a recently licensed Broadway musical with music by Duncan Sheik which is a musicalized reimagining of Frank Wedekind’s 1891 expressionist play “Spring Awakening: A Children’s Tragedy.”

Expressionism, to be drastically simple, purposefully keeps the audience from immersing in the story so they have a fuller grasp of the themes of the play. “Spring Awakening” (the musical) uses its alternative rock music to contrast the 18th century setting while also making contemporary the story of teenagers experiencing sexual uges for the first time.

Tyler Pounds is an ASU student and actor who frequently appears in Valley theater productions

Common expressionistic techniques such as fourth wall breaking, choreographed movements and using audience implants to join stage movement were well used. Some were…clunky.

When singing was required, microphones were pulled from inside coat pockets and under chairs. On Broadway this was daring, and became a trademark of the production; in such a small space with a teenage sound crew of one, it became gut wrenching.

Harmony lines overshadowed lyrics, coughing underscored quiet scenes and singing disappeared when the overly-relied on kids’ mics weren’t on during their short alternating solos. On the small stage, microphones with the batteries taken out would have given them all the pros and none of the cons.

Another hiccup happened during Hanschen’s seduction of Ernst, when the actor portraying Ernst seemed suddenly nervous about acting out any feeling with an entire audience watching. While adding humor to the scene, it killed the expressionist meaning.

Addressing that, the audience is there to propel the audience. Not the characters. The play itself is a closed box, occasionally saying something to a hypothetical audience the way a news anchor talks to viewers. It is very against the spirit of Expressionism.

And when we are seeing a play with controversial themes, the implications of the themes shown should be addressed. Again the scene with Hanschen and Ernst; in the script of both play and musical the two boys express their love, kiss multiple times, and hope to grow old together.

ACAA’s production played Hanschen as a dope and Ernst as mostly unwilling, giving one chaste kiss, brushing the line “I love you Hanschen!” off as phony, and running away from him at the end of the scene.

Wendla and Melchior, a heterosexual couple, are treated, on the other hand, as if their love is true and just and pure. The dichotomy between the two in this show seems to make the statement that homosexuality is a joke.

Meanwhile, during the songs “Touch Me” and “Mama Who Bore Me,” cast members who trace their own bodies while singing about physical acts of pleasure empasize above-the-waist stroking, diluting the message of free sexual knowledge that the show praises.

I was warned before going that some aspects of the show were toned down. But the question needs to be asked: should it? Can a play about sexuality in teenagers, meant to be seen by a teenage audience, censor itself? Touching one’s own body and gays kissing gays are all a part of growing up in our society.  ACAA put on a great high school show. The production just needs to know it still has a lot to learn.

Hopefully they (and you) will get a ticket for Nearly Naked Theatre and Phoenix Theatre’s production of “Spring Awakening,” helmed by Robert Kolby Harper and Damon Dering. Plenty of time to read the play, buy the soundtrack, and study Expressionism, as that production’s opening night is scheduled for June 15, 2012.

– Tyler

Note: Tyler Pounds is an ASU student and actor who frequenty performs in local community theater productions.

Coming up: “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part I”

Got glee?

Fond as I am of watching the FOX television series “Glee,” I’m a bigger fan of Valley kids who “do the glee” in real time.

Those snappy numbers and catchy tunes don’t come to life quite as quickly off-screen, according to Valley actor and Mesa Community College (MCC) student Tyler Pounds.

Still, they’re every bit as fun — and have much to offer in terms of fostering creativity, teamwork and self-expression.

If your child is game for a bit of glee, consider a spring break camp with plenty of acting, singing and dancing.

Your choices include the “Spring Glee Camp” at Chandler Center for the Performing Arts — which runs March 21-25 and features “professional coaching in all aspects of musical theatre” by Kristen Drathman.

The camp runs 9am to noon that week, is designed for campers ages 8 & up, and takes place at the Chandler Center for the Performing Arts.

Drathman describes the camp as “a wonderful motivator and social outlet to get kids off the couch and doing something artistic, athletic and fun for the break.”

“Musical theater,” she told me, “works the body as well as the mind.”

Then Drathman added this quip: “Singing and dancing all morning…I mean, who wouldn’t want to do that!”

Turns out Drathman also gets to spend many of her evenings singing and dancing because she performs regularly on Valley stages — though she’s currently performing for more of a matinee crowd as the “Yellow Dog” in Childsplay’s “Go, Dog. Go!” at the Tempe Center for the Arts.

Other options include the “Musical Theatre Glee Camp” being presented March 14-18 by an organization that’s fairly new to the Valley — Scottsdale Glee.

Camp hours are 9am to noon, but afternoon sessions focused on music appreciation and exploration are available at additional cost.

Scottsdale Glee instructors include Christine Kyhn, Nola Enge and Lisa Fogel. The camp (as well as other Scottsdale Glee programs) takes place at Shepherd of the Hills United Church of Christ in Phoenix — which is also home to one of the Valley’s “parent cooperative” preschools.

It’s just a hop, skip and jump away from Arcadia Music Academy, which is housed at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church — where my daughter Lizabeth first studied violin with Cynthia Baker.

Chandler Center for the Arts and Scottsdale Glee also offer summer options with a glee theme, plus other activities and opportunities for children interested in the arts.

As a mom whose children have missed far too many summer opportunities because of lingering too long over the oodles of choices out there, I offer three pieces of advice.

First, start asking around now. Second, attend the Raising Arizona Kids magazine camp fair next month. Third, get your child registered before popular programs like “Camp Broadway” at ASU Gammage are full.

While Pounds and others correctly note that characters on the television show “Glee” are often stereotyped to the extreme, I’m convinced that musical theater in real life does more to break down barriers than build dividing walls between students.

– Lynn

Note: Pounds is one of several students who’ll perform in the Arizona State University Lyric Opera Theatre Student Workshop production of “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” — which runs Jan 28-Feb 6. He’ll also be performing the role of “William Barfee,” as will William Marquez, in “The 39th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” being presented by MCC’s Act I Musical Productions March 3-12. Both contain mature content not suitable for children — so enjoy them with a friend, then take the kids to see a puppet show.

Coming up: More summer theater camps, Art in the round, Film festival meets Arizona politics, Art and healing, Talkback time: “Spring Awakening” at ASU Gammage, Valley students create art to commemorate “No Name-Calling Week”

Got GLEE? Send me a digital photo (or photos) of your Glee club or camp in action and it might be featured in a future post spotlighting Glee groups in the Valley. Please send by Fri, Feb 4 to rakstagemom@gmail.com.

Oliver! Oh, what a feeling!

Gin in a tin. Laps and slaps. London pubs and billy clubs (a teen in a top hat was kind enough to tell me the correct term is “jemmy”). I was transported to mid-19th century London Friday night thanks to the combined creativity of Charles Dickens, Lionel Bart and D. Scott Withers.

Withers is directing Oliver!, which runs through Dec. 20th at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale. It’s the first production by Greasepaint Youtheatre since its formal affiliation with Phoenix Theatre, Arizona’s oldest arts organization (founded in 1920). But this blog isn’t focused on mere facts. It’s all about a feeling.

It’s the feeling you get when the audience begins to gasp and giggle just five minutes into the show. It’s the feeling you get when your child takes the stage donning a worn out shawl or knickers and tussled hair surrounding a face speckled with cosmetic coal. It’s the feeling you get when the folks sitting on either side of you begin to clap along as the ensemble sings and dances through classics like “Oom Pah Pah” and “Consider Yourself.”

Oliver! opened Friday night to the most enthusiastic theater audience I have seen—anywhere—for a youth or adult production. Were the stage a bit bigger, I might have mistaken it for a touring Broadway show at ASU Gammage.

One mother, dubbed a “momager” by her teenage son, recalls seeing the musical a good ten times, on Broadway and elsewhere—and hails it as the best production she’s ever seen. Fact or feeling? I’m not sure it matters. I swelled with the same pride. Our children were in their bliss.

A common theme emerged as I talked with opening night attendees after the show: Every cast member was 100%. Among the first to notice was Toby Yatso, an associate artist with Phoenix Theatre who also teaches at Arizona School for the Arts, directs the Greasepaint LIVE performance troupe and loves cats. He was especially impressed by the cast’s (not cats’) focus and energy, calling their performance “awesome!”

The live music, including various percussion pieces, brought real depth. The lights fostered an atmosphere of suspense amidst a familiar story line. The choreography drew the audience in with enthusiasm. Every singer was truly talented. Every dancer crisp and compelling. Every line delivered in convincing Cockney dialect.

Everything screamed “These people are professionals!” Even the kids, a delightful mix of new faces and seasoned actors, gushed over the extravagant set detail and true period costuming when I chatted with them backstage on Saturday. They seemed equally excited about their development as actors and their deepening understanding of another place and time. The audience was clearly appreciative, going into standing ovation mode at the onset of the curtain call rather than waiting for actors in the lead roles to take their bows.

I chatted a bit with the cast about the larger meaning they’re taking from the show. One of the younger performers talked about his realization that a person facing hard times isn’t necessarily a bad person. This was mirrored in lobby displays addressing the topic of homelessness.

While some bulletin boards described the origins of things like afternoon tea and newsboy caps, others examined the causes of homelessness and Valley organizations making a difference for homeless youth and families. I love the way so many Phoenix Theatre and Greasepaint Youtheatre productions leave me feeling more educated and empowered.

So who are these amazing youth? Here’s just a brief sampling of some of their credits: American Idol Hollywood finals. Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for Broadway Across America-Arizona. Performances with Hale Centre Theatre, Valley Youth Theatre, Stray Cat Theatre, Broadway Palm Dinner Theater, Childsplay, Actors Theatre of Phoenix, Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, Arizona Opera and more.

Add to this their academic achievements and leadership positions, such as senior class president and national honor society member, and you begin to fathom the true depth of their character. I’m struck, awe-struck really, by the hard work that must have gone into taking this production from audition to opening night. That these talented youth can master their lines as well as their homework is inspiring. That’s a fact.

So what keeps them going? Christopher Moffitt (Oliver) says he’s always learning something new, meeting new people and growing more confident in the public speaking skills he expects to use for a lifetime. Tyler Pounds (Bill Sykes) says he’s become more responsible and physically fit thanks to theater. The brevity of blogging prevents me from sharing the reflections of every cast member here—but perhaps more comments will find their way into future posts.

Young cast members were every bit as charming off-stage as on-stage (Please, kids, never lose this quality). When they weren’t in a particular scene, they’d wait calmly and courteously in the green room. Older and younger cast members mingled as they played board games or cards. The kids doing homework took turns using a single pencil they found on a table and helping each other brainstorm ideas for upcoming school papers and projects. One boy sat sideways in a chair, aided by a friend as he wrote his own play. The floor was uncluttered except for a stray UGG boot and tennis shoe or two.

Watching them act, and interact, I felt hope. Hope that the future of community theater is in good hands. Hope that they’ll enjoy enriching school, work and life experiences. Hope that they will transform the arts just as the arts are transforming them.

–Lynn

Note: If you’d like to learn more about homelessness in Arizona and ways you can make a difference, consider contacting one or more of these organizations: StandUp, Helping Hands Housing Services, UMOM New Day Center, Open Table, CASS and Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development.