Tag Archives: UA

More than Margaritaville

Even the floors at Xico in Chandler are covered with artwork

For too many Americans, Cinco de Mayo is merely one more excuse to drink beyond reason. For others, it’s a friendly reminder to spend more time exploring the diverse arts and culture of Latin America. For those of you seeking more than Margaritaville, I’ve assembled a humble rundown of a few places you can explore Latin American arts and culture here in Arizona.

  • Arizona Latino Arts & Cultural Center in Phoenix presents visual and performance art. Their “2nd Annual Latina Art Exhibit and Festival” and “What Do Kids Want?” exhibit open today. May’s “First Friday” lineup at ALAC includes the performances by Mystic Events Dance Group, ethnographer Sarah Amira de la Garza and dance group Unidos en Amistad. A Jeremy Gillett play titled “Black & 25 in America” premieres at the center May 12. Learn more at www.alac.mouthtomouthmedia.com.
  • Phoenix Art Museum has a permanent collection of Latin American art that includes more than 400 works of art from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries including religious paintings, colonial furniture, decorative arts and more. Featured artists include Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera — plus many contemporary artists. Learn more at www.phxarts.org.
  • Tucson Museum of Art has more than 1,900 works in its permanent Spanish colonial and folk art collections, in addition to oil-on-tin retablos and Mexican provinical paintings. Current exhibitions include “Frida Kahlo: Through the Lens of Nickolas Murray,” “Tesoros del Pueblo: Latin American Folk Art” and “Frida’s Style: Traditional Women’s Costumes from Mexico.” They’ll present a free screening of the film “Frida” on May 10, and partner with UA to present teacher training in Latin American art. Learn more at www.tucsonmuseumofart.org.
  • Xico in Chandler sponsors the region’s oldest “Dia de los Muertos Festival” — a free event that “showcases community performers, folk art vendors, storytelling, cultural music, children’s activities, a community procession and community altar. The 2012 festival takes place on Nov. 3. They also present community exhibitions and “meet the artist” events featuring works by Latino and Native American artists. Xico offers classes with professional artists to underserved youth, plus printmaking workshops (“an art-form with a rich history among indigenous artists”). Learn more at www.xicoinc.org.

Click here if you’re looking for family-friendly Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and here to learn more about an Arizona organization called Friends of Mexican Art.

– Lynn

Note: Click here if you’re celebrating Keith Haring’s birthday today and here to watch Robert Booker on PBS’s “Horizon” (Booker heads the Arizona Commission on the Arts). If you just like clicking things, simply fondle your remote control.

Coming up: The best pies in Glendale?, Art meets Austria

Update: Works by 2012 Arizona Doodle 4 Google finalists will be exhibited at the Tucson Museum of Art June 1-Aug 31. You can vote online for your favorite Doodle for Google through May 10 by clicking here. 5/4/12; Click here to read “Rescuing the Stories Behind Latino Art” by Holland Cotter published in The New York Times. 5/12.

Lightning strikes

National Poetry Month strikes again in Arizona

Poet Eduardo C. Corral, a native of Casa Grande who holds degrees from Arizona State University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, will read from his recently released collection “Slow Lightning,” Tues, April 10 at the Piper Writers House on the ASU Tempe campus.

Slow Lightning,” Corral’s first collection of poems, was selected as winner of the 2011 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition — making Corral the first Latino to receive this honor. Next week’s reading, sponsored by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, is free and open to the public.

There’s plenty of poetry around these parts nowadays because April is National Poetry Month. Tempe Center for the Arts, for example, is presenting four “Tempe Poetry in April” events this month — featuring Josh Rathkamp (April 4), Jeannine Savard (April 11), Margaret Holley (April 18) and Sherwin Bitsui (April 25). These TCA events are free, so you’ve really no good reason not to give poetry a whirl.

Center Dance Ensemble presents two performances of “American Voices,” featuring new choreography coupled with words by great American poets, Sun, April 15 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. And PVCC Dance at Paradise Valley Community College presents “Kinetic Poetry” — a “collection of dances reflecting the inner voice of the artist” that features “the voices and movement of PVCC dance students and guest artists” — April 27 & 28.

Art Intersection in Gilbert presents “Haibun: The Poetry of Walking” with instructor Mark Haunschild April 7 & 14 — noting that haibun is a classical Japanese form of travel writing combining prose and poetry, first popularized by Matsuo Basho during the 17th century.

The Tucson Poetry Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary this year with participating poets that include Eduardo C. Corral, Karyna McGlynn, Ander Monson and Patricia Smith. All are offering free writing workshops, and taking part in a two-hour panel, Sat, April 7 at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson.

The Poetry Center presents “Poetry Off the Page” April 9-May 31 — which they describe as a gathering of poets “for whom the stage and all of its demands, such as voice, projection, sound effects, lighting, body movement, acting, props and image, all help create a new syntactic breadth for the poetic voice.”

Seems participating poets will be “pressing into new territories in theatre and song and film, performing, in many cases, original never-seen-before work for the Poetry Center.” The center is also offering exhibits featuring poets working in the visual arts. Think Cecilia Vicuna, Danielle Vogel and Jeff Clark. While you’re there, check out “Artistexts,” curated by Johanna Drucker, too.

The Arizona Humanities Council presents “Sharing Words, Changing Worlds” Thurs, April 12 at Tempe Mission Palms. The keynote speaker for the free 6:30pm-8:30pm event is Pulitzer Prize Winner and Poet Laureate Rita Dove — who’ll share poems from her recent book “Sonata Mulattica,” about a young mulatto violinist’s encounters with Beethooven.

Event organizers note that Dove will “reveal how she came to be uniquely suited to the task of rescuing the mixed race violinist George Augustus Polgreen from the shadows of history, and how history comes alive through art.” Dove, who taught creative writing at ASU from 1981 to 1989, and has been honored by both President Clinton (National Humanities Medal) and President Obama (National Medal of Arts). She served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1993 to 1995.

Things are looking good at this point for a bill moving through the Arizona state legislature to create an Arizona Poet Laureate, according to Rusty Foley, executive director for Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts. Nothing’s a sure thing, of course, until the ink dries on a bill. But I like our chances, and there’s already good news to celebrate with the passage of a bill reauthorizing funding for the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

To find additonal poetry-related events in your area, check the calendars for your local libraries, museums and bookstores — plus performing arts venues and college/universities. Also the websites for organizations like the Arizona State Poetry Society and Arizona Authors Association.

Wanna trip out your kids? Just tell ‘em you’re heading out with friends to play with words for a while. Then buy them a journal, watch for kid-friendly poetry programs in your community and inch them along towards the day they’ll be the ones making lightning.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to find family-friendly events any day of the year from Raising Arizona Kids magazine. If your April poetry event in Arizona isn’t listed above, you can comment below to let our readers know.

Coming up: Musings on “Dance Moms Miami,” Movie review: “Bully”

Doing poetry proud

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You don’t have to write poetry to enjoy it, as evidenced by the bios of nine students competing tonight (March 29) in the 2012 Arizona Poetry Out Loud finals at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Some write poetry. Some do sports. Some enjoy performing. But all have at least one thing in common — a talent and taste for reciting poetry aloud, which is exactly what the national Poetry Out Loud program seeks to nurture in high school youth.

Here’s the rundown on this year’s Arizona finalists — courtesy of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, which presents the Arizona Poetry Out Loud finals in partnership with the Young Writers Program at ASU in Tempe and the Poetry Center at UA in Tuscon…

John DeMino of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix will recite “It Couldn’t Be Done” by Edgar Albert Guest and “Ego” by Denise Duhamel. DeMino is a senior who spends a lot of time performing in plays inside and outside of school. He loves to act and wishes to acquire a BFA in acting and pursue a career in the industry.

Travis Marino of Freedom Christian Academy in Queen Creek will recite “Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview” by Gary Soto and “The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.” by Larry Levis. Marino is a 17-year-old junior. This is his second time as a finalist in the Arizona Poetry Out Loud competition. He is a prolific poet, publishing several poems portraying his passion.

Rebecca Andersen of Kingman High School in Kingman will recite “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” by Sir Walter Raleigh and “I am the People, the Mob” by Carl Sandburg. As an aspiring novelist, poetry means a great deal to Andersen. Not only does her love for Emily Dickinson possess deep roots into her childhood, but her beliefs match those of Carl Sandburg and her views of love parallel Sir Walter Raleigh. She plans on studying forensic psychology and creative writing in college.

Sophia Licher of Sedona Red Rock High School in Sedona will recite “The Albatross” by Kate Bass and “The Children’s Hour” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Licher, a sophomore, is a member of the swim team, key club and photo club. She takes private singing lessons and enjoys art, writing, music, reading, photography, hiking, archery, swimming, traveling, animals, friends, family and, last but not least, eating. She would like to study marine biology or veterinary medicine.

Mark Anthony Niadas of St. Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson will recite “The Meaning of the Shovel” by Martin Espada and “I Am!” by John Clare. Niadas is passionate about acting and has performed in several productions at St. Augustine. When not busy acting, he is working to improve his performance on the track team or spending time with friends. Mark, a member of the campus ministry, hopes to attend UNLV, Maryland State or Abilene Christian to study either business or psychology.

Cassandra Valadez of Sunnyside High School in Tucson will recite “The End of Science Fiction” by Lisel Mueller and “The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron (George Gordon). Valadez is a leader with a passion to help others. She is a member of the National Honor Society, AVID, MESA and DECA. “I have a solid belief that through the uneven patches of my life I have picked up some of the most valuable lessons, and through the accomplishments in my life I have learned to be appreciative.”

Adriana Hurtado of Tri-City College Preparatory in Prescott will recite “Bilingual/Bilingue” by Rhina P. Espillat and “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. Hurtado is a freshman. She is active in creative writing and is a member of the softball team.

Joshua Furtado of Tucson High Magnet School in Tucson will recite “Catch a Little Rhyme” by Eve Merriam and “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe. Furtado is a senior and is ecstatic about performing! He would like to thank his parents for their unconditional support, as well as his wonderful English teachers, Merle McPheeters and Kurt Garbe. Furtado is an actor hoping to pursue a career in film and is planning on making the move to L.A.

India Parsons of Westview High School in Avondale will recite “The Collar” by George Herbert and “Ozymandias” by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Parsons is a senior with a passion for English and the swim team. She devotes hours every day to the exercise of her mind and body, so that she can excel in both arenas.

Two common threads emerge in the lives of those competing in this year’s Arizona Poetry Out Loud finals — an appreciation for the fine art of poetry and the choice to be engaged in their communities. One and all are doing poetry, and Arizona, proud.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to read a post with details about tonight’s event if you’d like to come out and show your support for these gifted and hard-working students — the competition is free and open to the public. Click here to explore poems, poets and more through the Poetry Foundation in Chicago.

Coming up: Celebrating National Poetry Month, Tarzan tales

Nine young poets

Nine students compete this Thursday at Phoenix Center for the Arts to become the 2012 Arizona Poetry Out Loud champion. The event is free and open to the public.

Nine young poets will compete Thursday evening in this year’s Arizona Poetry Out Loud finals — taking place at 7pm at Phoenix Center for the Arts. The event features guest emcee Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch – as well as guest reader, poet and author Charles Jenson.

Arizona Poetry Out Loud is a program of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, facilitated in partnership with the Young Writers Program at Arizona State University and The Poetry Center at the University of Arizona.

More than 13,000 Arizona high school students competed in this year’s Poetry Out Loud program at the classroom and school level — and 44 school-level finalists competed in three regional competitions that led to the selection of the nine finalists you’ll be able to watch in action come Thursday night.

State finalists from Central Arizona include John DiMino of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, Travis Marino of Freedom Christian Academy in Queen Creek and India Parsons of Westview High School in Avondale.

State finalists from Northern Arizona include Rebecca Andersen of Kingman High School in Kingman, Sophia Licher from Sedona Red Rock High School in Sedona and Adriana Hurtado of Tri-City College Preparatory High School in Prescott.

State finalists from Southern Arizona include Mark Anthony Niadas of St. Augustine Catholic High School in Tucson, Cassandra Valadez of Sunnyside High School in Tucson and Joshua Furtado of Tucson High Magnet School in Tucson.

The Poetry Out Loud program encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance and competition. “The students work hard to get to the finals,” reflects Robert C. Booker, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts.

“Watching such a diverse group of exceptional young people from around the state stand tall, recite, and display their understanding and love of poetry is truly remarkable and inspirational,” adds Booker. “These young people learn skills through this competition that will serve them for a lifetime.”

Poetry Out Loud is a national program that seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry—recitation and performance — inviting the dynamic aspects of slam poetry, spoken word and theater into English classes.

The program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about their literary heritage. The Arizona state winner will receive $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to compete for the national championship in Washington, D.C.

The state winner’s school will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. One runner-up will receive $100, with $200 for his or her school library. The Poetry Out Loud program will award a total of $50,000 in scholarships (including a $20,000 scholarship for the national champion) and school stipends at the national finals.

Watch for a future post previewing Thursday’s state finals — complete with photos and fun facts about each of this year’s state finalists, plus the scoop on what they’ll be reciting. I’ll also be inviting this year’s state champion to write a guest post featuring his or her experiences with the Poetry Out Loud program.

– Lynn

Note: Learn more about Poetry Out Loud at www.poetryoutloud.org or www.azarts.gov/pol.

Coming up: Art meets incarceration, Exploring students art exhibits

Family-friendly festivals

I first attended the Scottsdale Arts Festival more than a decade ago when my children were very small. They loved tagging along for all sorts of reasons. The chance to see paintings, sculpture and other works of art. Hands-on arts and crafts projects. Fresh air and sunshine. Even the chance to people and pet watch.

This year’s Scottsdale Arts Festival takes place March 9-11 outdoors at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. Folks who attend can experience the works of more than 180 artists from across the country, more than 20 bands and entertainers and a dozen “gourmet” food trucks.

Natalie Irish will be creating artwork with kisses during the Scottsdale Arts Festival that runs March 9-11

Also “one eye-popping art project made of kisses and you” — plus a host of interactive art projects and an Imagine Nation kids area.

The festival runs Fri/Sat 10am-6pm, and Sun 10am-5pm. Children under age 12 are free and students pay just $5 to attend (single tickets for others are $7).

The Mesa Festival of Creativity also kicks off on Fri, March 9 — but it runs through Sun, March 18. It’s being held Mesa Arts Center, and though admission to most events is free, there is a $5 charge to take a “Studio Sampler” class or explore the “Mirazozo” sculpture.

Folks who attend the Mesa Festival of Creativity can add their strand to a community fiber arts project, create an origami bird to help fill trees surrounding MAC, play a giant “Earth Harp,” watch an artist couple painting with break dancing, create a work of chalk art, help build a giant LEGO structure and more. Festival hours are noon to 9pm.

The Tucson Festival of Books takes place March 10 & 11 9am-5:30pm on the University of Arizona campus. The festival features dozens of authors, illustrators and storytellers — including Caldecott and Newbury Award winners. Also entertainment including music, dance and more — much of it with a multicultural vibe. There’s also a special children’s area.

The Irish Cultural Center presents their 29th annual “St. Patrick’s Day Parade & Faire” Sat, March 17 10am-6pm, beginning with a parade up 3rd St. from the Irish Cultural Center to Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix. The festival features “music, dancing, piping, a beer garden and dozens of vendors selling artifacts and food” – plus a children’s area. Dress as you will but know that anything other than green will stick out like a five-leaf clover in a field of shamrocks.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts presents another festival next month. Their “OrigiNation: A Festival of National Cultures” April 14 & 15 noon-4pm will “celebrate indigenous cultures of Arizona, Australia and New Zealand.” The free event features an arts and crafts market, arts and crafts exhibits, children’s activities and workshops, and more. It’s being held in conjunction with the center’s “Discovery Series.”

– Lynn

Note: The Heard Museum also holds several festivals each year, so watch their website for upcoming events as well. And click here if you’d like to learn more about the Red Shamrock Foundation, an Iowa-based organization supporting patients and families who have been through cancer treatment.

Coming up: Another Arizona Centennial, Art meets refugee, Music experiences for the very young

Let the Sun Devils shine in

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company performs "Body Against Body" at ASU Gammage March 6 (Photo: New York Live Arts)

As proud Sun Devil parents, we often enjoy arts and culture on the Tempe campus where our daughter Jennifer studies cultural anthroplogy. Touring Broadway productions at ASU Gammage. Art exhibits at the ASU Art Museum and assorted galleries. Theater, dance and music productions at various on-campus venues. And festivals held outdoors where sunshine meets Sun Devil.

But ASU arts and culture is also easy to find in all sorts of community settings, from the ASU Kerr Cultural Center in Scottsdale to the ASU Night Gallery at Tempe Marketplace. Each offers a host of no-cost and low-cost arts experiences that make family explorations of art easy and affordable.

An exhibition featuring works by feminist artists runs March 5-16 at ASU in Tempe (Photo: Rosalind Shipley)

ASU faculty and students also perform at various venues throughout the Valley, including the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix — which presents musical offerings from UA as well as part of its “University Series.” Let the atheletes do their rivalry thing. In the world of music, it’s all good.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts presents “ASU Concerts at the Center” — featuring band, choral, symphonic and chamber music. Informal pre-concert talks are held before each concert, and tickets run just $10 (though all students can attend for free). This season’s remaining concerts are “Trumpet Festival” on March 5 and “Ocotillo Winds” on April 2.

You’ll find all sorts of arts and culture by exploring Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts events– or any given’s days listing of ASU events on the university calendar. Just this weekend, you can enjoy their “Night of the Open Door” festival, a Lyric Opera Theatre preformance of “Ainadamar,” a “Dance Annual” performance and a theater work titled “American Victory.”

The Herberger Institute also offers several community programs – in art, dance, design and music. And if you head to ASU’s Tempe campus on Mon, March 5, you can enjoy a reception for Jack Gantos, author of “Dead End in Norvelt” and recipient of the 2012 Newbury Medal.

A member of the ASU faculty performs March 11 at Tempe Center for the Arts’ “Sonoran Chamber Music Series: Violinist Stephanie Chase, Cellist Thomas Landschoot and Pianist Doris Stevenson” — and the seventh annual “ASU Student Film Festival” takes place April 23 & 24 at Harkins Theatres’ Valley Art Theatre in downtown Tempe.

Those of you with high school students exploring college options can click here to learn more about ASU offerings in art, dance, design, music, theatre and film — as well as arts. media + engineering.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “Body Against Body” and here for information on “Troubling the Archive.” ASU in Tempe is also home to the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, which offers workshops, readings and more.

Coming up: It’s finally here!

What’s new in Tucson?

A Cafe Bohemia reading presented in Tucson by Arizona Theatre Company

Folks who head to Tucson this Sunday night can enjoy one in a series of readings of new works. Arizona Theatre Company is presenting a little something called “Café Bohemia” — featuring a hip hop play titled “Used To Was (Maybe Did)” that explores “age old questions within the form.” Think style versus substance, ethics versus selling out, the spirit of hip hop versus the money of hip hop. Presenters are partnering with the Tucson Museum of Art as part of its “Tucson Rocks!” program. 

Arizona Theatre Company’s “Café Bohemia” is a “season of play readings, jams and ideas, featuring diverse new works from bold and inventive playwrights.” Folks who hit these events at the Temple Lounge (located at the Temple of Music and Art in downtown Tucson) get to “participate in the new play process” and “hear works read aloud by the best local and national actors.”

Poetry Joey workshop at the UA Poetry Center (Photo: Annie Guthrie)

It’s no place for the tiny ones, of course, but your mature teens might enjoy giving it a try. Tucson has other things to offer the toddlers to tweens in your life, like “Family Days, which evolved out of the “Poetry Joeys” program at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. They’re held once a month during the academic year from 10am to 1pm, and there’s one scheduled for this Saturday.

Family Days” feature “youth writing, local music, games, interactive bookmaking workshops, science experiments, storytelling, creative movement activities and other poem-happenings that are designed to inspire youth and their families to explore the world around them through language.” Poetry Joeys workshops, including a new infant sing-a-long class, take place from 10-11am.

As Thanksgiving approaches, remember the importance of spending truly meaningful time with family and friends. Be genuinely grateful for the people in your life, and for the beauty and bounty of language all around us. Happenings like those shared above make it fun and easy to do both. Thank goodness.

– Lynn

Coming up: The wonder of Waddell, What’s new in Prescott?, The fine art of empty bowls, Word play on Thanksgiving day

Tribble time!

We rarely exchange your typical ties and sweaters during the holiday season, but lean instead towards gifts that some might consider a bit geek-ish. I was reminded recently, after learning that something called “Star Trek Live” is headed to the Valley, of the year Lizabeth gave her dad a Tribble.

Tribbles are fictional furry creatures that first appeared in a 1967 episode of the original “Star Trek” television series. I’m told they’re gentle and do a little purring thing, but I’m less qualified than my hubby and daughter Lizabeth to address such things. I’m more of a “Tigger” kind of a gal.

Our other daughter Jennifer admits to being in my camp on this one. “I only try and learn about Star Trek so I can understand my sister,” she tells me. I’m an only child so I find this approach to sistering rather intriguing. Maybe we should both head out Sunday to see the ”Starfeet Academy” show at Mesa Arts Center.

Performers from the science meets live theater production of Star Trek Live: Starfleet Academy coming soon to Mesa

“Star Trek Live: Starfleet Academy” is described by its presenters, Mad Science Productions, as “an interactive adventure.” Think “cutting-edge special effects, audience interaction and on-screen appearances from Captain Kirk and Spock.”

School “Star Trek Live” shows are scheduled for Mon, Nov. 21 and Tues., Nov 22 – and there’s even a 69-page teacher guide available online. It’s a cross between serious science and fun activities like crossword puzzles, but my favorite piece deals with rockets (mostly because my own kids had such a great time making and launching rockets at Desert View Learning Center).

Nowadays we’re keeping an eye on what several cast members from the original “Star Trek” television series are up to. George Takei (“Sulu”) is working to bring a new musical titled “Allegiance” to the Broadway stage, planning first for a premiere and run in San Diego. Where are those darn “beam me up” machines when you need them?

Leonard Nimoy (“Spock”) is still working with that whole logical/illogical thing as he explores the vast realms of poetry and photography. Nimoy’s poetry is part of an exhibition you can enjoy at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson through Dec. 23. It’s titled “Celebrity Poets” and also pays tributes to works by Suzanne Somers, Viggo Mortensen, Leonard Cohen, Tupac Shakur and others.

The most dedicated “Star Trek” fans among us have already added dates for 2012 “Comicon” events to their calendars. For folks in Phoenix, it’s “Phoenix Comicon,” coming to the Phoenix Convention Center over Memorial Day weekend (May 24-27).

Be sure to look for me if you go — I’ll be the woman with a Tribble in tow.

– Lynn

Coming up: “Occupy Bella”

Harem tales

Enjoy a new twist on A Midsummer Night's Dream at SCC on Oct. 28 & 29

I attended two shows in Scottsdale this weekend – each with something of a harem theme. First, a community college production of a Shakespeare work. Next, a community youth theater production of a Disney tale. Those of you still searching for Halloween costume inspiration take note.

The Theatre Arts program at Scottsdale Community College is performing William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” through Sat, Oct. 29. It’s one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, but director Randy Messersmith brings a unique twist to the work – setting the comedic escapade about the follies of love in ancient India rather than Athens.

Sets, costumes, music and props convey an “Arabian Nights” feel that keeps the play fresh even for those who’ve seen it performed countless times. With a little time spent on the storyline and characters before attending, it makes for a fun introduction to Shakespeare for teen audiences or those not terribly familiar with Shakespeare’s work.

I attended Friday night’s performance, and was especially impressed by one actor in particular – a recent theater graduate from the University of Arizona. Andy Cahoon, who performs the role of Lysander, has a firm grasp of Shakespeare’s language, delivering his lines comfortably and convincingly.

Sasha Wordlaw shines in seductress mode as she performs the role of fairy queen Titania, and Ryan Wetter’s Nick Bottom is a brilliant bit of buffoonery. Much of this production’s humor derives from movement choreographed by Karryn Allen that’s well executed by the entire cast.

The real stars of this production are two members of the design team, whose work elevates the feel of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to something akin to opera. The combination of scenic design by Kimb Williamson and lighting design by Paul Black does justice to the play’s reputation as a visual feast.

The SCC theater production students who tackled scenery construction for this one, as well as the electrical crew, deserve high praise for bringing the designers’ visions to life. I’m in awe of you, one and all.

I enjoyed costume designer Elizabeth Peterson’s work, but got a bit nervous when a pair of harem pants seemed to hit closer to the bikini line than the belly button. Maybe that’s just the mother in me talking.

The “Midsummer” mask work by Maren Maclean Mascarelli adds much to the show. I’ve seen this woman paper maché, and mold the human medium — and she’s fierce. SCC theater students are fortunate to study with her, and with Williamson and Messersmith too.

Enjoy Disney's Aladdin Jr. performed by Greasepaint Youtheatre through Oct. 30

Greasepaint Youtheatre performs the kid-friendly musical “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” through Sun, Oct. 30. Whether the Scottsdale theater venue they call home is dubbed “Greasepaint Youtheatre” or “Stagebrush Theatre” depends on who you ask — but no matter, it’s got a perfectly-sized stage for serious productions.

“Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” is directed by Jodie Weiss, events specialist with Childsplay in Tempe. The musical is based on the screenplay by Ron Clementsand, John Musker, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio. Jim Luig adapted the musical’s book and wrote additional lyrics.

But it’s the contributions of Alan Menken (who wrote the music), plus Howard Ashman and Tim Rice (who wrote the lyrics) that fans of musical theater most fervently praise. Best loved songs from the show include “Arabian Nights,” “Friend Like Me” and “A Whole New World.”

I attended Sunday’s matinee performance, where the packed house included enthusiastic audience members of all ages. The cast delivered a high-energy performance full of dance, acrobatics, humor and song. Liz Grannis (Princess Jasmine) and Andrey Lull (Aladdin) are well matched as the romantic couple at the center of the story. Lull delivers both a strong vocal performance and a kiss complete with dip.

The script is full of humor — playing on words, adding new twists to songs well loved by the “yuppie generation” and sprinkling dialogue with fun expressions like “riff raff” some of us thought only our mothers were accustomed to using. Actors Jacob Stovall (Jafar), Amanda Rahaman (Genie) and Lexa Rose (Iago) are the perfect comedic trio.

Greasepaint’s production of “Aladdin Jr.” has the feel of a glorious piece of big musical theater — making good use of its large cast in the song and dance department, and adding a trio of live musicians whose performance on keyboard, drums, saxaphone and flute gets the joint jumpin’ with a jazzy big band vibe.

John Luke Osorio serves as musical director and Ariana Ziskin as choreographer. The artistic team boasts some impressive resumes. Josef Rahaman and Kris Rahaman did set and properties design. Nathalie Koyabe did costume design. Pete Bish did sound design. Andrea Williams serves as stage manager.

Lighting design is the work of Bob Nelson, who proves in the production that less can be more. His work is subtle, adding to the ambiance of Agrabah both day and night without screaming at the audience. Be prepared, when you attend, for moderate use of fog and strobe lights.

Part of this production’s charm is the number of very young cast members, who bring both talent and a serious dose of adorable. Two other actors deserve special mention – Thea Eigo in the role of Abu and Grace Elsie in the role of Magic carpet.

Still, the fun, fabulous feel of this show is a collective triumph for the entire cast and creative team. As I observed those involved in the show before, during and after Sunday’s performance — it was clear that Greasepaint Youtheatre understands the importance of theater as a team sport.

– Lynn

Note: Photos above feature (L to R) Andy Cahoon (Lysander), Paula Vasquez (Hermia), Kaylyn Riggs (Helena) and Chris Ellis (Demetrius) in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Scottsdale Community College — and Andrey Lull (Aladdin), Liz Grannis (Princess Jasmine) and Grace Elsie (Flying carpet) in “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.” at Greasepaint Youtheatre.

Coming up: Born to be blue?, Celebrating birthdays — theater style

A tale of teen angst

We forget sometimes that the musical “West Side Story” is a modern-day take on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” — a tale of young love thwarted by feuding families and the fickleness of fate.

I tend to think big song and dance numbers set against colorful sets and costumes — which is what I expect the touring production of “West Side Story” to deliver when it hits ASU Gammage Sept 27-Oct 2.

If I snap, will the West Side Story cast jump? (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But I was reminded, after chatting recently with cast member and seasoned television actor John O’Creagh, that it also delivers a powerful portrayal of “the difficulty kids have in defining themselves.”

ASU Gammage says the show is appropriate for ages 13 and up because it “deals with adult themes: violence, murder, rape and bigotry.” It includes “bad language, sexual innuendos and racial slurs.”

“It’s a very powerful work,” says O’Creagh, who describes “West Side Story” as “a very painful show in a lot of ways.” It’s a tough look at teens in rival gangs in New York City — and the challenge of making love survive in an atmosphere of hate.

Ali Ewoldt and Kyle Harris of West Side Story (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The original production of “West Side Story” opened on Broadway in 1957, when Americans commonly judged one another based on skin color, language and the like — something that still happens all too often today. Something else was true both then and now, according to O’Creagh. “Adolescence is a nightmare.”

The original Broadway production of “West Side Story” featured music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins. The script was written by Arthur Laurents, who died earlier this year at the age of 93.

O’Creagh recalls that Laurents attended many rehearsals for this touring production of the show’s 2009 Broadway revival, exploring the show’s characters with cast members who include Kyle Harris (Tony), who holds a BFA from the University of Arizona, and Ali Ewoldt (Maria), who holds a BA in psychology from Yale University.

O’Creagh describes fellow cast members as “sensible, disciplined and hard working.” Not surprising given that they’ve studied at places like The Juilliard School, performed on Broadway in shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Les Miserables,” and worked with dancers like Merce Cunningham and Twyla Tharp.

Please control the urge to attempt these West Side Story moves until you get home after the show (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But when did O’Creagh first catch the acting bug? While playing Stage Manager in a high school production of “Our Town” — which left him feeling he’d spent his whole life preparing to do acting. “It was comfortable,” recalls O’Creagh. “Acting felt like a good old pair of sneakers.”

So what’s his advice for youth considering the acting life? “Read everything you possibly can,” he says. “Learn everything you possibly can.” Study grammar and language too — because acting is a craft born and carried by words.

– Lynn

Note: Those who attend the Thurs, Sept 29 performance of “West Side Story” at ASU Gammage can stay after for a free talkback with cast and creative team members presented by 99.9 KEZ. Fans of “West Side Story” can also see the Actor’s Youth Theatre production which runs June 26-30, 2012 at Mesa Arts Center.

Coming up: Fall break camps with an arts twist