After on stage warm-ups that included plenty of high fives and cheering, Sarah Sullivan and Xanthia Angel Walker asked a cast of nearly three dozen youth (plus two grown-up actors) to picture “one person or thing you want to dedicate this show to.” Soon they’d begin a dress rehearsal for “Some Are Beginning,” a play written by José Zárate with several Valley youth as part of “The Arizonan Project.”
It’s an effort by newly-formed Rising Youth Theatre, founded by Sullivan and Walker, to engage youth in telling their own stories. It’s up and running thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $5000, plus funding from the New Jersey-based Puffin Foundation — which “provides grants to artists and art organizations who are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender, or social philosophy.”
“You are making history right now,” the pair told their eager young performers — who auditioned for the show after learning of the newly-creating Rising Youth Theatre through various venues, including Phoenix Center for the Arts, where “Some Are Beginning” opens tonight at 7:30pm. There’s also a 7:30pm show on Sat, April 28 — and a 6pm show on Sun, April 29. Tickets are just $10 or “pay what you can at the door.”
More than 100 young people from across the Phoenix metro area have been involved in developing and presenting the work, according to Sullivan and Walker — who note that their collaborators for this production include not only Phoenix Center for the Arts (which offers all sorts of arts experiences for kids and adults), but also the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix, Flight 33 and Barrio Nuevo.
I chatted with several small groups of “Some Are Beginning” actors before Thursday night’s dress rehearsal. Some showed remarkable focus. Others bounced to and fro with excitement. None seemed nervous, and all were incredibly composed and polished once the show got underway. Some aspire to theater careers, while others are happy just for the chance to make new friends.
“The play is about living in Arizona,” they told me. Also friendship, facing hardship, not judging others and standing up for those who’re mistreated. “It’s about the experiences of being a kid,” shares Sullivan, “which are really human experiences.” The work is suitable, she says, for audiences ages 8 and up — including adults. I found it sweet, funny and insightful. But it’s something more. It’s a beginning.
“This is the first performance of the first play of a brand new theater,” Walker told the cast before Thursday’s rehearsal. “I hope you’ll always remember how special this was.”
Note: Click here for more information on tonight’s performance
Coming up: From journalism to playwriting
Photos by José Zárate