Million dollar moments

Austin Cook (center) with 2012 Camp Broadway youth at ASU Gammage in Tempe

Dozens of kids attending this year’s Camp Broadway at ASU Gammage saw Wednesday night’s performance of “Million Dollar Quartet,” then spent time with cast members and other fine folks who work on the show. The opportunity to interact with performers and other theater professionals is part of each summer’s “Camp Broadway” experience.

Camp Broadway participants enjoying lunch at ASU Gammage

Before enjoying a buffet lunch featuring cold cuts, burgers, assorted desserts and even some healthy stuff, campers in small groups of a dozen or so rotated through various stations. Three with ASU Gammage professionals who addressed marketing, technical elements of theater and such — plus another one with several members of the “Million Dollar Quartet” team.

Campers learned how the show’s set gets assembled in each city, how musicians manage tricks like playing a piano set behind them or standing on a double bass, how cast members prepare for their roles and plenty of other tricks of the trade. Also that equipment used in “Million Dollar Quartet” is all new but designed by 1950s specifications so it gives a genuine ’50s sound, and that the whole set weighs about 10,000 pounds.

Smiling faces participating in this year’s Camp Broadway in Tempe

During lunch, cast members took turns answering questions for eager campers, counselors and ASU Gammage VIPs. Each talked about how they caught the theater bug, shared a bit about where they’re from, discussed their college background and offered some sage advice.

Parents dream of moments such as these for their children — when grown-ups they admire share guidance not so different from their own, but more readily accepted because it didn’t come from mom or dad. Find your passion, team MDQ told them. Work hard. Practice. Be disciplined. Treat fellow theater folk (and all folk) with respect. Ignore the naysayers. Be yourself. Believe in yourself.

L to R: Lamont, Marie, Cook, Ferris, Presney and Krug from the first “Million Dollar Quartet” national tour during a Camp Broadway event at ASU Gammage

Kelly Lamont (Dyanne) recalled her first performance at the age of three or four. Think “Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.” Alyssa Marie (u/s Dyanne) spoke of doing her Molly thing in “Annie” as a seven year old. Austin Cook (u/s, Jerry Lee Lewis) discussed his experience “on the classical side,” which started with an “Amahl and the Night Visitors” gig when he was 11.

Lee Ferris (Carl Perkins) admited he was all about baseball until a choir teacher suggested he try out for “Guys and Dolls” — while John Michael Presney (u/s Carl Perkins, Asst. Stage Manager) shared a tidbit from his 2nd grade performance in “Will Rogers Follies.” Seems his big entrance was popping out of a box. “I got stuck,” he told the campers, “in front of 2,000 people.”

John Michael Presney (R) with Camp Broadway campers at ASU Gammage

Stage Manager Michael Krug got his first backstage experience during a college program in technical theater. “I’ve never been a performer,” he shared, “because I can’t sing, act or dance.” After revealing that he’d rocked the Elephant Bird role as a fifth grader in “Horton Hears a Who,” Krug took some good-hearted ribbing from cast members — who pounced on his offer to show them the tape.

I was seated during lunch next to a Juilliard-trained musician named Steve, one of two music directors working with this year’s campers. The other hails from Pace University, where our daughter Lizabeth is a sophomore. He offered plenty of pearls, including one that’ll be a relief to parents who can’t afford oodles of voice lessons or private coaching for their child. Just sing a lot, he suggested, because using the muscles makes them stronger.

Camper and counselor enjoying Camp Broadway at ASU Gammage

One of the younger campers assumed I was a performer, and sweetly suggested that I sing for him. I assured him he’d be better off if I didn’t, then made the rounds to various tables — asking campers at each, “What’s the best thing about Camp Broadway?” Answers ranged from “everything” to “it’s awesome” — and lots of campers told me it was the chance to learn singing, dancing and acting in one place.

I also asked several of the campers how they’d heard about Camp Broadway. “My Nana made me come,” one told me. But that was last year. Returning this year was her idea. Another told me her mom signed her up, and that she plans to return next year now that she’s smitten with all things musical theater. There’s more to life, she says, than Beyonce and Mariah Carey.

Lee Ferris talks with youth participating in this year’s Camp Broadway

Several of the campers I chatted with described Camp Broadway as a great opportunity for self expression, adding that they feel especially free to be themselves in the theater setting. Some plan careers on stage or behind the scenes, and several expect to take lessons learned during Camp Broadway to school and community theater auditions in the coming year.

Everyone affiliated with “Million Dollar Quartet” did a remarkable job interacting with the campers. All were patient, friendly and genuinely engaged in sharing their knowledge. During lunch, they took time to talk with campers individually, pose for photos and autograph items from show programs to Camp Broadway t-shirts.

Alyssa Marie with a happy camper at ASU Gammage in Tempe

You can see “Million Dollar Quartet” at ASU Gammage through Sunday. Click here for ticket information, and watch for news of next year’s camp because slots tend to fill quickly. Following ASU Gammage on social media is a great way to get the scoop before word of camp dates and various promotions hits the streets.

— Lynn

Coming up: Broadway meets cruise ship?

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12

Two bundles

I’ve experienced many truly beautiful works of theater brought to life by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. Most recently, Todd Salovey’s “Blessing of a Broken Heart,” first performed at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. It’s a work based on Sherri Mandell’s book of the same name, which shares the author’s experience of losing a son to a terrorist act in Isreal.

There’s a point in Salovey’s play where Sherri recalls the way she and husband Seth shared the news of Koby’s death with their three other children. I am like a canary in a mine, reflects Sherri. People ask if I’m OK. Jewish tradition says that each person is a world. I have lost a whole world.

I remembered that scene after learning that Arizona Jewish Theatre Company plans to cease operations, after years of struggling to meet economic challenges too deep and wide to overcome. “Since 2008,” says founding producing director Janet Arnold, “our revenue has steadily and rapidly declined.”

In a recent note to supporters, Arnold shared three factors fueling the decision to close — the virtual disappearance of government and corporate support, a decrease in individual contributions and a dwindling audience attributed to shifting performance spaces.

Even the bad, in Jewish thought, deserves blessings. It’s another thought shared by Sherri in the play. I do not bless the bad, continues Sherri. But I understand that light comes from darkness, and that evil exists in the world so that we can choose to do good.

There’s a chasm between the grief of losing a child and losing even the most cherished theater company. Still, I hear bits of Salovey’s script speaking to our community’s loss. G-d does his work with that which is broken. It is when our hearts are broken that G-d sculpts our souls, prodding open the narrow entrances to the caves of our being.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company produced more than 80 plays in 24 years — reaching thousands of audience members, mentoring hundreds of young performers, employing plenty of theater professionals and giving voice to many new playwrights.

Even while sharing devastating news, they’re looking ahead to new opportunities for Jewish cultural programming in the Valley. Board chair Jay Bycer notes that “Janet is working with the Israel Center to bring in a show in October, and is talking with the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.” Both Bycer and Arnold insist that “there will always be a need for the arts in Jewish life.”

Near the end of Salovey’s “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” Sherri recalls going to the cave where her son and his best friend were killed. I have learned that everything, she says, even the worst trial, contains sparks of holiness and it is up to us to release these sparks into the world.

Those whose lives have been blessed by Arizona Jewish Theater Company can still show gratitude for their work in the community. They’re asking supporters to make contributions that’ll help pay the non-profit’s “final bills.” They’re also sharing a special todah (thanks) with those whose gifts allowed them to finish out the 2011-12 season.

Salovey’s play includes Sherri’s encounter with a rabbi and his son who’ve emerged from the cave where Koby was killed. The pair enounters an old man carrying two bundles of myrtle branches, asking Why do you carry two bundles? The answer: One bundle is to honor and one is to remember.

Lynn

Note: Arizona Jewish Theatre Company notes that folks can click here to make a donation. Click here to learn more about Todd Salovey.

Coming up: Horsing around with art, Fun finds for Father’s Day

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12

Another Tony Awards adventure

Colleen Jennings-Roggensack (R) and daughter Kelsey on the ASU Gammage stage. Photo by Dan Friedman.

Arizona’s only Tony Awards voter, Colleen Jennings-Roggensack, flew to NYC this morning to enjoy festivities leading up to Sunday’s Tony Awards ceremony taking place at the Beacon Theatre with host Neil Patrick Harrris.  Jennings-Roggensack is executive director for ASU Gammage in Tempe, which presents touring Broadway productions through “Broadway Across America.”

Tuesday was opening night for “Million Dollar Quartet” at ASU Gammage, which blends historical fiction with the music and larger-than-life personalities of Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye), Carl Perkins (Lee Ferris), Johnny Cash (Derek Keeling) and Elvis Presley (Cody Slaughter). Also Sam Phillips (Christopher Ryan Grant), whose Dec. 4, 1956 gathering at Sun Records in Memphis inspired the work.

Tuesday’s audience seemed to favor Cash tunes, but it’s Lewis’ bad-boy shenanigans that bring this story to life. I was most taken with the show’s technical elements and actors’ exquisite command of all things movement. Seven of the eight cast members play instruments, so audience members enjoy piano and guitar licks along with riffs on harmonica, bass and drums. Two jumbo speakers on either side of the stage delivered the best sound I’ve experienced in two decades of Gammage-going.

The 2012/2013 ASU Gammage season opens with “Anything Goes.” Folks who watched last year’s Tony Awards ceremony saw Tony-winner Sutton Foster and the “Anything Goes” cast sing and tap the show’s title number, plus performances from two other shows coming to ASU Gammage next season — “Sister Act” and “Memphis.”

I’ve been taking Lizabeth to ASU Gammage for Broadway shows and other offerings for more than a decade, but now that she attends college in NYC, she also gets to enjoy plenty of shows on Broadway. So far she’s seen eight of this year’s Tony Award nominees, and I can tell she has a soft spot for “Once” — a musical we hope to enjoy together during my next trip to NYC. “Peter and the Starcatcher” is another one of her favorites, hailed like “Once” for its breathtaking simplicity and storytelling.

This is the eighth year that “Gammage supporters and advocates” are joining Jennings-Roggensack for a special “Broadway Adventure” and the Tony Awards ceremony. While Arizona viewers watch the Tony Awards Sunday night on CBS (click here for details), team Gammage will have some folks inside the Beacon Theatre and others inside the Tony Awards VIP section in Times Square, where the ceremony is being broadcast on the Sony JumboTron.

Other items on the ASU Gammage itinerary include lunching with folks from “The Book of Mormon,” getting backstage peeks at Tony-nominated shows, mixing historical perspectives with a walk along the “Great White Way” and meeting with stars, directors and set designers of shows from the current and future ASU Gammage season. Also donning gowns and tuxes for the post-Tony Awards gala at The Plaza Hotel.

“In the wee hours of the morning,” says Jennings-Roggensack, “I will slip away to join the casts of the best musical, best play and best revival at their celebratory after-parties.” Still, she says “the best part of all this is that we are already planning on these Tony Award-winning shows making their way to the Gammage stage.”

— Lynn

Note: Watch for an article about Roggensack and daughter Kelsey in the July 2012 issue of Raising Arizona KidsClick here for Tony Awards t-shirts and other offerings for folks eager to rock the Tony Awards vibe. And click here to learn about this month’s “Million Dollar Quartet” auditions in Las Vegas, L.A. and Austin.

Coming up: Fun with outdoor concerts, Art meets solstice

Art camps for at-risk youth

Tatiana (L) and Michael at Free Arts of Arizona’s 2011 Multicultural Arts Camp

Chicano arts. Native American arts. African drumming. Latin dance. And spoken word. They’re all part of this year’s Multicultural Arts Camp presented by Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona, which “uses artistic expression and creativity to heal abused and homeless children across the Valley.”

This year’s camp will serve 125 abused, homeless or at-risk youth, who’ll rotate through five workshops focused on multicultural and multidisciplinary arts as well as team-building activities. All are led by professional teaching artists — including Frank Thompson, Melanie Sainz, Christa Iceforest, Myrlin Hepworth and Misha Pemberton.

“Artists and workshops are purposefully chosen so that campers can experience arts from various cultures as well as various mediums,” according to Barbara DuVal Fenster, executive director for Free Arts. Think dance, music, visual arts and creative writing.

Two camp sessions are taking place at Desiderata Alternative High School in Phoenix. Both include breakfast, lunch and snacks throughout the day. This week’s camp, for 14-17 year olds, concludes with a June 8 showcase. Next week’s camp, for 9-13 year olds, wraps up with a showcase on June 15.

Pam Chu with campers during Free Arts’ 2011 Multicultural Arts Camp

“In addition to our artists and volunteers, we invite a few teens from the first session to serve as volunteers for the second session,” says Fenster. “For them,” she says, “it is a chance to move from camper to leader.” For the folks at Free Arts, it’s “an opportunity to watch young people grow, mature and build their self-esteem.”

Since 2001, the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix has worked with Free Arts to “heal young lives through the performing arts” by giving teens from group homes, shelters and treatment facilities throughout Maricopa County “the opportunity to create and experience the arts” through a two-week theater camp at the Herberger Theater Center.

During this year’s Summer Theater Camp, guest artists and volunteers will help children explore improvisation, character development, mask making, costumes, props and the technical side of theater production — then guide them in creating a production they’ll share during a final performance at the Herberger (Fri, June 29 at 7pm) that’s free and open to the public.

— Lynn

Note: A restaurant called Hula’s Modern Tiki, located at 4700 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix, is donating 10 percent of proceeds every Monday in July to Free Arts for Abused Children of Arizona.

Coming up: Feeling like a million bucks

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12

S.W.A.T. Lake

Terpsicore Dance Company performs this weekend at Mesa Arts Center

I’ve seen police officers in all sorts of settings — from patrolling on horseback near “ground zero” in Lower Manhattan to poising radar guns at cars speeding through serene Scottsdale suburbs. But I’ve never, ever seen one dancing in the line of duty. That’s a good thing.

Still, they deserve to have some fun in their everyday lives — so I’m delighted that several accepted the invitation extended by Terpsicore Dance Company to participate in its season finale at Mesa Arts Center this weekend. Seems a part of their “Kinetic Elements” is set aside for a little something called “S.W.A.T. Lake,” featuring police officers from Mesa and Phoenix.

A Terpsicore Dance Company gathering at Mesa Arts Center

Kinetic Elements” is designed to showcase choreography from local and national artists. Expect new works choreographed by Angelina Lin and Joe Nugent. Also Danna Parker, the company’s artistic director. Seems a signature piece titled “Fandago” will be back “by popular demand” to close out the show.

Special guests include musician Grant Ferguson, plus dancers from a professional jazz dance company called MarioCo. Dance and a newly formed organization in the West Valley called Ballet Forme. Also officers brave enough to both protect our streets and take to our stages.

“S.W.A.T. Lake” is a Terpsicore Dance Company partnership with the 100 Club of Arizona, which works to enhance the safety and welfare of public safety officers and firefighters — and to provide immediate financial assistance to the families of those who are seriously injured or killed in the line of duty.

Parker says the idea of including police officers and firefighters was a joint brainchild with her boyfriend — and credits a member of the 100 Club with coining the term “S.W.A.T. Lake.” Next year Terpsicore will feature firefighters in a performance dubbed “Cinder-fellas.”

Only a dancing police officer could make this scene more delightful

Parker notes that Terpsicore Dance Company has been bringing contemporary ballet to audiences in the Phoenix metro area for eight seasons, adding that they recently moved to a new studio in downtown Phoenix. Parker describes it as “one of Phoenix’s last standing warehouse buildings” — sharing that the building will “turn 100 years old next year.”

Terpsicore Dance Company, and officers joining them to benefit the 100 Club, perform Sat, June 9 at 7:30pm. Also Sun, June 10 at 2pm. The “Swan Lake” parody blends comedy with choreography by Nicole Olson. Both performances take place inside MAC’s Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse — and folks can click here for ticket information.

— Lynn

Coming up: Art camp with a multicultural vibe

Walk on the wildlife side

Humor with snapshots is the closest I get to creating animal art

I encountered all sorts of animals during a weekend trip to Prescott with our youngest daughter Lizabeth. Live sheep and goats at the Sharlot Hall Museum’s Folk Art Fair. Dozens of dogs walking their owners at a dog fair held in Prescott’s Courtyard Plaza. And lots of horse-inspired paintings and sculpture at the Phippen Museum.

All reminded me about a new “Wildlife Restoration Ecology” program at Scottsdale Community College — which features coursework in wildlife, plant biology and ecology with “an overall emphasis on restoration of populations and habitats.” Students in the program can earn an A.S. degree at SCC, then transfer SCC credits to ASU — which offers a B.S. degree in Wildlife & Restoration Ecology.

Our son Christopher has long been interested in wildlife conservation, so this comes as exciting news. The rest of us merely admire, read about and sometimes draw animals. Turns out folks can earn a good living in wildlife-related careers, helping both people and animals in the process.

I learned while visiting the Phippen Museum on Sunday that they’re opening an exhibit called “The Wild West” next month. But don’t expect cowboys and such. Instead, the exhibit will feature “the very best in contemporary Western wildlife art.” It’ll run July 21-Oct 29 (there’s a preview and reception on July 20).

There’s much for animal lovers to enjoy at the Phippen Museum. Small sculptures of animals in an exhibit featuring miniature works. Gift shop fare including home accessories sporting beautiful images of horses. And plenty of demonstrations and activities.

Artist Edward Aldrich will share tips and techniques for drawing and painting animals during a July 21 (1-3pm) demonstration at the Phippen Museum. Artist Ken Rowe will discuss his techniques for capturing animals in art during an “Art Conversation” on Oct. 6.

Christopher’s favorite by far would be a “Live Animal Demonstration” headed to the Phippen Museum on Aug. 11. It’ll feature animal handlers from Prescott’s Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary, sharing information about native animals of Arizona — along with a few animals from the wildlife park.

A more serious artist created this work displayed in the Phippen Museum’s family area

Our girls, also in college now, would love the “Youth Art Workshop” coming to the Phippen Museum Oct. 6 were they a bit younger. The 1-2:30pm event is for kids ages 6 to 16, who’ll be able to “paint their very own 3-dimensional horse sculpture.” Lizabeth came home with a just a single souvenir of our weekend in Prescott — a small stuffed animal from the museum’s gift shop.

I’ll share more about the Phippen Museum in a future post. For now just mark your calendar with their events that pique your interest — and tell fellow wildlife lovers about the new SCC/ASU partnership. Whether through art or science, learning to appreciate wildlife is a good thing.

— Lynn

Note: Remember SCC’s Center for Native and Urban Wildlife when planning school field trips for the 2012/13 school year.

Coming up: Brooklyn meets Scottsdale, Dancing in the line of duty

Feelin’ jazzy

The Musical Instrument Museum recently opened this exhibit of jazz instruments

Folks who favor feelin’ jazzy can head over to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix to enjoy a new exhibit featuring all things jazz. Located in the museum’s United States/Canada gallery, the exhibit features “some of jazz history’s most noteworthy instruments.” I’m told its one of the largest genre exhibits in the museum.

The new jazz exhibit includes approximately 20 instruments, many played by jazz greats. Also original, unreleased performance footage of Stanley Turrentine, Herbie Mann, Spyro Gyra, and others from Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. As a Smithsonian affiliate, the MIM was able to collaborate with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History to display several loaned objects that’ll be on view through 2014.

Loaned objects featured in the new MIM exhibit include a cornet associated with Louis Armstrong, a clarinet played by Benny Goodman, a trumpet played by Harry James, a clarinet played by Artie Shaw and a trombone played by J. J. Johnson. Also a trumpet mouthpiece and mute used by Miles Davis, a guitar played by Charlie Christian, a drum set played by Lewis Nash and a guitar played by Pat Metheny.

Mesa Arts Center is premiering a new project by Metheny called the Pat Metheny Unity Band, noting that it’ll “feature some of the most sought after young musicians on the pop and jazz scene today.” Think Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez and Ben Williams — who’ll perform at MAC with Metheny on Sat, Sept. 29.

Early Jazz exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix

A spin through the MIM makes for fun Father’s Day fare, so consider treating dad to an afternoon of jazz if that’s his vibe. While you’re there, buy him a lovely brunch at the MIM Café — and treat him to something jazz-inspired from the MIM Museum Store. Remember too that the MIM’s Music Theater presents concerts featuring jazz and other musical stylings.

While you’re exploring all things jazz, check out jazz offerings at other Valley venues — including those noted below:

  • Tempe Center for the Arts is home to the Lakeshore Jazz Series. Upcoming concerts include Lorraine Feather and Shelly Berg (Sept. 28), Turtle Island Quartet and Tierney Sutton (Oct. 27), and Denise Donatelli (Nov. 16).
  • Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts features several jazz concerts during its 2012-13 season — including Béla Fleck and the Marcus Roberts Trio (Nov. 23), Chick Corea and Gary Burton (Jan. 18), the John Pizzarelli Quartet (Feb. 14), and McCoy Tyner and his quartet with special guest Joe Lovano (May 4).

Saxophone played by Illinois Jacquet, creator of Texas tenor style

Finally, another option for enjoying all things jazz on Father’s Day — the fourth annual “Father’s Day Big Band Dance” presented by Jazz in AZ. The event takes place Sun, June 17 from 3-7pm at The Scottsdale Plaze Resort — and features Dennis Rowland and the Extreme Decibel Big Band. Event proceeds benefit The Nash, a new Jazz in AZ nonprofit education and performance center located in downtown Phoenix.

Check with Jazz in AZ for additional jazz offerings throughout the state. Their website features links to folks specializing in jazz education, jazz for youth and more. And watch for jazz concerts at your local performing arts venues, schools and colleges. You don’t have to play jazz to dig it.

— Lynn

Coming up: Prescott welcomes bluegrass festival, Art meets antiques