Tag Archives: acting classes

From Phoenix to Broadway

Hometown boy Nick Cartell, a swing for the Broadway production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” opening this week at the Neil Simon Theatre in NYC, moved from Michigan to Phoenix at just six months old — where he lived until completing a BA in theatre performance at ASU in Tempe.

Cartell was a member of the Phoenix Boys Choir from third through fifth grade, and describes the experience as “the beginning of my training.” Back then, he was a boy soprano. Today he’s a high tenor, and one of several actors prepared to take over should a male cast member be unable to perform for some reason.

Nick Cartell performs in "The Sound of Music" during Valley Youth Theatre's 1998-99 season.

Between boys choir and Broadway, there were performances with several local theater companies. Cartell’s last show with Valley Youth Theatre (“West Side Story”) overlapped with his first show with Phoenix Theatre (“Man of La Mancha”), so the transition from youth to adult theater felt seamless. But it was three years performing with Disney in Tokyo that made the leap to Broadway feel natural. “If I can make it in Tokyo,” thought Cartell, “I can do a big city like New York.” Before landing the Broadway gig, he did several Off-Broadway productions.

We assume too often that someone who can sing, dance and act will nail every audition. Or think that being a great performer is enough. Not so, says Cartell. Auditioning is a skill, just like acting, that has to be honed. “I wish more schools would teach it,” reflects Cartell — who also shares that NYC is full of folks who can sing, act and dance. Making it requires something more — like hard work, preparation, ongoing training and a desire to improve at every juncture.

Teens interested in musical theater careers should get all the voice, dance and acting training they can, says Cartell, who notes that plenty of community-based options exist for those who can’t afford one-on-one vocal coaching and such. “Keep learning and working to get better,” urges Cartell. Sitting too pretty in pride over past accomplishments won’t set you apart in settings like Broadway that are filled with talented folk.

For some, it’s tough to balance training/performing demands with schoolwork and other responsibilities. But Cartell says he rarely struggled with such things. He knew what he wanted and he worked like the dickens to get it all done. Meeting and shaking hands with one of his musical theater idols, Andrew Lloyd Webber (composer for “Jesus Christ Superstar”), was one of many moments when it all paid off.

Cartell heard last October that the Stratford Shakespeare Festival production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” would be heading to Broadway, and spotted the Actors Equity audition posting in late December. Auditions began one January day at 9:30am, and several hundred people showed up. Cartell arrived at 7am, and ended up being the first to audition that day — singing Journey’s “Open Arms” for musical director Rick Fox and the casting director.

A series of callbacks followed, each requiring that Cartell learn and perform more material. As I interviewed Cartell in a diner near the Neil Simon Theatre, he gleefully recounted each step in the process — recalling, along with wife Christie Bettes Cartell, the exact date and time of each. Dance callback — Jan. 30 at 3pm. Final callback — Jan. 31 at 1pm — before director Des McAnuff, choreographer Lisa Shriver and two others.

Cartell recalls choosing an order for the songs he’d been asked to prepare in case he was told to just run with it. Instead, they asked first for the most difficult piece — “Gethsemane.” Cartell felt afterwards that he’d given the best audition of his life. There was nothing more he could do. It was in the show’s hands. By 3pm the call came in. He was chosen for the role of swing. A formal offer followed on Feb. 1, and he began rehearsing Feb. 9 for his first preview on March 9.

Cartell admits that it all feels a bit “surreal” at this point, adding that he’s “so proud to be part of this show.” Cartell notes that the “Jesus Christ Superstar” story is appealing “regardless of what you believe” — suggesting that most are familiar with the story, and empathize with the challenges faced by Jesus the man.

“Jesus Christ Superstar” focuses on the last seven days of Jesus’ life, so key players include Judas, Mary Magdalene, Pontius Pilate, King Herod and others. But there’s something new in this production, according to Cartell, who says there’s a bit of a love triangle vibe between Jesus, Judas and Mary Magdalene. Seems there’s magnetism between both men and Mary, and perhaps both men as well.

When I asked Cartell to share audition tips with young actors back home, he first recounted a piece of advice received as an 18 year old fresh out of high school — Listen to soundtracks. “Sing along,” Cartell suggests, “but find your own voice with it.”  The advice, by the way, came from Matt Bogart — then performing the role of Chris in “Miss Saigon,” and now performing the role of Nick across the street from Cartell in “Jersey Boys” at the August Wilson Theatre.

Sometimes the gig goes not to the best performer in the room, but to the one with the most passion. “If you connect with what you are singing, even if you are not the best singer, they will go on that journey with you.” Auditions start before you ever begin to sing, says Cartell. It’s also about how you handle yourself in the room — and even the hallway where you’re waiting to be called. “You never know,” shares Christie, “who the monitor is.”

Have your music cut correctly, adds Cartell. You may only get 8 or 16 bars, so prepare your music accordingly. Nobody wants to fuss over your music at the piano. Stay in shape, recommends Cartell, because musical theater requires plenty of stamina. “Get into dance, acting classes — anything and everything.” Do voice lessons too if you can swing it financially. Time spent learning tap, jazz, ballet and theater makes you more marketable, says Cartell. At the end of the day, adds Cartell, it’s a business.

Previews for “Jesus Christ Superstar,” which had a San Diego run before heading from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival to Broadway, end March 21 — and the show officially opens March 22. If you’ve been toying with making the trip from Phoenix to Broadway, consider getting tickets to “Jesus Christ Superstar” so you can support our hometown talent. Who knows, it might be your own child making the journey from Phoenix to Broadway one day.

— Lynn

Note: Spring performing arts classes at VYT start Sat, March 24. Click here to explore both weekday and weekend options.

Coming up: More adventures with VYT alumni, A way with words, Quilting for a cause, Art contest for kids

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Rising Youth Theatre

Rising Youth Theatre founders Xanthia Walker and Sarah Sullivan

After completing MFA degrees in theatre for youth at Arizona State University in Tempe, Xanthia Walker and Sarah Sullivan knew they wanted to start a theater company, so they looked around and considered the community need.

“We noticed that no one was doing full-time, community-engaged theater with youth,” recalls Walker. They’d found the need — “creating original plays with youth based on their true stories.” And so Rising Youth Theatre was born.

At this point, says Walker, it’s a “pilot project.” The task at hand is “developing our model for creating work.” They expect to do residency work all over the Phoenix metro area for a good six months or so, creating a youth theater production and building the reputation they’ll need to move forward.

Once they’ve laid this foundation, says Walker, they’ll seek additional funding and partnerships. Walker notes that they’re already working with several Valley agencies serving youth — including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Flight 33 in Guadalupe and Barrio Nuevo Phoenix.

They’ve already spent more than a month working with groups of youth at seven different sites in Phoenix, Tempe, Chandler and Guadalupe. “We’re probably working now with about 1oo to 150 middle school or high school age youth,” says Walker.

“A team of resident artists work with us to facilitate story gathering with students,” explains Walker. Their current project focuses on “what it means to be an Arizonan in 2012 from the perspective of a young person.”

Walker notes that the artists use various methods to help youth capture and share their thoughts about Arizona — including improvisation, story sharing, theater games and writing exercises. They then look for universal notes, comments and stories that elucidate common threads and themes.

Playwright José Zárate, who attends each of these workshops with youth, takes notes that get translated into outline form — material that he’ll eventually craft into a play performed by Rising Youth Theatre. Walker expects to hold auditions around the end of February, then move forward with rehearsals and developing the program.

Auditions, shares Walker, will be open to both youth involved in the residency phase of the play’s development and youth from the larger community. She expects the process of developing the play together as a cast to take about six weeks.

“The play will have a full production team and professional actors performing alongside participating youth,” says Walker. Actors Ricky Araiza, recently seen in Childsplay’s “The Sun Serpent,” and Elizabeth Pollen, who performed last season in Childsplay’s “The Tomato Plant Girl,” have already signed on to the project. Both are energetic, vibrant performers.

Rising Youth Theatre recently became the resident theater company of the Phoenix Center for the Arts, which is sponsoring their first production. It’ll be performed at the center the last weekend of April in 2012.

Rising Youth Theatre is offering six theater classes for youth which start in January of 2012 and cost just $60 each. There are two for first through third graders (“A Whole New World: Imagination and Adventures” and “Choose Your Own Adventure”) and four for fourth through sixth graders (“The Actor’s Tools: Body & Voice,” “Who Do You Think You Are?,” “Clowning Around,” and “What’s The Story?”).

To learn more about Rising Youth Theatre, the “Arizonan Project” or theater clases for youth, click here.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read a “Stage Mom” review of an earlier work directed by Xanthia Walker which shares the stories of youth and families living with autism. Click here for information on other classes offered at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Coming up: Making my holiday reading list

Photo courtesy of Xanthia Walker

Acting studio options

Someone suggested to me recently that I might have what it takes to work the art of acting. A lovely compliment and something I might consider were one of my children not committed to the craft.

As every parents knows, the everyday brings plenty of its own tragedy and comedy — with more of the latter on a good day. Still, if I ever decided to give acting a try I’d have plenty of Valley options for classes and private coaching.

One of many classes at Dearing Studio (Photo by Chadwick Fowler)

Dearing Acting Studio, which recently moved to a new Phoenix location, offers classes for adults and teens — and workshops too. Aug/Sept offerings include comedic monologue, scene-based improv and marketing for actors.

If you like to watch rather than read when it comes to gathering info, explore their “acting tips” videos — which cover topics like cold reading, diction and avoiding acting scams.

Waymire Studio for the Performing Arts in Glendale (also coming to Mesa) offers classes for kids and teens on topics like commercial work, audition techniques and improvisation. Adult options include Meisner, gut reacting and the Elayne Stein method — as well as scene study, improv and vocal performance for singers.

One of many classes offered at Verve Studios

Verve Studios, which describes itself as “a boutique music and acting studio,” has locations in Scottsdale and Phoenix. It offers classes and coaching for “serious actors and musicians” — whether child, teen or adult. Offerings include Shakespeare “boot camp,” accents and dialects training, a commercials intensive and more.

The above photo (taken by Jennifer Pfalzgraff of Verve Studios) features Amanda Melby and tween acting students, including Maggie Thurston (seen on the monitor), watching their taped auditions as part of Verve Studios’ 2011 “Film Acting for Tweens” camp.

The Phoenix Film Institute offers on-camera acting classes for adults as well as kids and teens. There’s also private coaching, plus classes in voiceover work, audition techniques and performance skills.

Several Valley theater companies, including Phoenix Theatre and Childsplay in Tempe, offer camps and classes for children and teens — as do many of the Valley’s youth theaters, such as East Valley Children’s Theatre, Theater Works’ Youth Works and Valley Youth Theatre.

A young student enjoying a class at Childsplay Academy

Performing arts venues like Mesa Arts Center offer a rich assortment of arts-related classes not only in acting, but in dance, music and various visual arts as well. City parks and recreation departments are another option, especially for families on a tight budget.

People have different philosophies about what makes for a well-trained actor. Looking at the backgrounds of today’s best known stage and screen professionals, you might suppose that just about any sort of life experience can bring something to the needed mix of instinct and talent.

My daughter Lizabeth is just beginning her journey as an actor, but already I can see that several things have influenced her work. Training with experienced, working theater professionals. Experiencing the live works of other actors and performers. Even people watching and reading galore.

Her education in the performance arts has been broad rather than narrow. She didn’t spend every waking hour in an acting class. Instead, she spent nearly a decade in dance and music training, primarily ballet and violin — something noted by an actor and director who wrote one of her recommendation letters for college.

Many of the skills she developed in acting classes were first honed in music lessons or dance classes. Movement. Pacing. Focus. Discipline. Taking direction. Working as a group.

So while I’m all for acting classes, I’m a big believer in creating a wider world for aspiring and developing actors to explore.

— Lynn

Note: Stay tuned for the September “performing arts” issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine featuring performing arts-related stories and resources.

Coming up: Playing “I Spy” sculpture style, Remembering 9/11, Fun with film festivals, Resume tips for young actors, Teen tips on choosing a theater camp

Big MAC attack!

Sunday is your last chance to see Mesa Encore Theatre perform The Music Man, which beat out West Side Story to win the 1958 Tony Award for best musical

Knowing the 2011 Tony Awards are right around the corner, I decided to go in search of local productions of Tony Award-winning musicals. I started with shows coming to the Mesa Arts Center after getting an e-mail alert that tickets for their 2011-2012 Broadway series, which includes four shows, start at just $95.

Watch the Tony Awards on CBS this Sunday night to see who wins best musical for 2011

The series includes “Rock of Ages,” “The Wizard of Oz,” and “The Rat Pack is Back” — plus “My Fair Lady,” winner of the 1957 Tony Award for best musical. The 1958 Tony Award for best musical went to “The Music Man,” which is being performed at MAC by Mesa Encore Theatre through June 12.

I’ll have to share other Tony Award winners coming to Valley stages in a later post, because I’m experiencing a bit of a”big MAC attack” at the moment. Turns out there’s a ton of good stuff happening at the Mesa Arts Center, so I’ve got MAC on the brain instead.

The Mesa Arts Center has offerings in four main areas — shows, classes, events and museum exhibits. Upcoming shows sound plenty intriguing. There’s “Retro,” “Live Love Dance!,” and even Steve Martin and his banjo buddies. Events to watch for include fall and spring “out to lunch” concert series, the Mesa Arts Festival and celebrations of Dia de los Muertos.

This girl should have signed up for music classes through Mesa Arts Center

Mesa Arts Center offers classes in visual and performing arts. Think blacksmithing for the grown-ups and ceramic “mud pups” for children. Also American tribal dance and belly dance classes. Plus “scenes for teens” acting classes and a “dance sampler” for kids who want to explore various dance options.

Exhibits opening today at MAC’s “Mesa Contemporary Arts” space — a collection of five galleries — include “Picturing Maricopa” and “Women’s Work.” Other current exhibits include “Chicanitas,” “Vermilion Remains,” and “Wood & Substance, Substance & Spirit.”

Another snappy dresser from the Mesa Encore Theatre production of The Music Man

That’s a lot of art for an admission fee of just $3.50. Kids age 7 & under are always free — and admission is free for all on Thursdays (the museum is closed on Mondays). I’m going to have to move this to the top of my “me time” to do list. My grown children would enjoy the works, but they’re already off and running in a million directions this summer. Bummer.

— Lynn

Note: The Theater League 2011-2012 Broadway series also performs at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix

Coming up: Art meets science — with a twist of creative genius

Photo credit: Sarah Rodgers and Wade Moran

Circle time

I first encountered “circle time” as a young mother, when I’d volunteer in my children’s preschool classroom and everyone would gather to share music, stories or “show and tell” type offerings.

Today I enjoyed “circle time” of a different sort, as Lizabeth and I headed to the Herberger Theater Center for the final Actors Theatre performance of an Annie Baker play titled “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

It opens with students in a community acting class lying in a circle trying to count from one to ten within certain parameters, for the purpose of developing a certain mindfulness of those around them — with mixed results.

Valley audiences can experience another Baker work, titled “Body Awareness,” during Actors Theatre’s 2011-2012 season. The work of playwright Sarah Ruhl (whose “In the Next Room” was a hit for Actors Theatre earlier this season) also returns as Actors Theatre presents “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.”

Their 2011-2012 season opens with “A Conversation With Edith Head” by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen — and also includes “Next Fall” (Geoffrey Nauffts), “Hunter Gatherers” (Peter Sinn Nachtrieb) and “Time Stands Still” (Donald Margulies).

We enjoyed our time with “Circle Mirror Transformation” — more than we might have otherwise were it not for astute acting by Valley veterans of the stage.

Though I’d have been happy to simply sit and linger over the stunning set, designed by Kimb Williamson of Scottsdale Community College.

After the show we chatted and shared hugs with Maren Maclean (one of five actors in the show), who is one of Lizabeth’s most beloved acting teachers. Lizabeth was eager to share her college decision with Maclean in person. Her choice of an NYC school drew a fitting response: Duh!

Soon we were talking all things East Coast. Maclean’s upcoming reunion at “Indian Hills High School” in Oakland, New Jersey. Our attempts to snag “The Book of Mormon” tickets when we’re in NYC for Lizabeth’s college orientation.

I was keen on showing off my Mother’s Day gifts from Lizabeth — a bracelet and sterling silver earrings with a very circle/mirror vibe. I suspect I’ll be wearing them next Mother’s Day too — my first one without all three kids roosting at least part-time in the nest.

When we got home from the show, I made dinner before sitting down to relax with the latest issue of “American Theatre” magazine, a subscription I enjoy as a gift from my husband for another occasion I’ve all but fogotten by now.

There in the “On Stage: May/June 11” section I spotted a picture of Maclean, Staci Robbins and Rusty Ferracane performing in “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

Just more evidence of the “full circle” nature of my day, and of life. The only thing missing is a bit of “circle time” with two and three year olds. Don’t be surprised if you see me sitting cross-legged on the floor somewhere singing along with a bunch of preschoolers this week.

That’s the best “circle time” of all.

— Lynn

Coming up: More new season announcements

The many faces of Childsplay

I’ll be donning my party clothes Friday night to join the fine folks of Childsplay for their “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits Gala,” which kicks off at 6pm at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort.

Memories of my last Childsplay shindig are still fresh. And fabulous. Think all the energy and fun of a Childsplay production for children translated into the realm of grown-ups — but with no less imagination and wonder.

Lillian Castillo with Childsplay associate artist D. Scott Withers, who appeared in HAIRSPRAY with Phoenix Theatre late last year (Photo: Laura Durant)

Lillian Castillo (L) and D. Scott Withers in a Phoenix Theatre photo by Laura Durant

I’ve had Childsplay on the brain lately because it seems that everywhere I turn I discover another Childsplay artist lending his or her talents to additional creative enterprises — from television commercials to musical theater productions in other parts of the country.

D. Scott Withers, who performed the role of “Edna Turnblad” in this season’s Phoenix Theatre production of “Hairspray,” has been reprising the role with Arkansas Repertory Theatre (along with Lillian Castillo, who plays “Tracy Turnblad”) in a production that runs through May 8.

Jon Gentry (L) and D. Scott Withers perform in a Childsplay production of A Year With Frog and Toad (Photo: Heather Hill)

Allison Couture, whose husband recently left the touring production of “Billy Elliot The Musical” to accept a role in “Jersey Boys” on Broadway, worked for a time with the children in the “Billy Elliot” cast. Both are now NYC-bound.

Israel Jimenez, who teaches at Arizona School for the Arts, is known to many as “the face of SRP.” You’ll see his mug in commercials and on billboards throughout the Valley. Jimenez teaches ballroom dance at a local Fred Astaire Dance Studio (swoon) and is readying to direct “Frida” for Teatro Bravo.

Kim Manning is currently performing the role of “Liliane La Fleur” in the musical “Nine” at Phoenix Theatre, which you can enjoy through May 8.

Molly Lajoie Plutnicki teaches dance at Mesa Arts Academy and also keeps busy choreographing various theater productions. She’s both director and choreographer for Greasepaint Youtheatre’s “Schoolhouse Rock,” opening Fri, May 6 at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale.

Yolanda London in a Black Theatre Troupe photo by Laura Durant

Yolanda London is rehearsing for “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill,” a one-woman show about the life of singer Billie Holiday that Black Theatre Troupe of Phoenix opens May 13.

Todd Hulet recently staged a production of his original musical titled “The Wheels on the Bus” for Ovation! Musical Theatre Bainbridge in Washington.

Toby Yatso teaches at Arizona School for the Arts, and is nearly impossible to keep up with when it comes to acting, directing and other theater gigs throughout the Valley.

Yolanda London performs in the Childsplay production of Tomato Plant Girl (Photo: Heather Hill)

My soon to be 18-year-old daughter Lizabeth has trained with the talented artists of Childsplay for at least half her lifetime. She’s taken classes, attended summer camps, participated in the Childsplay conservatory program and more.

Childsplay has given her extraordinary opportunities to study with several of the Valley’s very finest theater talents — those noted above and many others. 

As we attend the “Childsplay Celebrates” gala Friday night, I’ll be celebrating not only the arts in education programs that’ll be funded with event proceeds, but the many gifts this theater company has bestowed on us.

— Lynn

Note: Click here  for “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits Gala” event and ticketing information. The evening features cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, a silent auction, dinner and entertainment. (Bring your teacher, birthday and holiday gift lists to snag all sorts of fun finds at the auction.) Click here for a full roster of Childsplay company and staff (including associate artists, members of the acting company, teaching artists and others).

Coming: Valley museums celebrate “International Museum Day” with special events and discounts

Call for children’s artwork: I’m looking for photos, drawings, paintings and such with a garden theme for Friday’s post celebrating “National Public Gardens Day.” To submit your child’s work for possible use in the garden post, please send it to me at rakstagemom@gmail.com no later than 5pm Thurs, May 5 (include your child’s first name, age, city and your contact info too). Thanks!

Playing games

Actors Theatre opens Circle Mirror Transformation -- a play featuring games played by those in a community center acting class -- this Friday at the Herberger Theater Center.

My husband’s been coming home with new books even more than usual these days thanks to sales at local bookstores going out of business. We support plenty of bookstores when they’re thriving, so my guilt is merely mild at this point.

Among his latest haul were two theater-related titles written by award-winning playwrights — “Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays” (1996) by Steve Martin and “Theatre” (2010) by David Mamet. 

I dived into Martin’s “Picasso” play first. It imagines visual artist Pablo Picasso and physicist Albert Einstein conversing in a bar. They’re in their early 20s and have yet to achieve their finest work.

Then I mused my way through Mamet, taking special interest in a chapter addressing “the problem” with acting training. Theater geeks will delight in references to method acting and emotional memory — and names like Stanislavsky, Meisner and Strasberg.

David Vining, Alyson Maloney, Rusty Ferracane, Maren Maclean and Staci Robbins in Circle Mirror Transformation (Photos: John Groseclose)

But those who see the Actors Theatre production of Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which runs April 22-May 8 at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix, may understand and appreciate Mamet’s insights more than most.

Because “Circle Mirror Transformation,” which won the 2010 Obie Award for “Best New American Play,” captures the earnest folly of four students who participate in theater games (much like those Mamet tersely dismisses in his book) during a community center theater class.

The only real thing I know about acting is that I know nothing. But I do have assumptions, interests and curiosities related to the craft and those who embrace it. And profound respect — for art, artist and audience.

I expect some of my curiosities will be satisfied by coupling a reading of Mamet with experiencing “Circle Mirror Transformation.” But I suspect others will be fueled — which is just how I like my theater.

More games from the cast of Circle Mirror Transformation

The cast of “Circle Mirror Transformation” includes several seasoned Valley actors — including David Vining (James), Rusty Ferracane (Schultz) and Maren Maclean (Theresa). My daughter, Lizabeth, studied with Maclean at both Arizona School for the Arts and Scottsdale Community College.

I rarely ask Lizabeth about her acting classes because it feels a bit like therapy to me. Theater is her space, her vibe, her tribe. But maybe I’ll get a better sense of the transformative nature of theater by watching the talented cast of “Circle Mirror Transformation” playing games.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Obie Awards and here to learn who just won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Coming up: “Theater” versus “Theatre”