Tag Archives: Arizona PBS

Once upon a playwright

Family is a common theme in works by Dwayne Hartford, pictured here (upper right) with his great-grandfather Luther (middle center) and other family members in Smithfield, Maine (Photo courtesy of Childsplay)

Once upon a time, while working in the mental health field, I came upon a rare play tackling themes related to youth suicide. It was Dwayne Hartford’s “Eric and Elliot,” one of many works performed by Childsplay in Tempe, where Hartford is both associate artist and playwright-in-residence.

I was asked to spend some time talking with cast members about mental health disorders in children and teens, something I’d experienced in both personal and professional mode — and was struck by their genuine interest in touching the lives of youth who’d be seeing the play in school and community settings.

Luther Hartford (here with wife Mable) built the family farmhouse in Maine

Though “Eric and Elliot” feels most personal to me, it’s “The Color of Stars” — being performed through May 20 at Tempe Center for the Arts — that feels most personal to Hartford. Though the work is fictional, Hartford recently shared that it was inspired by a story his father told him several years ago about loggers who boarded at his great-grandfather’s farmhouse while harvesting giant red oak trees for the war effort.

Though vastly different in topic and tone, themes in “The Color of Stars” mirror those of “Rock the Presidents” — a musical that made its world premiere at Childsplay before starting a nationwide tour I’m hoping will someday lead to the White House. It features book and lyrics by Hartford, and music by Sarah Roberts — and its common thread with “Stars” is the duty of every citizen to serve his or her country and community.

Hartford’s plays have been developed through Childsplay’s Whiteman New Plays Program. They’ve earned several awards, and often tour the country after premiering here in the Valley. “Eric and Elliot” received a distinguished play award from the American Alliance for Theatre & Education in 2005, and “The Imaginators” was produced and aired by our local PBS affiliate.

Hartford’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale of love and redemption during the French Revolution, was developed through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and chosen for further development through NYU’s New Plays for Young Audiences program — proof that the Arizona/NYC bridge gets traveled in both directions.

The family farmhouse in Smithfield, Maine where Hartford spent time as a child

Other works by Hartford, who holds a BFA in musical theatre from Boston Conservatory and began writing plays in 2000, include “A Little Bit of Water” and “The Bully Pulpit” (published as part of “The Bully Plays“). Nowadays he’s actor, director and playwright — plus theater educator. He’s teaching “On Stage: Play Production” (for ages 8-14) with Childsplay associate artist Katie McFadzen during this summer’s Childsplay Academy.

Folks eager to learn more about Hartford’s plays can find him on Facebook or hit his www.dwaynehartford.com website. Learn more about Childsplay — including their production of “The Color of Stars,” their “35th Birthday Party” happening tonight (April 27) and their summer academy classes by clicking here.

— Lynn

Note: Supporters of women playwrights should mark their calendars for this year’s Pandora Festival of New Works, coming to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts May 18-20. Artists/students can click here to learn about the Hormel New Works Festival Art Contest, which is accepting submissions through June 1.

Coming up: Students sing Sondheim, Musings on music education, More playwright profiles — including James Garcia, Ben Tyler, Jim Gradillas and many more


Ode to PBS

I'm wearing my shocked face after learning that NEA is reducing its funding for PBS (Photo: Christopher Trimble at the Mesa Arts Center studio)

I was stunned to see a headline reporting decreased NEA funding for PBS when I went to read today’s edition of “The New York Times.” Seems the National Endowment for the Arts is shifting some of its funding to newer vehicles for delivering arts to the masses, something I’ve been reading about of late in a RAND report (also a book) called “The Performing Arts in a New Era” — which is authored by Kevin F. McCarthy, Arthur Brooks, Julia Lowell and Laura Zakaras.

I’ll be hitting the NEA website later today, after wrapping a meeting with my bookwriting partner, to learn more about the specifics of NEA funding decisions. I don’t doubt that those they’ve funded are deserving, but I’d be remiss as a mom if I didn’t share the tremendous journeys I’ve enjoyed with my children through the years thanks to PBS programming.

I often hear that young children aren’t terribly interested in sitting through symphony, opera or dance productions. But that was never my experience as a young parent. I grew up watching the Boston Pops (then conducted by Arthur Fiedler) with my mother — and introduced my childen at a young age to both live orchestral music and PBS performances featuring classical music and vocalists.

Holidays like the 4th of July were always marked by watching PBS broadcasts together, curled up in the dark before the television that took us to places we’d never experience otherwise. When my children were too young to sit still for a live concert, PBS was there with programming we’d watch without worry of bothering folks in nearby seats.

Later, they’d call on these experiences to appreciate the wonders of live theater, music and dance within our own community. PBS might feel old school to folks raised in the digital age, but it’s still a brand new world for parents eager to explore arts and culture with their children. Even today, I watch PBS arts programming with my college age children — and rarely miss “Charlie Rose” interviews with exceptional actors, playwrights and other artists.

Still, we’ve done more than simply watch the arts unfold around us. We’ve also learned to create our own works of art by watching PBS programming. And fueled interests in other areas, from history to anthropology. I was surprised, while watching a recent series on the art of quilting, by the depth of American history reflected in the art form we too often think of as merely stitching together fabric squares.

I’ve seen works of art in museums the world over that I first enjoyed while watching a show on PBS, and owe much of my own art literacy to PBS arts programming. For some PBS might feel like the home it’s time to move away from, but every mother knows that only her roots make her children’s wings possible. So while NEA and others are giving wings to other organizations who deliver the arts into our homes and classrooms, I hope they’ll do justice to PBS.

PBS was my first home for arts and culture, and I’ll never stop going home again.

— Lynn

Note: KAET TV (Eight), the PBS affiliate in Phoenix, is currently holding its first online auction, which raises funds for local programming — click here for details.

Coming up: Once upon a playwright, Young voices rise in Arizona

Orchestral dreams

Joseph Young, resident conductor for The Phoenix Symphony

Joseph Young, the recently appointed resident conductor for The Phoenix Symphony, was still adjusting to the Arizona heat when we spoke by phone one August afternoon. “It’s almost over, right?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.

Something tells me he’s looking forward to The Phoenix Symphony performance of “The Music of John Williams” at the Yavapai College Auditorium in Prescott come early October.

Still, the heat doesn’t appear to be cramping Young’s style. He’s enjoyed several hikes on Squaw Peak and speaks with enthusiasm about exploring Valley arts destinations like the Phoenix Art Museum.

Young serves as conductor for the Family Series at Symphony Hall

“I was surprised by the quality here,” he says of his early experiences with Arizona arts and culture. Seems some folks in other parts of the country underappreciate our arts scene, but Young’s tuned in to all sorts of dance and theater groups — and likes the way so many support and enrich each other. Young describes the Valley arts scene as “very inclusive.”

His parents never listened to classical music. Instead, Young grew up listening to gospel music and “top 40” tunes. Today he listens to lots of classical music, but also The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Gaga and “funk bands” like Earth, Wind and Fire.

Young, now 29, discovered musical instruments after a band program came to visit his school in South Carolina. “I saw the trumpet and my dad was looking for something to keep me out of trouble,” muses Young. “The trumpet was the only instrument I could make a sound on at the time.” He played through high school and college but caught the conducting bug at 16.

Young attended a five-week summer program where he not only played the trumpet but also took classes in music history, music theory and conducting. “That was the first time I got in touch with conducting,” recalls Young. “I’ve wanted to be an orchestral conductor since I was 16.”

He’s careful to distinguish “classical” music from “orchestral” music. Today’s orchestras play more than classical selections, as evidenced by offerings in this season’s “Target Family Series” from The Phoenix Symphony.

Young also heads up Symphony in the Schools and Classroom Concerts

The series includes “Holiday Celebration” (Dec), “Beethoven Lives Upstairs” (Jan), “Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs & Ham” (March), “Musical Fables” (April) and “High Flying! Cirque de la Symphonie” (May). Families can purchase individual tickets or save by getting a season package.

Though he’s not a parent, Young seems very much in tune with today’s children and teens. Young spent three years teaching high school music, which left him with a deep appreciation for the balancing act of managing a myriad of activities in a complex world. “We have to bring music to the kids,” he says, “without forcing it.”

The Phoenix Symphony has charged Young with “programming, rehearsing and conducting” their pops and family concerts, and two education programs — Symphony in the Schools and Classroom Concerts. He also conducts at special events.

When describing his work, Young speaks not only of conducting but also his role as music “advocate.” He’s got lots of ideas for making orchestral experiences fresh and fun for both children and their grown-ups.

You’ll find Young in the Symphony Hall lobby after most family series concerts. Seems he enjoys showing children how to conduct. Also answering their questions about music and getting feedback about their concert experiences. He’s even game when families want him to pose with their children for photos.

Something tells me bulletin boards in kids’ rooms all over the Valley will be sporting these pictures before too long. How wonderful to grow up in a city where conductors are right up there with all our other superheroes.

— Lynn

Note: Watch for details on The Phoenix Symphony’s education and community programs in a future issue of Raising Arizona Kids magazine or visit www.phoenixsymphony.org to explore their offerings right away. Photos from www.josephfyoung.com.

Coming up: Crepes & creativity, Zoo tales

Update: Joseph Young was recently featured in an Eight Arizona PBS “Arizona ArtBeat” segment — click here to watch it online. Updated 11/16/11.

Gilbert & Sullivan on Valley stages

Kids Alive at Theater Works in Peoria is performing H.M.S. PINAFORE by Gilbert & Sullivan May 17, 20 & 23

When I learned from Theater Works in Peoria that their “Kids Alive” program was readying to perform “H.M.S. Pinafore,” an operetta by the famed team of William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, I went in search of Gilbert & Sullivan lore.

Soon I was exploring the “Learn About Opera” section of the Arizona Opera website — which has three nifty sections: 1) interactive games, 2) composers and 3) backstage pass. I clicked on composer bios and uncovered all sorts of gems about “G & S.” I also revisited the “Gilbert and Sullivan” chapter of Kathleen Krull’s “Lives of the Great Musicians.”

Gilbert and Sullivan created works that include “H.M.S. Pinafore,” “The Pirates of Penzance,” and “The Mikado” — and they were the darlings of 1880s theater in England. Their work is brisk and biting, but always good-natured and fun.

Theater Works’ “Kids Alive” performs “H.M.S. Pinafore” Tues, May 17 and Mon, May 23 at 7 p.m. Tickets are just $5 at the door. They’ve also announced a “performance for special needs patrons” on Fri, May 20 at 10am, noting that “a donation of $2/person is requested.”

“Kids Alive,” a program of the company’s youth theater (“Youth Works”), is a “performing group of children that travel to different venues to entertain and inspire the community by singing, dancing and performing short plays.”

Both “Theater Works” and “Youth Works” perform at Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, an intimate facility with several small theaters that enable them to present more than one work at any given time.

If you head to Theater Works June 10-12, you can see Yolanda London (a member of the acting company at Childsplay in Tempe) perform the role of Billie Holiday in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” — presented by Theater Works and the Black Theatre Troupe of Phoenix. London is a nuanced, versatile actress who “brings it” every single time she’s on that stage.

The 2011/12 line-up for “Theater Works” includes “Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet,” “The King & I,” “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,” “The Dixie Swim Club,” “A Little Night Music” and “All Through the Night.”

Their 2011/12 “Youth Works” productions include “Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame,” “Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland,” “Hairspray,” and “Pinocchio.” Also for youth, three “Puppet Works” productions — “Trick or Treat!,” “Saving Santa” and “The Magical Adventures of Pinocchio.”

Reading about Gilbert & Sullivan is almost as fun as seeing their work performed on stage

If you discover, after seeing the “Kids Alive” production of “H.M.S. Pinafore,” that a single “Gilbert & Sullivan” offering isn’t enough for you, head to Chandler-Gilbert Community College next month for their production of “The Mikado” — which runs June 24-29 at the CGCC Performing Arts Center in Chandler.

The works of Gilbert & Sullivan are a fun introduction to the “operetta” genre — a sort of middle ground between musical theater and opera. Even if it’s not your thing, a bit of time spent with Gilbert & Sullivan will up your arts and culture I.Q. more than most things you can access with a mere remote control.

— Lynn

Note: To learn more about Gilbert & Sullivan, read Carolyn Williams’ new book titled “Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody” (part of the “Gender and Culture Series”). Or enjoy “The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert and Sullivan” by Jonah Winter (pictured above).

Coming up: Ten minute plays

Update: Eight, Arizona PBS will broadcast a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore” from the Guthrie Theater Fri, Oct 14 at 9pm. It’s followed by an episode of “Arizona ArtsBeat” at 11:30pm.

Last chance: Latino roots

Learn about the Latino roots of American pop music at the Musical Instrument Museum in north Phoenix through May 18

Arizona is home to all sorts of Latino arts and culture. There’s nothing last chance about that. But one offering, the “American Sabor” exhibit at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, will hit the road in just a few shorts days so folks in other parts can experience its splendor.

“American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music” is the first touring exhibit to land at the MIM, a global instrument museum that recently celebrated its first anniversary. But the exhibit’s last day is May 18 — so your opportunity to enjoy it will soon pass.

Though this might not apply to those of you who feel about Latino music the way others feel about Springsteen or the Grateful Dead. I suppose you could just jump into your van with a couple of friends and follow “American Sabor” to future destinations. I can imagine worse fates, like following people whose heads sport giant cheese wedges.

American Sabor features musical intruments, costumes, artifacts and more

Maybe you don’t consider yourself a fan of Latino music. But that means you’ve never turned on a radio or been to a dance featuring DJ stylings.

Because there are Latino roots in all sorts of places you might not expect them. Figuring out where is half the fun of experiencing “American Sabor.”

If you’re still picturing museums as stuffy, boring places — you’ve yet to see, hear and feel all that is the MIM. You don’t visit the MIM. You experience the MIM. And “American Sabor” is a perfect match with its “use of film, artifacts, historic musical instruments, listening kiosks, and a full-sized dance floor.”

Normally I don my tennis shoes for trips through the MIM (which truly are trips around the world). But I may have to see if I can squeeze into Lizabeth’s character shoes for this one, just in case the mambo, rhumba or cha cha beats lure me to the dance floor.

The “American Sabor” exhibit is a window into “the excitement, diversity, and beauty of Latin music as it developed in five key U.S. cities.” Think Houston, Los Angeles and Miami. Also San Francisco, a favorite of my 20-year-old daughter Jennifer. And NYC, a favorite of 17-year-old Lizabeth.

The “American Sabor” exhibit was developed by the “Experience Music Project” in Seattle and the University of Washington. It’s a well-kept secret that Seattle has actually given the world all sorts of things every bit as glorious (and maybe more glorious) than Starbucks.

“Latino musicians and the contributions they have made to musical styles like jazz, country, rock, and hip hop, among others, have scarcely been acknowledged until now,” reflects MIM exhibit manager April Salomon.

“American Sabor” aims to change all that — with its “collection of instruments, costumes. and other artifacts from musical icons.” Think Fania All-Stars and Flaco Jimenez. Celia Cruz and Carlos Santana. Los Lobos and Tito Puente.

Even a singer my hubby seemed a bit sweet on during college — Linda Ronstadt (whose vinyls still rest on the lower shelf of a towering bookcase). He once helped fellow Pepperdine students fill sandbags to protect her beachfront home. But listening to her mariachi music is a whole lot more fun…

— Lynn

Note: Click here to watch the May 12, 2011 episode of “Horizonte” on Eight, Arizona PBS — which features the “American Sabor” exhibit and a local expert on Latino arts and culture.

Coming up: The Sleeping Beauty

Images courtesy of the Musical Instrument Museum