Tag Archives: Arizona playwrights

Spilling secrets

The real playwrights of Arizona will be spilling secrets this weekend as they present the 6th annual Pandora Festival, dubbed “Secrets Revealed.” It’s a three-day event featuring diverse works about everything from teen misfits to gripes with the corporate world. Even lack of privacy in the digital world and memories of a failed marriage.

ASU alumna Jennifer Giralo’s first play is part of this weekend’s “Pandora Festival” in Scottsdale

It’s “idealism versus realism” as Patty Hackmann directs Jennifer Giralo’s “Married to Marriage.” Seems characters Andy and Kim try to work through differing world views “in a late night bet they will never forget.” Something tells me they’re not wagering over who’s better at separating whites from brights.

Micki Shelton’s “Holly,” directed by Kate Hawkes, imagines a woman lost in Utah struggling to balance GPS, a Native American Park Ranger and a man on a horse. It’s all good, I suppose, assuming she doesn’t add texting while trailblazing.

Shelton notes that while she’s written plays starting with characters (“Circles”), theme (“Discovery: The Lost Gospel of Judas” — still a work in progress), and basic plot (“Fred and Mary”), she hadn’t “written a play beginning with setting” until a trip to Hovenweep National Monument about 18 months ago inspired her to write the work that became “Holly.”

Folks who enjoy “Holly” can experience more of Shelton’s work this July as “Fred and Mary: An Unconventional Romance” makes its world premiere at the historic Elks Opera House in Prescott. While others watch “Holly” come Saturday night, Shelton will be attending her daughter’s graduation in California. Some babies are penned, others born.

The Pandora Festival of New Works 2012 looks like this:

  • Ten short plays. Fri, May 18 at 7pm.
  • “Duty & Duplicity,” a full-length play by Michelle Lambeau (directed by Barbara Aker). Sat, May 19 at 2pm.
  • Four one-act plays. Sat, May 19 at 7pm.
  • “Father’s Ashes,” a full-length play by Esther Blumfield (directed by Kandyce Hughes). Sun, May 20 at 2pm.

All works are being performed at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. It’s one of many gems you’ll discover by exploring a section of their website dubbed “Events Presented by Visiting Groups” (others include “Swan Lake…The Big Splash” presented by Dance Theater West).

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts is located right next to Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, which has plenty of its own intriguing offerings — including this weekend’s first-event SMOCA “Teens Night Out” Sat, May 19, from 7-11pm in front of the museum.

“Teens Night Out” is free for teens with school I.D. or drivers license, and features everything from break dancing to painting performance. Think four bands, outdoor community chalk mural, hands-on art activities, free raffles, DJ and more. Reminds me of a recent dance party enjoyed at the Brooklyn Museum in NYC.

Let the kids party while you Pandora. Click here to learn more about the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company, which presents the Pandora Festival plus other opportunities for playwrights and lovers of the new. Then tell a friend, because some secrets are fine to share.

— Lynn

Coming up: Ten ways to celebrate International Museum Day, Arts meets women’s rights, From Brooklyn to Scottsdale


Playwright tackles teen depression

Playwright Jim Gradillas serves as artistic director for Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria

I was thrilled to learn that the 2012/13 season for Creative Stages Youth Theatre will include the return of “Signs of Sara,” a work by artistic director Jim Gradillas and Michelle Marie that tackles the topic of teen depression. Considering how frequently teen depression occurs, it’s remarkably absent from public discourse these days. “Signs of Sara” imagines Sara’s journey into depression and her attempts to escape it — with an imaginative “pit of depression” set.

Gradillas says he’s written some 30+ plays, and recalls that “Life as Joby” (about the mind of a young alcoholic) was produced first — back in 1994. Gradillas recalls going to Northern Arizona University “to be an actor,” but did more teaching than performing after returning to the Valley. Gradillas recalls getting his start at a youth theater in Mesa. “I began writing,” he adds, “because I saw that there weren’t lots of strong parts for kids.”

Gradillas also recalls writing summer camp productions for a local youth theater, and wanted all 60 or so kids to “have decent part instead of being just a tree or a rock.” He’s especially fond of fairy tales, because they’re so character driven. Often he starts with an existing story, adapting it to make it his own. “I try to find characters I’d want to play,” says Gradillas.

The playwright says he’s especially proud of the “Snow White” and”Cinderella” adaptations he’s written — and shares that CSYT’s 2012/13 season will include his own adaptations of “Road to Oz” (from the book by L. Frank Baum) and “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (from the Washington Irving tale).

Though he’s written mostly comedy, Gradillas says he “looks forward to writing more dramas” like this season’s “The Color of Me” created with writing partner Michelle Marie. The pair will co-direct Marie’s “In There Somewhere” for CSYT’s 2012/13 season. The play follows the life of Lily as “she confronts herself and her past confronts her.”

Cast members from a CSYT production of “Count the Moon”

Gradillas also enjoys helping young playwrights develop their work. The “3rd Annual 10 Minute Play Fest” takes place at Creative Stages March 1 and 2, 2013. Participating students “get a chance to write and direct their own mini-plays” — with best of show awards announced at the close of day two.

When an out-of-state theater company performed “Signs of Sara,” says Gradillas, “they didn’t understand my script.” Seems their ensemble “had different words plastered to their bodies” in lieu of using the “pit” concept Gradillas felt was pivotal to the piece. Hence his preference for directing his own work.

The playwriting day starts at about 3am for Gradillas, who says that’s the only way he can carve two to three hours out of busy days. When ideas come during non-writing hours, Gradillas “jots them down or says them into a phone.” Once he’s outlined the sequence of a play, Gradillas works on character development. “I want all of the characters and roles to be well developed,” he says.

Gradillas says he’s always dreamed of doing “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” — a book he recalls reading during 4th grade (he read the whole “Chronicles of Narnia” series as a child). He’d also love to adapt the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

“I try to read a lot of youth theater plays,” says Gradillas, “but I’m picky about them.” His favorites include Susan Zeder’s “Wiley And The Hairy Man” and “The Emerald Circle” by Max Bush. “I’d love to do Dr. Seuss if it wasn’t restricted,” says Gradillas. Also “Sendak and Silverstein.”

His advice for young playwrights is simple. “Write something every day, even if it’s just jotting down or typing out ideas and characters.” And remember his trick of saying ideas and dialogue into the phone (assuming your phone records such things). “The easy part is dialogue for me,” says Gradillas. “The hard part for me is explaining in direction what happens at each point.” He readily admits to “not having detailed stage direction” for his works, since he’s the once who usually produces them.

Cast members of “Happy Days” at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria

Folks who want to see Creative Stages Youth Theatre in action can enjoy the musical “Happy Days” featuring music and lyrics by Paul Williams with book by Garry Marshall through May 19. CSYT’s 2012/13 offerings not noted above include “Santa Claus! The Play,” “Beauty and the Beast: A New Original Adaptation,” “Corney and Bright: The Super Psychedelic Sixties Spectacular” and a trio of  musicals yet to be announced. Stay tuned.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for information on CSYT summer theater camps, and here for information on a Washington, D.C. production of “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe.” Click here to learn more about MIKID (a local resource for families whose children or teens are living with mental illness) and here to learn more about Teen Lifeline (a local suicide prevention resource).

Coming up: Theater toolbox tackles bigotry, Spotlight on women playwrights, Let it “Rain”

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

Got scripts?

New works festivals present great opportunities for writers and audiences

Jason Tremblay of Austin won last year’s EVCT aspiring playwrights contest with “Queen Zixi of Ix, The Story of the Magic Cloak” — which was performed by East Valley Children’s Theatre just last month. It’s the adaptation of an L. Frank Baum story about two young children forced to live with a greedy aunt who moves them from country to city in search of work — and the adventures that help them bring happiness and prosperity to everyone in their new land.

Second place in last year’s EVCT playwriting contest went to Drew Ignatowski of Gilbert for “Moonprince,” and third place went to Texan Bobbi A. Chukran of Leander for “Princess Primrose & the Curse of the Big Sleep.” Cash prizes go to the top three winners each year, and the winning play is produced by EVCT (assuming it meets their criteria for performance). The deadline for 2012 submissions is Fri, March 15.

New Carpa Theater Co. recently issued a call for scripts inspired by the legacy of the civil rights movement, the United Farm Workers Union and contemporary social justice issues. They’re looking for works to present during a short plays festival they expect to hold in late May/early June as well as October. Think 5- to 10-minute stage plays, monologues, play excerpts and performance pieces. Scripts are due April 20, and can be submitted in either Spanish or English.

James E. Garcia, producing artistic director for the company, notes that eight to 10 pieces will be selected by a panel of seven local playwrights, writers and producers for staging at the festival. Additional works may also be presented for festival goers. Garcia describes the festival as “a non-partisan, grassroots, community-based project” designed to give theater artists and audiences “an opportunity to express their concerns regarding some of the most compelling human and civil rights issues of our time” — including those effecting immigrants, women and people of color.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival is now considering plays for its 2013 New American Playwrights Project. Scripts submitted for consideration must be postmarked by Nov 1, 2012. Three works (all with mature content) are being presented during the 2012 series directed by Charles L. Metten — “The Greater Love” by Frankie Little Hardin, “Turquoise Wind” by Kurt Proctor and “Play Desdemona” by Daniel Hintzsche.

Those of you who favor watching new works rather than writing them can enjoy the 15th annual Hormel New Works Festival being presented July 8-22 by Phoenix Theatre. The festival features staged readings performed by professional actors.

Phoenix Theatre also holds a “2nd Draft Series” designed to further the development of select plays presented during the Hormel New Works Festival. Three plays will get the “2nd draft” treatment in coming weeks and months — including Richard Warren’s “Pollywogs” (March 24), Kurt Shineman’s “Mother’s Milk” (April 21) and Scott McCarrey’s “The Wilds” (May 19).

The Arizona Women’s Theatre Company presents its 6th annual Pandora Festival of New Works May 18-20 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. It features full-length plays, one-act plays and 10-minute plays written by Arizona women.

Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale is home to the “New Play Series and Reader’s Theatre.” Up next in their new play series is “4” by Terry Youngren (March 17). Their next reader’s theater will be presented April 23 by Drea Pruseau.

A Childsplay world-premiere read of Dwayne Hartford’s “The Color of Stars” comes to The Temple Lounge in Tucson Sat, April 14 as part of the Arizona Theatre Company’s Café Bohemia” series. The play’s described as “a touching story about life in America during World War II with modern-day parallels about the costs of war both overseas and at home.”

Folks who prefer seeing plays fully staged and polished will be pleased to know that “The Color of Stars” is being performed by Childsplay April 22-May 20 at Tempe Center for the Performing Arts.

— Lynn

Coming up: Frankly speaking, So you want to be a playwright…

Once upon a “Showcase”

Pandora Showcase runs through Nov 19 in Scottsdale

I was pleased to see a good crowd of both women and men at Friday night’s “Pandora Showcase” presented by the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company — mostly young professionals, but some with several more years of life and theater-going under their belt. “Showcase 1,” which will be presented again Fri, Nov. 18, runs about 2 1/2 hours and includes five short works.

The venue — a small theater inside the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts — is intimate and polished. Clever song choices played before and after each “Pandora” work enhance each piece while tying them all together. Several of the plays share common themes — identity, relationships, destiny and the travail of making art.

The first is a sweet look at a young professional’s visit with her elderly grandmother and two aunts, but I prefer a tad more dysfunction in my on-stage families. I readily admit to being skewed forever by the biting combination of real life and Estelle Parson’s performance in “August: Osage County.” So “Family Recipes” wasn’t my favorite thing on the “Pandora Showcase” menu.

I found the second work, titled “Me,” infinitely more enchanting. It’s the tale of a writer who stumbles into a room where a sort of future self, her destiny, awaits. They banter back and forth about the relative merits of knowing, or not knowing, what’s coming down the road. The play ponders a serious question without pontificating and the actors deliver a solid performance.

To the same degree that “Family Recipes” feels a bit flat, the third play in “Showcase 1” feels somewhat frenetic. “Seeking Destiny” seems to be asking one central question: “If a hand is offered, would you take it?” But other questions flying too far afield dilute the focus of the work, and it would benefit from additional editing of ideas. The play left me wondering whether poetry might be the better vehicle for this particular vision.

The fourth work, titled “The Procedure,” is a playful look at medical bureaucracy with a brief foray into the politics of health insurance. The audience rewarded each actor’s prowess in physical comedy with genuine laughter. I’d love to see this playwright string together a series of similar works treating other political topics of the day.

The final piece in “Showcase 1” was far and away my favorite. I don’t know how plays make their way from Arizona to L.A., Chicago or NYC, but “Prism” deserves to start that journey. It’s an honest, unflinching look at what each person brings to the therapeutic relationship. It’s funny beyond belief, with writing honed to near perfection.

Playwright Debra Rich Gettleman performs one of two roles in “Prism,” which functions well with both therapist and client characters. But it’s also easy to imagine “Prism” as a one-woman play depicting only the woman talking to her therapist. Audience reactions to the work made clear the fact that Gettleman “gets it” in the therapy department.

Gettleman’s “Prism” reminds me of “No Child” by Nilaja Sun, but with psychotherapy rather than education the topic du jour. I asked Gettleman after Friday’s “Pandora Showcase” just how many plays she’s written, because she’s cleary got a gift for it — but counting doesn’t seem to be her thing.

Maybe plays are like children and it’s hard to pick a favorite. Still, Gettleman’s got an awfully precious baby on her hands with “Prism.” I can’t wait to watch it grow.

— Lynn

Note: Another “Pandora Showcase” work will be performed Sat, Nov 12 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (and all the works are being repeated next weekend).

Coming up: When couples collide, This little piggie…

Let’s play therapist

Get off the couch for a bit of girlfriend therapy as new plays written by Arizona women make their way to Scottsdale Center for the Arts this weekend

Time with a real therapist can set you back hundreds of dollars, but Arizona playwright Debra Rich Gettleman promises “a hilarious romp through the unexplored regions of your therapist’s subconscious” for a fraction of the price.

Her play, titled “Prism,” is part of this year’s “Pandora Showcase” — which actually features “Showcase 1” (Nov 11 & 18 at 7:30pm) and “Showcase 2” (Nov 12 & 19 at 7:30pm). Tickets for a single showcase are $15/each and you can attend both for $25.

“Prism,” which is directed by Judy Rollings, is one of five short works on the Friday night roster. The others are as follows:

  • “Me,” written by Mala Akiva and directed by Jan Williams — featuring a writer’s encounter with her destiny.
  • “Family Recipes,” written by Bernadette LaMazza and directed by Kandyce Hughes — featuring a comedic mixture of family traditions with sweetness, sarcasm and senility.
  • “The Procedure,” written by Diane Grant and directed by Daniela Crispo Talarico — featuring an exploration of ironies surrounding health insurance.
  • “Seeking Destiny,” written by Mary Caroline Rogers and directed by Susan Assadi — featuring questions of identity in a world where society defines relationships.

“Showcase 2” features a full-length play titled “What You Don’t Know.” It’s written by Larissa Brewington and directed by Pamela Sterling — and features “a typical Sunday dinner at the Bridges home.” Think anxiety and avarice, secrets and sedition. But in a lovely twist, none of your own family members are involved.

All “Pandora Showcase” offerings are being presented by the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts — a lovely location for an evening out with friends, because it’s close to several restaurants and winding paths perfect for conversation.

Sometimes that’s all the therapy a girl really needs.

— Lynn

Note: Debra Rich Gettleman writes a blog called “Unmotherly Insights” published by Raising Arizona Kids Magazine. Click here to start enjoying her posts.

Coming up: Black Friday — arts & culture style

Supporting women playwrights

Playwright Debra Rich Gettleman

Debra Rich Gettleman is one of many Arizona playwrights whose works, developed during previous “Pandora Festivals,” will be full staged as part of this month’s “Pandora Showcase.” Her play titled “Prism” is being performed this Friday evening at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

The 2nd annual “Pandora Showcase” takes place Nov, 11, 12, 18 and 19. It’s your first chance to see plays that may one day make their way to much larger audiences. “A Conversation with Edith Head,” which opened the current season for Actors Theatre of Phoenix at the Herberer Theater Center, was part of the inaugural 2004-2005 season for Arizona Wowen’s Theatre Company, which specializes is producing contemporary works by women playwrights.

Susan Claassen as Edith Head (Photo: Tim Fuller)

“A Conversation with Edith Head” was written by Paddy Calistro and Susan Claassen, both affiliated with Invisible Theatre in Tucson, which is performing Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” through Nov. 20.

Colleen Jennings Roggensack, executive director for ASU Gammage, recently attended opening night for playwright Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop” on Broadway. When last we spoke, Jennings Roggensack shared her delight with seeing the work of women on Broadway, but also noted that we need more of it.

Folks who share her enthusiasm for supporting the work of women playwrights have plenty of opportunities in coming days as ten fully-staged works make their way to Scottsdale. More new works will be featured at the 6th annual “Pandora Festival,” being presented by Arizona Women’s Theatre Company May 18-20, 2012 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Playwright Katori Hall

The Arizona Women’s Theatre Company recently issued a call for original scripts written by Arizona women playwrights — and will present staged readings of those selected during the May festival. Playwrights can submit up to two works, and there is no submission fee.

They’re calling for submissions of ten minute, one act and full length plays. Neither plays that have previously been fully produced nor obvious first drafts will be accepted — but “plays that have had workshops and other readings are eligible.”

Thankfully, you don’t have to write these babies to enjoy them. Folks who like to watch are just as valuable in theater world.

— Lynn

Playwright Annie Baker

Note: Playwrights Baker, Hall and Regina Taylor are among five playwrights recently selected to participate in a residency program with the Signature Theatre Company in NYC. Click here for details.

Coming up: Arizona welcomes the “Pandora NBC Skating Series,” More scoop on “Pandora Showcase” offerings, Pearls from Prescott

Update: I spent part of the afternoon with a lovely group of art folks from Prescott, including one who suggested I alert readers to an upcoming call for plays written by youth in the metro Phoenix area, and another who’s had several works read during previous “Pandora Festivals.” Stay tuned for details in upcoming posts…