Tag Archives: Arizona theater

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”

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Theater works

Happy campers participating in Youth Works Academy through Theater Works in Peoria, which hosts a free Summer Camp Expo this Saturday

Theater works in all sorts of ways. Think jobs, creative outlets for artists, shared experiences for citizens, positive experiences for youth and more.

Theater Works in Peoria is introducing folks to its summer camp options for children and teens this Saturday via their 2nd annual Theater Works Summer Camp Expo, which features drama-related activities for children and the opportunity to talk with Theater Works youth program staff about summer camp options for preschoolers through teens.

More fun with Youth Works Academy

The Sat, March 31 event takes place from 11am-1pm. Admission is free, and lunch (think hot dogs) is included. Sometimes theater works for tummies too. Folks who attend can enter for the chance to win a pair of silver passes to Castles N’ Coasters. If you’re game, just RSVP by March 30 to Athena Hunting at 623.815.1791 ext. 107. Theater Works, by the way, is located at 8355 W. Peoria Ave.

Theater works as well in forming community collaborations, like the Theater Works partnership with Ro Ho En (the Japanese Friendship Garden) in Phoenix to present “Sakura no Ne” (“Root of the Cherry Tree”) April 13-22. Also in helping us reflect on historical events and their meaning for our lives. Hence the April 13-May 13 Theater Works production of “All Through the Night,” a play inspired by stories of German gentile women during and after the Third Reich.

Jay meets giggling girls during Youth Works Academy

Theater Works recently unveiled their 2012/13 season, which opens with “Doubt” and wraps up with “Accomplice.” In between, there’s everything from “The Music Man” and “A Christmas Carol” to “Burning in the Night: A Hobo’s Song” and “Musical of Musicals.” This season’s “A Little Night Music” opens tomorrow night — Wed, March 28.

When you hit this Saturday’s Theater Works Summer Camp Expo, be sure and ask about other ways they’re making theater work for youth — from theater workshops and classes to puppet shows and special programs for homeschool students.

When theater works, we’re all better for it.

— Lynn

Note: Theater Works is seeking designers for the 2012/13 season — and Robyn Allen is accepting resumes at rallen@theaterworks.org. Also, a friendly reminder — The Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards take place tonight, March 27, at the Herberger Theater Center. Click here for details.

Coming up: Fun with freckles!

Ode to the Arizoni Awards

The Homestead Playhouse gang gathers after the 2011 Arizoni Awards youth ceremony (Photo by David Martinez)

While others sat glued to “Dancing with the Stars,” I enjoyed a festive evening with Arizona “theater folk” — attending Monday night’s Arizoni Awards at Tempe Center for the Arts. It’s actually two ceremonies, one for youth and another for adults.

This allows younger actors to finish homework and make their bedtimes. It also lets the hosts turn loose a little bit with off-color humor and language during the second half of the evening.

The 21st annual Arizoni Awards — formally known at the Arizoni Theatre Awards of Excellence — featured “dream hosts” Yolanda London, Robert Kolby Harper and Kurtis Overby. All looked fetching in their white sequin gowns and mostly-blue evening attire (Overby, sporting a red tie, didn’t get that memo.)

A few fashion trends of note: purple shirts for the gentlemen and long blue gowns for the ladies. My “best dressed” picks include Eric Chapman, president of the executive board for the Arizoni Awards, who rocked a black and white jacket with a jumbo check pattern and red lining.

Also Rebecca Hammer, one of four presenter assistants for the youth ceremony, who wasn’t afraid to share with me in the lobby that her royal blue gown with tasteful silver trim at the waist was a “My Michelle” from JC Penney.

Two shoe trends of note — flip flips and gladiator sandles. I’m not sure which is worse. Footwear that looks like a glittering granola bar or shoes that appear they could easily double as a weapon. (This from a woman who thinks black Fossil flats qualify as evening wear.)

The youth ceremony included performances by Greasepaint Youtheatre (“Bare Necessities” from “Disney’s The Jungle Book”), DFT Gecko Teatro (“Biggest Blame Fool” from “Seussical, Jr.”) and Actor’s Youth Theatre (“One Day More” from “Les Miserables School Edition”). Think lots of animal print and red, white and blue.

A gathering of Actor's Youth Theatre after the Arizoni Awards youth ceremony

It’s impossible, it seems, to curb excessive displays of enthusiasm during such ceremonies — but many of the grown-ups I chatted with were genuinely concerned it might takes days to regain full use of their throbbing eardrums. Maybe we should all try a little harder to emulate the calm of the Tony Awards we all hope to see our children participate in one day.

Director Chanel Branham (in blue) with Arizoni Award nominees Cambrian James (L), Andrea Martinez and David Vigari (R) (Photo by David Martinez)

Director Chanel Branham (in blue) with Arizoni Award nominees Cambrian James (L), Andrea Martinez and David Vigari (R) (Photo by David Martinez)

Results of the 2011 Arizoni Awards should be posted online once folks recover from the after-party, which landed a corporate sponsor for the first time this year. Thanks to the Arizona Ford Dealers Association — and a wag of the finger to those of you still driving Chevys to auditions and rehearsals.

If you followed the Arizoni Awards on Twitter last night, you’ve already got the scoop on big winners — which included Childsplay’s “The Borrowers.” Audience members seemed especially delighted when young actress Sara Matin was honored for her portrayal of Helen Keller in Desert Stages Theatre’s production of “The Miracle Worker.”

Alaina Beauloye, Jimmy Shoffman and the cast of Desert Stages’ “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” performed “Love is My Legs” during the adult ceremony. And Fountain Hills Community Theater performed “Along Came Bialy” from “The Producers” — complete with well-endowed grannies rocking tap-dancing walkers.

But the most applause went to Dion Johnson and D. Scott Withers, who performed “Timeless to Me” from the Phoenix Theatre production of “Hairspray” that resulted in awards for both Withers and Phoenix Theatre. Withers, who somehow made time to serve as director for this year’s Arizoni Awards, was teary- eyed as he accepted the award. Waterproof mascara is such a blessing.

Alex Slocum, Camille Gibbons, Jason Washburn, Brenda Goodenberger, Jennell Angel, Sydnie Greger and Victoria Fricker at the Arizoni Awards

Folks who offered thank yous chose the usual suspects — parents, children, fellow theater folk and volunteers. One thanked the ‘moms and dads set construction union,’ another the siblings ‘who never get jealous,’ and another the make-up artist who bestowed a full head of hair. Two thanked God for their ‘amazing talent.’ (God knows it’s there, no need to share.)

Four students received Arizoni Award scholarships during the youth ceremony — all ASU students, one in a doctoral program. The Virginia G. Piper Trust was honored during the adult cermony for its ongoing and outstanding support of Arizona arts and culture.

Chuck Disney, Linda Ferington, Patrick Moyse, Alexander Blilie and Ross Collins of Fountain Hills Community Theater (Photo by Patty Torrilhon)

Before leaving for the evening, I handed my business card to several folks gathered for impromptu picture-taking. I’ll update this post as their handiwork rolls in (and more gems from the ceremonies come to mind).

Congratulations to every Arizoni Award nominee and winner. You make it fun to sit atop the fifth wall.

— Lynn

Note: Visit the Arizoni Awards online at www.arizoniawards.com. If you have photos of last night’s ceremony to share, feel free to send them my way at rakstagemom@gmail.com. A selection will be featured in an updated version of this post.

Coming up: Conversations with Arizoni Award winners, Shopping takes center stage, Musical instrument photo opp, For the love of Lilly!

Moms in musical theater

Patti LuPone as Mama Rose in Gypsy on Broadway-Photo by Joan Marcus. LuPone performs at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts March 3, 2012.

I got to thinking about mothers in musical theater the other day while looking forward to the return of “Mamma Mia!” to ASU Gammage this week, which my daughter Lizabeth is eager to see for a second time. Apparently watching a fictional parent prance around in bell bottoms has more appeal than living with the real thing.

Alice Ripley as Diana in Next to Normal-Photo by Joan Marcus

We’ve seen all sorts of parents portrayed on Valley, and other, stages. We saw Alice Ripley perform the role of “Diana” in “Next to Normal” at the Balboa Theatre in San Diego. Estelle Parsons perform the role of “Violet” in “August: Osage County” at ASU Gammage. And Rich Hebert perform the role of “Dad” in “Billy Elliot” at ASU Gammage as well.

“Mamma Mia!” follows the adventures of a young daughter, “Sophie,” readying to wed. She lives on an island with her mom, “Donna,” who isn’t quite sure which of three suitors from her own youth might be Sophie’s biological father. It’s all set to music by ABBA and it’s an especially fun show for folks who like their theater upbeat and awash with bright colors.

Madalena Alberto as Fantine in Les Mis-Photo by Michael La Poer Trench

A mother facing a more serious dilemma, the care of her young daughter in her absence, is at the heart of the next musical coming to ASU Gammage — Les Miserables. As a mom named “Fantine” who has sacrificed much for her child lay dying, an ex-convict named “Jean Valjean” vows to keep the child “Cosette” safe. It proves quite a task given his own past and stirrings of revolution in early 19th century France.

The perplexing nature of parenting seems sometimes to be the only thing fueling the future of theater craft. A quick review of shows coming to Valley stages during the 2011/12 season reveals a long list of works filled with mommy or daddy issues — some set to music, others just words.

Kaye Tuckerman as Donna and Chloe Tucker as Sophie in Mamma Mia!-Photo by Joan Marcus

Arizona Theatre Company presents the Yasmina Rez play “God of Carnage” in Tucson and Phoenix this fall. It’s the tale of two couples brought together by a playground fight between their 11-year-old sons. I’m delighted to learn that mothers and daughters aren’t always the ones under the microscope.

Phoenix Theatre performs a classic work of musical theater about stage mothering gone horribly wrong next spring. “Gypsy” is the story of “Mama Rose” and the two daughters forced to endure her insecurity and interference. That woman needs to cut the cord already.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” based on a book in which Sheri Mandell shares experiences surrounding the murder of her 13-year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef. It’s been adapted for the stage by Todd Salovey, and reviews of other productions paint it as gut-wrenching.

While I suppose it’s tempting for some to relish all those ABBA moments without experiencing more sobering reflections on parenting, I’m looking forward to doing both.

— Lynn

Look to these nuns for some serious fun... (Photo: Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts)

Note: Looking for an additional way to enjoy mother/daughter or grown-up friend time? Head to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Sat, May 21 for the “Sing-Along Sound of Music.” $12/adults, $6 children ages 3-12. Warm up & costume contest at 2pm, film and sing-along at 2:3opm. Hosted by “Sister” Patti Hannon of “Late Night Catechism.” Click here for info on costume discount available from Mardi Gras costumes in Scottsdale.

Coming up: Summer dance classes, Ode to season tickets, Seuss meets symphony, Musings on photo I.D.

Home sweet theater

After learning of a recent “community day” at Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale, I decided to head over and check it out myself.

I found dozens of volunteers sorting props on the back lot, building sets for upcoming productions and painting all sorts of candy images on black walls inside Cullity Hall, where Desert Stages opens their production of “Willy Wonka, Jr.” on Fri, May 20.

They even let me sit in as energetic children and teens peforming in “Willy Wonka, Jr.” packed into another performance space to practice various songs from the show.

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In keeping with the “Willy Wonka, Jr.” theme, Desert Stages Theatre presents their “Golden Ticket Gala” May 14 at the Scottsdale Hilton Resort. They’re also plenty busy with another show, “The Miracle Worker,” which runs through May 29.

As kids and grown-ups participating in last Saturday’s rehearsals and work day gathered around mid-day to share pizza and perky conversation, it was clear that these families truly relish their time together.

— Lynn

Note: Desert Stages Theatre has just announced that tickets for the “Golden Ticket Gala” can still be purchased through today, so act quickly if you want to be part of this evening featuring dinner, dancing, a silent auction and more. Tickets for adults or children are $60 each. Click here for details.

Coming up: Art by children at St. Joseph’s Hospital

Copper rush

Not long after I watched a late-night pundit predict a copper run with possible catastrophic consequences, a copper-related press release crossed my virtual desk.

It described a coin drive that’s engaging students and other citizens in collecting pennies to help fund the renovation of Arizona’s own state capitol building copper dome.

Tempted as I might be to riff on all sorts of issues related to revenue and state capitols, the arts are pulling me — for now — in another direction.

I was grateful last week for the alert that came across my laptop as I watched television news headlines of violent revolution and pirates taking children hostage.

I quickly switched my attention to the live feed of a ceremony taking place at the White House. President Obama was honoring recipients of the 2010 National Medal of Arts and the 2010 National Humanities Medal.

As he placed a large medallion on a long ribbon over the head of James Taylor, Obama whispered something in Taylor’s left  ear. I imagine it might have been something like “Im a fan.”

It’s easy to understand why Taylor was one of 20 Americans honored. Consider the beautiful images conjured by the simplicity of his “Copperline” lyrics from the “New Moon Shine” album:

Took a fall from a windy height
I only knew how to hold on tight
And pray for love enough to last all night
Down on copperline 

Or another verse from the same song…

One time I saw my daddy dance
Watching him moving like a man in a trance
He brought it back from the war in France
Down on copperline

Closer to home, we’ve got the Copperstar Repertory Company, a community theater that works to “entertain, educate and enrich community members of all ages.”

Copperstar performs at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts in the East Valley. Their next production, the musical “Into the Woods” with book by James Lapine and music/lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, runs April 8-16.

I imagine it’ll be refreshing for a change to watch a show where the only feared characters are those who live in fairy tales.

— Lynn

Note: A special “Into the Woods” performance for student groups takes place Thurs, April 14, at 9:45am at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts  (in partnership with Copperstar Repertory Theatre and Higly Community Education). The target audience is grades 4-12 students in language arts and music. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: Field trips with an arts focus, A parent perspective on PBS

Old dog, new tricks

My husband presented me with a little something in red and white the other night. Not a Valentine’s Day gift, as you might expect. But a plastic card bearing the letters “AARP.”

Apparently I’m now old enough to get the senior discount at my local Denny’s, plus other benefits I’ll read up on some other time when I run out of crossword puzzles or Earl Grey.

As the phrase “old dog, new tricks” popped into my head, I recalled my most recent adventures with Childsplay — a Tempe-based theater company founded in 1977.

I attended last Saturday’s early matinee performance of “Go, Dog. Go!” at Tempe Center for the Arts — and was delighted by the endless parade of new tricks.

Count me among the many folks who never cease to wonder how on earth Childsplay manages to outdo themselves at every turn. It’s mind-boggling, and not because I’m 50.

My daughter, Jennifer, turns 20 this year. “Go, Dog. Go!” by P.D. Eastman was one of her favorite books during childhood. She’s hesitant to see a live performance based on the book for fear it will ruin her memories of the story somehow.

But I have strong evidence to the contrary — my own memories of absolutely elated preschoolers and ebullient parents who also attended last Saturday’s 1pm show.

Think one-ring circus colliding with comedic theater, and you have Childsplay’s spin on “Go, Dog. Go!” — a Steven Dietz and Allison Gregory adaptation of the book that features music by Michael Koerner.

Childsplay’s “Go, Dog. Go!” is a “theater in the round” experience brimming with actor (dog)/audience interaction — plus plenty of hats and pratfalls.

Think roller skates and all sorts of wheeled modes of transport. Think vollying a giant inflated ball back and forth a la rock concert. Think giant props, and plenty of them.

“Go, Dog. Go!” is a full-blown “bells and whistles” production.

During intermission, families had lots of great options — including going outside to run off some steam and hitting the Childsplay gift boutique for books, CDs, stuffed animals or signed cast photos (there’s even an adorable silver sparkly photo album just for holding Childsplay memories).

Too few headed to the exhibit of glass works currently featured in the TCA Gallery. It’s full of whimsical kid-friendly fare, including several multi-media works with neon lighting.

Several enjoyed educational materials with fun dog-related themes found throughout the lobby — including matching games featuring dog breeds and characteristics, and words from the show presented in diverse languages.

Childsplay offers all sorts of educational programs — from field trips and school tours to Childsplay Academy classes for children and teens. Online registration for popular summer programs starts today, Feb 12, at 10am.

Learning and laughing — it never gets old.

— Lynn

Note: The 9th annual “dog friendly” “Liver Life Walk” takes place Sat, March 19. Click (or paw) here for details.

Coming up: Fun with cats

Photos courtesy of Childsplay