Tag Archives: art and politics

Presidents and performing arts

2010 Kennedy Center Honors (Bill T. Jones, far left, President Obama, far right) Photo: Joan Marcus

I got to musing about presidents and the performing arts recently after learning about an upcoming performance at ASU Gammage that explores perspectives on Abraham Lincoln and the civil rights movement.

The Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company brings “Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray” to ASU Gammage in Tempe for a single performance on Fri, March 5. The title is taken from Lincoln’s second inaugural address.

2010 Kennedy Center honoree Bill T. Jones (Photo: Ron Sachs-Pool for Getty Images)

Bill T. Jones is described as “one of the most celebrated choreographer/  directors in the world.”

He received a MacArthur “Genius” Award in 1994, a 2007 Tony Award for his choreography of “Spring Awakening” and a 2010 Tony Award for his choregraphy of “Fela!” (a musical he also directed).

Jones is also a 2010 Kennedy Center honoree — as are Merle Haggard, Jerry Herman, Paul McCartney and Oprah Winfrey.

With this work — a “fusion of dialogue, dance, multi-media, original and traditional music” — Jones is “seeking a way to articulate if not reconcile the view of Abraham Lincoln he had as a young boy growing up during the civil rights struggle.”

A photo on his website showing Jones standing in front of Lincoln’s carefully preserved hat gives a sense of the poignancy of his ongoing encounter with Lincoln’s ideas, words and actions.

It’s a far cry (or meow) from this season’s earlier Lincoln-related piece presented by Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe. But both demonstrate the ongoing fascination of performance artists with presidents and politics.

We’re rather cynical about holidays around here, so I joked with my daughter Lizabeth after hearing a song from the musical “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” on the radio recently that we should run right out and buy a copy of the original cast recording as a mutual Valentine’s Day gift. (For sweeter holiday fare, follow the adventures of the Blomquist Family.)

Last year Valley theater-goers enjoyed political performance art in the form of “Capitol Steps” at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and “Second City Does Arizona” presented by Arizona Theatre Company at the Herberger Theater Center (their latest offering is “Sex and the Second City 2.0,” coming in March).

The Valley welcomed Ed Asner performing “FDR” last year to benefit the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, and the Cort Theatre on Broadway was home for a time to “You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush” starring Will Ferrell.

But I’m particularly excited about the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company performance because it sounds like a beautiful blend of storytelling with stagecraft.

There’s nothing like live performance art that leaves you not only entertained, but inspired. Pensive yet pushing forward. Screaming, perhaps. But also dreaming. Wondering and working hard to forge a reality more fitting of our personal and collective calling.

— Lynn

Note: Poet Maya Angelou (for whom President Obama’s sister was named) will perform at ASU Gammage in Tempe Sun, March 20, at 3pm (with a special appearance by “Broadway in the Hood“). Angelou is one of 15 people recently awarded the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Learn more at www.uniquelives.com.

Coming up: Art goes Irish!, Musings on modern dance, Valley student directs his first one-act play

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The musical “Hair” comes full circle

Your first pet. Your first kiss. Your first car. Most of us can recall a variety of “firsts” from our own lives.

But Caren Lyn Tackett of Boston, who performs the role of the Sheila in the current touring production of the Broadway musical Hair, recalls something more.

Tackett grew up listening to the original cast recording of "HAIR"

Stories of her parents’ first date – that night in the ‘70s when her mom took her dad to see the musical Hair during one of its earlier incarnations.

Eventually they married, and counted a signed cast album of Hair among their most prized possessions. Tackett grew up listening to the record over and over again. “I was obsessed with it,” she recalls.

Tackett first performed in Hair with the NYC Central Park production during 2008, and says she was especially thrilled with the show’s vibe within an outdoor setting.

Hackett first performed in HAIR at Central Park in NYC in 2008 (Photo: Joan Marcus)

You get the feeling in talking with Tackett that things like peace and love are more than quaint retro reminiscences. They’re values she’s thrilled to convey with every performance of Hair.

“I have a real personal identification with Sheila,” shares Tackett. “She’s a student, a real part of the tribe and very politically minded.”

Tackett describes Sheila as ambitious, sharing the beliefs of fellow tribe members but refusing to stop there. “She acts on everything she believes.”

Cast of the 2010 national tour of HAIR (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Sheila goes to Washington, D.C. to “try and levitate the Pentagon” and does all she can to engage others in the tribe who are content to champion ideas without acting upon them.

“I can still hear my mother’s voice,” muses Sheila. “Don’t let being a woman hold you back.”

We sometimes forget how little time has passed since gender and race were used with alarming regularity to devalue fellow citizens.

Hair serves as a powerful testament to the challenges of generations present and past – and inspires those who experience it to dream, and to do.

We spoke as Tackett was in Washington, D.C. with the Hair tourand with her family, which includes three-year-old daughter Ravyn Sioux (a name meant to honor Native American roots on both sides of the family).

Lawrence Stallings, Steel Burkhardt and Matt DeAngelis of the 2010 national tour of HAIR (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Apparently the tiny Tackett is already rocking the activism vibe during gleeful trips to see the Lincoln Memorial and other national treasures. “She loves to recite the stories and facts,” muses Tackett.

Seems Tackett was exposed to music early and often, describing her father’s family as “a bunch of jazz and blues musicians in the New England area.”

“My dad’s side is multi-racial,” says Tackett–recalling his role in establishing a “black and white orchestra” during the 1910s. “It was a big deal back then,” reflects Tackett.

Cast of the 2010 national tour of HAIR (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But Hair isn’t her only full circle experience. Seems Tuckett and Matt DeAngelis (Woof), both performing in the current national tour of Hair, have shared the stage before — during a student production of Godspell at Boston’s Masconomet Regional High School. They even attended the same elementary school.

“I always knew I would do theater,” says Tackett. Seems her high school acting peers were a close, supportive bunch. “It was such a beautiful experience.” She went on to major in musical theatre at Emerson College — but left to take an acting gig. 

Tackett is glad she realized early on that acting was a viable career choice, and that her parents were supportive of her decision. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have a career in musical theater and that it can’t last,” insists Tackett.

“It’s never impossible.”

— Lynn

Note: HAIR is being performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe Dec 7-12. Visit the ASU Gammage website for show and ticket information, plus the scoop on special events and promotions for this and future shows. While the show does include brief nudity, Tackett notes that it’s done in a very tasteful way, and hopes this won’t discourage anyone from attending.

Coming up: “Evening of Arts” at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, Valley visual arts news, Art festivals featuring family fun

Artists walking a tightrope?

After weeks of witnessing heated debate on both sides of SB (Senate Bill) 1070, the immigration legislation recently signed into law in Arizona, the issue hit a bit closer to home as a related press release crossed my virtual desk.

It was from the League of Resident Theatres (LORT) and offered the following headline: “League of Resident Theatres issues statement in protest of Arizona immigration law SB1070: Seventy-six Member Theatres from 29 states and the District of Columbia participate in peaceful protest.”

The release featured a letter sent by LORT to Governor Jan Brewer, which began by noting that the group has met three times each year in Tucson for the past ten years—adding that no further meetings would be held in Arizona “as long as this law is in place.”

LORT describes itself as “the largest professional theatre association of its kind in the United States, with 76 member Theatres located in every major market in the U.S.” and adds that “LORT Theatres collectively issue more Equity contracts to actors than Broadway and commercial tours combined.”

Arizona Theatre Company, which performs in Tucson and Phoenix, is among LORT’s members.

It’s impossible to predict whether or which other arts-related organizations may take similar actions, but one thing is clear: many artists at the local, state and national level value civic engagement.

You’d be hard pressed to find an artist who doesn’t have a voice. It’s the nature of the craft. For some that’s the beauty, for others that’s the beast.

Robert C. Booker, executive director for the Arizona Commission on the Arts recently shared in an e-blast that both “Arizona constituents and national friends of the arts” have wondered about the position of this state agency on several recently-enacted laws.

Booker notes that it is “not legal or permissible for state agencies…to engage in or take official positions related to state or federal laws, political issues or elections.”

I feel similarly about my writing. It’s not my place to proffer political perspectives, but I am committed to empowering parents with information  and resources they can use to make their own decisions and take their own stand.

Of the many features I’ve written for Raising Arizona Kids magazine through the years, I’m most proud of a piece on parenting and public policy.

A museum director once shared with me that he considers our daily arts blog an ongoing civics lesson of sorts, which is humbling and gratifying.

I’m not here to tell anyone what to think or believe, but feel strongly that our country is better for a multiplicity of opinions shared with decency and respect. I hope you will always feel that you find this here.

“Artists,” observes Booker, “have always led wide-ranging discussions, provided context and information, and examined the current events of their times in thoughtful and inventive ways.”

Booker sites diverse examples, including Pablo Picasso, Kathe Kollwitz, Diego Rivera, Shirin Neshat, Neil Young, Tony Kushner and Maya Angelou.

Though our many Arizona arts organizations are filled with people rich in ideas, insights and opinion—there are laws regulating the rights of non-profits to do certain types of advocacy.

I’ll share a bit more about that in a future post. But if you’re eager to dive right in to the topic, you can visit www.independentsector.org/election_rules or www.pafcoalition.org.

Overachievers can even contact the Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition to learn about training opportunities in this area to help assure they’re following both non-profit guidelines and their own conscience.

Come to think of it, who’s better than an artist at walking a tightrope with grace, strength and style?

–Lynn