Tag Archives: border issues

Politics meets pastorela

Rehearsal for James Garcia's American Pastorela 2007 (Photo: Phil Soto)

I once made my own pilgrimage to Bethlehem, and still remember the tiny shop where I purchased small wooden nativity sets as Christmas gifts for various friends and family members. Getting there was more complicated than I’d imagined, but I hadn’t realized at the time that my life was imitating art.

After moving to Arizona, I learned that the story of shepherds journeying to witness the nativity in Bethleham has been recounted for centuries in “pastorela” plays that blend Latino and Native American cultures. They’re performed each Christmas across Arizona and beyond.

One particular pastorela has garnered national attention for its political prowess. James Garcia, a Valley playwright, often writes pastorelas that capture controversial topics. One “American Pastorela” was subtitled “The Saga of Sheriff Joe.” But this year’s offering pokes serious fun at those who’ve banned ethnic studies programs at schools. Hence the subtitle “Everything You Wanted to Know About Ethnic Studies But Were Afraid to Ask.”

James Garcia's American Pastorela 2011 directed by Alex Vega Sanchez

Garcia is the founder and artistic director for New Carpa Theater, which specializes in Latino and multicultural theater works. They’re presenting this year’s “American Pastorela” through Sunday (see note below) at the Third Street Theater, located at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Despite the sometimes ideologically racy content, Garcia says his kids loved it, and suspects others will too. There are seven children ages 7-17 in the cast, including one “sweet little girl (who) breaks into Broadway tunes at the drop of a hat.”

Borderlands Theater in Tucson presents “A Tucson Pastorela” through Sunday as well. It’s the work of Wendy Burke, Eric Magrane and “the pastorela ghost writers” —  and features band director Gertie Lopez. Pastorelas typically pit those making the pilgrimage to Bethlehem against various challenges — including Satan, and things more suggestive of contemporary experiences. Hence their inclusion of Arizona’s evil haboobs.

Sometimes laughter is the only real alternative to crying — so I’m grateful for artists who help us make that leap. Love their politics, or hate it, that’s up to you. But be proud to live in a country where free speech and creativity mix in ways that give us all pause to consider our own bigotry or bias.

— Lynn

Note: Some performances of “American Pastorela” have been cancelled, so check the New Carpa Theater website before you go, and have a “plan B” just in case you’re downtown for the show and need another option.

Coming up: Art meets economics


What’s your border?

L to R: Michael Van Liew, Andrew Valenzuela and Kathryn James in "Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World"

In the opening scene of a stirring play titled “Amexica,” penned by the Valley’s own James E. Garcia and Alberto Rios, we hear people with different perspectives completing the following sentence: My border is….

One thing is immediately clear — the border isn’t some abstraction devoid of human meaning. It’s the people who live on and around it, and the years of individual and collective histories they carry with them.

Playwright Garcia and poet Rios seamlessly weave poetry and performance art together in “Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World” to create a unique work that’ll appeal to lovers of words, history, art and culture.

The world premiere run, a production of New Carpa Theater directed by Barbara Aker, continues at the Mesa Arts Center through Sun, Nov. 6. Aker is a retired acting and voice teacher who counts Andrew Valenzuela among her former students in the theatre program at Arizona State University in Tempe.

Raynell Gonzales (L) and Andrew Valenzuela in "Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World"

Valenzuela plays Javier, a recent college graduate and poet who decides to forego graduate school after learning that he was born in Mexico and adopted two weeks later by parents Dan (Michael Van Liew) and Tina (Kathryn James) of Oregon.

Javier travels along the border region in search of his roots, his identity and the mother who left him behind — encountering all sorts of people in his journey. The cast of 14 includes an elementary school student, a middle school student and a high school student. Each delivers a strong performance with true professionalism.

I was disappointed, while attending last Saturday’s matinee, to find that far too many seats were empty for a work of this caliber — and hope those who support the accurate depiction of border life, poetic reflection on the human condition and youth participation in the arts will make plans to see “Amexica” this weekend.

My daughter Jennifer, a cultural anthroplogy major at ASU, asked me one evening about the term “fourth world.” Like many, she’s more familiar with the term “third world.” So I got in touch with Garcia, eager to learn more about the choice of a title.

Seems Garcia first heard the term “fourth world” as a journalist working during the ’80s for a daily newspaper in Laredo, Texas. He recalls seeing the word “Amexica” on the cover of a 2001 issue of TIME magazine. In images, says Garcia, the border is two-dimensional. Nowadays, some border depictions in film boast 3-D images. But now, it seems, there’s a fourth dimention too.

Raynell Gonzales in "Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World" at Mesa Arts Center

“The fourth world,” says Garcia, describes the evolution along the Mexico/America border of a whole new culture. It’s a culture characterized by complexity, he says, reduced too often to “images of people coming over the fence.”

“The Mexican people,” observes Garcia, “have a long memory.” Also mixed feelings about their neighbors to the north. Though citizens passionately recall the conquest of Mexico and prior battles with the United States, they modeled their own goverment after American democracy and seek in some ways to emulate American culture.

The smart, sensitive treatment of border-related issues rarely finds its way to mainstream media — so we’re fortunate that Garcia and Rios have partnered to present a picture of the people who populate the border. “Amexica” is a compelling counterpoint to the caricatures that too often invade our discourse and decision making.

— Lynn

Note: “Amexica: Tales of the Fourth World” also features choreography by Michèle Ceballos Michot and original score by Quetzal Guerrero (whose CD I saw just yesterday at XICO gallery in Chandler). Click here for show and ticket information. The production includes brief violence and language best viewed by teens and above.

Coming up: Sandbox tales, A celebration of life

Definition of a dream

Call those babysitters! The 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival starts tonight!

Many of us wake up every day in warm, secure houses with pantries full of food and closets brimming with clothes. We dream of smarter phones, faster computers, bigger television screens.

But the dreams of homeless teens are very different. You can get a rare glimpse into the lives of homeless youth in Phoenix by attending a play titled “Definition of a Dream.”

It’s being presented April 1-3 by homeless youth who developed the original work in conjunction with Sarah Sullivan and the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development. The Center describes the work as follows:

“Through the artistic experience, young people take their stories to the stage, looking to change the conversation about homelessness in Phoenix, one show at a time. This year’s play takes a look at dreams — the dreams we have for ourselves, for the people in our lives and our community as a whole.”

“Definition of a Dream” asks a powerful question: “What are the things we have to fight for and against to make these dreams a reality?”

The play is one of many thought-provoking works being presented as part of the Phoenix Fringe Festival, which runs April 1-10 at various downtown Phoenix venues.

Tickets for tonight’s performance of “Definition of a Dream” were not available online when I checked Friday afternoon, but tickets for the Sat, April 2 (5:30pm) and Sun, April 3 (8pm) performances may still be out there — but don’t delay in checking the Phoenix Fringe Festival website if you’d like to attend this or other works.

“Definition of a Dream” is being performed at “Modified Arts” at 407 E. Roosevelt in Phoenix. Additional venues for 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival performances (most appropriate only for mature audiences) include Phoenix Theatre: Little Theatre, Third Street Theatre, Soul Invictus, Bragg’s Pie Factory and Space 55.

You can check out the full “Fringe” schedule (which also includes after-parties and such) at www.phxfringe.org. After reviewing the schedule the other day, I noticed that there are works dealing with religion, sexuality, border issues and a whole lot more. Even Greek myth and Shakespeare manage to get in the game.

Several “Fringe” works, including “Twisted: Greeting Card Moments Gone Bad” by “Tom T. and Twisted Tidings,” are presented by a single artist. Some are presented by local artists, others by artists from other regions (including Australia). A few include students from Arizona State University.

You can get a good feel for the festival by considering the titles of some of the pieces being performed. Schreibstuck. Oppressed. Borders and Bridges. Hamlet Machine. The Panic Opera Sacraments. Too Close to the Sun. Your Teacher Never Told You….

There’s even “Confessions of a Mormon Boy,” which may hold special appeal for those of you who, like myself, have yet to snag tickets to the new Broadway musical titled “The Book of Mormon” (billed by some as an atheist love song to believers).

The Phoenix Fringe Festival is an edgy, off-the-beaten-path experience that’s fun for date nights, outings with friends or solo adventures. Think of it as a way to up the job numbers for all those babysitters out there.

Consider an afternoon, evening or weekend out with the “Fringe.” You might be offended. You might be educated. You might be inspired. But I doubt you’ll be bored. It’s a great way to explore our smaller community theater venues, enjoy affordable performance art and meet folks who probably wouldn’t recognize a remote control if they saw one.

— Lynn

Note: Attend the Phoenix Fringe Festival and you can save $10 off your ticket to “Liz Lerman Dance Exchange: The Matter of Origins” Monday, April 11, at ASU Gammage (use the code FRINGE when ordering tix from the ASU Gammage box office or 480-965-3434).

Coming up: Jellly bean dreams, Chicago envy?

One road trip is never enough

I'm already planning my next mother/daughter road trip

With my youngest heading off to college this fall, the days of mother/daughter road trips may soon be behind us.

So I’m eager to find any opportunity for a weekend getaway that will give me precious time my 17-year-old Lizabeth.

I enjoyed a road trip to San Francisco with my now 19-year-old daughter Jennifer several years ago — an experience I will always cherish.

Our trips together find us enjoying funkier fare, like hole-in-the-wall cafes with Turkish coffee or spicy offerings from India and street fairs with handcrafted wares.

I love experiencing one-on-one travel time with my children, getting to know them a bit better as they journey out of childhood and ready to travel their own road through adulthood.

Several films being featured at the festival have an Arizona connection

Come February, I’m hoping to hit some of the Sedona International Film Festival offerings with Lizabeth. By then, she’ll have finished her cross-country trips for college theater program auditions.

The 17th Annual International Sedona Film Festival takes place Feb 20-27 and features more than 145 films shown at three Sedona venues, including the Sedona Harkins 6 Luxury Cinema.

A special preview premiere screening of “Sedona: The Motion Picture” (shot in and around Sedona) will kick-off the festival one night early on Sat, Feb 19.

The film’s soundtrack features “indigenous sounds of the region” and performance by musicians from The Juilliard School.

Many of the films being shown address arts and culture

So what’s on the movie menu at this year’s festival? Foreign films from 18 countries. Seven films focused on the environment. A Lifetime Achievement Award for Jonathan Winters, and a tribute to character actor Rip Torn.

Films tackle diverse subjects — including border issues, indigenous cultures, gay and lesbian themes, war and politics, women’s issues, and individuals living with physical or mental challenges.

Also aging, animals, education, the worlds of children and many more — in categories that include animation, documentary, feature and short films.

I’m plenty intrigued just reading through the list of film titles, which include “Voodoo,” “Old People Driving,” “The Butterfly Circus,” “My Dog Tulip,” and “Arpaio’s America.”

Visit http://www.sedonafilmfestival.com to learn more about film offerings and ticket packages

Films titled “The Parking Lot Movie,” “Cast Me If You Can,” “The Desert of Forbidden Art,” “The First Grader,” “A Marine Story” and “The Man Who Knew How to Fly” also caught my eye.

Various types of passes and ticket packages are available, including a 10-ticket package for full-time students that runs just $80 (it will be available only through the box office and require a valid student I.D.). Individual film tickets will be available in February.

At this point, there’s really only one thing that could make a road trip to the Sedona International Film Festival any more enjoyable — news that Arizona schools are changing spring break to Feb 20-27.


Note: To learn more about film in Arizona, visit the Arizona Production Association

Coming up: Q & A with “Spring Awakening” cast members (who’ll perform a final Phoenix show at ASU Gammage  at 7pm on Fri, Jan 28)

Dracula, catwalks and Celtic fusion

Dance meets fashion. Moms with pens meet the podium. Richard III and Dracula meet their fate. Latino art and music meet enthusiastic audiences. It’s all part of another Valley weekend rich in arts and culture.

These are some of your choices for quality grown-up or family-friendly time with the arts…


Chandler-Gilbert Community College Performing Arts Department presents “Student Dance Showcase” Friday, May 7 & 8 at 8pm. Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center in Chandler. 480-732-7343 or www.cgc.edu/arts.

CONDER/dance presents “Dance for Camera: Dance Film Fest” Saturday, May 8 at 8pm. Short dance films created by local and national filmmakers. Tempe Center for the Arts. 480-350-2822 or http://www.tempe.gov/TCA/.

Scorpius Dance Theatre presents “Catwalk” through Sunday, May 9 (times vary). Original contemporary dance production fusing funky local fashions, sexy athleticism, and choreography by Lisa Starry. Phoenix Theatre (staged on a Little Theatre runway). 602-254-2151 or www.scorpiusdance.com.


Chamber Music Sedona presents “Sedona Bluegrass Festival” through Sunday, May 9 (times vary). Creekside at Los Abrigados. 928-204-2415 or www.chambermusicsedona.org.

Hoodlums Music & Movies presents “Hoodstock 2010: Two Days of Rock & Art to Help Kids” Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8 (times vary). Hoodlums in Tempe (with participating merchants). 480-775-2722 or www.hoodlumsmusic.com.


Tempe Center for the Arts presents “Border Film Festival” Friday, May 7 and Saturday/Sunday, May 8 & 9 (times vary). Features five of Paul Espinosa’s award-winning documentaries for PBS exploring the history and culture of the Southwestern border region (followed by moderated discussion with Espinosa and humanities scholar). Free admission. 480-350-2822 or www.tempe.gov/tca/calendar.


Chandler Symphony presents “Sound from the Southwest-Music of Hispanic Composers” Friday, May 7 at 7:30pm. Chandler Center for the Arts. 480-899-3447 or www.chandlersymphony.org.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts presents “Outdoor Desert Sky Series: Solas & Bearfoot” Saturday, May 8 at 7:30pm. Features Celtic fusion of Irish, folk and country music with “jazzy improvisation and global rhythms.” Scottsdale Civic Center Amphitheater. 480-994-2787 or www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.

Southwest Symphony presents “From Paris…With Love” Saturday, May 8 at 2:30pm. Mesa Arts Center. 480-644-6500 or www.mesaartscenter.com.


Desert Hills High School Theatre Department presents “Dracula: The Musical?” Through May 8 at 7pm. Mesa Arts Center. 480-644-6500 or www.mesaartscenter.com.

Mesa Arts Center presents “Penn and Teller” Friday, May 7 at 8pm. Features unique combination of magic and comedy. Mesa Arts Center. 480-644-6500 or www.mesaartscenter.com.

Southwest Shakespeare Company presents “Richard III” through Saturday, May 8. Mesa Arts Center. 480-644-6500 or www.mesartscenter.com (Read “Stage Mom” review in tomorrow’s post).

Visual Art

Artlink Phoenix presents “First Friday” May 7 6-10pm. Tour more than 70 galleries, venues and art-related spaces via free shuttles or self-guided map. Tours start at Phoenix Art Museum. 602-256-7539 or www.artlinkphoenix.com.

The City of Phoenix presents “Opening Reception: Arte Latino en la Ciudad” Friday, May 7 from 6-8pm. Phoenix Center for the Arts. 602-262-4627 or www.phoenix.gov.


Mothers Who Write presents the “8th Annual Mother Who Write/Mothers Who Read Mothers Day Weekend Reading” Saturday, May 8 at 2pm. Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Current/former students read their work. Admission free but some material may not be suitable for children. www.motherswhowrite.com.

Additional activities (including several children’s theater productions) are noted on the Raising Arizona Kids online calendar. Please check with presenting venues and companies before attending to confirm event date/time, recommended ages, location and cost.


Note: If you’re excited about an event we didn’t have room to mention here, feel free to comment briefly below to let our readers know.

Coming up: Roald Dahl makes his way to two Valley theater productions

Show & tell (top to bottom): Poster for CGCC Student Dance Showcase, Poster for Hoodlum’s Hoodstock, Photo of Solas (coming to Scottsdale Center for the Arts), Photo of Penn and Teller (coming to Mesa Arts Center) and Painting of Richard III (who no doubt sends his regrets because he’s dead)