Tag Archives: bullying

Get “Reel”

Perhaps "Reel Mind" is an idea whose time has come here in Arizona

Mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four adults and one in 10 children, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They’ve done the math, noting that 60 million Americans are affected. Yet mental illness gets a lot less attention than other health issues.

Depression is to autism what pancreatic cancer is to breast cancer in terms of media coverage. They’re all devastating, but society focuses too often on a few conditions to the exclusion of others. It’s a painful reality for families whose loved ones live with the equivalent of medical minorities. So I’m always eager to spread the word about lesser tackled topics.

There’s an affiliate of Mental Health America in Rochester, New York that’s working with other organizations to raise awareness of diverse mental health issues next week through something called “Reel Mind.” It’s a “theatre and film series about mental illness,” now in its fourth season. Originally a film festival, this year’s “Reel Mind” has been expanded to include an art exhibit and theater performance.

Series selections are designed to “address the social stigma of mental illness and offer the message that recovery is possible.” Each is followed by a discussion with experts in the mental health field. Series co-director Ruth Cowing says their Q & A sessions are well attended. “With this, almost everyone stays in their seat.”

“A lot of people come with their own stories or struggles of family members and hope to find information,” says Cowing. This year’s offerings cover schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and autism. The “Reel Mind” film series takes place May 8 through June 26. Perhaps those in Arizona who can’t attend will consider creating something similar for families in the Southwest.

“The Reel Mind” series opens with a documentary titled “Crazy Art,” which “tells the story of three talented artists with schizophrenia as they search for identity, acceptance and recovery.” The “study in hope” also tackles a bit of art history, considering how artists like Van Gogh created brilliant works while in the throws of psychiatric symptoms. The screening will be accompanied by an art show called “Metamorphosis” curated by the Creative Wellness Center.

A “Reel Mind” fundraiser taking place May 18 includes a Blackfriars Theatre production of “Grey Gardens,” a musical that considers the lives of two well-connected socialites who become East Hampton’s most notorious recluses. “Grey Gardens” features book by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie. I remember listening to the music many years ago after my daughter Lizabeth checked the CD out from our local library.

“Reel Mind” presents “Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about “the various stages of a mother’s Alzheimer’s disease and the evolution of a daughter’s response to the illness,” on May 22. The film’s been described as “a life-affirming exploration of family relations, aging, change, the meaning of memory and love.”

A film titled “The Boy Inside: A Journey Into Autism” will be screened June 12 as part of this year’s “Reel Mind.” Filmmaker Marianne Kaplan followed a year in the life of her 12-year-old son Adam, who has a form of autism called Asperger’s syndrome — capturing his desperate attempts to fit in amidst “bullies, insensitive classmates and parents with at-times frayed nerves.”

This year’s “Reel Mind” series concludes with a screening of “Search for Sanity” plus a preview of “Echo of the Past.” The first is a 1954 TV special filmed inside the Hudson River State Hospital, while the latter is a work in progress focusing on the former Rochester State Hospital. Together they reflect “shifting attitudes towards mental illness” during the “mass deinstitutionalization of the first half of the 20th century.”

Too few community supports were in place at the time, leading to large numbers of people with mental illness facing homelessness, unemployment, criminalization and other outcomes we should no longer tolerate. When series like “Reel Mind” help us increase and improve supports for people living with all types of brain disorders, they do us all a great service. Every brain is important, and every person matters.

— Lynn

Note: Explore the works and words of Vincent Van Gogh at the “Van Gogh Alive” exhibit through June 17 at the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix

Coming up: Sinews, saguaro and starlight


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

Beware the green elixer

These students attended a performance of "Wicked" at ASU Gammage last week

Beware the green elixer. Those of you who’ve seen the musical “Wicked” get the reference. So do busloads of Valley students who attended a recent touring performance of “Wicked” at ASU Gammage in Tempe. If you want kids to learn important life lessons, try lecturing less and hitting the theater more.

I got to wondering, after encountering all those wide-eyed and audibly enthusiastic students at “Wicked” the other night, what’s to be learned from this tale of two witches. For starters, I suppose, I should stop calling them “witches” — because “Wicked” clearly demonstrates the dangers of name-calling.

It’s a tale of bullying gone bad, and the way things spin out of control when those who should be upstanders choose to be bystanders instead. Hating or fearing someone because of skin color is wrong. But so is elevating the unworthy to positions of great power, and pseudo-reverence born of fear.

Some of the best “Wicked” one-liners concern history — making a great jumping off points for student discussions. Why would someone imply that history is a collection of lies, or suggest that truth is merely what we’ve all agreed to? If we challenged students to cite examples of such things, what would they come up with?

And what of being popular — or having all our dreams come true? “Wicked” makes clear the inherent risks of each, plus the dangers of silencing diverse voices. In “Wicked” it’s a highly intellectual goat who loses his voice, but the moral holds true for people too.

There’s real whimsy in the use of language throughout “Wicked” as words get adapted, twisted and recreatified — making the musical an homeage of sorts to word play and the sheer joy or crafting language. I’d love to see a big stack of student essays written to reflect a “Wicked” way with words.

Folks who doubt the economic impact of the arts could learn a little something from “Wicked” in the math department. “Wicked” reports that more than 16 million people have seen the show on Broadway or a national tour, and the show “has grossed more than $1.8 billion for its North American companies.” Beware of those hocking the “cut arts funding” elixer.

Consider the number of cast, crew and creative team members it’s taken to perform “Wicked” all these years. Then think about the extraordinary number of teachers standing behind them. The ethereal shades of purple lighting and seamless scenes featuring airborn actors that wowed me at ASU Gammage last week take real prowess in science and engineering.

We don’t consider such things while experiencing “Wicked,” of course. But they’re worth noting in an age when arts education is going the way of Doctor Dillamond. I’m thrilled that Valley schools are sending students to see productions like “Wicked” — and happier still to know that these students are the next generation of audience members, theater professionals and arts supporters.

— Lynn

Chaperones (right) joined the fun as Valley students enjoyed "Wicked" at ASU Gammage last week

Note: ASU Gammage presents Camp Broadway June 4-8 for youth ages 10-17. Learn more about this and other summer camps for children and teens by attending the Raising Arizona Kids Magazine Camp Fair — taking place Feb. 25 & 26. Click here for Camp Fair details.

Coming up: I really stepped in it this time…

Nickname tales

Ever considered what powerful women like Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette or Mary Tudor might have in common? Or how their experiences might be similar to those of Martha Stewart or Lady Gaga?

They’ve all been called some pretty awful names. But are these nicknames, like Mary Tudor’s “Bloody Mary,” deserved? Gretchen Maurer, author of a new book exploring Tudor’s life and times, describes the 16th century Queen of England as a “product of her time and family.”

Maurer is careful to note that Tudor’s idyllic-turned-tragic childhood doesn’t excuse her decision to have hundreds of Protestants burned at the stake, but thinks that conjuring nicknames like “Bloody Mary” prevents us from exploring the full measure of the truth.

“I’ve always loved to look at two sides of a story — to question things,” reflects Maurer. Better to have youth read about famous historical figures than to merely label them and move on. There’s much to be gained by considering the evidence for and against commonly held assumptions, and a new series of books gives tweens that opportunity.

The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames,” published by Goosebottom Books, examines the lives of six strong women deemed dastardly — inviting readers of tween age and up to look beyond the labels to catch a glimpse of the real people who made history.

The six titles in the series are:

  • Cleopatra Serpent of the Nile
  • Agrippina Atrocious and Ferocious
  • Mary Tudor Bloody Mary
  • Catherine de’ Medici The Black Queen
  • Marie Antoinette Madame Deficit
  • Cixi The Dragon Empress

The series inspires reflection about why people do what they do, and whether any of us can say for sure that we might have behaved differently in similar circumstances — while revealing that many of our contemporary conflicts mirror those of earlier times and places.

During Mary Tudor’s time, the clash of Catholicism and Protestantism was a burning issue. In some circles, religious differences continue to be hotly debated. So Maurer, who grew up with a Catholic father and a Lutheran mother, ends her Tudor tale by asking “What’s all the fuss?” as she compares both similarities and differences between medieval expressions of Christianity.

Maurer wants to understand “what formed and shaped” Tudor — to understand why Tudor did the things she did. She hopes her books will “help people connect history to the now.”

“I try and put it out there,” says Maurer. “To let the kids decide without moralizing.”

— Lynn

Coming up: Favorite movies for holiday together time

Lemonade for grown-ups

Kaleena Newman and Rod Amez in Milk, Milk Lemonade (Photo: John Groseclose)

You might think, after reading brief histories of favorite childhood rhymes taped to brick walls in the courtyard of the original Tempe Performing Arts Center just off Mill Avenue, that you were about to enjoy a charming bit of theater for children. But you’d be wrong. Terribly, terribly wrong.

Look a bit closer and you’ll see that the comics interspersed with these lovely literary snippets feature not only folksy chickens and their farmers, but also choice language not appropriate for the “chicken nuggets” set. That’s half the fun of seeing “Milk, Milk Lemonade,” being presented by Stray Cat Theatre through Sat, Dec. 17.

“Milk, Milk Lemonade” is one of just a few really smart works of gay theater, according to Ron May, artistic director for Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe — who also praises its smart (and rare) treatment of gender issues. “Milk, Milk Lemonade” was written by Joshua Conkel and is directed for Stray Cat Theatre by Louis Farber.

It’s a brilliant piece of theater, full of rich ideas and language, that makes a point without leaving audience members feeling they’re on the wrong end of a lone pointed finger like the one a scolding parent might give an errant child for deeds deemed inappropriate.

“Milk, Milk Lemonade” follows the adventures to two boys publicly at odds but privately involved. One has big and terrifying emotions its hard to control short of setting fires. Another loves to ribbon dance, play with one particular doll and pal around with a chicken who’s growing plumper as processing day approaches. Both sport anatomical props at one point — a bit too racy, perhaps, for your garden variety theater-goer.

As the play opens, we see a big red barn with sliding doors sometimes used by the boys to hide their pubescent playtimes. Also a dozen or so folk art chickens, wooden and brightly painted until transformed by a giant processing machine into something you’ve likely ordered at the local drive-through. It’s an appetizing bit of theater on a Valley menu sometimes lacking real flavor.

L to R: Molly Kurtz, Michael Thompson, Rod Amez, Kaleena Newman and Sam Wilkes in Milk, Milk Lemonade (Photo: John Groseclose)

“Milk, Milk Lemonade” features a cast of five — Rod Amez (Elliot), Molly Kurtz (Linda), Kaleena Newman (Emory), Michael Thompson (Lady in a Leotard) and Sam Wilkes (Nanna). Their collective acting credits include works with Actors Theatre, ASU, Childsplay, Nearly Naked Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Space 55 and Valley Youth Theatre. All deliver a strong performance, eliciting a bevy of belly laughs from happy theater goers.

After opening the play with a familiar childhood ditty, Lady in a Leotard ponders aloud. Does the body rule the mind or does the mind rule the body? Are we our bodies or merely living inside them? “Don’t think too hard,” she cautions. And we don’t — but we all get the message. Bodies matter, and we never leave home without them.

There’s a nostalgic twist to “Milk, Milk Lemonade” that’s especially endearing. Or frightening, I suppose, depending on which parts of your own childhood it conjures. References to Albertson’s and Mountain Dew are perfectly harmless, as are musical homages to “Annie” and various songs circa the disco era. Statements like “use your words” and various episodes of passive aggressive behavior, maybe less so.

There’s plenty of bullying, with words and fists, in “Milk, Milk Lemonade.” “Real men” do this or that. Boys who don’t conform are “little girls,” “sissies” or something worse. Only the chicken stays above the fray, delivering some of the play’s best dialogue as she considers the relative merits of spontaneity and surprise over manifest destiny and role conformity.

The Stray Cat program for “Milk, Milk Lemonade” includes a dandy yellow insert full of fun chicken facts, and a revelation by Farber that he uncovered more than 84 different chicken songs while searching for pre-show tunes to up the audience fun factor. Life is hard. There’s lots of hurt. “Milk, Milk Lemonade” makes that clear. Sometimes you’ve just gotta get up and dance.

— Lynn

Note: “Milk, Milk Lemonade” is not appropriate for young audiences, but does make for a fun date night or outing with grown-up friends. So does “Hunter Gatherers” by Peter Sinn Nachtreib, which Ron May directs for Actors Theatre of Phoenix Dec. 30-Jan. 15. For more family-friendly offerings, click here.

Coming up: Art that’s out of this world

Thespian crossing

The streets of Phoenix are overrun each fall by high school students who look like they just inherited the world’s largest candy store. Dressed in colorful garb, they chatter with wide-eyed excitement — thrilled to be out of the classroom and into the spotlight of Arizona’s Thespian Festival.

These Santa Rita High School students enjoyed the thespian marketplace on Friday

A teacher from Higley High School who had 28 teens in tow was the first to cross my path, pointing me to the right part of the massive Phoenix Convention Center — where I soon encountered all sorts of thespians dressed for the day’s “jungle theme.”

Students from Desert View High School doing the jungle theme proud

Linda Phillips, state director for the Arizona Thespians, gave me a warm welcome — then set me up with a nametag and such before I headed out to explore the exhibitor area.

These students from Notre Dame Preparatory High School rocked safari gear and dialect

I hit the silent auction area first, eager to see this year’s offerings — which include amazing autographed items (Playbills, posters and such), gift baskets and more. Proceeds benefit student scholarships and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Samples of amazing silent auction items at this year's Arizona Thespian Festival

Soon I was trading Shakepearean insults with a charming fellow from Dramatic Publishing, and talking with a lovely woman about some of their newer offerings — including “The Bully Plays.” I bought a couple of things and made my way to several vendor tables.

I said hello to the fine folks from Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix, talked with Amanda Melby of Verve Studios about their relocation from downtown Phoenix to the Scottsdale Airpark, and chatted with a gentleman from Jester’Z Improv Comedy in Scottsdale.

Valley Youth Theatre was there to share news of their many programs and shows

Next I strolled through a hallway running past several rooms full of students taking classes in everything from singing for actors to theater lighting. A class titled “No Fear Ballroom Dancing” seemed the clear favorite Friday morning, with well over 100 students taking part.

This Friday morning ballroom dancing workshop was packed

More thespians crossed my path after workshops let out for lunch, and the convention center seemed a sea of t-shirts — all bearing the names of shows the students recently performed, from “The Yellow Boat” to “The Elephant Man.”

Sudents from Cienega High School in Vail gathered during lunch on Friday

Watch for future posts featuring thespian tales from this year’s festival. And watch as well for thespians crossing the road. They bring an amazing energy to the streets of downtown Phoenix, and I can’t wait for them to cross my path again as they start making their way to stages in Arizona and beyond.

— Lynn

Note: If I snapped your picture but didn’t include it here, there’s a good chance you’ll see it in a future post — so stay tuned for more thespian tales.

Coming up: Spotlight on spring musicals

Shakespeare shorts

Snippets of Shakespeare are being performed all over the Valley this week. An intermediate class at Childsplay in Tempe has 8-12 year olds working on Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” this week. And Paradise Valley Community College performs “Twelfth Night” for a final weekend — June 24 & 25 at 7:30pm and June 26 at 2pm — at the PVCC Center for the Performing Arts.

A “youth and education” cable channel operated by the City of Phoenix, know99 Television, presents “Shakespeare Shorts” this Thurs, June 23 at 8am and noon. It features leading actors discussing the motivations of major characters in scenes chosen from five Shakespeare plays, using clips from past television and film versions of the works.

These Shakespeare shorts from Cafe Press feature a quote from Twelfth Night

If you’ve never explored know99 offerings, you can click here to learn more. Turns out they offer programming in six subject areas they call “teach,” “word,” “think,” “arts,” “science,” and “society.” They even have “know99 stories” on things like the Audubon Center, Academic Decathlon and Ballet Folklorico — plus a place for viewers to suggest story ideas.

The education access channel also offers something called “Student Film Presentation” every night at 10:30pm. It “showcases the productions of elementary, high school and college students.” The channel “accepts documentaries, shorts and full-length films” (click here for submission details). Local films they’ve featured include “The Artist” by Jennifer McCuen and Heather O’Neil, “Writers Block” by Jake Cibik and many others.

Evening programming on know99 Television includes “Inside Creative Minds” (which “showcases the work, knowledge, passion, and talent of people throughout the Valley”), “Beyond Our Borders” (which features “living images of world cultures”) and “Link” (which focuses on “world music, current events, films & documentaries”). “Explore” segments feature documentaries “showcasing nonprofit efforts & leaders around the world.”

The channel also offers “youth at-risk/prevention” programming. There’s “Connect With Kids” (with “true stories of youth dealing with issues like bullying and drugs”), “Four More Days” (showing “dangers of drinking while driving”), “Online Predators: Invading MySpace & A Parent’s Guide” (about how to protect yourself online) and more. Even something called “Scenarios USA” — with winning teen scripts made into short films with the help of Hollywood producers.

The beauty of Shakespeare Shorts on TV is the fact that you can watch them in your Shakespeare shorts

Shakespeare knew a thing or two about youth (and adults) enjoying risky behaviors only to suffer heartbreaking or hilarious consequences. Check out “Shakespeare Shorts” this week to learn more about his take on human nature. Then enjoy all the jealousy, mistaken identity, cross-dressing and dueling of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” at Paradise Valley Community College.

If you find yourself wanting more, stay tuned for 2011/2012 offerings from Arizona’s own Southwest Shakespeare Company — and consider a family trip to the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where you can enjoy several of Shakespeare’s works over the course of just a few days.

— Lynn

Note: PVCC’s production of “Twelfth Night” is directed by Eric Schoen, well-known to Valley theater goers for performances with Southwest Shakespeare Company, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company and more. Schoen is also the founder and artistic director of Class 6 Theatre in Phoenix, which just completed its second season.

Coming up: Art meets market, Bullying and the arts, Bike shorts? (featuring an update from the Blue Bike Kids Show, which has the honor of being “Kickstarter” of the day today)

Images from www.cafepress.com