Tag Archives: choosing a college

NYC in Scottsdale?

My husband James stumbled on a great pizza joint last Friday night while making a pet store run. Lovebirds can’t do pizza, so Trixy got bird food and we got slices from Joe’s New York Pizza in Scottsdale. Cheese for Lizabeth and Hawaiian for me.

March for gay rights in NYC, 1976 (Photo: Warren K. Leffler)

He walked in the door with dinner just after I’d watched a CNN broadcast of a short speech by New York governor Andrew Cuomo. The occasion for Cuomo’s remarks was the passage of a marriage equality act in the New York legislature.

I already had New York on the brain because I was readying for this week’s trip to NYC for Lizabeth’s college orientation. Lizabeth starts a B.F.A. in acting program this fall.

As Lizabeth weighed possible colleges earlier in the year, I was mindful of the political landscape in the various states where she might go to school — though I never mentioned things like my Cuomo versus Christie musings.

Cuomo spoke last Friday night of New York as a “social justice” state. “I’m always proud to be a New Yorker,” said Cuomo. “But tonight I’m especially proud to be a New Yorker.” Cuomo was among those leading the fight for marriage equality in New York.

In his remarks, Cuomo spoke of New York’s leadership in several fights for equal rights — the movement for women’s rights, the push for worker’s rights after the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and the most recent battle — equal marriage rights for gay and straight couples.

“Social justice,” said Cuomo, “is an evolutionary process.” He recognized others who’d championed this cause for New York citizens, and praised “the advocacy community from across the nation.” I’m sure some in Scottsdale embraced the vote with a “we’re all New Yorkers tonight” mindset.

I’m thrilled to be enjoying NYC with Lizabeth this week, but there are folks in Scottsdale that I’ll be missing while we’re away. Trixy, Pinky, Rugby — plus James and our other two children, also college students. But also Lizabeth’s teachers from the Scottsdale Conservatory Theatre, where she studied theater last summer.

Before we marched for marriage equality, we marched for women's rights and workers' rights

The conservatory presents its 2011 performance at the Scottsdale Community College Performing Arts Center Wed, June 29 and Thurs, June 30. They’re presenting “Strange Bedfellows,” which is set in my daughter Jennifer’s favorite city — San Francisco. They have a thing for civil rights too.

“Strange Bedfellows” is the tale of Senator Cromwell, “a politician who keeps his women under stern rule.” His son, Matthew Cromwell, is a young congressman who “dutifully follows in his father’s political footsteps — except when he marries a beautiful and determined suffragette.”

It examines “the coming of age of a woman’s right to vote” — and features “the escapades that ensue as the suffragette converts the women in the Cromwell family to her way of thinking.” Who doesn’t love a good conversion story?

I’m told that “shades of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata and San Francisco’s brothel district come into play as each side tries to out-maneuver and out-smart the other.” Aristophanes, by the way, was a comedic playwright of ancient Greece.

I know the actors, theater professionals and teachers of Scottsdale Conservatory Theatre played a part in helping Lizabeth achieve her dream of studying and making theater in NYC — and I’m grateful.

Thanks to James and Joe’s New York Pizza, we can always enjoy a bit of NYC in Scottsdale. But this week, we’re carrying thoughts of Scottsdale with us in New York.

— Lynn

Note: Check out the “Stay Fancy Free” blog for more nifty black-and-white photos of suffragettes — plus lovely fiber arts fare. Click here to check out the site where I found the photo shot while the Democratic National Convention was in NYC during 1976.

Coming up: Shakespeare NYC-style, A stroll through the theater district, NYC: museum highlights


The “Jersey Girls” tour

Lizabeth enjoyed seeing the musical “Jersey Boys” on Broadway earlier this year while visiting NYC with her dad. By day they checked out college and conservatory programs. By night they sought the perfect balance of plays, musicals and Italian food.

Last weekend, it was my turn to travel. But we didn’t hit NYC. Instead I headed with my daughter to New Jersey, home to Fairleigh Dickinson University — where Lizabeth has been accepted into the musical theater program.

While there, Lizabeth sat in on an accounting class — which I think she enjoyed more than most math classes she’s been a part of. And we toured an exhibition of student art that I’ll be featuring in an upcoming post.

Before making the trip, I knew very little about the state. Except that it gave birth to rockers Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, and a couple of reality TV shows — “Jersey Shore” and “The Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

I’ve seen their governor giving animated versions of conservative talking points on TV, but I wasn’t so impressed when I tried to drive on New Jersey roads — many full of potholes, low on lighting and lacking lane lines. (“Infrastructure” is not a dirty word.)

We’d have seen a lot more of New Jersey if we hadn’t been met at nearly every intersection with a “No Left Turn or U-Turn” sign. Especially since “please make the next legal U-turn” was a favorite command of the GPS in our rental car.

We spent a lot of time driving through small towns in and around the Borough of Florham Park, home to one of FDU’s two New Jersey campuses. Much of our time was spent in Madison, where we found a delightful book store, vintage clothing shop, cupcake bakery and toy store.

Lizabeth loves roaming the aisles of educational toy stores — where she finds all sorts of things that remind her of bygone childhood days. I marveled when she pointed to a stacking toy and recounted her difficulty in sequencing the colored rings correctly as a child, something I didn’t notice at the time.

Our other Jersey finds included small museums, amazing thin crust pizza, a Shakespeare theater and signs for streets with names like “Dickens” and “Abby Road.” At times, it seemed like every street was named for another destination, leading us to joke about our “world tour” through New Jersey.

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We saw plenty of freeway signs pointing the way to NYC and other points of interest, but exercised remarkable self control in ignoring each and every one of them. Instead, we admired the state’s magnificent blossoming trees, birds with brightly-colored breasts and charming rows of closely-spaced homes.

I got my NYC fix at our hotel one night, watching a Charlie Rose interview on PBS. It featured cast and creative team members of the new Broadway play titled “Bengal Tiger at the Bahgdad Zoo” — including playwright Rajiv Joseph, director Moises Kaufman and actor Robin Williams.

If Lizabeth ends up choosing a school on the East Coast, we’ll have plenty to explore in New York, New Jersey and places beyond. Maybe we should pitch a cable network about starting a new reality series called “Real Museums of New Jersey.”

They’ve got some impressive offerings — including the “American Hungarian Museum” in Teaneck, the “Center for Latino Arts & Culture” in New Brunswick, the “Edison National Historic Sight” in West Orange and the “Museum of Early Trades and Crafts” in Madison.

Also the “Meadowlands Museum” in Rutherford, the “Walt Whitman House” in Camden and the “Grounds for Sculpture” in Hamilton. The latter sells jewelry by local artisans in its “Toad Hall Shop” (unlike “Toad Hall” at Scottsdale Community College, which offers school tours centered on desert habitats and wildlife).

Half the fun of having a daughter on the East Coast would be traveling to get there. I don’t hold up terribly well with long flights, little sleep and lousy coffee, but I can take the pain if I can just figure out how to schedule Chicago layovers lengthy enough to allow for visits to Chicago’s many theaters and museums.

Our trip to New Jersey ended with a stop to refill the gas tank in our rental car — where a nozzle gone awry soaked me in the flammable liquid, which made for fun times cleaning up in one of those tiny airport bathrooms with sinks that dispense weak trickles of water for just five seconds at a time.

Picture a “Real Housewife of Arizona” struggling to wash the gasoline out of her clothing, hair and a single shoe while mothers with small children try their best to fathom what they’re witnessing.

I must have done a decent job, because I made my first trip through airport security without any extra screening — realizing soon thereafter that one of my favorite earrings now lives in a bathroom sink in Newark.

As our plane from Chicago to Phoenix made its descent, Lizabeth eagerly pointed out some of our favorite Tempe haunts. Harkins Theatres at Tempe Marketplace. Tempe Center for the Arts. ASU Gammage. Even the “In & Out Burger” we’d craved while eating at “Five Guys” in New Jersey.

In the end, whatever Lizabeth’s college decision, we’ll always have great memories of our own quirky “Jersey Girls” tour. Still, I hope she’ll never lose that “it’s good to be home again” feeling.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about New Jersey museums and here for information on other tourist attractions.

Coming up: A “Bad Hair Day” in New Jersey

Choosing a college theater program

Valley theater professional Xanthia Walker holds both a B.A. in Theatre Arts and a B.A. in Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies from the University of Minnesota, as well as an M.F.A. in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University.

So I knew she’d be the right person to ask for tips on choosing a college theater program. Here are a few of her thoughts…

Compare both schools and theater departments within those schools, suggests Walker. Two schools that look very similar on paper might have very different theater departments.

For every school you’re considering, note the number of theater department faculty members and the kind of “work, research and performance” they are producing. Then ask yourself whether “it is exciting to you and something you want to be a part of.”

Theater students sometimes wonder whether it’s better to attend a college or conservatory. “I think this is just a personal preference,” says Walker. “It depends very much on the kind of education you want.”

“Conservatories are often smaller schools where you have a very focused and specific major,” adds Walker. “Colleges have a lot more room to try different things.”

So what about the B.A. versus B.F.A. question? “This is a tough question,” reflects Walker, “because it is so much about the kind of education you want to have.”

“If you want a broader degree in theater, where you have a focused training path but are also required to learn about all aspects of theatre, choose a B.A. program,” says Walker. “If you want a very specific, directed, focused program that trains you deeply in one aspect of theater, like acting, then choose a B.F.A.”

When I asked Walker what makes a good theater program, she noted six things students should consider…

  • Is the program producing an innovative, quality season of plays that people in the community are actually coming to see?
  • Does the program have qualified, talented faculty who are great teachers and great artists? (Look for folks who are creating work/doing research in the community and teaching.)
  • Do students in the program feel ownership in the department and feel proud of where they go to school?
  • Are there opportunities for lots of different levels of students? Are there exciting, cool opportunities for freshmen as well as growth opportunities for juniors and seniors to develop their craft?
  • Does the program invest in students (through time, financial aid, resources and quality programming)?
  • Does the program have diversity (of training, experience, people and courses offered)?

A final reflection shared by Walker: “I think it is so important to find the right training fit for you, and that will have the most impact on your career after school.”

— Lynn

Note: I also asked Walker if there are any “red flags” students should look for in evaluating schools, and she shared two: 1) Is the department shrinking (financially, # of students/faculty)?, and 2) Are they producing the same 15 plays every five years?

Coming up: Fiddling fun, Arts awards, Student reflections on “Macbeth”

Choosing a performing arts college

The happy day came just a few weeks ago. Lizabeth, our 17-year-old high school senior, finally got that last college admissions letter. We can all stop clinging to the mailbox, and turn instead to thoughts of mounting college costs and creative contents for care packages.

Lizabeth is in the final stages of deciding where to attend college — a step that follows a host of others. Researching schools. Deciding where to apply. Completing applications. Securing letters of recommendation. Traveling to campus tours and theater program auditions.

And now, revisiting information and observations about her three top choices to determine which college or conservatory feels most like home.

Xanthia Walker holds an M.F.A. in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University in Tempe

For fellow families with children facing similar decisions, I’ve garnered tips from Xanthia Walker, M.F.A. — education associate with Phoenix Theatre, faculty member at Arizona School for the Arts and co-founder of Rising Youth Theatre.

Walker has worked as a resident artist for the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, Free Arts of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

She currently teaches “Theatre for Social Change” at ASA in Phoenix — where students are developing an original theater production titled “Like Everyone Else” with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

“Choosing a school is a very personally specific decision,” says Walker. “I think a lot of it is about knowing what you want.” Big school or small school? Dedicated college town or urban campus?

My husband James did a lot of work with Lizabeth during the pre-application period to help her identify wants and needs — and to search out schools that seemed to match her interests and priorities.

They put together a notebook with school profiles and such that Lizabeth used all through the appplication process. It was especially helpful during meetings with the ASA college counselor, and now serves as a place to put more detailed information on schools in her top tier (faculty bios, alumni achievements, history of works performed by students, etc.).

Walker encourages students to “sit down and think about what you want out of your college experience.” Make a list with three sections — your wants, your needs and your no-ways. 

Maybe you want to live in a big city, need affordable housing but think having a roommate is out of the question. It’s best to consider these factors early in the process — even visiting possible schools before applying when feasible.

“As a student,” shares Walker, “I learned so much about the schools I was considering that I would have had no way of understanding had I not been able to physically be in the spaces.” She’s a strong proponent of site visits for both undergraduate and graduate programs.

“Meeting the students and professors, getting the vibe of the school community, actually having face to face conversations with people and taking a tour of the department/campus — and even sitting in on some classes directly influenced my choices, and even changed my mind,” she adds.

“What I thought I would love pre-visit,” reflects Walker, “was different than what I actually loved post-visit.”

Though there’s plenty of buzz about “the best” schools in the country for those studying performing arts, Walker says it’s better to think in terms of “best departments” instead of “best schools.” Not every school excels in every area. “Look at the specific departments where you will be spending your time,” suggest Walker, “and compare that way.”

There’s also the “college” versus “conservatory” question. Again, Walker says there’s no better option — just the need to match what’s offered with what a student is looking for.

I’ll share more of Walker’s thoughts on the college/conservatory questions, and her tips for evaluating specific theater departments and programs, in tomorrow’s post.

In the meantime, please comment below if you’re a college or theater professional with tips to share — or a parent or student who has found certain approaches/strategies helpful in the great “choosing a performing arts college” debate.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for information on the ASU M.F.A. Theatre for Youth program and here to read an ASU profile of Walker.

Coming up: Choosing between college theater programs

Chicago envy?

I spent an evening in Chicago once — if a trip to and from the airport and a concert venue counts. It was many years ago, and I made the journey with my youngest daughter after a foiled attempt to meet the Jonas Brothers during a Phoenix meet and greet.

The Phoenix concert venue erred in getting us the wristbands and details needed to attend the Phoenix meet and greet, an opportunity Lizabeth won through a contest sponsored by one of her favorite stores. So we tried again in Chicago, but fared no better.

I’ll spare you the details, although I have Chicago on the brain this weekend because Lizabeth, now a 17-year-old high school senior, is there visiting one of her top three college/conservatory choices — and seeing the play “God of Carnage.”

This poster (from All Posters) features a Richard Cummins photograph of the Chicago Theatre

When I think Chicago, I think museums. I think deep-dish pizza. I think Barack Obama. I think cutting-edge theater, and plenty of it. And sometimes I even get “Chicago envy” — wishing Phoenix had the same wealth of diverse theater options.

But I enjoyed a bit of an attitude adjustment Friday when I read some thoughts sent via e-mail by Tom Tiding, writer and sole performer in the 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival piece titled “Twisted: Greeting Card Moments Gone Bad.”

“I chose to debut ‘Twisted’ in Phoenix,” wrote Tiding, “partly because there’s such a can-do attitude in Arizona.” Then he added the following:

“Phoenix has this fantastic growing arts scene where it just feels like anything is possible. When I began researching the arts scene in Phoenix, I was blown away by the diversity of people’s experiences– I started reading your posts, and it’s just like a breath of fresh air. It’s so inclusive and positive.”

“I’ve got long-time friends in Arizona,” wrote Tiding, “so I know the past few years have been tough, but I think that can-do attitude is what will get everyone through the tough economic times and some of the divisions that go with that.”

I think I’d like this fellow even if he didn’t have such fine taste in blog posts. Seems he grew up in a family that always made homemade greeting cards for each other. “Mine,” he quips, “tended to be on the more sarcastic side.”

After seeing his cards displayed at an art exhibit, Tiding got requests from folks who wanted to buy them. Once retailers got ahold of the cards, they started asking Tiding how he ‘got so twisted.’ Tiding began sharing “snippets on the true stories behind the cards” — and the play “Twisted” was born.

There’s nothing like uncovering evidence to support one’s own convictions. So when Tiding shared the following, I felt vindicated in my advocacy for a crayon in every corner: “My family always made sure we had something we could draw or write with,” he wrote. “Mostly because it was cheaper and they didn’t have any money.”

Tiding, who nowadays works with a D.C.-based group called “Speakeasy,” includes plenty of family anecdotes during his “Twisted” piece. So those of you not whizzing off to Chicago for a show next weekend needn’t worry that you’re missing cutting-edge performance art.

Trust me when I tell you that his family is anything but typical. And that the only thing Chicago has on Phoenix when the Phoenix Fringe Festival comes around each year is the perfect pie.

— Lynn

Note: Twisted Tidings is “a greeting card company for people who want to throw up when they read greeting cards.” You can enjoy Tiding’s twisted theatrical performance April 8-10 at Modified Arts (as part of the 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival).

Coming up: Another cool artist who crafts poetic e-mails

Theater students seeking an edge

The Arts Edge in Boston, led by founder and CEO Halley Shefler, offers consulting, workshops and summer programs for visual and performing arts students

As the college acceptance letters started landing in our mailbox recently, I spoke with Halley Shefler, founder and CEO of an organization called “The Arts Edge” — which offers educational consulting for students seeking admission to visual and performing arts programs.

Because some college theater programs require that students audition as part of the admissions process, our 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth is one of many students fanning out across the country to compete for coveted spots.

Shefler is a musician (she plays the flute) and a former dean of admissions for The Boston Conservatory. She holds an undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a graduate degree from Boston University.

Though audition panels “really want to find kids who are good,” Shefler notes that they’re also looking for a “good fit.” It’s rather like a job interview, I suppose. Even the best author isn’t likely to land a CEO gig — but that’s as it should be.

Don’t just seek to impress. Strive to be the best “you” that you can be, rather than some cookie cutter image of what you assume panelists are looking for. But make sure you’ve done your homework. “They want to see people who are prepared,” says Shefler.

Following directions is just as essential. Know the exact monologue and vocal performance requirements for each school where you’ll be auditioning.

High school juniors just beginning the process might find it helpful to have a three-ring binder with a section on each school they are considering.

Sometimes a master chart comparing requirements is helpful as students begin to narrow down their choices of possible schools.

Most auditions consist of one or more monologues (usually “contrasting”) and at least one vocal selection of a certain length (often 16 or 32 bars). Sometimes students are asked to sing both a ballad-style song and something more up-tempo.

Learn more about Shefler and The Arts Edge at http://www.theartsedge.com

Shefler has several tips in the monologue department. First and foremost, make sure your monologue is “age-appropriate.”

As fond as your teenage daughter may be of playwright Tracy Letts, you wouldn’t want her using a monologue written for a middle-aged character using substance abuse to cope with a troubled marriage.

“Make sure you know the play your monologue is from,” urges Shefler. “You need to have read it and to know what is going on in the play.”

Choose vocal selections with equal care. “Don’t do a talking song,” says Shefler. “You need to be singing the whole time.”

If you’re expected to provide the music, have it “queued up and ready to go.” Shefler describes the faculty members on audition panels as “impatient” — noting that “nobody wants to wait.”

“Sing well and within your range,” suggest Shefler. It’s something best accomplished by picking song within your range and vocal abilities to begin with. “Know the notes, and know the rhythym.”

“Know the entire song too,” urges Shefler. You may be asked to sing additional bars. If piano accompaniment is being provided, have sheet music clearly marked and ready to give the person playing piano.

But don’t assume it’s all about your acting and singing chops. “You are being judged from the moment you walk in the room,” reveals Shefler. “You have to be in audition mode from the time you first open that door.”

While some of you may have been charmed by the sight of Johnny Depp chewing gum during the recent Golden Globe Awards ceremony, no one wants to see you spit out your gum or yank up your saggy britches as you enter (or leave) the room.

“Dress professionally,” says Shefler. Translation: Lose the T-shirt and jeans. Dress like you’re “going to meet someone for a first date.” Muscle tops and tuxedos, bad. Casual elegance, better. For women, think nice leggings tucked into classy boots with a long top and belt.

Students enjoying one of many workshops presented by The Arts Edge

“Make sure your hair doesn’t cover your face or your eyes,” says Shefler. “And don’t be overly chatty.” Unless you’ve been told by the panel beforehand whether to start with your monologue/s or vocal selection/s, just choose one or the other and go for it. “Don’t ask the faculty what they would like you to start off with.” (I’d probably ask you to fetch me a latte.)

Also on the “don’t” list — getting too involved with the other people waiting outside the audition room door. “They try and psych people out,” cautions Shefler. “Wear a headset,” she suggests, “even if your iPod isn’t turned on.” (Were this me, of course, I’d end up never hearing them call my name.)

If nerves are a problem, Shefler suggests you “go jump around in the hall to get rid of them.” And remember, the more prepared you are ahead of time — the fewer nerves you’re likely to experience.

One final piece of advice offered by Shefler as we spoke — “Don’t get the last slot of the day.” She didn’t specify a reason but it’s easy to imagine both auditioners and panelists growing somewhat fatigued by the end of a long day.

Be ready. Be yourself. Be your best.

— Lynn

Note: For more audition insights, as well as information on related workshops and summer programs, click here to visit “The Arts Edge” online. Please note that “The Arts Edge” is not affiliated with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., which has an arts education program titled “ArtsEdge.”

Coming up: The role of arts in bullying prevention