Tag Archives: community college theater

Songs of Travel and Other Verses

Robert Louis Stevenson books housed in a Samoan museum dedicated to his life

I found this gem of a title while reviewing a long list of works by Scottish novelist, essayist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-94). Treasure Island. A Child’s Garden of Verses. Essays in the Art of Writing. New Arabian Nights.

Also The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, written in 1886, which explores the duality of human nature, the battle between rationality and irrationality, and contrasting elements of London life during the Victorian period.

It’s been repeatedly adapted for film. John Barrymore played the lead in 1920, Fredric March in 1931, Spencer Tracy in 1941. David Hasselhoff got the gig for a 2001 television version dubbed “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical.”

Of course, every time that vision pops into my head, I rush to play a cast album — original or revival — of the musical adaptation performed on Broadway. Like “Sweeney Todd,” it’s got truly touching loves songs mixed in with all that murder and mayhem.

An adaptation of the Stevenson tale by playwright Andrea McFeely is being presented Oct. 13-15 by the performing arts department at Chandler-Gilbert Community College, which performs at the Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center.

It’s being directed by Shalynn Reynolds — and features Sam Allen (Dr. Jekyll) and Guy Valentine (Mr. Hyde) in the lead roles. There are 13 people in the cast, described by Reynolds as “extremely dedicated actors who have worked tirelessly to create a work of art.”

“All the actors,” explains Reynolds, “have worked really hard on various British and Cockney accents.” Reynolds sounds especially proud of the set, which “has the ability to transform into multiple locations between scenes.” She also shares that “some of the items in Jekyll’s lab are actually from the late 1800s.”

Reynolds says the show “would be rated PG-13 due to the violence of several deaths onstage” — adding that she had to spend a lot of time getting Valentine “to be creepy, callous and murderous.” Sounds like a good way to get into the Halloween spirit, though you might leave the show wishing their costume people made house calls.

While reviewing the program for the show, I was struck by the tone of genuine gratitude. We take each other too often for granted, in theater world and the world at large. It’s refreshing to find folks who express appreciation with such elegance and ease.

I was impressed as well by a series of statements shared in the program under the heading “Why do we need Theatre?” They read as follows:

  • Theatre prepares students for life in the real world by guiding personal development and refinement of interpersonal skills.
  • Theatre has the ability to affect students on a personal level by contributing to mental, emotional, and social growth.
  • Theatre helps students develop a sense of community and social responsibility.
  • Theatre gives students the opportunity to voice opinions, explore personal concerns, and produce viable solutions to problems.
  • Theatre encourages diversity and the exploration of human experience.
  • Theatre asks students to be active participants and advocates for others, aware of surroundings and their ability to mediate and effect change.
  • Theatre communicates the fact that as many ways as we humans are different, we share common bonds and can connect with everyone on some level, bringing new understanding and compassion to our lives.

I’ve never seen students from Chandler-Gilbert Community College perform, but this glimpse into the way they approach the world and the craft of theater intrigues me — and I’m eager to experience their work.

This weekend will find me in New York City, creating my own variation on “songs of travel” — so I’ll have to miss this and many other works being performed on Valley stages.

But I’ll be keeping an eye out, as I visit NYC libraries and museums, for all things related to Robert Louis Stevenson — a man with much to teach us about the complexities of all sorts of travel.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for details about this and other CGCC performing arts offerings, and here to learn about a BBC drama based on Stevenson’s travel writings and personal letters.

Coming up: Art meets homeschooling, Got blue?


Fresh take on “Midsummer”

SCC presents A Midsummer Night's Dream Oct 20-22 and Oct 28-29

Most productions of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” open with a lush forest scene, but Randy Messersmith has something very different in mind for the “Midsummer” he’s directing this season for Scottsdale Community College, where he heads the theatre arts program.

Messersmith was inspired to mount the work after seeing television footage of the devastating earthquakes that struck Japan earlier this year. For Messersmith, “Midsummer” is a tale of human nature gone awry — and its devastating consequences for nature.

Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” weaves together events in the fairy world and events in the mortal world. Titania and Oberon, queen and king of the fairies, bicker over the fate of a young “changeling” boy.

Early in the play, Titania (queen of the fairies) gives what Messersmith calls “the weather report” — describing the fog, famine and other disasters that have befallen mere mortals because of their dissention. “The world is all out of whack,” says Messersmith. “It’s life out of balance.”

“I looked at the tales of the Arabian Nights,” recalls Messersmith, “and found this a compelling way to tell the Midsummer story.” These tales, explains Messersmith, are set in Baghdad, Syria and China — the Persian area. He decided to present “Midsummer” through that lens.

Oberon sends the playful Puck to work all sorts of mischief in others’ love lives. In Shakespeare’s play, Puck uses a flower to work his magic. But in Messersmith’s production, Puck’s tool is a jewel. It’s all part of the “Arabian Nights” vibe for Messersmith’s vision.

Messersmith shares that his production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens with a young boy dressed in contemporary garb. A light shines down on a book the boy is reading — a collection of “Arabian Nights” tales. Soon “he steps inside the Midsummer story” — which is “told through the boy’s lens.”

The pastoral scene that typically opens this, one of Shakespeare’s earliest plays, is gone. In its place, Messersmith presents a “burned out desert.” Until, that is, Oberon and Titania reconcile later in the play. It’s a work, says Messersmith, that still has relevance today.

But never fear that this production of “Midsummer” may be too dark. “It’s still a comedy,” says Messersmith. “It’s still got lots of romance.” Messersmith notes that the costumes and sets are “very romantic” but that the show has a real “edge to it.”

Messersmith is a man who knows his way around Shakespeare, having co-founded the Valley’s own Southwest Shakespeare Company, which opened it’s 18th season this month with a production of “Titus Andronicus” directed by David Barker. Messersmith played the title role.

I noticed during “Titus Andronicus” that Messersmith — who lives in Gilbert with wife Denise, daughter Alex and twin cats Daisy and Violet — has a small tattoo just below the back of his neck. He shared when I asked that it had nothing to do with the show, but told me he’d gotten it to mark earning his black belt in karate in 2003.

Having seen Messersmith’s gift for acting, teaching and directing, I’m inclined to think there’s more of a tattoo/talent connection than Messersmith himself might realize. The tattoo, he told me, is Kanji for “trust yourself.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read more about “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Scottsdale Community College.

Coming up: Valley playwright tackles Munchausen syndrome, Shakespeare meets Sondheim

Got auditions?

Today I received an e-mail about an audition taking place tomorrow, leaving me little time to inform “Stage Mom” readers.

I’m always pleased to learn of Valley auditions, but I’ve started referring folks to the calendar editor for Raising Arizona Kids magazine, who can add local auditions for youth to her listings when given enough notice. (How to submit a calendar notice.)

My own daughter Lizabeth, soon to start BFA in acting studies at Pace University in New York City, has long subscribed to weekly audition notices published by longtime Valley theater professional Laura Durant.

Her notices, also available on the Durant Communications website at www.durantcom.com, detail which roles are open, what’s expected for particular auditions and such. And they’re broken down into several categories making it possible to search for child and teen opportunities.

It’s best to check the websites of various acting companies as well, even those that normally produce only adult fare. Sometimes they present works for which younger actors are needed. Subscribing to e-newsletters sent by theater companies generally gets their audition info to you more quickly.

Most companies audition for youth productions individually, but sometimes auditions for a whole season’s worth of shows take place together. It’s not unusual for the Valley’s professional theater companies to partner for season auditions, but they’re generally looking for adult actors.

Some companies, including Greasepaint Youtheatre and Desert Stages Theatre in Scottsdale, offer workshops that help children and teens prepare for particular auditions. There’s usually a small charge to participate. Some, like Valley Youth Theatre, offer details about their audition process online.

Sometimes Valley venues share audition opportunities through their e-newsletters or social networking vehicles like Facebook and Twitter. Folks who follow ASU Gammage were among the first to learn about last Saturday’s dance auditions for a Camp Broadway number being performed at this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC.

Many Valley music, dance and peforming arts studios send audition notices to subscribers and/or post them on websites and social media. Be sure you’re signed up at the studios where your child studies, and follow the sites of other Valley studios too. You’ll want to check for audition news at least once a week.

Watch for audition notices in unexpected places too — including your local community college theater departments, which sometimes need young actors for works like “The Music Man” when it’s hard to put a young adult actor in a child’s role.

Youth who take theater or other performing arts classes in school settings will discover that savvy teachers are often familiar with audition opportunities in surrounding communities.

Audition slots are sometimes limited, so call right away if appointments are required and your child has his or her heart set on auditioning. Then follow directions, bringing requested items like headshots and resumes, and making sure sheet music and such is ready to go.

One of Lizabeth’s voice teachers, now working on her own theater career in NYC, suggested some time ago that Lizabeth subscribe to a publication called Back Stage — which you can also explore online. It lists auditions in LA, NY and other regions — and breaks notices into various categories like film/television, theater, singers/dancers, commercials/models, comedians and entertainers. Even reality TV.

It never hurts to follow news noted on websites like www.broadwayworld.com, www.broadway.com and www.playbill.com. Some of the audition notices they post include options for auditioning by video for actors who can’t make the open call in person.

If your child or teen has Disney dreams, you can search for theater, television and other auditions on the Disney website at www.disney.go.com.

As kids get more experienced with auditioning and performing, they’ll begin to hear of auditions by word of mouth — sometimes getting called in to audition for roles because someone in the theater community has suggested they might be a good fit.

It’s one of many reasons it rarely pays to make a big fuss when your child or teen is passed over for something else. I doubt anyone wants to hire a young actor whose stage mom or diva dad has a reputation for ranting and raving within a camp, community theater or other setting.

As kids get older, they can do their own digging for auditions and other opportunities. If you’re pushing them to audition, it’s unlikely they really have the desire to do it — and no one wants to see a child struggle tearfully through an audition they’ve only attempted for the sake of pleasing a stage parent.

— Lynn

Note: If you’re a performing arts professional or young performer with audition tips to share, please comment below to let our readers know.

Coming up: Art meets the Americas, Moms who “Munch”

Acting pros share audition tips for kids.

Pardon my Pygmalion

Here’s a little something for those of you seeking just the right name for your baby boy: Pygmalion. The word, which has Greek origins, means “King of Cyprus” — which rather reminds me of Sara Bareilles’ “King of Anything.”

For others, the name Pygmalion conjures thoughts of playwright George Bernard Shaw — whose play titled “Pygmalion” references a Greek myth recounted by Ovid in which a sculptor who loathes women falls in love with his own statue of a beautiful woman.

Most know a later version of this story — the one told in the 1956 musical “My Fair Lady,” which is based on Shaw’s 1912 work. It’s the tale of a commoner, Eliza Doolittle, who undergoes a phonetics makeover at the hands of professor Henry Higgins.

Theater League brings “My Fair Lady” to two Valley stages this season — Mesa Arts Center Jan 31-Feb 1, 2012 and the Orpheum in Phoenix Feb 16-19, 2012. It features book, music and lyrics by Lerner and Loewe. Think “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” and “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

In his preface to “Pygmalion,” Shaw disparages the language skills of his peers. “The English,” Shaw writes, “have no respect for their language, and will not teach their children to speak it.”

I suspect the Irish playwright, who lived from 1856 to 1950, would have plenty to say about most states deciding to drop cursive writing from the school curriculum. Blogging might take a beating as well.

Mesa Community College presents “Pygmalion” Jan 27-Feb 4, 2012 at Theatre Outback, located on the MCC campus. It’s one of four theater works in their “Theatre Arts and Film 2011-2012 Mainstage Season” — which includes some truly fascinating fare.

Those of you eager to experience Shaw’s work have another option as Desert Rose Theatre performs “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets” July 21-30 at St. Daniel the Prophet Catholic Church in Scottsdale. Each 7:30pm show is preceeded by a 7pm “pre-show chat” and followed by a “fun Q & A with the actors.”

Desert Rose offers this summary of the play: William Shakespeare is out on the town to meet his Dark Lady, the woman who inspired his sonnets. But a sleepwalking figure interupts his tryst. Who is this new, mysterious and fascinating woman with regal bearing? Could she end up his new muse?

Tickets for “The Dark Lady of the Sonnets” are just $10, and the fine folks at Brown Paper Tickets note a minimum age of 8 to attend. This production features Chris Michael Dennis, Diane Senffner, Kristina Rogers and Dave Edmunds.

George Bernard Shaw received the 1925 Nobel Prize in Literature, and you can learn more about his work by visiting the Nobel Prize website. The Nobel Committee is currently reviewing productions nominated for the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.

If you’re having twins, by the way, consider coupling the names Pygmalion and Hamlet. I owe that suggestion to my daughter Jennifer, though I think it might be a better choice for a pair of puppies you call “Pyg” and “Ham.”

— Lynn

Coming up: What would Robin Hood do?

That’s absurd!

Parenting sometimes feels like one big adventure in absudity. We start flash cards in utero. Save shriveled umbilical cords. Force creamed peas on babies using spoons cleverly disguised as incoming planes. Expect children to thrive in overcrowded classrooms. Tell babysitters they’ve absolutely nothing to fear. Assume our teens have never, ever heard of sex.

How refreshing to leave the absurdity of one’s own life to enjoy absurdity in other settings. That’s just what I did Saturday night as the theatre arts department at Scottsdale Community College presented a coupling of two one-act plays by Eugene Ionesco, a Romanian and French playwright and dramatist known for crafting “Theatre of the Absurd.”

How lovely to discover absurdity outside my square little news box

Finally, something that feels even odder than real life. The evening opened with two circles, two chairs, two long-married English folk and one newspaper. I suppose the other spouse was more of an iPad or Kindle type in a world devoid of such gizmos. It would be fitting considering the decision to imbue the work with voice-modulation software and other technologies.

“The couple’s deluded communication,” says director Randy Messersmith, “reflects humanity’s innate isolation and the subtle idea that a better world lies just beyond our reach.” It seemed a perfect parody on the futility of “friending” on Facebook in an age when revolutionaries “tweet” before taking to the street.

Messersmith, who serves as director for the SCC theatre arts department, says he combined “The Bald Soprano” and “The Chairs” to provide “an entertaining and moving portrait of language’s diminishing power in contemporary society.” The strength and precision of his directing was especially evident in the movement and voice work of an exceptionally talented cast of student actors.

Also exceptional is the work of producer/scenic artist Kimb Williamson and set/media/sound designer Boyd Branch. The Messersmith, Williamson, Branch trio is powerful — and Valley students are fortunate to have these talents in their midst. While I’m not a fan of “Theatre of the Arsurd,” I’ve relished my SCC time with Ionesco — because these are works unlike anything else I’ve seen on Valley stages.

The absudity of everyday life will always be there. The two socks that become one in the clothes dryer. The single-serve ice cream that tastes best by the dozen. The pets who clean up better than your average tween.

But “Theatre of the Absurd” SCC-style — with all its masks, laptops, banging pipes and more — only runs through April 9. Click here to catch it.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for a calendar of other April offerings from Maricopa Community Colleges.

Coming up: Troubadour tales

Chandler tales

I’ve long suspected there was at least one cub reporter in my midst. Sure enough, my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth is showing clear signs.

Before heading out to the Ostrich Festival in Chandler Sunday afternoon, Lizabeth asked if she could take my camera along. We gave the battery a quick charge and off she went — with a couple of goals in mind.

First, to meet a young actor from the Nickelodeon television show titled “iCarly” who was making a guest appearance at the event — a plan she wisely abandoned after seeing the line that appeared to be several blocks long.

Lizabeth did the mental math, and soon realized that waiting hours for a few seconds of time and a quickie autograph was a high investment/low yield enterprise.

Second, she wanted to get her fix of cute (and even not so cute) animals. Ostrich races. Pig races. And sea lions clever enough to avoid the racing gig altogether. Mission accomplished there — and more. Think goats, cattle, emus, sheep, water buffalo and yaks.

Lizabeth came home eager to share her photos (which I’ve assembled for the slide show below). Many evidence her offbeat sense of humor. The photos of signs and a recycling bin suggest she’s been either channeling or mocking me. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.

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I was impressed by her keen reporting of the events — and her wit in recounting them. Knowing attention to detail is important to the journalism craft, I asked her what types of food were available at the festival. Her answer was simple and plenty accurate: “Fried.”

I was sorry I’d asked when Lizabeth offered further details. Hot dogs on a stick. Pizza on a stick. Fry bread. Funnel cakes. Snowcones. Catfish. Even ostrich burgers. “That,” she quipped, “must be what happens to the losers.”

Apparently the pig races were particularly amusing — largely because the pigs belonged to various groups with names like “Hollywood pigs,” “Rock & pop pigs,” “Country pigs,” and “Political pigs.”

Seems one of the “political pigs” (dubbed “John McPig”) had a hard time deciding which starting box to enter as his race drew near. I’m told he tried the boxes of each of his opponents before wandering off, only to be redirected by a race official to his designated stall.

But alas, there’s nothing artsy about an ostrich or pig race — so check out some of these cultural events coming soon to Chandler if they’re more your style:

Chandler-Gilbert Community College Performing Arts presents an original CGCC production titled “Get a Life” March 24-27 at the Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center.

The Chandler Symphony Orchestra presents a concert coupled with a food drive (as part of the 2011 Orchestras Feeding America program sponsored by the League of American Orchestras) March 27 at the Chandler Center for the Arts.

The East Valley Jewish Community Center (in partnership with the City of Chandler and Chandler Unified School District) presents a film titled “An Article of Hope” April 5 at the Chandler Center for the Arts.

The Chandler Children’s Choir presents “Summer Camp 2011” June 13-17 (for ages 6-16) at Tri-City Baptist Church in Chandler.

Enjoy your time in Chandler — and be thankful your kids have yet to come up with the idea of parent races.

— Lynn

Note: Watch the daily online calendar of events at www.raisingarizonakids.com for ongoing news of upcoming events with a family-focus in the Valley and throughout the state.

Coming up: Thoughts of Japan

Free music under the stars

It’s a well-known mom-ism. Do your homework now and there’ll be more time for fun later. But now the tables are turned. Because it’s the moms (and  dads) who tend to pull all nighters this time of year.

I’m as guilty as the next person. One year it was crafting those fairy wings and crown with coat hangers, netting and botanicals. Once it was stitching yellow felt stripes onto a black sweat suit a la bumble bee. 

Whether you’re ahead of schedule or falling behind with Halloween preparations, make some time Friday night (Oct 29) to hit Arizona State University in Tempe with your family.

Their ever popular “Music Under the Stars” event returns from 7:30-10pm for an “outdoor evening of family friendly musical entertainment for people of all ages.”

ASU notes that “the evening showcases a wide range of performances including the ASU African Drum Ensemble, Heatwave (vocal jazz ensemble), and musical theatre and opera performances by the School of Music Lyric Opera Theatre students.”

For those of you who doubt the appeal of opera to children, I’m pleased to share that I attended an Arizona Opera performance of “The Pirates of Penzance” last weekend, where I chatted with several children and teens who were genuinely excited about the experience. (More on that in a future post.)

The event — which also includes “refreshments, raffle prizes and kids craft activities” — is free. After all that spending on Halloween costumes, candy and decor, I suspect that plenty of parents feel ready for some fabulous fun and freebies!

For help in planning the rest of your weekend, check out the online calendar from Raising Arizona Kids magazine — which lists daily events in several categories, including “on stage” and “on exhibit” for fellow arts aficionados.

— Lynn

Note: “Music Under the Stars” takes place at the Nelson Fine Arts Center Plaza on ASU’s Tempe campus. It’s co-sponsored by Liberty Mutual, ASU Alumni Association, ASU Gammage and Arizona Opera.

Coming up: A series of posts on art and politics as midterm elections near — starting with today’s “bonus blog” — a look at “Rhinoceros,” being performed through Nov 6 at Scottsdale Community College. It’s “theatre of the absurd” featuring playwright Eugene Ionesco’s comedic take on the dangers of blind conformity.