Tag Archives: Down Syndrome

Bridge to somewhere

Golden Gate Bridge by Margie Smeller

I’ve had enough with talk of so-called “bridges to nowhere.” If you want to build a bridge to somewhere, build it with music.

Tom Chapin, a three-time Grammy Award winner, will be doing just that as he performs a “Building Bridges Family Concert” in Arizona next month.

It’s refreshing news for the many Arizonans who prefer building bridges over building walls.

If the name Chapin sounds familiar, perhaps you’re thinking of brother Harry Chapin or Steve Chapin — just a couple of the artists grown from the same family tree.

Bridge to Terabithia by Margie Smeller

Tom’s “Building Bridges” concert features original songs “in a fun array of musical styles” — teaching life lessons about “inclusiveness, making healthy choices, tolerance, respect and the environment.”

Turns out the Higley Center for the Performing Arts, located in the East Valley, presents all sorts of family-friendly fare — like “The Music Man” being performed through Feb 26 in partnership with Copperstar Repertory Co. and Higley Community Education.

They also welcome plenty of touring productions you may not have the opportunity to see at other Valley venues. Just last November, I enjoyed “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” presented by the Kennedy Center for Young Audiences on Tour” at the Higley venue.

Bridge to a New Life by Margie Smeller

The 2011 Educational Tour of the Utah Shakespeare Festival will present “Macbeth” at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts Mon, March 7, at 9:45am.

You might think of Higley as a sleepy little town on the outskirts of metropolitan Phoenix, but those who appreciate rare and unique art opportunities for building bridges between children and culture know better.

— Lynn

Rainbow Bridge by Margie Smeller

Note: The ASU School of Theatre and Film in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts presents “A Bridge to the Stars” March 3-11. The play (which is appropriate for all ages) follows a character named Joel (age 11) as he searches for “family, community and meaning” in a mythical Scandinavian village.

Coming up: New seasons for venues presenting touring Broadway productions

Artwork by Margie Smeller, a self-described “outsider artist” in Maryland, who works at home, at “Art Enables” and at “Scott Key Center.” Visit her website for information on commissioning work and works currently for sale.


Allegra, Mozart & African drums

Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus. But there’s so much more. If you’re seeking non-holiday fare this week, you have plenty of options. Allegra. Mozart. African Drums. And more.

Allegra” is a new play tackling family ties and tough decisions It’s written by Asher Wyndham, an MFA playwriting candidate at ASU in Tempe.

Allegra is a TV news reporter charged with caring for a younger brother with Down syndrome, who discovers after getting pregnant that her own child will likely have the same condition. How, and what, does she decide? And how does she explain the choice to those around her?

“Allegra,” directed by ASU School of Theatre and Film professor William Partian, will be performed in workshop form Dec 2-5 at ASU’s Lyceum Theatre. Tickets are just $8. (Please note that this play has adult, mature-theme content.)

On the child-friendly front, there’s “The Magic Flute” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It’s being performed at the Orpheum Theatre Fri, Dec 3, and Sun, Dec 5, by Phoenix Opera.

Tickets to “The Magic Flute” are normally $60-$95 each, but those who purchase tickets today (Mon, Nov 29) can enjoy a “2 for 1” special as part of “Cyber Monday.”

The Paradise Valley Community College Dance Department presents their “Fall Dance Collection” Fri, Dec 3, and Sat, Dec 4, at 7:30pm at the PVCC Center for the Performing Arts. The evening features visiting artists, guest choreographers and student dancers. Tickets are $12 for adults (less for students, staff, seniors and children).

Finally, there’s the ASU African Drum Ensemble, performing at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre on the ASU Tempe campus Sun, Dec 5, at 7:30pm. This event is free, and promises a rich menu of African performance art.

The ASU African Drum Ensemble has invited the ASU African Dance class, an Eastlake Park African Dance class, the South Mountain Community College African Storytelling class, and members of the Kawambe Omowale African Drum and Dance Theater to join them in bringing the “African Experience” to those who attend.

Consider treating a friend to one or more of these performances as a unique holiday gift — remembering that the gifts of time and shared memories transcend the value of material possessions.

Some seek a thrill in shopping, but I still find what’s happening on Valley stages infinitely more intriguing and enriching. I’ll trade the crowds for creativity any time of year…

— Lynn

Note: For news of additional events and activities, please consult prior posts and the online calendar from Raising Arizona Kids magazine.

Coming up: Hannukah happenings, Theater for grown-ups, Valley student goes Cirque, Art adventures: The Phoenix Zoo

ASU meets NYT

My husband James enjoyed a rare and simple pleasure this weekend when I left him with fresh copies of the Sunday papers so I could head out to the grocery store. It seemed the least I could do after seeing him stare at a bowl of cereal for which there was no milk.

When I returned, he handed me a lovely stack of papers that looked nothing like the pile he inherits from me most Sundays. Lopsided ads strewn about by our sometimes-frugal ASU student. Crossword puzzles ripped from arts sections so only half of most articles remain.

But most appreciated was The New York Times insert from the ASU Herberger Institute’s School of Theatre and Film — which details their 2010/2011 MainStage Season. Lizabeth and I enjoyed reviewing it together — over cereal complete with milk.

The School of Theatre and Film describes the season, which features seven plays and a student film festival, as “action-packed and innovative.” A central theme is exploring “the relationships that bind people together.”

The School’s director, Guillermo Reyes (also artistic director of the MainStage Season), says the season is “filled with contemporary and original works” focused on our relationships with “one another, our families and even our enemies.”

For those of you who missed it when we first announced the upcoming season, here’s a look at the many thoughtful works they’ll be presenting…

26 Miles by Quiara Alegria Hudes. Hudes wrote the book for the Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights” (performed last season at ASU Gammage featuring composer and lyricist Lin Manual Miranda in the role he originated on Broadway). It’s a “coming of age dramedy” in which a Cuban-American teen explores her ethnic identify while taking a road trip with her estranged mother. I’m eager to experience the work, directed by Jerry Ruiz, with an eye to issues of both borders and boundaries. October 2010.

Big Love by Charles L. Mee. Kim Weild directs “an extavagent retelling of one of the oldest plays in Western history.” Picture “50 Greek sisters escaping by boat from what might be the world’s largest arranged marriage” — then imagine the tragedy, of Greek proportions, that ensues. I’ll be watching this with fond memories of my own ill-fated trip to see the tiny Greek isle of Patmos. November 2010 (contains nudity).

Allegra by Asher Wyndham. William Partian directs this MFA playwriting candidate work about a television newscaster who learns her unborn child might have Down Syndrome — then “grapples with the decision of whether to keep her unborn baby.” I suspect my experience with this work will be influenced by my many encounters with mothers, including Gina Johnson of “Sharing Down Syndrome Arizona” and Amy Silverman of “Girl in a Party Hat,” who parent children with Down Syndrome with both grit and grace. December 2010.

Dreaming Darwin by Lance Gharavi and Jacob Pinholster. This workshop production, directed by Gharavi, is a new work created when these two professors “assembled a team of ASU student artists” to explore Charles Darwin as a “fantasy on a theme.” It’s the next stage in the evolution of the work, presented last season as a staged reading. I may experience this as a sort of intersection of my three children’s interests — wildlife biology, cultural anthropology and theater arts. February 2011 (just in time to celebrate Darwin’s birthday).

A Bridge to the Stars by Henning Mankell (adapted by John Retallack). This work, a “poignant and soulful tale of a boy’s search for family, community and meaning,” is set against the “endless night” of a mythical Scandinavian village. I’ll be seeing this one with fond memories of long days and nights, as well as “northern lights,” during my childhood years in Alaska — plus college travels to cold, crisp and clean cities in Scandinavian countries. March 2011.

“The Skriker” by Caryl Churchill. This fantasy, directed by Joya Scott, “depicts a fairy underworld that has begun to bleed into our own” as a shape-shifting ghost “befriends, manipulates and attempts to control two young women.” The piece features “rich, evocative language…brought to life through movement and music.” I suspect I’ll watch this one feeling ever so grateful I’m not at home in front of a television series toying with tacky variations on similar themes. April 2011.

In the Penal Colony by Christian Krauspe. Kyle Lewis directs this adapatation of Frank Kafka’s original short story by an MFA playwriting candidate. The work explores the “the boundaries of punishment, loyalty, morality and tradition.” I’m not sure what I’ll take along when I see this work, but I don’t doubt that I’ll come away with something altogether more profound. April 2011.

Of one thing I am certain. The only thing sweeter than relaxing with a copy of The New York Times on Sunday morning is opening the paper to find more exciting news about ASU arts offerings — along with knowing I’ll be able to enjoy them firsthand as their new seasons of theater, film, music and dance unfold.


Note: The ASU 2010-2011 MainStage Season also includes the 6th Annual ASU Student Film Festival — taking place at the Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe April 25 and 26, 2011. The event features “the best student films produced within the school, and features a 10-minute film competition sponsored by the ASU Film Association.” To learn more about season performance locations and ticket prices, visit www.mainstage.asu.edu.

Coming up: Animal art, Laugh your brass off, Spotlight on storytelling, Conversations with Cory English about life on the road with family and “Young Frankenstein”

ASU Gammage goes green!

Maybe I’ve just got Earth Day on the brain.

Earth by Caitlin, 5th grade (courtesy of NASA)

Thursday marks the 40th year of this celebration of the planet we populate so well but protect so poorly—and ASU does have an impressive roster of related events, some featuring visual art or film with a focus on sustainability.

But when I think green, it’s not the Earth that’s top of mind. It’s the 2010-2011 Broadway Season just unveiled by ASU Gammage.

Young Frankenstein, Shrek and the Grinch are all headed to Tempe next season—making this the season ASU Gammage goes green!

Parents delighted with the prospect of “Shrek The Musical” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” coming to town will have yet another reason to haul out their happy dance. Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is coming too.

I have a little ritual I go through each time ASU Gammage announces a season. First I pencil every performance into my daily planner (dates get inked in once I buy my season tickets).

Then I start scheming. Who’d enjoy seeing a show for their birthday? Anniversary? “Les Miserables” is coming in June, so that’ll take care of Lizabeth’s 18th birthday bash (or maybe Father’s Day).

For your groovier friends, ASU Gammage presents “Hair.” For those hardworking but underappreciated women in your life, there’s “9 to 5: The Musical.”

There’s “Fiddler on the Roof” for those of us lamenting the flight of young adults from our nests, “Billy Elliot” for lovers of the underdog or all things dance, and “Mamma Mia!” for the girlfriends eager to get their groove on.

Some are part of the 2010-2011 Broadway Season at ASU Gammage, while others are 2010-2011 Special Engagements.

Take note kids—I’d like to see “Hair” for Christmas and “Billy Elliot” for Mother’s Day (Who doesn’t love Billy’s letter to his mum?). The rest I plan to see just because…

My pencil was already poised last month as the ASU Herberger Institute School of Theatre and Film unveiled its 2010-11 MainStage Season featuring a fabulous mix of contemporary and original works.

ASU School of Theatre and Film offerings will include the “6th Annual Student Film Festival” and two “New Works Series workshop productions.”

“Allegra” by Asher Wyndham follows a TV reporter grappling with the knowledge that her unborn baby may have Down Syndrome. “In the Penal Colony” by Christian Krauspe (an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “The Penal Colony”) explores the boundaries of punishment, loyalty, morality and tradition.

Other works on the way from ASU’s School of Theatre and Film include:

  • “26 Miles.” A coming-of-age “dramedy” about a Cuban American teen on a road trip with her estranged mother.
  • “Big Love.” An extravagant retelling of Aeschylus’ “The Danaids” in which 50 Greek sisters seek to escape a monumental arranged marriage.
  • “Dreaming Darwin.” A workshop production based on a 2009 staged reading of a “fantasy on a theme” about Charles Darwin.
  • “A Bridge to the Stars.” A tale for all ages that follows a boy’s search for family, community and meaning in a mythical Scandinavian village.
  • “The Striker.” A “dark parable for our times” rich in music and movement, in which a fairy underworld bleeds into our own—including the lives of two pregnant teens. 

Think a little. Dance a little. Wonder a little. Laugh a little.

You can do a little bit of just about everything at ASU—which leaves me all the more content with the little patch of Earth I call home. 


Note: Current productions at ASU include “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps” (ASU Gammage) and “The Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes” (Paul V. Galvin Playhouse)

Coming up: A sneak peak at the Musical Instrument Museum opening in the Valley this weekend. If you’re as excited as I am about this baby, check their online “countdown” and watch the days, hours and minutes until opening along with me!

After precious, the rain

I cry less often at movies than I used to. I’m not sure why, and I never really thought about it until today. This afternoon I went with Lizabeth to see the movie “Precious” at the Harkins Valley Art theatre on Mill Ave. in Tempe.

We’d hoped to hit Mill’s Landing first for some crepes and coffee, but discovered it’s no longer there. We made a Wildflower Bread Company, Changing Hands Bookstore and Hoodlums Music & Movies run instead, waiting for the first showing of “Precious” that afternoon.

“Precious” received plenty of media coverage, but I haven’t paid that much mind. I went into it not knowing what to expect, other than stellar performances all the way around.

If ever there was a “Do your homework first” movie, this is it.

If you’re the parent of a tween or teen and you tend to balk at “R” ratings, assuming your child is plenty mature for such things, this movie might be your line in the sand. It’s the tale of a teenage girl who goes from incest survivor to dignified mother.

The journey is graphic, both verbally and visually.

I didn’t cry during the movie, but tears rained down as the credits rolled. I don’t recall seeing a more powerful piece of cinematic art.

But why review a movie too mature for most readers’ children?

Because “Precious” is a meaningful movie for parents who ponder the relative influence of nature versus nurture, the ways our views of our children become mantras they may or may not live by, and the gifts other adults bring into our children’s lives.

Incest nearly destroys Precious, but it never defines her. She knows she’s more than what others say to her, what they do to her. Call her fat. Call her dumb. Call her every name in the book. She knows there’s more to her story, if only she can summon the courage to tell it.

Precious learns to tell her own truths, to write her own story thanks to a savvy social worker and a teacher at the “alternative school” she attends even as her mother insists she simply get her ‘fat ass down to the welfare.’

The teacher has students make journal entries that get turned in each day—then reads and answers each one with her own entry. The starkest entry comes from Precious: “Why me?”

For Precious and her classmates, writing becomes a talisman of transformation. Eventually Precious earns a literacy award, fueling her resolve to teach her own babies to read and write—things Precious’ own mother despises and derides her for.

Precious leaves her parents’ home after a particularly vicious argument that puts her own life, and that of her newborn son, in peril. Precious moves into a halfway house, a term she finds endearing once someone describes it to her as ‘a place halfway between where you were and where you want to be.’

Precious and her mother meet just once thereafter at the social worker’s office. Here we learn more of the origin and extent of the abuses Precious has endured through the years. The mother’s tale rises to truly tragic proportions as she attempts to justify her actions.

Why, we have to wonder, does one woman settle while another one soars?

Amidst the darker themes, there were lighter lines I savored. When asked her favorite color, one student replies “florescent beige” (Precious says hers is yellow, but I don’t recall her ever wearing the color until a triumphant moment much later in the film.) Walking down the street one day with an apparent air of optimism, we hear Precious thinking out loud: ‘I always look up.’ ‘In case,’ she muses, ‘a piano falls out of the sky.’

Several scenes are particularly gripping—when Precious’ mother insists she eat a plate piled-high with greasy pig’s feet and macaroni and cheese (an attempt to keep her daughter from being desirable); when Precious experiences her first visit to an art museum (part of a school field trip the other students fail to appreciate); when Precious learns her father has been diagnosed with AIDS; when Precious is reunited with her firstborn, a daughter born with Down Syndrome.

It’s far from the world I live in. But much more common, I fear, than any of us want to believe.

If you’re moved, after reading these reflections or seeing the movie yourself, to make a difference in the lives of young women who awake each day to the harsh realities of abuse–or if you, or someone you know, needs help after experiencing sexual assault, you can learn more from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.