Tag Archives: field trips

To protect and preserve

Yolanda London, Eric Boudreau and Colin Ross in Childsplay's "Rock the Presidents"

With all the political bantering these days, I sometimes worry that the office of president isn’t getting the respect it deserves. So I was thrilled when Childsplay’s Sunday preview of “Rock the Presidents” at Tempe Center for the Arts opened with a rap number called “Hail to the Chiefs” — which recounts the name of each president while reinforcing our duty as Americans to protect and preserve the highest office in the land.

Think what you will of any given president, but know that the office is worthy of respect and dignity, and we do ourselves no favors by attempting to diminish it. “Rock the Presidents” is a perfectly non-partisan look at those who have served, which makes clear both their humanity and their dedication to the nation. It’s easy to sit back and criticize, and so little that’s worthy comes of it.

Better to teach our children to honor those who step up and lead, and to remind them that they too have the power to make a difference. Public service is a noble calling. And being an informed, engaged citizen is essential. These are the messages conveyed throughout “Rock the Presidents,” a musical salute to all 43 presidents featuring book and lyrics by Dwayne Hartford and music by Sarah Roberts.

Roberts plays guitar on the soundtrack, as does Jason Brown. Other musicians include Jonathan Ivie (piano and keyboard), Scott Miner (bass), Mark Stolper (drums), David Dickinson (Violin) and Scott Leader (ukelele and guitar). Jonathan Ivie is musical director for the work, which features everything from rock and rap to country and calypso. Think concert meets classroom.

The “Rock the Presidents” set, designed by Holly Windingstad, is a mix of stately and sparkly red, white and blue elements with a giant screen in the center onto which images of presidents and related fare from speeches to statues are projected throughout the show thanks to projection design by Limitrophe Films. It adds a fabulously nostalgic feel while upping the show’s educational value for children and teens.

Eric Boudreau, Yolanda London and Colin Ross rapping "Hail to the Chiefs"

Eric Bourdeau (Harry), Yolanda London (Amy) and Colin Ross (Ted) open “Rock the Presidents” donning black secret service gear by costume designer D. Daniel Hollingshead as they appear to sing into tiny spy mics hidden in the ends of their sleeves. They’re capable quick change artists who also rock general, cowboy, hippie and other vibes during the 90-minute gig that features choreography by Molly Lajoie. Think line dancing to shades of disco, all done in good taste.

Director Anthony Runfola strikes a perfect balance between rock concert and musical theater production. Lighting design by Tim Monson plays up the rock star vibe, as do cast member shenanigans with standing mics, high fives with children seated in the front row and shouts like “Thank you Tempe!” Their first crowd laughed and clapped with enthusiasm, rising to a standing ovation after the final number titled “Are You a President-to-be?”

The fact that every American president to date has been a man isn’t lost on Hartford, who included plenty of dialogue and lyrics hailing women who’ve made a difference while encouraging girls in the audience to aspire to the country’s highest office. But the favorite number by far, which closes the first act, was a little ditty on presidential pets from ordinary to odd called “They Got a Dog.”

The second act opens with “Not Made of Stone,” performed against the backdrop of an image of Mount Rushmore. It’s an ode to each president’s humanity which, when coupled with “I’m Not All Bad,” reminds folks that every president has both accomplishments and failures. Presidents, you see, are people too. In many ways, they’re like me and you.

Presidents we’ve lost are remembered in “What Could Have Been?,” while the contributions made by presidents after leaving office are celebrated in “I Am More Than Four Years.” Two rounds of “The Presi-tron” test audience member knowledge of presidential trivia, and “Who in the World is Millard Fillmore?” pays tribute to presidents too often forgotten.

Colin Ross in Rock the Presidents, being performed in Tempe through March 4

The song “John and Tom,” which praises the mutual civility demonstrated by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson despite conflicting ideas, feels most relevant for today’s society seeped in supercharged sniping. We don’t have to agree on everything to get along, or to get things done.

My own favorite song is “The Only Thing We Have to Fear,” inspired by FDR’s first inaugural address. Hartford says his greatest hope is that folks will be entertained by “Rock the Presidents.” That’s clearly the case. But I suspect something more will happen too, as those who “Rock the Presidents” with Childsplay reaffirm their responsibility to protect and preserve.

— Lynn

Note: The creative team for “Rock the Presidents” also includes Christopher Neumeyer (sound design). Samantha Monson serves as stage manager and Jenny Millinger serves as dramaturge. David Saar is Childsplay’s founder and artistic director, and Steve Martin serves as managing director.

Coming up: Let’s Play!

Photos: Heather Hill


Tribble time!

We rarely exchange your typical ties and sweaters during the holiday season, but lean instead towards gifts that some might consider a bit geek-ish. I was reminded recently, after learning that something called “Star Trek Live” is headed to the Valley, of the year Lizabeth gave her dad a Tribble.

Tribbles are fictional furry creatures that first appeared in a 1967 episode of the original “Star Trek” television series. I’m told they’re gentle and do a little purring thing, but I’m less qualified than my hubby and daughter Lizabeth to address such things. I’m more of a “Tigger” kind of a gal.

Our other daughter Jennifer admits to being in my camp on this one. “I only try and learn about Star Trek so I can understand my sister,” she tells me. I’m an only child so I find this approach to sistering rather intriguing. Maybe we should both head out Sunday to see the ”Starfeet Academy” show at Mesa Arts Center.

Performers from the science meets live theater production of Star Trek Live: Starfleet Academy coming soon to Mesa

“Star Trek Live: Starfleet Academy” is described by its presenters, Mad Science Productions, as “an interactive adventure.” Think “cutting-edge special effects, audience interaction and on-screen appearances from Captain Kirk and Spock.”

School “Star Trek Live” shows are scheduled for Mon, Nov. 21 and Tues., Nov 22 – and there’s even a 69-page teacher guide available online. It’s a cross between serious science and fun activities like crossword puzzles, but my favorite piece deals with rockets (mostly because my own kids had such a great time making and launching rockets at Desert View Learning Center).

Nowadays we’re keeping an eye on what several cast members from the original “Star Trek” television series are up to. George Takei (“Sulu”) is working to bring a new musical titled “Allegiance” to the Broadway stage, planning first for a premiere and run in San Diego. Where are those darn “beam me up” machines when you need them?

Leonard Nimoy (“Spock”) is still working with that whole logical/illogical thing as he explores the vast realms of poetry and photography. Nimoy’s poetry is part of an exhibition you can enjoy at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in Tucson through Dec. 23. It’s titled “Celebrity Poets” and also pays tributes to works by Suzanne Somers, Viggo Mortensen, Leonard Cohen, Tupac Shakur and others.

The most dedicated “Star Trek” fans among us have already added dates for 2012 “Comicon” events to their calendars. For folks in Phoenix, it’s “Phoenix Comicon,” coming to the Phoenix Convention Center over Memorial Day weekend (May 24-27).

Be sure to look for me if you go — I’ll be the woman with a Tribble in tow.

– Lynn

Coming up: “Occupy Bella”

Art adventures: Town of Gilbert

When summer temperatures soared last week, my 21-year-old son Christopher went online to search for fun places we could explore away from the heat — and found something I’d never heard of during my nearly three decades of living in the Valley.

It’s called the Gilbert Riparian Preserve. The preserve is located at Water Ranch in the town of Gilbert, within easy walking distance of the Southeast Regional Library. The preserve “was created in 1986 to provide open space, educational and recreational opportunities while reusing the town’s effluent water.”

Click here to begin your own exploration of the Riparian Institute — which offers all sorts of public, youth/scout and school programs. Think bird walks, garden tours and more. The preserve is also home to the Gilbert Rotary Centennial Observatory, which makes for a fun family outing on Friday or Saturday night.

After walking through the preserve, some time in the cool Southeast Regional Library was just what we needed. The library was bustling with families shopping for bargains at the Friends bookstore, admiring a giant dollhouse and searching for fun summer reads together.

Teens sat curled up with books in the “Teen Oasis” while children enjoyed a LEGO class or other hands-on activities. I scoured the library for news of upcoming events, and learned that the Kawambe-Omowale African Drum & Dance Theatre will perform in the library’s assembly room Tues, June 21, at both 10am and 11:30am.

Event materials describe the drum and dance group as “a captivating performing arts company that offers a glimpse of West African culture through performance of drumming, dancing, singing, and storytelling.”

Other upcoming events include “Kids Summer Movies” (Thurs, July 14, 21 & 28 at 2pm) and the “Flat Stanley Puppet Show” Tues, July 26 at 10:15am and 11:30am (presented by SRP). Call 602-652-3000 before you go for all the fine print about tickets and such because space is limited.

Head to the library and preserve this summer if your kids start feeling restless. You can explore the preserve, then hit the library to find related books (the library has a special list of offerings on animals, birds, butterlies/moths/insects, plants and reptiles/snakes).

Or follow a trip to the library with one of two preserve hiking options (a 1/2 mile concrete path and a 1-1.2 mile hike through preserve habitats). You’ll find maps in a wooden box near the preserve entrance, though we did just fine without one the day we visited. I look forward to returning one day to explore the observatory.

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— Lynn

Note: Always check event details like location/directions, hours of operation and cost before attending. For a comprehensive list of family-friendly events, check the online calendar from Raising Arizona Kids magazine daily.

Coming up: More art meets science

“The Borrowers”

A cup of sugar. A gelatin mold. A casserole dish. Neighbors used to borrow such things from one another all the time. What we borrow changes, but the act of borrowing never seems to go out of style.

I’m guilty of borrowing all sorts of books that never made their way back to original owners, but I’ve loaned plenty of them too. Some books, like Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers,” seem too precious to share.

“The Borrowers” made its way to the big screen in a 1997 movie by the same name. The PG-13 flick, dismissed by some because of its sometimes crude humor, was directed by Peter Hewitt and starred John Goodman.

British actor Hugh Laurie, now known to most Americans for his leading role in the television series “House,” appeared in the film as “Police Officer Steady.”

Fond as I am of Laurie, I suspect I’ll enjoy Childsplay’s live performance of “The Borrowers” a whole lot more than the film. The Childsplay production, which opens April 30 at Tempe Center for the Arts, is directed by Dwayne Hartford.

“The Borrowers” was adapted for the stage by British playwright Charles Way. It’s the tale of a tiny family living under the floorboards of another family’s home — and the adventures that ensue when someone living below makes her way to higher ground.

“I try to create work,” writes Way, “that does not preach, that examines the pressures under which we live through story and metaphor, that is fun, sometimes dangerous, but always I trust, humane and hopeful.” Sounds like much of the work I’ve seen Childsplay perform through the years.

Childsplay presents “The Borrowers” at 1pm and 4pm every Saturday and Sunday between April 30-May 22. An ASL interpreted performance takes place Sun, May 15, at 1pm.

You can jump online in the meantime to learn more about the show, the actors and the wealth of Childsplay offerings — from school tours to summer classes.

And you can get your tickets to what I suspect will be one of the Valley’s most creative shindigs of the season — the May 6 “Childsplay Celebrates Its Greatest Hits” gala designed to support the company’s many arts-in-education programs, which “serve one in five Arizona school children each year.”

Let your toddlers borrow the pots and pans. Let your preschoolers borrow the lipstick and high heels. Let your teens borrow the car.

But give your children the things that really matter. Imagination. Dreams. Adventure. Curiosity. They’re all waiting for you at Childsplay.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn how your children can experience a tour of “The Borrowers” set — and how your family can enjoy a workshop exploring the secrets of shadow theater with visual effects artist Andrés Alcalá (you’ll learn to create and use shadow puppets — and even take home your own shadow theater).

Coming up: Whatever works

Thoughts of Japan

After watching television coverage of the devastating consequences of recent natural disasters in Japan, I spent some time reflecting on challenges facing the people of Japan — and those of us around the globe who must do our part to help its people.

I headed to the Japanese Friendship Garden in central Phoenix, which features an authentic Japanese stroll garden perfect for quiet reflection. There I learned that Himeji, Japan — home of a castle hailed as a world treasure — is one of Phoenix’s “sister cities.”

During tough — and truly tragic — times, those who feel the strongest need to help are often the people who have a personal connection with those affected. Phoenix has such a connection to Japan, and our country’s strong political alliance with Japan is well known and highly regarded.

As you talk with your family, friends and fellow community members about ways to support the Japanese people in the days, months and years ahead — consider spending some time at Ro Ho En, the Japanese Friendship Garden located at Margaret T. Hance Park.

Here’s a bit of what you’ll see there — followed by news of upcoming events at the garden, and ways you can help the people of Japan rebuild their homes and their lives…

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We first experienced the Japanese Friendship Garden during an elementary school field trip that included participating in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which we began by taking off our shoes and settling into a spirit of quiet observation and profound respect.

I recalled that ceremony, with its beautiful order and tradition, as I watched footage filmed during and after Japan’s largest earthquake. A woman who struggled to replace cans in a supermarket as they fell around her amidst all the trembling. The people who remained calm and reverant rather than resorting to looting or other means of furthering the chaos wrought by nature upon them.

The Japanese Friendship Garden is a wonderful place to introduce your children to Japanese culture. In addition to the tea house and tea garden, it features more than fifty varieties of plants, flowing streams, stone footbridges and lanterns, a 12-foot waterfall and a Koi pond with more than 300 colorful fish.

During my most recent stroll through the garden, just a few other people were there — making it an especially serene and tranquil experience. I hope to return for the “Zen Garden Music & Art Festival” on April 16, when the garden will come alive with all sorts of visual and performance art.

During their season, the Japanese Friendship Garden participates in ArtLink’s “First Fridays” from 4pm to 7pm/dusk — when admission is free. Other times, the admission fee is modest — and school tours/group tours are available.

You’ll learn plenty about the Japanese Friendship Garden, and affiliates such as the Urasenke Foundation in Kyoto, by simply visiting their website — which features its own spectacular slide show with really interesting captions.

Still, a visit to the garden is the best way to get a feel here in Phoenix for all the beauty and wonder that is Japan.

— Lynn

Note: Visit the following websites to discover some of the ways you can support recovery efforts in Japan: www.doctorswithoutborders.org,  www.internationalmedicalcorps.org, www.peace-winds.org, www.redcross.org, www.salvationarmyusa.org

Coming up: Movie and theater reviews

Update: Donations for the Phoenix sister city of Himeji, Japan can be made March 18-20 at the Himeji, Japan booth in Sister Cities Village at WorldFEST. Click here to learn more about a fund drive being held by the Phoenix Sister Cities Commission to benefit disaster relief efforts — and to learn more about WorldFEST, which features family-friendly activities related to several of our sister cities throughout the world.

Shakespeare: Made in Japan?

The Utah Shakespeare Festival recently performed a touring production of "Macbeth" for Valley students at Higley Center for the Performing Arts

I learned while attending a Shakespeare-in-the-Schools Tour of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” by the Utah Shakespeare Festival that the stilts used by the three witched in this particular production are actually “Air-Trekkers” that originated in Japan.

During a talk back after the show, cast members explained to the 1,200 students in attendance that the use of various props — from ladders to red-colored gloves — reflected the director Christopher Clark’s choice to present the piece “caravan-style” — much like it would have been performed during Shakespeare’s time.

Because there was no fake theatrical blood back then, and the use of real blood in settings like the Higley Center for the Performing Arts is frowned on, various stab wounds “gush forth” with long strips of ragged red cloth.

Low budget. High imagination. The cast noted during the talkback that this is all anyone really needs to perform the works of Shakespeare. There was no Broadway for the Bard, and his work may well be better for it.

Lizabeth and I saw the Utah Shakespeare Festival performance of “Macbeth” last summer — which had an extra layer of drama as rains drenched the outdoor theater just as curtain time approached. We ended up seeing the first act inside, and enjoyed the dark mood set by lingering clouds and rolling thunder once the audience moved back outside.

Lizabeth at one of many Utah Shakespeare Festival "Greenshows" we attended together last summer

Lizabeth first experienced Shakespeare in a summer camp workshop with Arizona’s own Childsplay, when she was still in elementary school.

Her love for Shakespeare blossomed after studying with Maren Mascarelli, a Southern Utah University graduate, at both Arizona School for the Arts and Scottsdale Conservatory Theatre.

Lizabeth has also studied Shakespeare with Randy Messersmith, who heads the theater department at Scottsdale Community College and co-founded the Southwest Shakespeare Company (located in Mesa).

Most recently, she studied Shakepeare in summer classes with the Utah Shakespeare Festival. We’re already making plans to return to the festival this summer to see diverse works ranging from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to “The Music Man” and “Noises Off!”

A couple of the ten company members taking “Macbeth” on the road this season (including 7 actors in 20 roles) hail from Utah, but plenty of other states are represented. California. Pennsylvania. Iowa. New York.

The company manager for this tour, a high-energy fellow named Joshua (from Juneau), noted during introductory remarks that they’ve performed the piece 75 times so far — before a total audience of 35,000 people.

Higley was just a single stop on their 13-week (Jan to April) tour — which is part of “Shakespeare for a New Generation” — a program funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Even before the performance could begin, students greeted the company with thunderous applause usually reserved for football games. The show itself was condensed quite effectively from a 3-hour play into an 75-minute work. Applause offered after the final line was uttered and the stage went dark was equally enthusiastic.

Hopefully many of the students who attended "Macbeth" in Higley will make it to Cedar City for some of the eight shows offered between June 23 and Oct 29

The company manager kicked off the talkback by asking students to raise their hands to show which of two possible explanations of Macbeth’s heinous deeds they favored — one blaming the three witches who predict Macbeth’s rise to the throne, or another blaming his ambitious wife.

He then suggested that those who felt Macbeth was responsible for his own actions, and the horrific outcome, raise both hands. This was clearly the explanation favored by most students — though one student with each hypothesis was invited to share his or her reasoning.

The first felt the witches, having initially placed the idea in Macbeth’s head that he would one day be king, caused Macbeth to commit the murder that snowballed into so many acts of disloyalty and destruction.

The second felt Macbeth alone was responsible, because he made his own choices about how to act on the information pesented to him. The third felt the wife was responsible — because she “messed with his head” and “insulted his manhood.”

Their remarks leave no doubt that Shakespeare, though made in England and performed with ideas and implements from around the globe, is perfectly relevant in 21st century America — where struggles related to love, power and justice seem never to die.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about upcoming productions and school programs of the Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa. Click here for information about The Shakespeare Society of Japan. Click here to read a CNN article with tips for helping Japan in the aftermath of today’s devastating natural disaster.

Coming up: Art adventures: Japanese Friendship Garden, “Beastly” meets “Rango”

Copper rush

Not long after I watched a late-night pundit predict a copper run with possible catastrophic consequences, a copper-related press release crossed my virtual desk.

It described a coin drive that’s engaging students and other citizens in collecting pennies to help fund the renovation of Arizona’s own state capitol building copper dome.

Tempted as I might be to riff on all sorts of issues related to revenue and state capitols, the arts are pulling me — for now — in another direction.

I was grateful last week for the alert that came across my laptop as I watched television news headlines of violent revolution and pirates taking children hostage.

I quickly switched my attention to the live feed of a ceremony taking place at the White House. President Obama was honoring recipients of the 2010 National Medal of Arts and the 2010 National Humanities Medal.

As he placed a large medallion on a long ribbon over the head of James Taylor, Obama whispered something in Taylor’s left  ear. I imagine it might have been something like “Im a fan.”

It’s easy to understand why Taylor was one of 20 Americans honored. Consider the beautiful images conjured by the simplicity of his “Copperline” lyrics from the “New Moon Shine” album:

Took a fall from a windy height
I only knew how to hold on tight
And pray for love enough to last all night
Down on copperline 

Or another verse from the same song…

One time I saw my daddy dance
Watching him moving like a man in a trance
He brought it back from the war in France
Down on copperline

Closer to home, we’ve got the Copperstar Repertory Company, a community theater that works to “entertain, educate and enrich community members of all ages.”

Copperstar performs at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts in the East Valley. Their next production, the musical “Into the Woods” with book by James Lapine and music/lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, runs April 8-16.

I imagine it’ll be refreshing for a change to watch a show where the only feared characters are those who live in fairy tales.

— Lynn

Note: A special “Into the Woods” performance for student groups takes place Thurs, April 14, at 9:45am at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts  (in partnership with Copperstar Repertory Theatre and Higly Community Education). The target audience is grades 4-12 students in language arts and music. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: Field trips with an arts focus, A parent perspective on PBS