Tag Archives: gay rights

From bullying to British theatre

When our youngest daughter Lizabeth attended Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, she participated each year in something called “Day of Silence” — described by organizer GLSEN as “a student-led national event that brings attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment in schools.”

This year’s “Day of Silence” was held on April 20, but folks who missed it can support the cause in other ways — including attending a screening of the new film “Bullied to Silence” taking place May 12 at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Bullied to Silence” is an 84-minute documentary that “gives a voice to bullied youth from all walks of life.” It was written and directed by local filmmakers and features several Arizona participants. I’m told it “tells the stories of children and teens whose ethnicities, physical challenges, and sexual orientations set them apart, and how they’ve coped with bullying by peers and adults alike.”

Susan Broude, the film’s writer/producer, describes bullying as “an epidemic in America” and hopes the film will help put an end to the verbal abuse at the heart of so much bullying today. GLSEN Phoenix co-founder Madelaine Adelman says the film complements their “mission to create safe, respectful and healthy K-12 schools for all.”

This 2012 feature documentay premieres May 1 in Sedona, then heads to the Phoenix Art Museum

“Bullied by Silence” will be screened at both 11am and 2pm on May 12. Nicole Stanton, wife of Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton, will introduce the first screening, and both screenings will be followed by a Q & A presentation featuring filmmakers Tami Pivnick and Susan Broude, plus several cast members.

The screenings are sponsored by GLSEN Phoenix in cooperation with the Scottsdale International Film Festival. Representatives of GLSEN Phoenix will attend the screening to provide “resource information to support safe schools for all students.” Earlier screenings in Sedona take place May 1-4, thanks to a partnership with the Sedona International Film Festival, and also include special guest speakers.

While you’re at the Phoenix Art Museum, grab a schedule of the museum’s film offerings. The museum often presents films it’s hard to find in other venues — such as “Anchors Away” (a ’40s musical starring Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson), “Gidget” (a ’50s teen flick starring the Sandra Dee most kids know only from “Grease” lyrics) and “Rothko’s Room” (part of their “Ab/Ex Film Series”).

The Phoenix Art Museum hosts a “Local Film Community Panel” May 30, and presents “This American Life” with host Ira Glass June 1 and 3. The latter will be captured live on May 10 and broadcast from the NYU Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, where Lizabeth enjoyed a performance of “110 Stories” last September.

The museum also broadcasts National Theatre Live productions. Upcoming encore presentations include “One Man, Two Guvners” (June 10) and “Frankenstein” (June 13 & 14). The cast of “Frankenstein” includes Benedict Cumberbatch, who appeared in the movie “War Horse” and stars in “Sherlock” on PBS’s “Masterpiece” (season 2 begins May 6).

— Lynn

Note: In addition to regular posts, I’ll be sharing posts on art and mental illness during May, which is Mental Health Month. If you offer art programs (dance, music, theater, visual art, writing) serving Arizona youth or adults living with mental illness, I’d love to hear from you at rakstagemom@gmail.com.

Coming up: I never met a box I didn’t like

Update: Ira Glass comes to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts Jan. 19, 2013 as part of the 2012-13 season. Watch their website for details. And click here to see just-announced 2012 Tony Award nominees (which Lizabeth shared with me via text message at 5:47am this morning–clever girl). 5/1/12

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I am what I am

Christopher Sieber as Zaza and George Hamilton as Georges in the touring production of "La Cage Aux Folles" coming to ASU Gammage in May (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

Actor Christopher Sieber has done funny proud in plenty of Broadway musicals, from “Shrek” to “Spamalot.” Seems he was already rocking the comedy vibe during second grade. “I took being the class clown and turned it into a career,” quipped Sieber when we spoke by phone Friday morning.

He was happy to be in Dallas, the latest stop on the national tour of “La Cage Aux Folles” that hits ASU Gammage in Tempe next month. It’s a classic Broadway musical featuring music and lyrics by Jerry Herman, plus book by Harvey Fierstein — best known to some for songs like “I Am What I Am.”

Sieber knew early on that he was “the fat kid with the thick neck and thick glasses,” but he also knew how to work a crowd. “I had no fear,” he says — though Sieber’s parents hardly shared his delight. At first, he used “typical third grade material” like this little gem: What the difference between pea soup and roast beef?Anyone can roast beef!

Parents, take heart. The annoying imps of today may blossom into actors whose idiocyncracies make them masters of the art. Sometimes with weird twists of fate along the way. Seems Sieber’s first foray into musical theater performance was landing the “Stanley” gig as a 10th grader in a community theater production of “Hello Dolly” in the tiny town of Wyoming, Minnesota. “Hello Dolly” also features lyrics and music by Jerry Herman.

"La Cage Aux Folles" cast members inside a birdcage that looks about the size of Sieber's first NYC apartment (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

Sieber first saw the bright lights of New York City when he up and moved there on Oct. 3, 1988. He was 18 years old, and recalls making the flight alone after “working all summer at a car wash” to save money for the “little closet of an apartment” located on Broadway near 73rd Street — inside the Ansonia Building, a renowned “grand hotel” in early 20th century Manhattan. While there, Sieber put himself through school — where I suspect he shared more sophisticated material with fellow theater students.

His “first professional gig” was performing in a Hilton Head, South Carolina production of “Singin’ in the Rain.” It paid $200 a week. Sieber shared that originating roles has been a particular passion through the years. “I love to create new things with people.” When summers find him back in NYC, Sieber enjoys sharing pearls with young performers through “Camp Broadway,” Broadway Artists Alliance classes and such. His advice for up and coming actors? “Be yourself.”

One night just a year or so ago Sieber got the call that landed “La Cage Aux Folles” in his lap. Turns out the invitation to see a performance of “La Cage Aux Folles” starring Harvey Fierstein was much more. A friend took Sieber backstage to meet Fierstein after the show — telling him that “Harvey would love to say hi.” But Fierstein had something else in mind.

Sieber recalls that a quick round of the usual “How are you?” type banter was soon followed by Fierstein asking “Are you gonna do it? Are you gonna do the show?” Seven days later, Sieber was in the show he describes as “a brand new production that’s more intimate and more focused on the two families.”

“It’s kind of a play,” reflects Sieber. “You get to know these people, you really care about them and it’s so fulfilling in the end.” The musical recounts the adventures of a gay couple at a time when folks were far from accepting such things. Sieber notes that even the most “conservative” audience members warm up to the musical, and its message — usually during the show’s second act.

“It doesn’t matter who you love,” says Sieber– whose marriage last Thanksgiving to longtime partner Kevin Burrows was made possible by NYC legislation granting marriage equality to gay citizens. “A family is a family,” adds Sieber. “You can’t legislate love or family.”

"La Cage Aux Folles" runs May 15-20 at ASU Gammage in Tempe

Though the “you’ll love us once you get to know us” thread is still there, Sieber says “the gay stuff is almost passé” in “La Cage Aux Folles.” Times have changed, though not enough, since the musical — directed by Arthur Laurents — opened on Broadway in 1983. Sieber notes that even the men who created the now famous “I Am What I Am” musical “took female dates to opening night” because they were “still afraid.”

The original Broadway production earned six Tony Awards, including best musical, score and book. Both the 2004 and 2010 Broadway revivials of “La Cage Aux Folles” earned the Tony Award for best musical revival. The touring production coming to ASU Gammage May 15, which stars George Hamilton as Georges and Sieber as Albin, is based on the latest revival.

Sieber clearly adores the musical’s finesse with farce, and its bevy of brilliant showtunes. The class clown has grown up. Sort of. I suspect there’s still plenty of boy inside the man — making him the perfect embodiment of “I Am What I Am.”

— Lynn

Note: When last I heard, there were just ten slots left for this summer’s “Camp Broadway” at ASU Gammage — you can click here to learn more. Before “La Cage Aux Folles,” ASU Gammage presents “Green Day’s American Idiot,” which opens April 24. Click here for details on their 2012/13 season. Also, watch for the May 1 announcement of 2012 Tony Award nominees here.

Coming up: Life happens, “Red” rules, The sound of success

“Next Fall” with Actors Theatre

The cast of Next Fall being performed by Actors Theatre at the Herberger Theater Center

While audience members are busy enjoying early offerings in various 2011/12 theater lineups, folks behind the scenes are already well into planning for next fall — when the 2012/13 season will get underway. They’re considering what’s sold tickets in the past and what might sell them in the future, thinking about what’s been overdone and what sounds surprisingly fresh, wondering whether the economy will be crawling or really chugging along.

But for one Valley theater company, Actors Theatre of Phoenix, it’ll take all the support they can muster just to make it through this fall. Before a recent performance of their current offering, a Goeffrey Nauffts’ play titled “Next Fall,” Erica Black briefly shared a bit about their financial woes — which are significant — and invited theater goers to give in a show of “grassroots support.”

To date, they’ve reached well over half the dollars needed to carry them through this production and the next — another edgy work, titled “Hunter Gatherers.” But making it to next fall, and beyond, will take gifts of a much larger magnitude. In total, Actors Theatre of Phoenix needs a half million dollars to survive through this season — and we all want them to make it.

After last Sunday’s standing ovation for the cast of “Next Fall,” one of six cast members shared his own fervent hope that the community will come together in support of Actors Theatre. It was Robert Kolby Harper, who performs the role of Adam. Harper is associate artistic director for Phoenix Theatre and artistic director for its Cookie Company.

L to R: Robert Kolby Harper (Adam) and David Dickinson (Brandon) in Next Fall

Harper likened the Arizona theater scene to a family, reminding us all that no one wants to lose a family member. Harper’s character in “Next Fall” worries he’ll lose boyfriend Luke (played by Chance Dean), who lies near death in a hospital bed Adam never sees because he isn’t “family.” The play alternates between scenes in a hospital waiting room and scenes in the couple’s New York City apartment, where a giant Mapplethorpe we see only briefly hangs over the bed.

“Next Fall” opens with the beeping sound of a heart monitor, but comedic elements quickly outpace the tragic as Debra K. Stevens, known to younger theater-goers for her work with Childsplay, launches into some serious Southern dialect with comments about thighs rubbing together and bagels being “one of those Jewish things.”

My favorite scenes involved flashbacks to pre-hospital days, with atheist Adam and Christian Luke bantering back and forth about their disparate beliefs. The seriousness of the dilemma — what to do when you worry a loved one will go to hell — is portayed with honesty, elegance and humor. The issue is a very real one in many families, and the playwright does it justice without resorting to platitudes.

Works this original covering topics too often tucked under the table (or shoved in a closet) are rare. Theater companies who dare to present them rarer still. That they perform them with such beauty and brilliance makes the thought of losing Actors Theatre all the more devastating. You’ll see for yourself, when you witness “Next Fall,” just how vital it is that we all step up to assure that Arizona audiences can experience works like these for many fall seasons to come.

— Lynn

Note: “Next Fall,” which is directed by Matthew Wiener, is currently scheduled to run through Nov. 13. Click here to learn more about the show or how you can support Actors Theatre. As of yesterday afternoon, they’d raised more than $45,000 of the $70,000 needed for the first phase of their three-part fundraising campaign.

Coming up: A “Star Trek” tale, Performance art meets native culture

Photos by John Groseclose. Top photo features (L to R): Debra K. Stevens (Arlene), David Dickinson (Brandon), David Vining (Butch), Chance Dean (Luke), Andi Watson (Holly) and Robert Kolby Harper (Adam).

Update: Actors Theatre announced on 11/14 that it has reached the first of its three fundrasiing goals.

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

My “Eat Pray Love” obsession

I’ve never actually read the book. Still,  I’m obsessed with “Eat Pray Love” wordplay. Recently I awoke to a barrage of brainstorms about similar titles that might appeal to different audiences. See what you think…

For erring spouses: Cheat Pray Love

For texting teens: Tweet Pray Love

For fashionistas: Eat Chambray Love

For toddlers: Eat Play Eat

For writers on deadline: Complete Pray Love

For chocoholics: Sweets Pray Love

For big box employees: Greet Pray Love

For editors: Delete Pray Love

For reality show contestants: Compete Pray Love

For animal lovers: Eat Stray Love

For marriage equality advocates: Eat Gay Love

For gardeners: Peat Pray Love

For hookers: Street Pray Love

For bachelors: Reheat Pray Love

For pacifists: Eat Pray Dove

For vampire fans: Eat Pout Love

For seniors: Eat Gray Love

For dieters: Eat Weigh Love

For air travelers: Eat Delay Love

For dog owners: Eat Stay Love

For mobsters: Concrete Pray Love

For chefs: Eat Flay Love

For musicians: Beat Pray Love

For ob/gyns: Eat Pray Glove

For tidy types: Neat Pray Love

For comedy buffs: Eat Fey Love

For serious shoppers: Eat Pray Shove

For babies: Eat Play Poop

Thanks for reading — I feel much better now.

— Lynn

Photos: Christopher Trimble

Note: Phoenix New Times editor Amy Silverman offers tips to “get those true stories out of your head and onto paper” tonight during a writing workshop titled “From Memory to Memoir.” Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Aug 26, from 6:30pm-8:30pm. Click here to learn more/register.

My sign reads “Love…”

I flipped on the television shortly after awakening one morning last week, only to be met with a scene of signs reading “God hates….”

I turned away in disgust before I got any farther with reading the signs, but I can guess at their content given the event being covered—the availability in Washington, D.C. of marriage licenses for gay couples.

We’re all free to carry whatever signs we like, but you’ll never see me with a sign claiming to speak for God—unless, perhaps, it reads “God hates hate.”

I feel akin to more than a few groups of folks considered minorities by the mainstream, so I wasn’t a bit surprised when my younger daughter, a high school theater major, felt an immediate affinity for “The Laramie Project” when she first learned of it.

And I’m proud beyond belief that she chose to audition for a role in the QSpeak/Greasepaint Youtheatre production, knowing full well that similar signs could greet the cast and crew at any time.

I imagine what my own sign might look like (I’ve carried plenty of them, mostly for the cause of mental health insurance parity). It would start with “Love….”

I spent much of last week researching “LGBTQ” issues, hoping to provide a context for folks who might wonder why a piece like “The Laramie Project” matters, or whether it’s stll relevant.

It’s been more than a decade since the events in Laramie, Wyoming that led the artists of the Tectonic Theatre Project in New York to explore how the small Wyoming town dealt with this tragedy in their midst.

But I learned Friday night, after my first experience with a live production of the piece, that it’s not an “LGBTQ” work of art. It’s a human work of art, and it’s profound.

I leave others to judge the merits of this particular production. As the parent of a cast member, I’m hardly objective—although there are two things I think other reviewers would be hard pressed to argue with.

First, that the cast is capable and consistent. It’s a true ensemble piece, and this was clear as the young actors—with no one, yet every one, a star—took us through the lives of those who experienced that Laramie tragedy firsthand, as well as the journey of the artists who crafted the piece. And second, that the direction—by Maren Mascarelli—is brilliant.

The audience, who offered a somber standing ovation, was clearly moved.

It’s rarely wise to approach a piece of art laden with expectations. Whether you’re eager or hesitant to see “The Laramie Project” because it tells the tale of a vicious hate crime, you may be surprised to discover that the questions it raises are not only bold, but broad.

To say this work is simply about sexual orientation is to sell it short, because it seamlessly weaves together reflections about culture, history, values, religion and so much more—including the ways parents and children care for and communicate with one another.

I found myself considering a wide range of questions as I watched the opening night performance, and hope that by sharing some of these with you I’ll convey a sense of the ongoing value of this work and an appreciation for the craft this young cast brought to the work (you’ll learn more about their collective and individual experiences in bringing “The Laramie Project” to life when you attend the production).

What authorities do we, or should we, embrace? Why do some judge themselves more harshly than others, while some judge others more harshly than themselves? Should we settle for tolerance or demand true appreciation and acceptance?

What role does denial play in our ability to cope with crisis? Should families let differences in ideas or values divide them? Can we ever really distance ourselves from ugly events within our communities or must we somehow own them?

How do we balance what we’ve been taught and what we’ve experienced? Where should adolescents draw the line between seeking acceptance and forging independence? Might verbal violence be just as dangerous as physical violence?

Why do so many onlookers seem malevolent or misinformed? Will we ever stop blaming victims for the brutalities that befall them? When does journalism obfuscate rather than elucidate?

What comfort lies in finding something good amidst a voracious evil? How is history shaped by storytelling? Who is the best judge of what is necessary or fair? What impact does remembering the past have on our future?

“The Laramie Project” is powerful in its entirety, but I found certain moments particularly poignant—hearing the cast sing “Amazing Grace,” listening to descriptions of the fence in a remote part of town where Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten and abandoned.

They’re all the more powerful if you spend some time in the Stagebrush Theatre lobby before taking your seat (the house was rather full, by the way, so your best bet is calling to reserve tickets before you go).

Patrons see samples of signs used by prior protestors against gay rights, watch video footage of passionate advocates, and hear audio clips of speeches by Matthew Shepard’s parents, President Barack Obama and the late Harvey Milk.

“I’m here,” says Matthew’s father, “because I lost my son to hate.”

I thought, while experiencing the show Friday night, of the many people I know who would appreciate this work, too often viewed as a niche piece of theater that appeals exclusively to those who self-identify as champions for the rights of gay Americans.

I thought of a colleague who did graduate study on the role of memoir in recounting women’s history, of a friend who has often been blamed and shamed because her son lives with schizophrenia, of a college student with an interest in storytelling—and so many others.

If you think you know what “The Laramie Project” is all about, this production may surprise you. If you’ve seen the work before and wonder whether a group of local teens can really do it justice, this production may surprise you.

Set aside your expectations, and two hours of your time. You won’t be disappointed.

–Lynn

Note: “The Laramie Project,” presented by Phoenix Theatre partners QSpeak and Greasepaint Youtheatre, runs through Sunday, March 14th. Learn more at www.phoenixtheatre.com.