Tag Archives: high school theater

Thespian crossing

The streets of Phoenix are overrun each fall by high school students who look like they just inherited the world’s largest candy store. Dressed in colorful garb, they chatter with wide-eyed excitement — thrilled to be out of the classroom and into the spotlight of Arizona’s Thespian Festival.

These Santa Rita High School students enjoyed the thespian marketplace on Friday

A teacher from Higley High School who had 28 teens in tow was the first to cross my path, pointing me to the right part of the massive Phoenix Convention Center — where I soon encountered all sorts of thespians dressed for the day’s “jungle theme.”

Students from Desert View High School doing the jungle theme proud

Linda Phillips, state director for the Arizona Thespians, gave me a warm welcome — then set me up with a nametag and such before I headed out to explore the exhibitor area.

These students from Notre Dame Preparatory High School rocked safari gear and dialect

I hit the silent auction area first, eager to see this year’s offerings — which include amazing autographed items (Playbills, posters and such), gift baskets and more. Proceeds benefit student scholarships and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Samples of amazing silent auction items at this year's Arizona Thespian Festival

Soon I was trading Shakepearean insults with a charming fellow from Dramatic Publishing, and talking with a lovely woman about some of their newer offerings — including “The Bully Plays.” I bought a couple of things and made my way to several vendor tables.

I said hello to the fine folks from Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix, talked with Amanda Melby of Verve Studios about their relocation from downtown Phoenix to the Scottsdale Airpark, and chatted with a gentleman from Jester’Z Improv Comedy in Scottsdale.

Valley Youth Theatre was there to share news of their many programs and shows

Next I strolled through a hallway running past several rooms full of students taking classes in everything from singing for actors to theater lighting. A class titled “No Fear Ballroom Dancing” seemed the clear favorite Friday morning, with well over 100 students taking part.

This Friday morning ballroom dancing workshop was packed

More thespians crossed my path after workshops let out for lunch, and the convention center seemed a sea of t-shirts — all bearing the names of shows the students recently performed, from “The Yellow Boat” to “The Elephant Man.”

Sudents from Cienega High School in Vail gathered during lunch on Friday

Watch for future posts featuring thespian tales from this year’s festival. And watch as well for thespians crossing the road. They bring an amazing energy to the streets of downtown Phoenix, and I can’t wait for them to cross my path again as they start making their way to stages in Arizona and beyond.

— Lynn

Note: If I snapped your picture but didn’t include it here, there’s a good chance you’ll see it in a future post — so stay tuned for more thespian tales.

Coming up: Spotlight on spring musicals

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Once upon a witch hunt

“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller is widely read by high school students, and the most fortunate among them have the opportunity to bring the tale to life on stage.

The Marcos de Niza Theatre production (directed by Patrick McChesney) opened Wed, Nov. 16, at the MdN Auditorium in Tempe — and runs through Sat., Nov. 19. 

 Program notes describe “The Crucible” as  “a dark drama about a terrible period in American history… the Salem witch trials” — and offer a summary of the story that goes something like this:

A small group of Puritan teenage girls in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts are caught dancing and conjuring love potions to catch young men. The girls invent stories about Satan invading their bodies, forcing them to take part in certain rites.

The play’s main characters include a young farmer named John Proctor and his wife. Also a young servant girl whose infatuation with the farmer leads her to accuse the wife of witchcraft.

Greedy preachers and landowners complicate the situation and hysteria soon spreads as “good people of pious nature and responsible temper begin condemning other good people to the gallows.”

Proctor brings the servant girl to court, hoping she’ll admit her lie so his wife will be saved. Instead, “the monstrous course of bigotry and deceit turns all accusations to him and ultimately sentences him to death.” 

The program notes that Miller wrote “The Crucible” as a social commentary on McCarthy-era “witch hunts” against so-called communists during the 1950s. It’s a profound and perpetually popular work because, sadly, we seem always to divide ourselves into the hunters and the hunted.

“The Crucible” received the 1953 Tony Award for best play, and feels no less relavant today — especially in the hands of our youth. They know better than most just how rapidly rumors spread, and can help us all embrace our own power to prevent and stop them.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to watch the school’s YouTube promo for “The Crucuble.” Upcoming events at Marcos de Niza include a fall dance show (Dec. 2), an orchestra concert (Feb. 22), a spring musical (“All Shook Up” March 7-10), a band pops concert (May 9) and more. Check their website for details.

Coming up: Thespian tales, More fun with “I-Spy” photos, The fine art of recycling, School shows & budget woes

Fall musical a spring awakening

The musical “Spring Awakening” is about as dark and heavy as they come – filled with traumas of teen years endured amidst harsh and repressive German culture. Think suicide, incest, child abuse and abortion. It’s based on a late 19th century work by German playwright Frank Wedekind.

It’s hardly the stuff of typical high school musicals, but that didn’t stop Adam Berger from choosing it for his school’s fall musical. Berger directed Arizona’s first high school production of “Spring Awakening” for the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics, a Phoenix charter school that’s part of the Sequoia Schools group.

Berger first saw “Spring Awakening” performed on Broadway during the summer of 2007. “It was,” he says, “a theatrical experience I’ll never forget.” Berger describes the musical as “a daring work of art that puts the struggles and feelings of teenagers at its forefront in a completely honest and often explicit way.”

It features book and music by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik. The touring production has twice been performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe, which had the benefit of a much larger stage. Despite the quality of ACAA’s production, some elements simply don’t transfer with ease to a smaller setting.

Going big with certain dance movements made them feel akward on the smaller stage, and the hand-held mics that visually reinforce the individuality of each character’s voice during professional productions of “Spring Awakening” were distracting at best — due in part to overall sound challenges during Sunday afternoon’s performance.

Some might say that my own German heritage is showing here — leading, as I am, with the things in my “needs improvement” column. I wish the vocalists had nailed more of the uber-high notes. I wish the scene with two boys exploring romantic feelings for one another hadn’t elicited giggles from the audience. I wish the movement work as characters explored their bodies hadn’t been more timid for the men than for the women.

But having said all that, performing a work of this magnitude with less than three months of preparation is quite a fete. It’s hard to imagine that many schools could have done it better. The cast clearly recognizes the signifiance of even being allowed to perform such a work, and wisely thanked their school principal, during closing remarks following a standing ovation, for letting them go there.

Three groups of people — the production team, the cast of 17 and the four-piece orchestra — were instrumental in pulling it off. Berger served as director, set and costume designer, sharing lighting design duties with Eli Zuick. “Set painting/decoration” was the work of “the cast.” The orchestra included Mark 4man (conductor/piano), Jonathan Nilson (guitar), Kenny Grossman (drums) and Erin Burley (violin).

The live music, especially solo guitar and violin work, was haunting. Vocals by the full cast and ensemble, especially during the final musical number (“The Song of Purple Summer”) were rich and powerful. My favorite vocal performances featured Chica Loya (“Whispering”) and Kimberlyn Austin (“Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind”).

The cast of “Spring Awakening” included students from ACAA and other schools, including Arizona School for the Arts, Brophy College Preparatory, Desert Vista High School and Notre Dame Preparatory. Two adults with community theater credits, Brett Aiken and Terri Scullin, performed adult men and adult women roles.

Every student cast member bio boasts prior on-stage experience, working with Arizona Broadway Theatre, Broadway Palm Theatre, Desert Foothills Theatre, Greasepaint Youtheatre, Mesa Encore Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Spotlight Youth Theatre, Theater Works and Valley Youth Theatre.

The acting performance of several students improved, as if slowly unfolding, over the course of the production. Namely Chica Loya (Wendla), Brad Cashman (Melchior) and Ian M. White (Moritz). Loya could have conveyed youthful innocence without resorting to the baby-like quality in her voice, but her performance was impressive nonetheless.

The scenes where you’d most expect high school students to stumble were some of the most beautifully executed ones. To some they’re dubbed “the switch scene” and “the swing scene.” Thankfully, “the self stimulation scene” included a blanket and a light touch of humor. The perils of puberty are central to “Spring Awakening,” and these thoughtful actors convey them well.

Plenty of people question the appropriateness of “Spring Awakening” for high school students, but a grandmother who saw Sunday’s performance told me she understands the lure of this work for youth — noting that its stories are their stories. “They have an intrinsic connection to this material,” reflects Berger, “that we adults can only look back and remember.”

— Lynn

Note: ACAA was careful to note the “mature” nature of this piece in event materials, even requiring a parent-signed permission slip for audience members under the age of 18. Nearly Naked Theatre will present “Spring Awakening” in association with Phoenix Theatre in June/July 2012 — click here for details.

Coming up: A Valley actor and college student shares his “Spring Awakening” reflections, “God of Carnage” on stage and screen, Opportunities for young playwrights

Another glimpse at “Glee”

Cheerleaders get a glimpse of a new foreign exchange student on Glee

During the first season of the FOX television series “Glee,” I watched every week with my youngest daughter Lizabeth, then a junior theater major at a Phoenix school for the arts. She’s been a fan of the show throughout, despite the fact that “Glee” lost me during the second season after storylines left me feeling like “House” had a tighter grip on reality.

But I decided to give “Glee” another shot this year, recording (and eventually watching) a recent episode titled “Pot of Gold” — a reference to the Irish heritage of a new character named Rory Flanagan who croons Kermit the Frog‘s “Bein’ Green” while remoaning the bullying he experiences each day. Damian McGinty got the “Rory” gig after winning a competition titled “The Glee Project.” He’s less fascinating by far than the new “House” character Dr. Chi Park, but gets more solos.

I’m giving “Glee” another chance this season, despite some shortcomings it’s hard to shake — the miraculous appearance of costumes without the people who design and build them, props like “Lucky Charms” that fuel faulty notions of nutrition, bizarre boundary issues between birth parents and adopted children, and songs that seem to glorify risky behaviors.

Assuming that “Pot of Gold” was more than a flash in the pan, the third season of “Glee” promises to be an art advocate’s dream — complete with dialogue and plotlines addressing sexy topics like school budgets and political engagement. When the school’s cheer coach rallies for cuts to arts funding as part of her campaign for Congress, a blue-collar “Glee” parent gathers arts support from local businesses and decides to throw his own wrench into the ring.

The school’s production of “West Side Story” is saved and a fierce storyline is born. I’m expecting future episodes to further illucidate issues at the core of arts funding for students — the tanglible academic and career benefits of arts training, the value of funding arts to the same extent as athletics, the role of arts in creating engaged citizens who vote and volunteer in their communities.

It’s easy to pick on the media when we think they’ve gotten it wrong, but more productive perhaps to notice and praise the times they get it right. I’ll be paying careful attention to “Glee” this season, hoping they’ll continue giving voice to the arts at a time when far too many seek to silence it altogether.

— Lynn

Note:  Click here to learn more about arts advocacy in Arizona, and here for information on Disney’s “The Muppets” being released on Nov. 23. For information on “The Glee Project” (including auditions), click here. To learn more about McGinty’s “Celtic Thunder” gig, click here. And click here for information on Irish arts and culture right here in the Valley.

Coming up: A “Star Trek” tale, Fun with animal art, “Dance dad” takes on “Dance Moms”

Update: “Glee” fans might want to keep an eye on the Facebook page for Actors Theatre of Phoenix, where details about an upcoming auction featuring several “Glee” items (including a signed script and a signed cast photo) will be posted in coming days.

Remembering 1911

Head to the Phoenix Theatre Little Theatre this weekend to see ASA perform TRIANGLE by Laurie Brooks and to enjoy an exhibit of related student artwork

Students from Arizona School for the Arts are performing “Triangle,” a play by Laurie Brooks, through May 1. It’s a remembrance of lives lived and lost at a New York City factory during 1911.

The Triangle Shirt Waist Fire took the lives of 146 people, mostly young immigrant women who worked in deplorable conditions for unfair wages. Factory doors were locked during working hours to prevent theft.

When a fire broke out on the top floors, workers were unable to escape. Fire truck ladders were too short to reach many of the victims. Some chose leaping out of windows over tortuous death by fire. 

It’s weighty material for a high school theater production, but ASA students did it justice during Friday night’s performance. Brooks’ writing is rich with vivid detail, and made me feel at times like I was right there on that factory floor.

Several elements essential to setting the mood for this story are executed by students. Nathan Naimark, who also performs in the show, delivers powerful lighting design. Costume design by Sophia Uptadel hints at the subtle ways workers were similar yet unique. Properties design is by Anika Larson.

Scenic design by Samantha Boswick, who teaches theatre production studies at ASA, features scaffolding draped with tattered pieces of fabric that convey the dreariness of life for many industrial age workers.

Sound design by A. Beck — which combines period piano music, the sound of a factory whistle and actor vocalizations simulating humming machines — is equally effective. Beck is theatre arts coordinator at ASA and serves as artistic director for this production of “Triangle.”

Themes pulled from the lives of 1911 men and women feel remarkably relevant 100 years later. Parental expectations. Sibling rivalry. Teen yearnings for independence. Gender roles. Poverty. Illegal immigration. Worker rights. Corporate responsibility.

The year 1911 — in the hands of playwright Laurie Brooks and Arizona School for the Arts — doesn’t feel all that far away. That may be the most powerful lesson of all.

— Lynn

Note: Those who attend “Triangle” this weekend (Sat, 7pm or Sun, 2pm) can also enjoy related artwork by students in ASA’s introduction to theatre class, which is exhibited in the lobby of the Phoenix Theatre Little Theatre. Click here to learn more about the Triangle factory and fire.

Coming up: The smell of childhood, Circle time

The musical “Hair” comes full circle

Your first pet. Your first kiss. Your first car. Most of us can recall a variety of “firsts” from our own lives.

But Caren Lyn Tackett of Boston, who performs the role of the Sheila in the current touring production of the Broadway musical Hair, recalls something more.

Tackett grew up listening to the original cast recording of "HAIR"

Stories of her parents’ first date – that night in the ‘70s when her mom took her dad to see the musical Hair during one of its earlier incarnations.

Eventually they married, and counted a signed cast album of Hair among their most prized possessions. Tackett grew up listening to the record over and over again. “I was obsessed with it,” she recalls.

Tackett first performed in Hair with the NYC Central Park production during 2008, and says she was especially thrilled with the show’s vibe within an outdoor setting.

Hackett first performed in HAIR at Central Park in NYC in 2008 (Photo: Joan Marcus)

You get the feeling in talking with Tackett that things like peace and love are more than quaint retro reminiscences. They’re values she’s thrilled to convey with every performance of Hair.

“I have a real personal identification with Sheila,” shares Tackett. “She’s a student, a real part of the tribe and very politically minded.”

Tackett describes Sheila as ambitious, sharing the beliefs of fellow tribe members but refusing to stop there. “She acts on everything she believes.”

Cast of the 2010 national tour of HAIR (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Sheila goes to Washington, D.C. to “try and levitate the Pentagon” and does all she can to engage others in the tribe who are content to champion ideas without acting upon them.

“I can still hear my mother’s voice,” muses Sheila. “Don’t let being a woman hold you back.”

We sometimes forget how little time has passed since gender and race were used with alarming regularity to devalue fellow citizens.

Hair serves as a powerful testament to the challenges of generations present and past – and inspires those who experience it to dream, and to do.

We spoke as Tackett was in Washington, D.C. with the Hair tourand with her family, which includes three-year-old daughter Ravyn Sioux (a name meant to honor Native American roots on both sides of the family).

Lawrence Stallings, Steel Burkhardt and Matt DeAngelis of the 2010 national tour of HAIR (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Apparently the tiny Tackett is already rocking the activism vibe during gleeful trips to see the Lincoln Memorial and other national treasures. “She loves to recite the stories and facts,” muses Tackett.

Seems Tackett was exposed to music early and often, describing her father’s family as “a bunch of jazz and blues musicians in the New England area.”

“My dad’s side is multi-racial,” says Tackett–recalling his role in establishing a “black and white orchestra” during the 1910s. “It was a big deal back then,” reflects Tackett.

Cast of the 2010 national tour of HAIR (Photo: Joan Marcus)

But Hair isn’t her only full circle experience. Seems Tuckett and Matt DeAngelis (Woof), both performing in the current national tour of Hair, have shared the stage before — during a student production of Godspell at Boston’s Masconomet Regional High School. They even attended the same elementary school.

“I always knew I would do theater,” says Tackett. Seems her high school acting peers were a close, supportive bunch. “It was such a beautiful experience.” She went on to major in musical theatre at Emerson College — but left to take an acting gig. 

Tackett is glad she realized early on that acting was a viable career choice, and that her parents were supportive of her decision. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have a career in musical theater and that it can’t last,” insists Tackett.

“It’s never impossible.”

— Lynn

Note: HAIR is being performed at ASU Gammage in Tempe Dec 7-12. Visit the ASU Gammage website for show and ticket information, plus the scoop on special events and promotions for this and future shows. While the show does include brief nudity, Tackett notes that it’s done in a very tasteful way, and hopes this won’t discourage anyone from attending.

Coming up: “Evening of Arts” at the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, Valley visual arts news, Art festivals featuring family fun

Dracula, catwalks and Celtic fusion

Dance meets fashion. Moms with pens meet the podium. Richard III and Dracula meet their fate. Latino art and music meet enthusiastic audiences. It’s all part of another Valley weekend rich in arts and culture.

These are some of your choices for quality grown-up or family-friendly time with the arts…

Dance

Chandler-Gilbert Community College Performing Arts Department presents “Student Dance Showcase” Friday, May 7 & 8 at 8pm. Arnette Scott Ward Performing Arts Center in Chandler. 480-732-7343 or www.cgc.edu/arts.

CONDER/dance presents “Dance for Camera: Dance Film Fest” Saturday, May 8 at 8pm. Short dance films created by local and national filmmakers. Tempe Center for the Arts. 480-350-2822 or http://www.tempe.gov/TCA/.

Scorpius Dance Theatre presents “Catwalk” through Sunday, May 9 (times vary). Original contemporary dance production fusing funky local fashions, sexy athleticism, and choreography by Lisa Starry. Phoenix Theatre (staged on a Little Theatre runway). 602-254-2151 or www.scorpiusdance.com.

Festivals

Chamber Music Sedona presents “Sedona Bluegrass Festival” through Sunday, May 9 (times vary). Creekside at Los Abrigados. 928-204-2415 or www.chambermusicsedona.org.

Hoodlums Music & Movies presents “Hoodstock 2010: Two Days of Rock & Art to Help Kids” Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8 (times vary). Hoodlums in Tempe (with participating merchants). 480-775-2722 or www.hoodlumsmusic.com.

Film

Tempe Center for the Arts presents “Border Film Festival” Friday, May 7 and Saturday/Sunday, May 8 & 9 (times vary). Features five of Paul Espinosa’s award-winning documentaries for PBS exploring the history and culture of the Southwestern border region (followed by moderated discussion with Espinosa and humanities scholar). Free admission. 480-350-2822 or www.tempe.gov/tca/calendar.

Music

Chandler Symphony presents “Sound from the Southwest-Music of Hispanic Composers” Friday, May 7 at 7:30pm. Chandler Center for the Arts. 480-899-3447 or www.chandlersymphony.org.

Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts presents “Outdoor Desert Sky Series: Solas & Bearfoot” Saturday, May 8 at 7:30pm. Features Celtic fusion of Irish, folk and country music with “jazzy improvisation and global rhythms.” Scottsdale Civic Center Amphitheater. 480-994-2787 or www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org.

Southwest Symphony presents “From Paris…With Love” Saturday, May 8 at 2:30pm. Mesa Arts Center. 480-644-6500 or www.mesaartscenter.com.

Theater

Desert Hills High School Theatre Department presents “Dracula: The Musical?” Through May 8 at 7pm. Mesa Arts Center. 480-644-6500 or www.mesaartscenter.com.

Mesa Arts Center presents “Penn and Teller” Friday, May 7 at 8pm. Features unique combination of magic and comedy. Mesa Arts Center. 480-644-6500 or www.mesaartscenter.com.

Southwest Shakespeare Company presents “Richard III” through Saturday, May 8. Mesa Arts Center. 480-644-6500 or www.mesartscenter.com (Read “Stage Mom” review in tomorrow’s post).

Visual Art

Artlink Phoenix presents “First Friday” May 7 6-10pm. Tour more than 70 galleries, venues and art-related spaces via free shuttles or self-guided map. Tours start at Phoenix Art Museum. 602-256-7539 or www.artlinkphoenix.com.

The City of Phoenix presents “Opening Reception: Arte Latino en la Ciudad” Friday, May 7 from 6-8pm. Phoenix Center for the Arts. 602-262-4627 or www.phoenix.gov.

Writing

Mothers Who Write presents the “8th Annual Mother Who Write/Mothers Who Read Mothers Day Weekend Reading” Saturday, May 8 at 2pm. Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Current/former students read their work. Admission free but some material may not be suitable for children. www.motherswhowrite.com.

Additional activities (including several children’s theater productions) are noted on the Raising Arizona Kids online calendar. Please check with presenting venues and companies before attending to confirm event date/time, recommended ages, location and cost.

–Lynn

Note: If you’re excited about an event we didn’t have room to mention here, feel free to comment briefly below to let our readers know.

Coming up: Roald Dahl makes his way to two Valley theater productions

Show & tell (top to bottom): Poster for CGCC Student Dance Showcase, Poster for Hoodlum’s Hoodstock, Photo of Solas (coming to Scottsdale Center for the Arts), Photo of Penn and Teller (coming to Mesa Arts Center) and Painting of Richard III (who no doubt sends his regrets because he’s dead)