Tag Archives: holiday shows

Playwright tackles teen depression

Playwright Jim Gradillas serves as artistic director for Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria

I was thrilled to learn that the 2012/13 season for Creative Stages Youth Theatre will include the return of “Signs of Sara,” a work by artistic director Jim Gradillas and Michelle Marie that tackles the topic of teen depression. Considering how frequently teen depression occurs, it’s remarkably absent from public discourse these days. “Signs of Sara” imagines Sara’s journey into depression and her attempts to escape it — with an imaginative “pit of depression” set.

Gradillas says he’s written some 30+ plays, and recalls that “Life as Joby” (about the mind of a young alcoholic) was produced first — back in 1994. Gradillas recalls going to Northern Arizona University “to be an actor,” but did more teaching than performing after returning to the Valley. Gradillas recalls getting his start at a youth theater in Mesa. “I began writing,” he adds, “because I saw that there weren’t lots of strong parts for kids.”

Gradillas also recalls writing summer camp productions for a local youth theater, and wanted all 60 or so kids to “have decent part instead of being just a tree or a rock.” He’s especially fond of fairy tales, because they’re so character driven. Often he starts with an existing story, adapting it to make it his own. “I try to find characters I’d want to play,” says Gradillas.

The playwright says he’s especially proud of the “Snow White” and”Cinderella” adaptations he’s written — and shares that CSYT’s 2012/13 season will include his own adaptations of “Road to Oz” (from the book by L. Frank Baum) and “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” (from the Washington Irving tale).

Though he’s written mostly comedy, Gradillas says he “looks forward to writing more dramas” like this season’s “The Color of Me” created with writing partner Michelle Marie. The pair will co-direct Marie’s “In There Somewhere” for CSYT’s 2012/13 season. The play follows the life of Lily as “she confronts herself and her past confronts her.”

Cast members from a CSYT production of “Count the Moon”

Gradillas also enjoys helping young playwrights develop their work. The “3rd Annual 10 Minute Play Fest” takes place at Creative Stages March 1 and 2, 2013. Participating students “get a chance to write and direct their own mini-plays” — with best of show awards announced at the close of day two.

When an out-of-state theater company performed “Signs of Sara,” says Gradillas, “they didn’t understand my script.” Seems their ensemble “had different words plastered to their bodies” in lieu of using the “pit” concept Gradillas felt was pivotal to the piece. Hence his preference for directing his own work.

The playwriting day starts at about 3am for Gradillas, who says that’s the only way he can carve two to three hours out of busy days. When ideas come during non-writing hours, Gradillas “jots them down or says them into a phone.” Once he’s outlined the sequence of a play, Gradillas works on character development. “I want all of the characters and roles to be well developed,” he says.

Gradillas says he’s always dreamed of doing “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” — a book he recalls reading during 4th grade (he read the whole “Chronicles of Narnia” series as a child). He’d also love to adapt the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

“I try to read a lot of youth theater plays,” says Gradillas, “but I’m picky about them.” His favorites include Susan Zeder’s “Wiley And The Hairy Man” and “The Emerald Circle” by Max Bush. “I’d love to do Dr. Seuss if it wasn’t restricted,” says Gradillas. Also “Sendak and Silverstein.”

His advice for young playwrights is simple. “Write something every day, even if it’s just jotting down or typing out ideas and characters.” And remember his trick of saying ideas and dialogue into the phone (assuming your phone records such things). “The easy part is dialogue for me,” says Gradillas. “The hard part for me is explaining in direction what happens at each point.” He readily admits to “not having detailed stage direction” for his works, since he’s the once who usually produces them.

Cast members of “Happy Days” at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria

Folks who want to see Creative Stages Youth Theatre in action can enjoy the musical “Happy Days” featuring music and lyrics by Paul Williams with book by Garry Marshall through May 19. CSYT’s 2012/13 offerings not noted above include “Santa Claus! The Play,” “Beauty and the Beast: A New Original Adaptation,” “Corney and Bright: The Super Psychedelic Sixties Spectacular” and a trio of  musicals yet to be announced. Stay tuned.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for information on CSYT summer theater camps, and here for information on a Washington, D.C. production of “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe.” Click here to learn more about MIKID (a local resource for families whose children or teens are living with mental illness) and here to learn more about Teen Lifeline (a local suicide prevention resource).

Coming up: Theater toolbox tackles bigotry, Spotlight on women playwrights, Let it “Rain”


Slice of life

I enjoyed a slice of life as only Sondheim can deliver it last night, attending the first Valley production of “Sweeney Todd School Edition,” which is being performed by Spotlight Youth Theatre in Glendale through Sunday. Folks who hit tonight’s show can enjoy the added thrill of sharing the company’s 2012/13 season reveal.

I ran into director Kenny Grossman after the show. “You’re a brave man,” I told him. “That’s a big show for a small stage.” It only worked because of clever set design — the work of Grossman and Bobby Sample. There’s also serious fun with props, the work of Vicki Grossman. (Think tools of the meat pie trade.)

There’s even a pair of Grossmans in the cast. Carly Grossman is part of the very capable ensemble, and Jamie Grossman completely rocked the role of Mrs. Lovett. Sondheim is a bear to sing, but she’s got both serious vocal chops and delightful comedic timing. The University of Arizona musical theatre program is fortunate that she’s joining their freshman class next year.

A warning to mom and pop Grossman, however. That freshman year sails by. Seems we just sent daughter Lizabeth off to college, and she’s returning next week proud to be a sophomore already. Attend the tale of the empty nest. Several seniors in the cast share college plans in their program bios — including ASU’s Barrett College/Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Tyler J. Gasper, whose program bio notes that he’ll “soon be heading to New York City,” performs the role of Sweeney Todd. Gasper has performed with several Valley theater companies, including Arizona Broadway Theatre, Hale Centre Theatre, Theater Works and Desert Stages Theatre. Gasper’s bio also notes that he’s been cast in the Phoenix Theatre production of “Spring Awakening” so fans will know where to find him.

Several cast members were culled from Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix and the Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics in Peoria, including some I saw in another area first — a school production of “Spring Awakening.” This is another “mature content” musical and Spotlight notes that parental guidance is suggested.

Though I wasn’t wild about every element of the show, I felt sympatico with Grossman’s vision the minute I read his director’s statement. “Sweeney Todd, School Edition isn’t about violence and blood,” he wrote. “It is a very complex story about injustice.” Its themes resonate in contemporary American society, consumed by discrepencies between the 99% and the 1%.

“The characters,” adds Grossman, “are emotional and deep.” He advises theater goers to “Focus on the love and tortured souls of the characters” rather than the musical’s violence and blood. Teens will take me to task for saying this, but it’ll be a few years until they fully appreciate the depth of love hidden amidst all that blood. That’s part of the challenge in giving youth such meaty roles.

Grossman’s note also alludes to the humor in this work, which features book by Hugh Wheeler in addition to music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. I’ve seen two previous productions of “Sweeney Todd” and this was the funniest by far — in a good way. My favorite part of the show has always been a song titled “Johanna.” Butcher that and it’s all over in my book. Thankfully, Sam Brouillette (Anthony Hope) does a lovely job with the melody.

Half the fun was hearing reactions of audience members who’ve apparently never seen the musical before. The cumulative effect of revenge gone wrong is shocking in the show’s final scenes, and I enjoyed hearing a good gasp or two. But I was puzzled by the use of head mics in such a small house with actors plenty good at projecting their voices.

Still, I’m hoping folks will support the Spotlight Youth Theatre production of “Sweeney Todd School Edition.” It’s a slice of life that’s hard to find elsewhere, and it took real guts to put it on their menu.

— Lynn

Note: The musical director for “Sweeney Todd School Edition” at Spotlight Youth Theatre is Mark 4Man. Costumes are by Tamara Treat. Hair and make-up is by Angel DeMichael. Please note that although a Monday matinee is listed on their website, your final chance to see the show is Sunday, May 6.

Coming up: Museum meets asylum, Jim Gradillas talks playwriting

Update: Spotlight Youth Theatre’s 2012/13 season includes “The Little Mermaid Jr.” (Oct 26 -Nov 11), “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” (Dec 12 – Dec 23), “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” (Jan 11 – Jan 27), “The Yellow Boat” (Feb 15 – Mar 3), “Once On This Island” (Apr 5 – Apr 21), “Footloose” (May 24 – Jun 6). Weigh in on their Facebook page. Post updated 5/6/12.

White Christmas in Arizona?

Most folks think “snow” when they hear the term “White Christmas” — but folks who participated in Thursday’s gingerbread house contest at Sunflower Farmers Market in Tempe had something quite different in mind. It was icing, lots and lots of white icing — along with graham crackers, gumdrops, mints and more.

ASU Gammage, which presents the touring production of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” Dec. 6-11, held a gingerbread house contest at Sunflower Farmers Market yesterday — ready to award a family fourpack of tickets to creators of the top five houses. I tagged along for part of the event.

You can tell a lot about people by watching the way they build something. Are they messy or meticulous? Do they like sharing their materials with others? Can they rebound cheerfully from sliding chimneys or fallen fences? Would they rather grab a napkin or just lick their fingers? I saw a little of everything on Thursday, and it was delightful.

Most of the photos below feature a Tempe mom named Hiedi, who owes the atypical spelling of her name to her father. He was an English teacher, she told me. Hence the ‘i’ before the ‘e.’ Hiedi did the gingerbread thing with young daughter Lilah and infant daughter Haley — plus Lorelei, the daughter of a good friend whose dad didn’t have to follow the ‘i’ before ‘e’ rule.

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The house with the fence, still a work in progress when I left to hit an art exhibit opening, belongs to a grown-up named Jacqueline. The M & M candies atop her fence are lights. “It wouldn’t be Christmas without lights,” she told me. But my favorite part of her house was the snow on top, crafted with coconut flakes in two different sizes.

Folks who favor real snow over the coconut variety can head to Tempe Marketplace as ASU Gammage presents a “Snow Day” Sat, Dec. 3 from 5-8pm. I’m told that Mrs. Claus will make a special guest appearance to read the “White Christmas” story — and that there will be Christmas caroling, hot chocolate and cookies.

Snow will fall at 7pm, and families are invited to bring blankets along to stay warm while watching the movie “White Christmas” on the Tempe Marketplace District Stage.

If indoor fun is more your style, consider attending a “White Christmas” tea with the Broadway cast of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas” at the The Ritz-Carlton in Phoenix. The Dec. 8 event includes a traditional full tea with finger sandwiches, fresh scones and pastries — plus music from pianist Nicole Pesce. 
Clicking here won’t make it snow, but it will connect you to more details.

— Lynn

Note: There’s plenty of great arts and culture in Northern Arizona, so remember that roadtrips (undertaken safely) can make for fun experiences with falling snow.

Coming up: Rising voices of Arizona youth

Growing up with the Grinch

One of my favorite books (and television cartoons) from Christmases past

For those of us born into the world that considered color television a high-tech wonder, certain holiday cartoons bring back warm childhood memories.

There’s Linus, waiting with his blanket for the “Great Pumpkin” to appear. Rudolph the reindeer fretting over his blinking nose. Charlie Brown choosing a humble Christmas tree.

For me, it’s Cindy Lou Who waddling around on Christmas Eve in her little pink pajamas, holding a red ornament that’s fallen from her Christmas tree mid-heist.

The thief, of course, is the Grinch — who hopes to steal not only every trace of Christmas, but the very heart of hope and love that it celebrates.

When the movie version starring Jim Carrey was released several years ago, I just couldn’t bring myself to see it. With Ron Howard directing, I’m sure it’s a perfectly wonderful bit of movie magic.

But I want to think of Cindy Lou Who — and the serene, singing folks of Dr. Seuss’ Whoville — when I conjure memories of Christmas past. Carrey, though wildly talented, simply isn’t as cute.

Still, I’m keeping an open mind about the touring production of “Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical,” which runs at ASU Gammage in Tempe Nov 17 to 21.

Stefan Karl Stefansson and fellow cast members of "The Grinch" musical playing for a short time only at ASU Gammage in Tempe (Photo: PaparazziByAppointment.com)

The Grinch is none other than Stefan Karl Stefansson, an Icelandic actor your children may know as Nick, Jr.’s “Lazytown” villain, Robbie Rotten.

I’ll be seeing the show Thursday evening (Wednesday evening found me at a Mesa Cinemark movie theater for a special engagement showing of “The Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert”).

I’ll update this post with a review of sorts once I’ve experienced the Grinch in all his glory.

In the meantime, learn more about this enchanting story — and the Broadway version — by visiting the ASU Gammage website at asugammage.com (where “Gammage Goer” reviews get posted).

To enjoy a lovely walk down memory lane in the land of Dr. Seuss, visit his Random House website at seussville.com. It features information for parents and educators as well as games and activities for children.

And don’t forget about the touring production’s website at grinchmusical.com. It’s got the scoop on cast and creative team, as well as its own set of seriously fun activities.

Today’s children can still enjoy the mid-60’s classic that many of their parents grew up with. But why not add the enchanting experience of a live theater production?

No one has to know you’re the real kid at heart sitting in the audience…

— Lynn

Note: ASU Gammage has several special offers and opportunities for theater patrons, so click here to learn more about unique offerings related to “The Grinch.”

Coming up: Days of double posts as “Stage Mom” hits high gear to cover the Valley’s many holiday offerings in dance, music, theater and more. Once you’ve enjoyed “The Grinch” with your family, there’s plenty more to explore.

Update: I’m spending Thursday evening in “Nurse Mom” rather than “Stage Mom” mode — so when you see the show, why not add a comment below with your favorite moments from “The Grinch” at ASU Gammage. Thanks!

Sexy in the city?

I was thrilled to discover yesterday that fellow RAK blogger Debra Rich Gettleman—who writes “Unmotherly Insights” amidst other gigs that include parenting, acting, playwriting and more—made the daily ‘best of blogs’ for WordPress for the second time.

Big '80s hair is back...But is it sexy?

I shared the news with my husband and daughters over dinner as we celebrated Jennifer’s move to on-campus housing, and we got to wondering whether a “Stage Mom” post might fare as well if I jazzed up some of my titles (as if yesterday’s “potluck” teaser wasn’t exciting enough).

Debra’s post (titled “Sexy mama!”) features a photo of the orange and pink Dunkin’ Donuts logo. Jennifer suggested I try a little “social experiment”–punctuating my posts with words like “sexy” for a week or so to see what happens.

I started wondering whether any of my upcoming topics might actually warrant this description. Classes offered by private performing arts studios? Nope. Museum-related careers? Nope. Teaching tolerance through the arts? Nope.

Then it came to me…

The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts recently announced their upcoming season. If you think of “sexy” as intriguing, exciting and provocative, this venue clearly qualifies. Those who consider the brain a bonafide erogenous zone may be especially inclined to agree.

One of King Tut's sexier moments?

For the ‘smart equals sexy’ crowd, they’ll present the likes of singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett, comedian and banjoist Steve Martin, and Tony-Award winning actor John Lithgow (known to fans of Showtime’s “Dexter” as “The Trinity Killer”).

For the ‘exotic is sexy’ arts lover, there’s the taiko drummers of Kodo—and The Mystical Arts of Tibet.

If jazz is what turns you on, get ready for jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis, trumpeter Doc Severinsen & El Ritmo de la Vida, the Count Basie Orchestra and The Manhattan Transfer.

Sexy covered by a cat suit

Broadway buffs will delight in performances by Tony Award winners Bernadette Peters (who’ll grace the stage of the Virginia G. Piper Theater for the ARTrageous celebration in December) and Betty Buckley of CATS fame.

Fans of “Seth’s Big Fat Broadway” on SIRIUS XM are no doubt wondering whether the “a-mah-zing” Seth Rudetsky might accompany Buckley on piano, which would merit a “sexy” and “donuts” designation from some theater folk.

If you’ve read a good sampling of my 200 + “Stage Mom” posts (I never miss a day), you can likely guess what my personal favorite for the Center’s upcoming season might be…

It’s the Merce Cunningham Dance Company “Legacy Tour,” which offers your “last opportunity to see this great American dance company perform the choreography of the late Merce Cunningham before it disbands.”

My mother told me long ago that you don’t have to reveal everything to be sexy. And so I’ll offer just a few more peeks at what the Scottsdale Center for the Arts has in store…

Sexy in a Shakespearean sort of way

Film screenings. Holiday shows. Family fare. Classical music. Shakespeare. Rock opera. Political humor. Best-selling authors. Acting workshops. Hispanic heritage celebrations. Native American song and dance. And Scottsdale traditions including “Sunday A’Fair” and the “Scottsdale Arts Festival.”

Holding back a bit also gives me another excuse to go “sexy” with future posts. So stay tuned, and check the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts website in the meantime for more juicy details about all things “sexy” in their upcoming season.

When it comes to the Arizona arts scene, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts brings “sexy” to the city…