Tag Archives: homelessness

Play it forward

Phoenix Theater will soon be “playing it forward” with a pair of original works titled “At the End of the Day” and “Like Everyone Else” — both part of a “Weekend of Change” taking place June 3-5 at Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale.

Both works bring “youth theatre for social change” to the stage. Think arts and activism with a local twist. The “Weekend of Change” project has given youth ages 13 to 24 the chance to “participate in theatrical performance designed to create dialogue around social issues affecting an entire community.”

Both are part of the Phoenix Theatre education department, headed by A. Beck, who also serves as theatre arts coordinator for Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix.

The “Theater for Social Change” class at Arizona School for the Arts partnered with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center to develop a work titled “Like Everyone Else.” 

The play is helping students, families and SARRC staff raise community awareness about autism spectrum disorders and the resources provided by SARRC for families affected by them. Click here to enjoy a trailer.

Ticket sales from “Like Everyone Else” — which is being performed Sunday, June 5 at 2pm — will raise funds for SAARC’s “Autism Artisans” program, a “series of art workshops that expose emerging and established artists with autism spectrum disorders ages 13 and older to a variety of art mediums.”

The “Autism Artisans” program at SARRC “utilizes art to promote autism awareness, therapeutic intervention and opportunities for the talents and contributions of individuals with autism spectrum disorders to be recognized.”

My daughter, Lizabeth, is privileged to be a part of the ASA “Theatre for Social Change” class, taught by Xanthia Walker — and also worked with Beck and fellow “QSpeak” youth to develop the other work being presented during Phoenix Theatre’s “Weekend of Change.”

“At the End of the Day: True Stories of LGBTQ and Homeless Youth” is being presented by Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development and QSpeak, both of Phoenix.

QSpeak’s mission is to “provide a safe space for queer youth and their straight allies to engage in community dialogue and affect positive change through storytelling and performance in order to bring awareness to their own lives and experiences.”

Tumbleweed serves youth ages 11-22 in Maricopa County who are “abused, abandoned, troubled, and neglected.” Many are runaways or homeless youth.

Tumbleweed helps these youth to understand and achieve their individual potential, increase their personal and social skills, and “become self-directed, socially responsible, and productive citizens.”

“At the End of the Day” will be performed Fri, June 3 at 7pm — also at Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale. Ticket sales benefit Tumbleweed’s GreenHouse Project, the Valley’s only LGBTQ transitional living program.

Tickets to “At the End of the Day” and “Like Everyone Else” are available online from Brown Paper Tickets or at the door the day of the show. Those wishing to make a donation or secure a sponsorship to support the “Weekend of Change” can contact Beck at Phoenix Theatre.

— Lynn

Coming up: 12 Arizona artists play 20 questions


Definition of a dream

Call those babysitters! The 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival starts tonight!

Many of us wake up every day in warm, secure houses with pantries full of food and closets brimming with clothes. We dream of smarter phones, faster computers, bigger television screens.

But the dreams of homeless teens are very different. You can get a rare glimpse into the lives of homeless youth in Phoenix by attending a play titled “Definition of a Dream.”

It’s being presented April 1-3 by homeless youth who developed the original work in conjunction with Sarah Sullivan and the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development. The Center describes the work as follows:

“Through the artistic experience, young people take their stories to the stage, looking to change the conversation about homelessness in Phoenix, one show at a time. This year’s play takes a look at dreams — the dreams we have for ourselves, for the people in our lives and our community as a whole.”

“Definition of a Dream” asks a powerful question: “What are the things we have to fight for and against to make these dreams a reality?”

The play is one of many thought-provoking works being presented as part of the Phoenix Fringe Festival, which runs April 1-10 at various downtown Phoenix venues.

Tickets for tonight’s performance of “Definition of a Dream” were not available online when I checked Friday afternoon, but tickets for the Sat, April 2 (5:30pm) and Sun, April 3 (8pm) performances may still be out there — but don’t delay in checking the Phoenix Fringe Festival website if you’d like to attend this or other works.

“Definition of a Dream” is being performed at “Modified Arts” at 407 E. Roosevelt in Phoenix. Additional venues for 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival performances (most appropriate only for mature audiences) include Phoenix Theatre: Little Theatre, Third Street Theatre, Soul Invictus, Bragg’s Pie Factory and Space 55.

You can check out the full “Fringe” schedule (which also includes after-parties and such) at www.phxfringe.org. After reviewing the schedule the other day, I noticed that there are works dealing with religion, sexuality, border issues and a whole lot more. Even Greek myth and Shakespeare manage to get in the game.

Several “Fringe” works, including “Twisted: Greeting Card Moments Gone Bad” by “Tom T. and Twisted Tidings,” are presented by a single artist. Some are presented by local artists, others by artists from other regions (including Australia). A few include students from Arizona State University.

You can get a good feel for the festival by considering the titles of some of the pieces being performed. Schreibstuck. Oppressed. Borders and Bridges. Hamlet Machine. The Panic Opera Sacraments. Too Close to the Sun. Your Teacher Never Told You….

There’s even “Confessions of a Mormon Boy,” which may hold special appeal for those of you who, like myself, have yet to snag tickets to the new Broadway musical titled “The Book of Mormon” (billed by some as an atheist love song to believers).

The Phoenix Fringe Festival is an edgy, off-the-beaten-path experience that’s fun for date nights, outings with friends or solo adventures. Think of it as a way to up the job numbers for all those babysitters out there.

Consider an afternoon, evening or weekend out with the “Fringe.” You might be offended. You might be educated. You might be inspired. But I doubt you’ll be bored. It’s a great way to explore our smaller community theater venues, enjoy affordable performance art and meet folks who probably wouldn’t recognize a remote control if they saw one.

— Lynn

Note: Attend the Phoenix Fringe Festival and you can save $10 off your ticket to “Liz Lerman Dance Exchange: The Matter of Origins” Monday, April 11, at ASU Gammage (use the code FRINGE when ordering tix from the ASU Gammage box office or 480-965-3434).

Coming up: Jellly bean dreams, Chicago envy?

Movies & mental illness

The latest movie to tackle the subject of mental illness, “It’s Kind of a Funny Story,” imagines the life of a suburban teen who struggles with clinical depression amidst the many pressures of modern life.

Many mental health advocates take special note this time of year of media portrayals of mental illness — as well as stereotypes fueled by Halloween costumes that mock the symptoms of mental illness and those who live with them.

If you’ve ever considered a costume that includes a stratightjacket, a reference to psychiatric hospitalization or an homage to things like lobotomies, please don’t ever go there. You wouldn’t parade around in a pink pair of scrubs that read “cancerous” across the chest, would you?

Instead, take some time to educate yourself about mental illness. Spend time with a family living with mental illness. Read reliable books on the topic. Discuss films that address challenges mental illness raises for individuals, families and communities.

“It’s Kind of a Funny Story” makes my list of movies about mental illness that do more to enlighten than to stigmatize. Others on this list include:

The Soloist. 2009, PG-13. Features Jamie Foxx and Robert Downey, Jr. Based on the actual friendship of a disheartened newspaper columnist and a Julliard-trained musician whose mental illness leads to homelessness. From a book by the same name.

Canvas. 2006, PG-13. Featuring Marcia Gay Harden, Joe Pantoliano and Devon Gearhart. Based on a family’s experience of life with a mother diagnosed with schizophrenia.

A Beautiful Mind. 2001, PG-13. Features Russell Crowe. Based on the life of famed mathematician John Nash, who earned the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics, while living with schizophrenia.

If you know of another movie that tackles the topic of mental illness with similar sensitivity and relative accuracy, please comment below to let others know.

And if you encounter stigma against those living with mental illness in any form of media or art — including movies, television programs, books and more — contact NAMI Stigmabusters to report the problem and learn ways we can all work together to reduce discrimination against those facing mental health challenges.

— Lynn

Note: Although Halloween has come and gone this year, stigma still abounds. So please keep these thoughts in mind whenever you have occasion to play dress up.

Coming up: Stage Mom reviews the new “Harry Potter” flick

Oliver! Oh, what a feeling!

Gin in a tin. Laps and slaps. London pubs and billy clubs (a teen in a top hat was kind enough to tell me the correct term is “jemmy”). I was transported to mid-19th century London Friday night thanks to the combined creativity of Charles Dickens, Lionel Bart and D. Scott Withers.

Withers is directing Oliver!, which runs through Dec. 20th at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale. It’s the first production by Greasepaint Youtheatre since its formal affiliation with Phoenix Theatre, Arizona’s oldest arts organization (founded in 1920). But this blog isn’t focused on mere facts. It’s all about a feeling.

It’s the feeling you get when the audience begins to gasp and giggle just five minutes into the show. It’s the feeling you get when your child takes the stage donning a worn out shawl or knickers and tussled hair surrounding a face speckled with cosmetic coal. It’s the feeling you get when the folks sitting on either side of you begin to clap along as the ensemble sings and dances through classics like “Oom Pah Pah” and “Consider Yourself.”

Oliver! opened Friday night to the most enthusiastic theater audience I have seen—anywhere—for a youth or adult production. Were the stage a bit bigger, I might have mistaken it for a touring Broadway show at ASU Gammage.

One mother, dubbed a “momager” by her teenage son, recalls seeing the musical a good ten times, on Broadway and elsewhere—and hails it as the best production she’s ever seen. Fact or feeling? I’m not sure it matters. I swelled with the same pride. Our children were in their bliss.

A common theme emerged as I talked with opening night attendees after the show: Every cast member was 100%. Among the first to notice was Toby Yatso, an associate artist with Phoenix Theatre who also teaches at Arizona School for the Arts, directs the Greasepaint LIVE performance troupe and loves cats. He was especially impressed by the cast’s (not cats’) focus and energy, calling their performance “awesome!”

The live music, including various percussion pieces, brought real depth. The lights fostered an atmosphere of suspense amidst a familiar story line. The choreography drew the audience in with enthusiasm. Every singer was truly talented. Every dancer crisp and compelling. Every line delivered in convincing Cockney dialect.

Everything screamed “These people are professionals!” Even the kids, a delightful mix of new faces and seasoned actors, gushed over the extravagant set detail and true period costuming when I chatted with them backstage on Saturday. They seemed equally excited about their development as actors and their deepening understanding of another place and time. The audience was clearly appreciative, going into standing ovation mode at the onset of the curtain call rather than waiting for actors in the lead roles to take their bows.

I chatted a bit with the cast about the larger meaning they’re taking from the show. One of the younger performers talked about his realization that a person facing hard times isn’t necessarily a bad person. This was mirrored in lobby displays addressing the topic of homelessness.

While some bulletin boards described the origins of things like afternoon tea and newsboy caps, others examined the causes of homelessness and Valley organizations making a difference for homeless youth and families. I love the way so many Phoenix Theatre and Greasepaint Youtheatre productions leave me feeling more educated and empowered.

So who are these amazing youth? Here’s just a brief sampling of some of their credits: American Idol Hollywood finals. Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang for Broadway Across America-Arizona. Performances with Hale Centre Theatre, Valley Youth Theatre, Stray Cat Theatre, Broadway Palm Dinner Theater, Childsplay, Actors Theatre of Phoenix, Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre, Arizona Opera and more.

Add to this their academic achievements and leadership positions, such as senior class president and national honor society member, and you begin to fathom the true depth of their character. I’m struck, awe-struck really, by the hard work that must have gone into taking this production from audition to opening night. That these talented youth can master their lines as well as their homework is inspiring. That’s a fact.

So what keeps them going? Christopher Moffitt (Oliver) says he’s always learning something new, meeting new people and growing more confident in the public speaking skills he expects to use for a lifetime. Tyler Pounds (Bill Sykes) says he’s become more responsible and physically fit thanks to theater. The brevity of blogging prevents me from sharing the reflections of every cast member here—but perhaps more comments will find their way into future posts.

Young cast members were every bit as charming off-stage as on-stage (Please, kids, never lose this quality). When they weren’t in a particular scene, they’d wait calmly and courteously in the green room. Older and younger cast members mingled as they played board games or cards. The kids doing homework took turns using a single pencil they found on a table and helping each other brainstorm ideas for upcoming school papers and projects. One boy sat sideways in a chair, aided by a friend as he wrote his own play. The floor was uncluttered except for a stray UGG boot and tennis shoe or two.

Watching them act, and interact, I felt hope. Hope that the future of community theater is in good hands. Hope that they’ll enjoy enriching school, work and life experiences. Hope that they will transform the arts just as the arts are transforming them.


Note: If you’d like to learn more about homelessness in Arizona and ways you can make a difference, consider contacting one or more of these organizations: StandUp, Helping Hands Housing Services, UMOM New Day Center, Open Table, CASS and Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development.