Tag Archives: improv

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


Arts & culture — festival style

Valley Youth Theatre (pictured above, performing Annie) is scheduled to perform at 4:05pm during Saturday's Herberger Theater Center Festival of the Arts

I’m heading out Saturday to enjoy the Herberger Theater Center “Festival of the Arts,” a one-day festival in Phoenix featuring music, dance, theater, visual art and film. It takes place from 1-5pm, which means I have plenty of time to coffee and catch up on other things ahead of time.

The festival is $5 (free for those under 12), but I’m taking a little extra cash along too so food vendors can feel the love. Think hots dogs, gourmet tacos and more. I’ll be visiting vendor booths, enjoying performances both indoor and out, and exploring the work of more than a dozen featured artists.

Folks who attend with children can enjoy the festival’s “Kids Zone,” featuring various art and science activities, demonstrations, play areas and more. Think Free Arts of Arizona and the Arizona Science Center. Even the APS Clowns are joining the fun.

The Arizona Jewish Theatre Company All Rights Reserved teen improv troupe is scheduled to perform at 2:55pm on Saturday at the Festival of the Arts

It looks like there will be about two dozen vendor booths, where you can meet all sorts of artists and those who love them. Theater groups doing the booth thing include Arizona Broadway Theatre, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Arizona Theatre Company, Grand Canyon University, the Scottsdale Community College Theatre Arts Program and Spotlight Youth Theatre.

I love the fact that several hail from parts other than downtown Phoenix so you can get a feel for the true breadth and depth of Valley art offerings. This is a great way to chat with folks who offer programs for children and gather information about their camps and such. (Yes, you should also watch for the 2012 Raising Arizona Kids Magazine Camp Fair.)

The Arizona Girl Choir is one of several arts organizations who will have a booth at Saturday's Herberger Theater Center Festival of the Arts

Dance groups joining the vendor booth fun include Arizona Youth Ballet, Center Dance Ensemble and Scorpius Dance Theatre. Music will be well represented too — thanks to the Phoenix Boys Choir and Arizona Girl Choir. Also keep an eye out for various art studios and others who offer family-friendly fare (like bobbles for wayward hair).

Several of the folks noted above will also perform at some point during the event on one of the Herberger Theater Center’s many stages. As will plenty of other groups — the Dance Shoppe Performance Company, EPIK Dance Company, Grand Canyon University Dance Ensemble, Theater Works and more.

An outdoor stage will feature music by the Bald Cactus Brass Band, Chicks with Picks and Take Cover! Porangui and String Serenade will perform inside Bob’s Spot, a lovely lounge adjacent to the Herberger Theater Center’s upstairs art gallery.

Performers who participate in the Herberger’s “Lunch Time Theater” series will also be on hand to entertain you. Think New Carpa Theater, Grey Matters Productions, Annie Moscow and Friendly People Productions. Sounds a bit like a smorgasbord, only sexier somehow.

Theater Works is scheduled to perform a scene and song from The King and I at 2:20pm during the Herberger Theater Center's Festival of the Arts

Film shorts run a little later than other festival offerings, starting at 4pm on The Kax Stage and wrapping up at 6pm. They’ll be introduced by emcee Ricky Faust, who will facililate Q & A sessions between films.

If critical body parts don’t give out (for me this means feet and knees), I might also hit the Rainbow Festival taking place Oct 1 & 2 from 10am-6pm at historic Heritage Square. It’s a “free admission street fair that celebrates the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.” The event features “an international food court, artists, vendors and entertainment.”

If your city or town is offering festival-style fare with arts and culture flair, please comment below to let our readers know.

— Lynn

Note: The “Arizona Humanities Festival: Stories of Us” takes place Sat, Oct 22 from 10am-6pm at Civic Space Park in Phoenix. The festival features storytelling, children’s activities, author readings, dance performances, live music and film screenings. Info at www.azhumanities.org.

Coming up: Festivals featuring multicultural fare

Photos from organization Facebook pages

Comedy for a cause

Little did Michael Yichao know, when donning a Munchkin costume as a fourth-grader to perform in a Valley Youth Theatre production of “The Wizard of Oz,” that one day he’d become an MFA acting student hoofing three original works collectively titled “Boys are Dumb, Girls are Mean.”

But that glorious day has arrived, and Yichao is hoping families will come out to support the work. His “Boys are Dumb, Girls are Mean” trio features three short works that total just 90 minutes.

They’ll be performed Sat, Aug 27 at 2pm at Jester’Z Improv Comedy in Scottsdale, which describes the works as “kid-friendly” and “family-oriented.” The show is free but a suggested $7 donation will help Yichao fund future performances of the work.

He’s hoping to take “Boys are Dumb, Girls are Mean” to a variety of venues — including “Fringe” festivals in NYC and Edinburgh, a London playwriting competition, and children’s theaters in Minneapolis and Hawaii.

This weekend’s performance features “four kids from Arizona as well as two actors and a composer from California.” The local actors are Donovan Fiore (age 12) of Gilbert, Rachel Goodman (age 16) of Phoenix, Harrison Redmond (age 12) of Chandler and Jayna Jordan Sweet (age 16) of Ahwatukee.

The trio of tales includes a comedy titled “Dear Diary,” which follows a high school freshman “dealing with dances and diaries, girls and geeks, best friends and betrayals.” Also “Between: A Musical,” about four kids navigating the space between childhood and adulthood while confronting life-changing moments. And “Travis Tries to Talk to Girls,” a dramedy that explores the impact of heritage, mixed traditions and the Internet on finding love.

Playwright Michael Yichao

Yichao is a familiar face on the Valley theater scene, having performed in several VYT shows, directed productions for his own theater company “CloPet” (currently on hiatus) and more. He graduated from ASU with a double major in English and theater, and is currently entering his second year at California Institute of the Arts.

I’m told that space for Saturday’s performance is limited, and that folks who want to attend should make reservations by e-mailing Yichao at myichao@gmail.com.

— Lynn

Note: Waymire Studio for the Performing Arts presents “Wayward Comedy” Sat, Aug 27 at 7pm in Glendale. Details at http://www.waymirestudio.com.

Coming up: Finding audition opportunities for youth

Free family fun day

Face painting. Finger puppets. Book marks. Bracelets. Key chains. Journals. Goofy glasses. Buttons. Wind chimes.

They’re all free activities your children can enjoy this weekend at ASU’s “Family Fun Day” on the Tempe campus.

There’s free entertainment too. Think Blue Bike Kids Show and Zumbatomics with Melinda Mills-Walkey. Plus the chance to visit with “Super Why” from KAET/PBS.

Families can enjoy the “Words of Art” exhibition at the ASU Art Museum too. It’s also free of charge during the event, which runs Sat, July 9 from 10am to 2pm. Don the sunhats, lather up with sunscreen, pack the water bottles and join the fun at Mill Avenue and 10th Street.

Even Changing Hands Bookstore of Tempe is joining the fun with author/illustrator events at their “pop-up booth.” They’ve got all sorts of monthly activities for kids — including reading clubs, storytimes for preschoolers and bilingual storytimes.

There’s a costume storytime the first Saturday of each month, an animal talk with the Phoenix Zoo the third Saturday of each month and an explore-a-story event with Childsplay each fourth Saturday of the month. They’re all free.

Other Changing Hands offerings this month include a pajama storytime for preschoolers (Thurs, June 14), an animal collage workshop (Sat, July 16), a family pirate event (Sat, July 23), a family comedy improv show (Mon, July 25) and more.

There’s plenty for parents and teachers to enjoy this month at Changing Hands. Educator and motivational speaker Sandra Zerner discusses her new book “It’s Good 2B Good” Wed, July 6. Music education advocate Scott Lang presents “Leader of the Band,” his book profiling the professional and personal lives of nine music teachers, Fri, July 8.

Changing Hands Bookstore partners with Hoodlums Music & Movies for “Community Movie Night” Fri, July 22. They’ll be screening “Why We Fight,” a PG-13 film by Eugene Jarecki that “examines the rising influence of the military-industrial complex.” The uber-studious among you can click here to read a study guide.

Just don’t bother the rest of us. We’ll be busy playing with our finger puppets.

— Lynn

Coming up:  Tropical heat — Arizona style, NYC’s first “green” library goes orange!

I have a dilemma

I ran into a friend Saturday afternoon during the Raising Arizona Kids Magazine 2011 Camp Fair. She almost always greets me with the same line: “You’re everywhere!”

Sometimes she goes so far as to suggest I’ve been cloned, but if that’s the case she must surely have met a similar fate. She’s only seeing me everywhere because she too is out there flitting to and fro in theater world.

Cloning feels particularly tempting on weekends — when there are far more music, dance and theater offerings than we can possibly enjoy in just two days time. Festivals, art exhibits and museum fare also abound.

Lizabeth hit the ASU Kerr Cultural Center, just up the street from our house, Saturday night for an improv work titled “Jane Austen UnScripted” performed by L.A.-based Impro Theatre.

Comedy meets classic lit. That choice was easy. Especially given that missing such a show would be tantmount to blasphemy in our family prone to musings on history, literature and philosophy.

Sunday brought a tougher challenge. As longtime season ticket holders for the Broadway Across America series at ASU Gammage, we were sad having to miss today’s matinee of the musical “9 to 5.”

I was too busy working “5 to 9” to take advantage of their ticket exchange program for season ticket holders. I kept thinking “the show’s not until February” — but alas, it’s now nearly March.

Lizabeth and I planned to see “Friends, Enemies, and People on the Subway” — a show featuring student-directed one act plays — together Sunday afternoon.

It was presented by fellow theater arts students at Arizona School for the Arts, whose next work — the play “Triangle” by Laurie Brooks — is being performed April 29, 30 and May 1 at the Phoenix Theatre Little Theatre.

But Lizabeth checked Facebook Sunday morning and found a reminder that a friend she’s studied with at Childsplay Academy, a friend who faithfully attends all of Lizabeth’s shows, was appearing in a show that ended its run Sunday afternoon.

Amanda was “Scar” one year when Lizabeth was “Pumba” during a musical theater workshop based on “The Lion King” — and they’ve been friends ever since.

“Mom,” Lizabeth told me Sunday morning over the breakfast table, “I have a dilemma.” She was torn, wanting to support both her classmates and her friend.

So we found a way to do both. She hit the Mesa Arts Center for the East Valley Children’s Theatre production of “Puss ‘N Boots” (which had two ASA students in the cast) while I enjoyed the ASA performance of five one-acts.

We got pizza together afterwards to swap notes on the shows, then headed home to watch the 83rd Annual Academy Awards — where I discovered that the thing I’m most interested in cloning is Helen Mirren’s stunning grey gown.

— Lynn

Note: David Hallberg, principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre in New York, will be honored Tuesday with the inaugural Young Alumnus Award from Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix. Click here for information about the free ASA event at which Hallberg will be recognized for his outstanding achievements.

Coming up: Art meets dance, A mother/daughter costume tale

History, hip hop and “In the Heights”

I sometimes wonder what my 19-year-old daughter Jennifer might do when she grows up. She’s a history major at Arizona State University, and we’re immensely proud of her. 

But how often do folks get hired to do history? There’s plenty of pseudo-history floating around these days, but not enough of the real deal. 

"In the Heights" director Thomas Kail

Yesterday Lizabeth and I ran into a former history major in a lovely little courtyard behind ASU Gammage, where we’d just seen the Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights.” 

He graduated from Wesleyan University in Connecticut after studying American history, but landed in a career that seems rather unexpected. 

He’s the award-winning Broadway director Thomas Kail

When I introduced myself as a writer with “Raising Arizona Kids” magazine, Kail did a full tilt rendition of a quote from the 1987 movie Raising Arizona.

It was something about not leaving a baby in the car, a sentiment well known to Arizona parents. (Pity some pet lovers have yet to catch on.)

But how did Kail get from history to theater? In a word: Storytelling.

Kail says it was the rich storytelling program that led him to Wesleyan University, where he first became involved with theater. 

He’s also a former athlete (think soccer) and describes theater as a “new team” he was really excited to be a part of. 

"In the Heights" creator Lin-Manuel Miranda

The rolls of Wesleyan alumni include several cast and creative team members who worked together on “In the Heights”–including director Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and composer/lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda. 

Miranda originated the musical and starred on Broadway in the leading role, which he’ll reprise during today’s matinee at ASU Gammage. (Yup, you should go, it’s amazing.) 

As we spoke with Kail, Miranda chatted with folks who’d waited near the stage door after the performance hoping to get cast autographs or photos. Lizabeth left with some interesting reflections. 

“He’s really good with kids,” she said. 

She’d seen Miranda interact with several young fans, including a girl eager to tell him about her dad’s recent haircut. Miranda slipped off his hat—similar to the one he wears onstage as “Usnavi”–so the little girl could see his haircut too. 

Just before, he’d performed in the Saturday matinee, staying after for a talk back with what looked like a couple hundred audience members (including some who’d driven in from out of state to see Miranda perform). 

One young woman stood to share that she’d been a fan of Miranda’s ever since he appeared in “The Pirates of Penzance” during high school. Another rose to say how delighted she was to see such a diverse audience at the show. 

Gift from an advocate in Saturday afternoon's audience

A gentleman in the audience noted that “In the Heights” has special significance for Arizona given recent immigration legislation, offering Miranda a button that read “Reasonably Suspicious.”

Many of the questions were quite astute, including one about possible parallels between Miranda’s “In the Heights” and Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” I leave it to you to consider how Miranda might have answered this one. 

But first you’ll have to solve a more immediate problem—getting your hot little hands on the few remaining tickets for today’s 2pm show, your last opportunity to see Miranda and the “In the Heights” touring cast in Arizona. 

And one more, perhaps. How to sit politely through a show when you’d rather be dancing along… 


Note: To enjoy the ongoing adventures of Miranda, Kail and Blankenbuehler, stay tuned to their many projects–which include “Freestyle Love Supreme” (a hip hop improv group co-founded by Kail and Miranda), the new musical “Bring It On” (currently in development), the new play “Lombardi” (opening this fall) and the movie version of “In the Heights” (also under development). And keep your eye on the Tony Awards, where I suspect we’ll see these names time and time again…

Master classes & meringue?

The list of summer options at Phoenix Theatre, along with their Greasepaint Youtheatre (which performs in Scottsdale), just keeps getting longer. It’s like a dessert menu featuring many of your favorites that seems to have a sweet new offering every time you pay a visit. 

Phoenix Theatre is offering master classes for ages 16 and up on Monday evenings (June 7, 14, 21 and July 12,19) and Saturday mornings (June 12, 19, 26 and July 19). Classes run two to three hours each, depending on topic, and cost just $25 each. 

Reservations are suggested, but walk-ups are accepted subject to availability. Here’s their drama dessert menu of sorts…

Psychology of Auditioning with Robbie Harper—featuring tips on getting yourself in the right frame of mind for auditions and finding success strategies beyond the mere mastery of a monologue and 16 bars of music. 

Speaking Will’s Words with Maren Mascarelli—featuring tips for using Shakespeare’s texts to improve your use of words as powerful acting tools (even with contemporary texts). 

The Treasure in the Text with Maren Mascarelli—featuring tips for making smart choices in working with various texts. 

From the Outside In: A Physical Approach to Acting with Beck—featuring tips for using the body as a powerful communication tool. 

Improv-is-Action with Pasha Yamotahari—featuring tips for fostering collaborative spirit and rapid creativity while exercising sound acting principles during improvisation. 

Viewpoints with Bonnie Eckhart—featuring tips for working with other actors to create bold theatrical work that’s both spontaneous and intuitive. 

A new workshop just added features director Daniel Solis, one of five musical theatre casting directors for California’s leading theme parks, cruise lines and international theme parks…

Robbie Harper, associate artistic director for Phoenix Theatre (also artistic director for their Greasepaint Youtheatre and Cookie Company, specializing in theater by and for youth), describes this master class as “a wonderful opportunity to get pointers and tips from somebody who literally sees thousands of auditions a year.”

I prefer to think of it as the master class equivalent of a hot fudge sundae with an extra cherry on top—served with a superb double shot of espresso. 

Solis’ master class takes place July 24 at Greasepaint Youtheatre (formerly Stagebrush Theatre), located at 7020 E. 2nd St. in Scottsdale. It costs $75 for participants (limited availability) and $25 for performers who audit the class by observing. 

The Solis master class for 12-17 year olds takes place 11am-1:30pm (auditors must be 12-17 as well) and the class for ages 18+ happens from 2-4:30pm. To register, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151. 

You can inquire about current and future Phoenix Theatre productions—from “Always…Patsy Cline” (performance just added by popular demand) to “Avenue Q”–while you’ve got the undivided attention of these fine folks.

I’ll leave you with just a taste of other summer offerings from Phoenix Theatre lest you feel you’ve splurged on a whole plate full of brownies rather than a single treat. 

You can jump on their website to enjoy a rich menu of master classes, summer camps, dance classes (featuring everything from Fosse to hip hop), upcoming productions for youth, and more. 

One bite is never enough… 


Note: Read Monday’s post to enjoy a WordPress “Freshly Pressed” wannabe that doesn’t contain the word “sexy” 

Coming up: The fine art of floods, More “new season” announcements, Getting your “art” on with local community colleges, Recitals from “Rosie’s House” and others, Alumni from “Camp Broadway” at ASU Gammage share why this camp rocks 

Photo credits (top to bottom): Cheesecake c/o www.halfhourmeals.com, Cannoli c/o www.cookinglight.com, Banana split c/o www.countryliving.com, Chocolate cake (a wee bit smaller but just as satisfying) c/o www.yourpersonalgourmet.com, Key lime pie martini (for those of you who prefer to drink your dessert) c/o www.dianasdesserts.com, Hot fudge sundae c/o www.littledebbie.com, Fruit tarte (okay—they really call it a pizza) c/o www.wheatfoods.org, Brownie (minus a bite) c/o a whole bunch of places–with thanks to all of you for sharing your dessert.