Tag Archives: Jim Gradillas

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”


Color of Me

Cast of Color of Me at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria (Photo: Steve Salik)

A new play written by Jim Gradillas and Michelle Marie premieres this month at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria. Gradillas heads the theater company and is directing this work, which follows seven youth “dealing with stereotypes and prejudice in their daily lives.” Their stories are told, says Gradillas, in “a creative and abstract way.” Continue reading

HONK! against hate

Back in the hippie heyday, bumpers stickers starting with “Honk if you…” were all the rage. Honk if you love Jesus. Honk if you’re horny. I prefer the more modern takes. Honk if you ♥ librarians. Honk if you love peace and quiet. Think about honking if you love conceptual art.

If Brenda Goodenberger of Glendale had her way, they’d all read “Honk if you hate hate.” Goodenberger is a mother of nine, grandmother of three and longtime theater professional making her directing debut with “Honk! Jr.” at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria.

L to R: Kira Kadel (Cat), Marshall Scott (Ugly) and Ashley Sneddon (Ida) in Honk! Jr. at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria (Photo: Steve Salik)

“Honk! Jr.” is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Ugly Duckling” — a tale Goodenberger embraces “given the startling statistics of bullying in the modern world.” She touts the show’s timeless message: “It’s who we are on the inside that truly matters!”

“As an artist,” says Goodenberger, “I have spent my entire life being a little different than many of my peers, and I have always been a loud supporter of equality for all peoples regardless of race, gender, class, religion or sexual orientation.”

“Honk! Jr.” is an adpatation of the musical “Honk!” featuring music by George Stiles and book/lyrics by Anthony Drewe. “Honk!” earned the British Olivier Award in 2000 for best musical, beating out both “Mamma Mia!” and “The Lion King.”

The Creative Stages Youth Theatre production includes a cast of 43 youth ages 7-16. CSYT is headed by artistic director Jim Gradillas, who worked several years ago with Theater Works, also in the West Valley.

Cast of Honk! Jr. at Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria

I’ll never forget the AriZoni Awards ceremony at the Herberger Theater Center the year Gradillas’ supporters did a bit too much of their own “honking” each time his name was mentioned on stage.

Those of you attending this year’s AriZoni Awards ceremony Monday night at the Tempe Center for the Arts might want to tone this down a bit for the benefit of those with smaller or humbler cheering sections.

As I wrote this post, a press release from Theater Works came across my virtual desk — noting their production of the “King and I” opening Fri, Sept 23. It’s another work with an “anti-hate” theme — one I often conjure when politicians do their “America is the center of the universe” dance.

The King looks rather foolish during “The King and I” when he unfurls a flag depicting his beloved Siam as a giant country when it’s really rather small. Sometimes theater is more effective than other means at conveying such things.

Still, “Honk! Jr.” is more than a morality tale. It’s also awfully good fun, with songs like “A Poultry Tale,” “Play With Your Food,” and “Warts and All.” You can see “Honk! Jr.” at Creative Stages Youth Theatre through Sun, Sept 25. Tickets are available online at www.csyt.org.

“The family that does plays together,” quips Goodenberger, “stays together.” She and husband Ken have a “blended family” of children ages seven to 28. Many share the couple’s fondness for performing.

I like to think that theater works wonders for families in the audience too. So drive on over to Peoria for a bit of theater time with your children — and let them give a little honk along the way.

— Lynn

Note: Program notes for CSYT’s “Honk! Jr.” include two anti-bullying websites — www.stopbullying.gov and www.thetrevorproject.org. Learn more about the Goodenberger family at www.goodenberger.com. Find Creative Stages Youth Theatre at www.csyt.org and Theater Works at www.theaterworks.org. Both theaters are located in Peoria.

Coming up: Spotlight on the 2011 AriZoni Awards (visit www.arizoniawards.com for info on the Sept 19 ceremonies)

Anthem tales

I met a 12-year-old named Sarah Miller, and her mother Ruth, during intermission for Tuesday night’s performance of “Mamma Mia!” at ASU Gammage

I was delighted to learn that Sarah has performed in several community theater productions in Anthem, where she lives and plans to attend The Caepe School come fall.

I spoke with Sarah by phone Wednesday evening, after she’d finished a dance class with Dynamic Motion Dance Academy in Anthem — where she studies jazz, musical theater and tap. She’s also trained in ballet and hip hop.

I spotted Sarah in the huge “Mamma Mia!” crowd thanks to her powder blue t-shirt with a large “Mamma Mia!” logo. Although Sarah told me she loves the show, she was most eager to talk about her hometown theaters — Starlight Community Theater and Musical Theatre of Anthem.

Sarah has performed in several Starlight Community Theater productions — including “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella,” plus her very favorite piece of musical theater — “Annie.” Sarah’s last “Starlight” role was “Tweedle Dum” in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Both Starlight and MTA of Anthem feature performances by and for youth

She’s excited about Starlight’s 2011/12 season, which includes “Willy Wonka,” “Miracle of 34th Street – The Musical,” “Fame!,” “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “Rapunzel,” and “Once Upon a Mattress.”

Playwright and director Jim Gradillas, artistic director for Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria, will be heading the “Rapunzel” production. Sarah praises Gradillas for working directly with each actor, for being a master at motivating kids to do their best, and for using games and other strategies to keep theater time fresh and fun.

So far Sarah has performed in just a single Musical Theatre of Anthem production — “The Wizard of Oz.” But she hopes to perform in more MTA shows down the road.

The 2011/12 lineup for Musical Theatre of Anthem includes “Disney’s Aladdin Jr.,” “13,” “Willy Wonka, Jr.,” “Seussical, Jr.,” and “Annie.” Sarah describes it as “a good selection” but already knows at least one show will conflict with other plans for the coming year.

Sarah is especially excited about auditioning for “Annie.” While she’d love to play the lead, Sarah told me that young actors have the best chance of getting major roles when they indicate a genuine willingness to accept any part they’re offered.

When I asked Sarah for additional audition tips for children and teens, she happily shared quite a few of them. Be present. Don’t act nervous. Make eye contact. Be easygoing. And most of all, don’t be fake. “Act like yourself,” suggests Sarah.

The approach seems to be working for Sarah, who shared that she’s already recording her singing and working with a producer at Island Def Jam Recordings.

She’d love to break into the music business or land an acting gig with Disney or Nickelodeon. She even shared this link to her performance of “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

Whatever the future holds for Sarah, it’s clear that her time on Anthem stages is serving her well — and that the memories she’s making right here in the Valley will last a lifetime.

— Lynn

Note: Visit the websites for Musical Theatre of Anthem and Starlight Community Theater to learn about current productions and summer programs. And watch for a photo of Sarah coming soon…

Coming up: Transformers — opera style, New plays — festival style

Update: An open call audition for the roles of Annie and the orphans in a new Broadway production of “Annie” is taking place June 12 for girls ages 6-12. Click here for details.

Starlight shares new season

Starlight Community Theater in Anthem is among just a handful of community theaters who’ve already announced their 2011-2012 season.

When I got the news, I noticed that five of the six pieces have previous film adaptations. Some are based on books, some have Broadway adaptations and one has even been adapted for radio broadcast.

In previous incarnations, they starred folks like Natalie Wood, Gene Wilder, Sarah Jessica Parker, Johnny Depp, Boris Karloff, Carol Burnett and Eddie Albert.

The 2011-2012 Starlight Community Theater season opens with “Willy Wonka” — based on a 1964 Roald Dahl book titled “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” A 1971 film adaptation starred Gene Wilder, while the 2005 version featured Johnny Depp.

I think it would be grand fun to have a “Willy Wonka” weekend. Let your kids invite some friend over to watch the films, enjoy a sleepover and hit a matinee of the Spotlight performance the next day.

The game and craft possibilities are plentiful. Think giant colored “lollypops” that spin atop long sticks. Treasure hunts for small candies. Board games like “Candyland.” An old-fashioned taffy pull. Puzzles with a candy theme. Facepainting peppermints and gumdrops on glowing cheeks.

I love the fact that kids can access these works in other ways before or after seeing the Starlight productions on stage.

They can watch both “Miracle on 34th Street” films (1947, 1994) before seeing Starlight perform “Miracle on 34th Street, the Musical” on stage. And enjoy the 2010 Disney film “Tangled” before attending the Starlight performance of “Rapunzel” (a “Jim Gradillas Kids Production”). And they can read Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Princes and the Pea” before seeing the stage adaptation called “Once Upon a Mattress.”

The content is a bit more mature for two of their 2011-2012 offerings. Tweens and teens familiar with the 1980 and/or 2009 film versions of “Fame” may enjoy revisiting the movies before seeing Starlight perform “Fame!” on stage. There’s also “Arsenic & Old Lace” who those who enjoy mixing their slapstick with a good dose of dark comedy.

Stay tuned to the Starlight Community Theater website for additional details — audition dates, performance dates and more specifics on each show. Then have fun with these shows. Think birthday parties, outings with grandparents, playdates with friends.

And if one of these shows inspires your child to create a fun piece of artwork, write an original poem, perform a delightful puppet show — or craft something else fueled by his or her own creativity, I’d love to hear about it or share some photos with our readers.

— Lynn

Note: You can always send photos of your children’s music, dance and theater-inspired art to me at rakstagemom@gmail.com for possible inclusion in upcoming posts.

Coming up: More new season announcements

Funny at birth?

Imagining a younger Jim Gradillas

You get the feeling, after reviewing last season’s offerings from Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria, that artistic director Jim Gradillas might have a fabulously funny slant on the world.

Titles included “Theatre of Screams,” “Friday Night Live,” “The Humbugs,” “Scalloped Potatoes & Egg Nog,” “Funny at Birth” and more. (I just have to ask…how many members of the french fry generation have even heard of a scalloped potato?)

Many of Gradillas’ productions feature original works or original adaptations. I remember Gradillas winning AriZoni Awards at last year’s ceremony, and the thunderous applause that filled the house each time his name was mentioned.

This man must have a serious following. And guts. He’ll tackle “Les Miserables School Edition” next April–and hopes Creative Stages will have its own performance space in time to mount a truly spectacular production. (The plan? Collect enough $25 donations to reach at least $25,000 for their building fund.)

Creative Stages will open its season with “My Kid is a Tree! A Youth Theatre Parody!”–described as “a wacky parody of the inner workings of youth theatre.” (Let me guess–it’ll feature at least one outlandish stage mom, yes?)

The show runs Sept 17 to Oct 3, with auditions scheduled for Aug 14 to cast both this and the next show of their second season–which is “Some Kind of Wonder Bread: Not a John Hughes Movie” playing Oct 8-17.

Never fear---they're more fun than frightening

Just in time for Halloween, Creative Stages presents “Theatre of Screams 2.” Watch for this one Oct 22-31.

December brings Creative Stages’ first original rock musical ala a mix of “Young Frankenstein” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” “Merry Christmas Frankenstein” –with book and lyrics by Bobby Sample and music by Josh Hontz, Connor Sample and Katie Sample”–runs Dec 10-19.

Teens have relationships? Shocking!

“The Love and Hate,” described by Gradillas as “a cutting-edge youth comedy-drama” about “the ups and downs of teen relationships,” runs Jan 21-30. 

So far, it seems, they’ve got playdates for Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day covered. Still, who knew that teen relationships had an upside?

Next up is “Very Grimm: More Tales from the Brothers Grimm,” which runs Feb 4-20. I suppose that makes this another Valentine’s Day option, assuming your date shares a benignly twisted sense of humor.

An adaptation titled “Sleeping Beauty: An Original” runs March 4-13, so I can’t quite put my finger on which holiday I can tie this baby to. Parents of toddlers mights join me rallying for March as national napping month.

“Les Miserables: School Edition” takes to the stage April 15-May 1. It’s an author-approved abridgement of the classic work that’s suitable for young performers and family audiences, and runs just over two hours.

Closing Creative Stages’ second season of classics coupled with creative new works is a new adaptation of “The Time Machine” based on the H.G. Wells thriller (May 13-22).

There’s plenty to appreciate about this line-up. You’ll have several opportunities to couple good literature with live theater. You’ll have relaxing alternatives to hectic holiday activities. You’ll have the opportunity to support one of the Valley’s newest theaters producing and presenting works for youth.

I’m feeling pretty good about entering my sixth decade of life this fall, but youth theater productions are one of the few things that leave me longing to be a kid again.

I totally nailed that last audition!

Check out these offerings from Creative Stages Youth Theatre. Who knows–you just might find yourself traveling back in time…


Note: AriZoni Award nominees for last season were just announced, so click here for details on how you can enjoy this year’s Arizona variation on the Tony Awards ceremony (you needn’t be in the biz to buy tickets to attend)

Coming up: Arts news you can use (for parents, teachers and advocates), Signs of Shakespeare

Update: Please visit the Creative Stages Youth Theatre website for ongoing updates on season offerings, auditions and more.

“Les Mis” light?

There’s nothing light about the musical “Les Miserables,” which trumpets through the fictional lives of young and old, honest and dishonest, industrious and indolent amidst turmoil in 19th century France.

It’s a tale of love, sacrifice and forgiveness that speaks to the hearts of mothers, fathers and children — as well as patriots, young lovers and more.

Not taking your children to see a live production of “Les Miserables” is the theater equivalent of never taking them to a baseball game. It’s part of the lexicon of American culture, which first gave rise to the art form of musical theater.

If you’ve been wary on previous occasions because you suspect your child might not make it through the entire production, there’s a shorter option with extra kid appeal.

It’s the “Les Miserables School Edition,” which is available for licensing by Musical Theatre International in collaboration with Cameron Mackintosh Limited. (The name Cameron Macintosh will ring a bell if you saw the Disney and Cameron Macintosh presentation of “Mary Poppins” when the musical came to ASU Gammage last season.)

Licensing provisions state that the entire cast must be 19 years or younger, that no one in the cast may be a member of an actors’ union and that the work is to be performed entirely by full-time elementary, middle or high school students.

Lizabeth first saw “Les Miserables” at ASU Gammage a good decade or so ago and listened to the soundtrack non-stop for some time thereafter. She played the music on the piano and violin — and still reminisces about the day she sang “Can You Hear the People Sing?” for one of the student performances held each Friday at Desert View Learning Center in Phoenix.

The other little girls favored “I Dreamed a Dream,” but Lizabeth has always been drawn a bit more to anthems of the underdog.

If your student might like to audition for a Valley production of “Les Miserables School Edition,” take note of the following… (See important update at end of post regarding new audition/performance dates.)

It’s being performed in September by Creative Stages Youth Theatre in Peoria as the opener for their second season, marking their first foray into musical theater.

Auditions are being held Sat, Aug 7 (and Sun, Aug 8, if needed) by appointment only. Auditioners are expected to “prepare a two minute song and a one minute monologue.” They should also “bring a photo, resume and be prepared to identify any rehearsal conflicts.” (Translation: Take along your family, school and activities schedules so you know when you’re not available to rehearse or perform.)

To learn more, visit www.csyt.org. You or your child can contact Jim Gradillas at jim@csyt.org to schedule an audition time.

Auditions are being held at a church called The Way in Peoria, which is home to CSYT. Performances will take place at Phoenix Center for the Arts’ 215-seat Third Street Theater.

To learn more about “Les Miserables School Edition,” visit www.lesmizschooledition.com. And stay tuned for a future post with more scoop on the upcoming 2010-2011 season at Creative Stages Youth Theatre.

— Lynn

Note: To explore other theater works licensed through MIT, visit them at www.mitshows.com. To learn about the touring production of “Les Miserables” coming to ASU Gammage for a brief run in June 2011, visit www.asugammage.com (it may sell out quickly so it’s not too early to start paying attention). To receive additional audition notices, sign-up with Durant Communications at www.durantcom.com.

Coming up: Spotlight on this year’s AriZoni Award nominees in children’s and adult categories

Update from Creative Stages website: “As many of you know, Creative Stages Youth Theatre is in the process of looking for a theatre space to call their own and we hope to have very good news in the next few weeks regarding the location and more information. So that our focus can be on finalizing the location and preparing the space with lights, sound, seating, etc…, we will be moving Les Miserablés to next April. The show will now be performed from April 15 through May 1. We anticipate auditions will held in February and all audition info will be posted on our website.” –Lynn 8/6/10