Tag Archives: Jose Cruz Gonzalez

The Bully Plays

Makers of the film “Bully” have announced that it’ll open March 30 in select theaters, and make its way to Harkins Theatres Camelview 5 in Scottsdale on April 13. Bullying is also the subject of a new collection of short works for young actors called “The Bully Plays,” compiled and edited by Linda Habjan and published in 2011 by Dramatic Publishing.

“The Bully Plays” includes two dozen 10-minute plays addressing bullying “between and among young people, their parents and siblings” from various perspectives — the bullies, the bullied and the bystanders. Issues addressed include gender, sexuality, physical condition, social status and more — plus ways technology has changed the nature and scope of bullying.

“Bullying is aggressive behavior intended to harm or show power over another person that is repeared over time,” according to Susan Sugerman, M.D., M.P.H., an adolescent medicine physician who wrote the book’s forward. Sugerman is also president and co-founder of Girls to Women Health and Wellness in Dallas. “Bullies,” she adds, “have a strong need to show their dominance over others or to get their own way.”

“Victims of bullying tend to be children who are less popular or new to a situation,” according to Sugerman. Youth with academic, physical, or social ‘differences’ may be at particular risk of being bullied — as are those who don’t conform to gender norms. “Victims,” adds Sugerman, “tend not to get along well with others, have few friends, and have low self-esteem.”

But why choose plays as a way to tackle the topic? “One way to approach such a universal problem,” says Habjan, “is to get it out into the open and provide young people with strategies to deal with it in creative and empowering ways.” And Sugerman concurs that “When art can be used to improve, not just imitate, life, we are all better off.”

Two of the 24 pieces in “The Bully Plays” were written by playwrights-in residence at Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company specializing in “professional theatre for young audiences and families” currently celebrating its 35th season.

“Gasp, Farrah & Monster” was written by José Cruz González, whose “Tomás and the Library Lady” (based on Pat Mora’s book) opens April 7 at Tempe Center for the Arts. “The Bully Pulpit” was written by Dwayne Hartford, whose “The Color of Stars” opens a world premiere run at TCA April 22.

The diversity of plays included in this collection mirrors the breadth and depth of real life experiences facing today’s children and teens. There’s school violence, cyberbullying, suicide and more. Settings include ancient Greece, a teen girl’s bedroom, a school on lockdown, a circus, a courtroom and others. Each play lists characters, setting and time — making staging the works easy in theater, classroom or community settings. Cast size varies from two to 25+.

Titles include “Bystander Blues” (Trish Lindberg), “Flash Mob” (Elizabeth Wong), “The New Kid” (Richard Dresser) and “What Goes Around” (D.W. Gregory). Though written to be performed by and for young audiences, they’re also helpful for introducing student to reading works of theater and inspiring youth to try their own hand at playwriting. Most importantly, they serve as conversation starters.

Long before “bullying” landed front and center in the national dialogue, Mary Pipher, Ph.D. addressed tough issues facing adolescent girls in “Reviving Ophelia,” the first of eight books filled with insights gleaned from cultural anthropology and clinical psychology. Pipher describes “The Bully Plays” as “a tasty antidote to our toxic teen culture.”

“This collection of plays is funny, sad, powerful and important,” says Pipher. “Bullying is a catch-phrase for treating others as less than human. All of these plays help teenagers develop their moral imagination and see that there is no us/them. There is only  us.”

— Lynn

Note: For additional bullying prevention resources, visit Teaching Tolerance and the Anti-Defamation League. Click here for details about a March 30 screening of the film “Bully” at the Phoenix Film Festival.

Coming up: A teacher tale, Student art exhibits

Update: Click here to read “The Defenders” by Sharon L. Green. The article, which appears in the May/June 2012 issue of “American Theatre” magazine, addresses theater works that tackle bullying. 5/2/12

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“The Sun Serpent”

An early rendering of "The Sun Serpent" set design

For two years, a unique collaboration of Valley artists and arts organizations have worked together to bring “The Sun Serpent” by José Cruz González to Valley  audiences. It’s being performed through Nov. 13 by Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company specializing in works for young audiences and families.

“The Sun Serpent” is an adventure tale on a grand scale. It depicts the collision of worlds old and new as a boy struggles to save his family and preserve the memory of his Aztec culture, bringing the conquest of Mexico to life through captivating media, masks, music and more.

Entering the studio theater at Tempe Center for the Arts Saturday evening, I felt transported to another world. Lush rainforest scenes, the work of projection designer Adam Larsen, were projected onto three giant panels layered on each side of the stage.

Lights with a beautiful blend of blue and green, the work of lighting designer Tim Monson, shown down onto large Aztec images painted on the stage — the work of scenic designer Carey Wong. A gentle cloud of mist hovered over the stage as sounds of birds and other rainforest creatures, the work of sound designer Christopher Neumeyer, floated through the air. It was breathtaking.

“The Sun Serpent” marries the best of traditional storytelling with technology. As its three main characters — a young boy, his widowed grandmother and his older brother — face cultural shifts with diverse motivations and dreams, projections reflect their changing world.

We see foreign ships approaching the shore, villages consumed by fire, and journeys trekked over mountaintops — all part of a visual feast best suited for audience members ages 8 & above. There’s greed, death and betrayal. But also hope and courage. “The Sun Serpent,” says director Rachel Bowditch, “portrays the strength of the human spirit.”

The creative team also includes composer Daniel Valdez, costume designer Connie Furr-Soloman, mask designer Zarco Guerrero and puppet designer Jim Luther. Amy Gilbert, who recently made the move from Atlanta to Arizona, serves as stage manager.

David Saar has directed and taught for Childsplay since it began in 1977. Managing director Steve Martin, also president of the board for Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts, is enjoying his 11th season with Childsplay.

Just three actors peform 30 roles in the Childsplay production of “The Sun Serpent.” Andrés Alcalá (Tlememe), an associate artist with Childsplay since 2007, has also performed with Actors Theatre of Phoenix, the Southwest Shakespeare Company, Nearly Naked Theatre and Phoenix Theatre.

Ricky Araiza (Young/Elder Anáhuac), an Arizona native who attended Brophy College Preparatory, graduated from ASU in 2004 with a B.A. in theatre before pursuing additional training in ensemble-based physical theater. Araiza is a freelance acting and movement teacher studying mask-making with Zarco Guerrero.

Andréa Morales (Anci) previously spent five seasons as a Childsplay company member, but now lives in Chicago, where she is a company member of Halcyon Theatre and an artistic associate of Polarity Ensemble Theatre.

As I chatted with cast members after the show, I marveled at the amazing depth and breadth of Childsplay offerings. It seems only yesterday that I was watching Childsplay associate artists D. Scott Withers and Jon Gentry bounce, run, bark and drive around in circles during a theater-in-the-round performance of “Go, Dog. Go!” You never know where the artistry of Childsplay might take you.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for additonal show and ticket information, and here to learn about other works being presented as part of the CALA Festival.

Coming up: Border tales

Update: Playwright José Cruz Gonzaléz writes about developing “The Sun Serpent” and his experiences with Childsplay in an article titled “Chasing the Sun” published in the January 2012 issue of “American Theatre” magazine. 1/4/12