Tag Archives: Kennedy Center

Bald is beautiful

Scottsdale Community College theatre arts students performing theater of the absurd from playwright Eugene Ionesco (Photo: Laura Durant)

Bald is especially beautiful for Scottsdale Community College students readying to take a play titled “The Bald Soprano” on the road. SCC is one of 10 colleges in its region chosen by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival to perform their full-length production at the regional festival taking place Feb. 7-11 at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah.

Students and faculty converge on regional Kennedy Center festivals each year to share ideas and enjoy each other’s work. The SCC theatre arts department first presented “The Bald Soprano” by playwright Eugene Ionesco at SCC last season — while studying a theater genre dubbed “theatre of the absurd,” which features wordplay, irony and slapstick humor.

Folks who missed it the first time around can enjoy a free encore performance at the SCC performing arts center Thurs, Feb. 2 at 7pm. It’s directed by Randy Messersmith, who heads the SCC theatre arts department, and features voice modulation and media design by Boyd Branch.

The other works being performed in Utah are “The Elephant Man” by Bernard Pomerance (Bringham Young University), “Suddenly Last Summer” by Tennessee Williams (California Lutheran University), “The Dramatization of 365 Days” by H. Wesley Balk-adapted by Bruce Goodrich (California State University, Fullerton), “God Sees Dog: Confessions of a Teenage Blockhead” by Bert V. Royal (Citrus College) and “The Cover of Life” by R.T. Robinson (Concordia University).

Also “The Unseen Hand” by Sam Shepard (Los Angeles City College Theatre Academy), “Cesar and Ruben, A Musical” by Ed Begley, Jr. (Santa Monica College), “Eurydice” by Sarah Ruhl (Utah Valley University) and “Xanadu” with book by Douglas Carter Beane and music/lyrics by Jeff Lynne and John Farrar (Weber State University).

Works presented regionally are evaluated by judges selected by the Kennedy Center. From these, four to six “of the best and most diverse” are chosen for a non-competitive festival held in spring at the Kennedy Center. Participating students have “all expenses paid.” So let’s root for the home team on this one!

The SCC theatre department is also preparing for their spring production of “The Miracle Worker.” And the SCC music department is gearing up for a full calendar of spring concerts. All are open to the public and many are free. Some take place at the performing arts center, while others are held at venues including ASU Kerr Cultural Center, Saguaro High School and more.

The next film in the anti-hate film series presented by the Anti-Defamation League and SCC comes to the SCC performing arts center Wed, Feb. 8. It’s a film from Not in Our Town titled “Light in the Darkness” which “addresses the growing problem of anti-immigrant violence in communities nationwide.”

Remember — as you’re looking for interesting and affordable dance, music, theater and visual arts experiences — that many local colleges and universities have full calendars of fabulous fare. Go there. Go “Bald.” It’s all beautiful.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read an earlier review of “The Bald Soprano” at SCC

Coming up: Seuss sightings, Once upon a web

Updated 1/25/12 to correct date of free SCC theater performance


Mask tales

There’s a moment, during the Childsplay production of a play titled “The Sun Serpent,” when the audience gasps as the stunning set grows even more exquisite. It’s the moment when rows of masks created by the Valley’s own Zarco Guerrero are revealed — glowing with light as the stage grows dark.

Guerrero’s masks, which he sometimes creates “early in the morning or late at night” in his home studio, are featured throughout “The Sun Serpent.” Guerrero says he spends about 10-12 hours a day in the studio, but he’s also a performance artist who shares stories and more several times a week in school, conference or festival settings.

I first experienced Guerrero’s work while attending the Arizona Humanities Festival, where he and wife Carmen shared Day of the Dead lore through song, masks and readings from a book Guerrero authored titled “We Decorate the Dead.” Their work is ripe with rhythm and rich language.

“I grew up around a lot of creativity and love of art,” shares Guerrero. His father was a portrait artist, his mother a dressmaker. “I read lots of books about art from my father’s library and started drawing early in life.” But his “real love” is sculpture.

Zarco Guerrero poses with a sea of masks

“I never made a conscious decision to make masks,” says Guerrero, “because I was trained as a portrait painter and sculptor.” It was other mask makers in Mexico and “theater people” who first encouraged him to do mask work. “After fifty years,” Guerrero muses, “you could say it’s become an obsession.”

Guerrero notes that “masks have played a vital role in many cultures throughout the world” — adding that they’ve been used “to hunt, to heal and to maintain certain social orders.” Masks are powerful, reflects Guerrero, because “they allow the person wearing them to transform into someone or something else.”

“The Sun Serpent” has dominated Guerrero’s creative life since May. He was invited to participate in the production by Daniel Valdez, a friend who serves as the play’s composer. They’ve “worked and collaborated together” before — most recently on the Stanford University production of “Ollin.”

But Geurrero also counts acting among his list of credits, noting that he was the lead some two decades ago in a Childsplay production titled “La Mascarada de la Vida” which was performed both locally and at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

Both Zarco and Carmen Guerrero sat front and center for Friday night’s VIP performance of “The Sun Serpent” at the Tempe Center for the Arts — close enough to the stage to feel the wisp of a beautiful blue scarf used during the play to portray running water. When Childsplay recognized the many artists and partners who’ve worked together for two years to bring “The Sun Serpent” to the stage, his work was loudly applauded.

The three person cast of “The Sun Serpent” — who play a total of 30 roles made possible by variations in masks, movement and multi-media elements — stayed after Friday evening’s performance (their third of the day), to answer questions about the production. One audience member asked about the making of the masks.

Turns out they’re made from plaster bandages and paper clay. The masks are formed to the actors’ faces early on, then handcrafted and embellished by Guerrero. “I call the masks ‘invisible masks’ because they are meant to disppear on the face,” he explains. A grandmother mask the audience sees as the play opens is just one of 60 created for the show.

But it was a mask depicting a powerful god that most impressed a first-grade boy I spoke with after the show. Something tells me he’s destined for some amazing art adventures of his own. As we spoke, he drew me close to an art installation featuring amber-colored insets, showing me his favorite cylinder. It contains the tiny replica of an animal — something I had yet to discover despite all my time admiring the work.

“The Sun Serpent” is recommended for ages eight and up. If your child or teen sees only one live theater production this season, make this the one. It’s operatic in scope and scale, features bold and brilliant artistry, and combines the best of simple yet sophisticated storytelling.

After the show, you’ll be able to enjoy several art- and literature-related activities offered by Childsplay in the Tempe Center for the Arts lobby — then run right home for some creativity time of your own. Guerrero recommends that “kids draw and color everything they can.” And his work serves as the perfect inspiration.

— Lynn

Note: Guerrero shares that plaster bandage, available at most art stores, is easy and safe to use. For more art inspiration, visit his website at zarkmask.com. Click here to read about a current exhibition of  Guerrero’s work in Colorado.

Coming up: More musings on “The Sun Serpent,” Dia de los Muertos — library style

Toga time?

Don’t be alarmed if you see students parading around in their togas near Theatre Outback, a performing arts venue at Mesa Community College, this weekend — or next.

They’re likely cast members from a mature-theme piece of musical theater called “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which combines situations depicted in 2,000 year-old-plays by Plautus with vaudevillian comedy of more modern times.

Mesa Community College opens their production of "Forum" tonight

It’s being performed by MCC’s music department Oct. 20-29. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” was originally produced on Broadway by Harold S. Prince. The classic piece of musical theater meets farce features book by Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart, plus music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Seems a slave has been promised freedom in exchange for winning a young woman’s hand for his master — but nothing goes quite as planned. Along the way, audience members enjoy songs like “Comedy Tonight,” “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid,” and “That Dirty Old Man.” You can take the teens, but leave younger ones at home.

The MCC production includes a cast of 18, many of whom have a long list of credits. The program lists Sue Anne Lucius as producer, Jere Van Patten as director and Cathy Hauan as music director/conductor. Also two choreographers — Frank Cava and Jennifer Cava.

The cast of MCC's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"

The original Broadway production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” — which opened in 1962 — earned several Tony Awards, including best musical and best book. Broadway revivals were staged in 1972 and 1976. There’s also a 1962 musical film version featuring the original Broadway star, Zero Mostel, know to many as Tevye in the original “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” is performed infrequently in the Valley, so Sondheim fans and students of musical theater should seize this opportunity to experience the work. Sondheim served as lyricist for both “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” He’s earned an Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize. Also several Grammy Awards and Tony Awards.

Sondheim was both composer and lyricist for the musicals “Company,” “Follies,” “A Little Night Music,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods” and more. Even those who fail to fawn over all things Sondheim should appreciate his contributions to the great American art form we call musical theater.

The cast of "Forum" presented by the music department at Mesa Community College

If you’ve never seen “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” attending the MCC production sounds like a fun way to up your musical theater I.Q. Just promise me you’ll leave toga time to the professionals.

— Lynn

Note: The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards solicit nominations each year from the general public and notable public figures, providing the opportunity to submit stories about teachers and professors who made a significant difference in their lives. Click here for details.

Coming up: Tevye tales, Fun finds at the Arizona Humanities Festival

For the love of country

A work of art available in the museum shop at the Musical Instrument Museum

Hank Williams, Jr. made headlines this week for likening America’s president to one particular genocidal monster, an analogy that doesn’t do justice to the patriotism evident in so much of country music.

My daughter Jennifer, a cultural anthropology major at ASU, is a longtime fan of country music who’s introduced me to a smarter, kinder side of the genre long-affiliated with love of country and — at its best — love of fellow citizens.

Recently she pulled me aside to watch a videotaped performance from this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony. It featured Darius Rucker performing with 25 campers from the “ACM Lifting Lives Music Camp.”

They sang “Music from the Heart,” which songwriters Brett James and Chris Young composed with campers during the summer of 2010. “Lifting Lives” is the philanthropic arm of the ACM, which sponsored last summer’s camp.

The music camp has been hosted for six years by the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center in Tennessee, which works to “facilitate discoveries and best practices that make positive differences in the lives of persons with developmental disabilities and their families.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d spotted a country/Kennedy connection. Alan Jackson opened the Kennedy Center’s 9/11 memorial in Washington, D.C. with his song titled “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning.”

Those of you seeking country music closer to home can look forward to several concerts coming to Valley stages this season. Vince Gill performs at the Mesa Arts Center on Oct. 23, and Josh Gracin performs with special guest Nick Nicholson at the Higley Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 9.

Chandler Center for the Arts presents Lorrie Morgan and Pam Tillis on Feb. 4, 2012 and Marty Stuart on March 31, 2012. I hope someone gives me a call when Roseanne Cash comes to town.

The Musical Instrument Museum, already home to country western fare, says exhibits about Toby Keith and Buck Owens will go up later this month in the Artists Gallery

I was intrigued to see several country music-related exhibits being prepared during my last visit to the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, and I’m told that Suzy Boggus will be performing at the MIM on March 23, 2012.

It’s always fun to explore country western-related artifacts at the MIM. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a genuine “Nudie suit” — named for the Russian-born American tailor who crafted rhinestone-studded garb for lots of country western superstars.

And it’s nice to know, in a day and age when some use their celebrity to pedal hate and intolerance, that others are using their own good fortune to enhance the lives of others.

— Lynn

Coming up: Art meets Americana, Spending time at the “Spitfire Grill”

A pair of Kennedy sightings

It was a humble sign — just an 8 1/2 x 11 inch piece of white paper — hanging on a post near the entrance to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. I spotted it while heading to the 9/11 memorial in the arts center atrium.

This story starts with a simple sign

It read “Kennedy Center Partners in Education Workshops.” My heart skipped a beat. I’m a longtime fan of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, located in Washington, D.C. — and love finding them here in our own neck of the woods now and then.

I saw one of their touring Kennedy Center “Theater for Young Audiences” productions at Higley Center for the Performing Arts last season. (Good, but not our beloved Childsplay.) And attended “Arts in Crisis: A Community Conversation with Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser” at Phoenix Theatre in April of 2010. (His advice: Deliver a quality product and market it well.)

I noticed a blurb about the Kennedy Center while reading a recent “Arts Learning Newsletter” from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. It noted that the Kennedy Center is seeking local teams for its “Partners in Education” program — which “facilitates educational partnerships between arts organizations around the nation and their local school systems.” It’s much jazzier than it reads on paper.

Ted Kennedy signed the National Unity Flag in 2002

I spent part of Tuesday evening with about two dozen teachers participating in this very program. Two of them had taken a break from an afternoon session when I spied them near the National Unity Flag exhibit, and pounced (nicely, of course) to ask what they were up to. I’d just finished snapping this picture of Ted Kennedy’s signature for my daughter Jennifer, an ASU student with a thing for history.

I shared my business card, which soon found its way to fine arts coordinator Janet Blum from the Scottsdale School District, who promptly tracked me down and invited me to check out the workshop taking place on the Virginia G. Piper Theater stage where I’d once watched Kristin Chenoweth perform.

I headed home, wrote and posted a piece on the National Unity Flag, whipped up some pork chops and mashed potatoes for one of my kiddos, and headed back for the final hour or so of the workshop.

There I was warmly greeted by Blum, Keith Preston (fine arts coordinator for the Paradise Valley Unified School District), Tammy Hinds (education program coordinator for the Scottsdale Center for the Performiing Arts) and Melanie Layne from the Kennedy Center.

Kennedy Center Arts Integration Workshop

Seems I’d just missed the performance by four small groups of “tableaus” meant to integrate art and history on the topic of the Western expansion — but they were kind enough to run them again, and to let me sit in for the rest of the evening. I came home with oodles of notes and handouts that you’ll likely see reflected in future posts on arts and education.

After an hour of listening to the “learn by doing” mantra, I realized I could offer at least one teacher the opportunity to take what she’s experiencing at the workshop (which continues on Wednesday) and share it with our readers. Soon I connected with a teacher and proud new mama named Patricia.

Teachers meet tableau in Scottsdale

Writing a guest post will be right up her alley. She’s already blogging regularly as “Little Mamma Italiana” — sharing photos and pearls about parenting baby daughter Gia and life with “daddy Sal.” One photo shows Sal and Gia profiles, suggesting their ears are “exactly the same.” Sorry, Sal. Gia’s are actually cuter.

So what were my “take aways” from the evening? That teachers are some of the hardest working people on the planet, that it’s fun to watch teachers act out history whether you’re five or 50, that art is where it’s at when it comes to hands-on learning. Also that arts integration fosters literacy and helps kids remember material longer.

Watch for Patricia’s post in coming weeks, and more pearls from the arts professionals and teachers taking part in workshops this week. I gave lots of teachers my card, and hope they’ll get in touch to brag a bit about their students and their schools.

— Lynn

Note: Find the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org. Visit the Kennedy Center at www.kennedy-center.org. Sign up for the Arizona Commission on the Arts “Arts Learning Newsletter” at www.azarts.gov. Read Patricia’s blog at http://littlemammaitaliana.blogspot.com/.

Coming up: A duo of posts on costume design, Review: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, What’s new in opera?

Arts in Education Week

During a recent episode of “Jeopardy,” the final question required knowledge of both children’s literature and opera. Think Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” meets Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” Only one contestant seemed to know much about either — and he walked away with the cash. I’m guessing there’s an art teacher he ought to be thanking back home.

It’s been heartening to see arts and culture play such a pivotal role in 9/11 anniversary ceremonies. Sunday’s event at the newly opened 9/11 Memorial in NYC featured Yo-Yo Ma, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Emi Ferguson, Paul Simon and James Taylor. Opening remarks by Michael Bloomberg quoted Shakespeare, and poetry was prevalent throughout.

The Pushcart Players perform one of five school shows offered by Mesa Arts Center this season

Too often our nation forgets all that has been forged by arts and culture, and fails to appreciate the role they can play in moving us forward. So I’m delighted that Congress passed a bill last year designating the second week of September “National Arts in Education Week.”

For those who love the arts, no explanation of their impact or importance is needed. Art is an instinct, in impulse. An adventure of imagination as necessary as air. For others, they seem a mere nicety at best — perhaps because the joys of art never touched their lives as children.

But those unmoved by art’s aesthetic power should recognize its more tangible benefits. Art creates jobs. Creates cities where people want to live. Creates schools full of innovators and imaginators. Maybe even the “creative class” touted by a presidential candidate in his stump speeches.

Ninety percent of Arizonans believe that arts education is either important or very important, according to results of a public opinion poll conducted by ASU in May 2009 — a poll cited in the background report for this year’s Arizona Town Hall, the first of 98 Arizona Town Halls to focus on Arizona arts and culture. www.aztownhall.org.

The Arizona Arts Education section of the report was authored by Mandy Buscas (then director of arts learning for the Arizona Commission on the Arts, now the arts education outreach coordinator for Mesa Arts Center) and Lynn Tuttle (director of arts education for the Arizona Department of Education).

MAC presents Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters for grades K-6

Their work considers results of the 2009 Arts Education Census. It also looks at federal, state and local educational policies — noting that state support for arts in education has suffered significant losses of late due to “efforts to close significant stage budget shortfalls.”

Their reporting on the arts census notes that “20% of schools offered no courses in any arts discipline” and that “79% of schools spend less than $1 per year per student for arts instruction.” This despite the fact that U.S. employers rank creativity/innovation among the top five skills growing in importance.

So what can be done to move Arizona forward? A report issued after the Arizona Town Hall on arts and culture says that “Arizona residents need to speak up, stand for what we support, and make that support known at the ballot box at all levels, from the legislature, to the superintendent of public instruction, and to local school boards.”

It sounds rather daunting if you’re not accustomed to advocating for issues with local and stage officials, but there are plenty of resources to help you get started — including Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts. www.azcitizensforthearts.org.

The report also urges the arts and culture community to partner with the business community to “lobby for improved arts education” — and calls on nonprofit organizations and arts professionals in our communities to “continue augmenting arts education in the schools.” Think artist residencies, school field trips and such.

There’s plenty we can do as parents. Volunteer to help with art projects in the classroom. Coordinate field trips to places like libraries, performing arts venues, museums and exhibit spaces. Donate art-related supplies to local schools. Urge schools to integrate arts learning into other subjects. Vote art at every opportunity.

MAC presents Native American Song & Dance for grades K-12

Folks who separate art from the other disciplines, orchestrating false dichotomies that pit science and math against music and theater should learn more about artists like Emi Ferguson, a distinguished student of both music and epidemiology. Or scientists like Oliver Sacks.

To learn more about arts and education in Arizona, sign up for the free arts learning newsletter from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. www.azarts.gov.

The latest issue features details on the Poetry Out Loud program, a student art competition, an opportunity to participate in the Kennedy Center Partners in Education program, Target field trip grants, teacher workshops and more.

As for the “Jeopardy” answer that won the big bucks, it was “Pooh-bah.”

— Lynn

Note: Additional arts in education resources include the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (www.pcah.gov), Americans for the Arts (www.artsusa.org) and the Arts Education Partnership (www.aep-arts.org). Learn more about Mesa Arts Center arts education programs at www.mesaartscenter.com.

Coming up: Country music meets arts and culture, Art meets airport, Who let the cats out?, Shakespeare meets Sweeney Todd

From Sondheim to South Park

South Park Elementary School Musical episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

I worried as a young parent that irreverent television shows like the animated series “South Park” on Comedy Central might serve as a sort of gateway drug to all sorts of bad behavior. I suppose it was the foul language factor that scared me the most. There’s nothing pretty about cruising the bathroom cleanser aisle of the local mommy mart with a potty-mouth child in tow.

South Park The F Word episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

Yet musicals laced with colorful language have never felt all that threatening. I didn’t even realize “Les Miserables” contained a four-letter word until I saw it, just yesterday, for the umpteenth time. My daughter, Lizabeth, has been joining me at the theater for more than half her lifetime. Most of our favorite shows are peppered with language that’s plenty spicy. Think “Spring Awakening,” “Avenue Q,” and “Next to Normal.”

South Park All About Mormons episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

As “The Book of Mormon,” a new musical with book, music and lyrics by “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone and “Avenue Q” co-creator Robert Lopez, creates a stir on Broadway, I suspect part of its popularity stems from the “South Park” as gateway drug factor. How lovely to have a built-in following that already rocks it in the world of cynicism and absurdity.

I’m all for the gateway drug approach, assuming we’re talking about ideas rather than injectables — but my starter drug isn’t “South Park.” It’s Sondheim. Because my love of musical theater is fueling a new appreciation of all things “South Park.” I don’t do much in the way of “appointment television.” Few series are intriguing enough to demand regular viewing. But tonight I sat glued to the latest episode of “South Park” — in which Stan, who’s celebrating his 10th birthday, gets an official diagnosis of cynicism (and makes generous use of the word I was shocked to hear just once during “Les Mis”).

South Park You're Getting Old episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

I’ll never be a fan of humor favored by adolescent boys — barf jokes, poop gags and such. But I’m eager to encounter the genius of Parker and Stone outside my frequent encounters with the CD for “The Book of Mormon” and the nifty little paperback featuring the complete book and lyrics of the musical. One day I hope to land a ticket to see the show on Broadway.

South Park Super Best Friends episode - Photo courtesy of Comedy Central

People asked, after I chose to pursue graduate studies in religion, what I planned to do with my degree. With three years of doctoral study in the philosophy of religion in the bag, I feel uniquely equipped to experience “The Book of Mormon” in all its splendor. Whether all that Kant and Camus will help me grasp the machinations of Stan, Kyle, Eric, Kenny and Butters remains to be seen. Stay tuned.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for “The Book of Mormon” show and ticket information

Coming up: Musings on the 2011 Tony Awards®, The Kennedy Center/Stephen Sondheim Inspirational Teacher Awards