Tag Archives: Maren Mascarelli

Much Ado in Mesa

The Mesa Arts Center is especially lovely as the evening sun sets

I headed out to Mesa Friday night eager to see Maren Maclean’s performance in “Much Ado About Nothing.” Much of what our youngest daughter Lizabeth knows about acting, Shakespeare and herself stems from time spent with Maclean, whose Beatrice in “Much Ado” is fantastically funny.

Before taking my seat, I headed to a long table featuring wares being sold to benefit the Southwest Shakespeare Company — where I found a nifty necklace, beaded bracelet and two sets of earrings. Mother’s Day shoppers take note — performing arts venues have some of the coolest stuff at some of the lowest prices.

A Shakespeare bust, perhaps, for the mother who has everything?

I also spied a group of teens and stopped the adult walking with them to ask whether they were part of a school program, since I always like to hear student reactions to Shakespeare’s works. Turns out they were attending “Much Ado” as part of the Arizona Theatre Company’s Open Doors program — and had the opportunity to chat with a trio of cast members after the show.

While a nearly full house was enjoying “Much Ado About Nothing,” which is directed for SSC by David Vining, folks in another theater were watching the Mesa Encore Theatre production of “Ragtime,” which runs through Sunday. Tall MET banners in the MAC lobby herald their next production, the musical “Hairspray,” and reveal some gutsy choices for 2012/13 — including “Spring Awakening” and a “TBA” show signified for now by a pair of eyes peeking out from a purple backdrop.

The East Valley Mormon Choral Association performed Friday evening at MAC

During intermission, I strolled outside the theater to snap photos of red and yellow walls illuminated by Mesa Arts Center — but found myself drawn to a wide flight of stairs, where girls of all ages were gathered in matching navy blue dresses that reminded me of daughter Jennifer’s old chorus uniform. Soon I found a mom — and asked what they were up to. She shared that her 12-year-old daughter is in her second year with the East Valley Mormon Choral Organization, which performed a concert called “From Classical to Broadway and Everything in Between” at the Mesa Arts Center Friday night.

She was kind enough to share her program with me, so I could learn more about the organization — which is currently holding auditions for the 2012/13 season (auditions for the EVMCO symphony take place in August). Friday’s “Easter Concert” featured “I Dreamed a Dream” (from the musical “Les Miserables”), “Stouthearted Men” (from the operetta “New Moon”), “Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18” (by Sergei Rachmaninoff) and more. Their 2012 “Christmas Concert” takes place Dec. 1 at Mesa Arts Center.

Students in the ATC Open Doors program spoke with a trio of "Much Ado About Nothing" cast members after the opening night performance

After enjoying the second act of “Much Ado About Nothing,” I stayed for a talkback with members of the cast and creative tream — then made my way to the tiny Southwest Shakespeare Company studio where a trio of “Much Ado” cast members talked shop with Opens Doors participants. Truth be told, teens trump adults with better theater questions every time. Grown-ups eager to learn more about “Much Ado About Nothing” can consult the SSC play guide online and attend today’s 9am “Flachmann Seminar” with Maren Maclean Mascarelli, now the company’s education director.

Before Friday’s performance, artistic director Jared Sakren shared news of SSC’s 2012-13 season, which opens in September with “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and continues with Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” opening in late November. A January “Winterfest!” features “Hamlet” and “The Tempest” presented in rotating repertory by a single company of players. And works by other playwrights include Noel Cowards’ “Private Lives” (Feb/March) and William Goldsmith’s “She Stoops to Conquer” (April).

While admiring some of the Mesa Art Center’s architectual elements, I spied a poster for “Alice: A Wonder-Full New Musical,” coming to MAC in May thanks to Christian Youth Theatre in Phoenix — which is part of a national after-school theater arts training program started in San Diego. The pop/rock work by Jon Lorenz transforms two Lewis Carroll tales into a modern day adventure of high school students more smitten with listening to “The Red Queen” band than finishing their homework.

There’s a simple solution for that, by the way. Less pencil-and-paper homework, and more out-there-in-the-community arts education.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about additional performances, events, exhibits and classes coming to the Mesa Arts Center

Coming up: Tomfoolery meets tango


Resume tips for young actors

During a recent episode of Lifetime’s “Dance Moms,” lead dance instructor Abby Lee Miller of Abby Lee Dance Company in Pittsburgh invited a Broadway casting agent to her studio.

The agent held individual auditions with young “Dance Moms” cast members, inviting them to sing as well as dance. He also attended a showcase performance meant to spotlight student talents. (Never mind the solo by a mom with misguided mojo.)

While preparing dancers for the experience, Miller explained that three things are needed for auditions — a resume, a headshot and talent. But details were sorely lacking, perhaps because there’s little drama in offering sound resume advice.

A lovely headshot of Maren Maclean photographed by Larry Stone

So I turned to Valley director, actor, coach and instructor Maren Maclean for thoughts on a few of the finer points. Whether your child performs in theater, music or dance, you’ll want to keep track (from the beginning) of training and performance experiences.

It’s hard to construct a complete and accurate resume if you haven’t kept track of the data. Saving programs in a single location is your best bet on this one, and you should start with that very first show (even if it’s just a summer camp show for family and friends).

We went many years without compiling information about our daughter Lizabeth’s music, dance and theater experiences — making the process of crafting her first acting resume more tedious than it might have been otherwise.

When it came to time to finesse the finer points (and to choose the best head shot), we called on Maclean — who does private coaching — for expert advice. For those of you just now putting those resumes together, Maclean shares the following tips:

Tip #1: “Never lie, trust me.”

“Don’t make up the names of theatres to hide that it really was your high school production. Be proud of the high school credit and give credit where credit is due. The theatre world is too small and we talk too much.”

Tip #2: “Take lots of classes.”

‘Take lots of classes and add the details to the ‘training’ portion of your resume. Every class is important and the instructor is a direct facet to your profession[al] theatre network!”

Tip #3: “A one page resume means a one page resume.”

“Don’t go back more than 8-10 years. List pertinent info and learn to let go. It’s hard but a 12 year old credit that you are so proud of can be listed on your website, not on the third page of your five page resume.”

Maclean’s own resume is posted online, so you can visit her website to see a sample. Young actors seeking to polish their auditioning skills have several options. Valley director, actor and teacher Toby Yatso once told me that the best way for Lizabeth to boost her audition skills was to audition. In many ways, it’s about learning by doing.

Joe Kremer and Maren Maclean in a 2010 Phoenix Theatre production of Noises Off! (Photo by Laura Durant)

But there are plenty of places to study and practice auditioning — including acting studios and theater companies. Also private acting coaches who can offer one-on-one instruction and notes.

Recently I read through the 2011-12 class listings for Voices, a music and arts studio in Scottsdale. Their offerings include “Audition Techniques” for 9-12 year olds and “Auditioning Skills” for 13-18 years olds.

If your teen is auditioning for college theater programs, snag those audition requirements early. He’ll want plenty of time to select, learn and polish both monologues and musical selections, which may vary by college or conservatory.

Above all, model calm and collected behavior for your child. Even the super-talented young “Dance Moms” cast members buckled under the pressure after seeing both teacher and parents in nervous-wreck mode.

Your child’s first resumes and early auditions won’t be perfect. But trust your child to live and learn a bit of it on his own. Surround your child with supportive teachers and mentors, and do some of your own letting go.

— Lynn

Note: Plenty of actors post their resumes online too, making it easy to check out what sorts of formats and such are out there. Click here to see the resume for Kyle Harris, who holds a BFA in acting from the University of Arizona. Harris performs the role of Tony in a touring production of “West Side Story” coming to ASU Gammage next month.

Coming up: Finding audition opportunities for children and teens, Fall Glee camp, Tea parties without politics, Dance and disabilities

Shakespeare in summertime

Barbara Jo Bednarczuk as Featured Performer in The Greenshow at the 2011 Utah Shakespeare Festival. (Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Karl Hugh.)

When Lizabeth and I attended last year’s Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City, we pretty much played it by ear. We hit every show and plenty of other activities like the Greenshow, but didn’t give a lot of time to planning what to do when.

We’re heading to Cedar City for several days this week to take in the 50th annual Utah Shakespeare Festival, but this time I’m taking a different tack — researching their many Shakespeare-related offerings before we go. I don’t want to miss a thing.

Literary seminars. Play orientations. Backstage tours. Production seminars. Cabaret performances with festival artists. Plus six productions — three Shakespeare works and three by other playwrights.

Elijah Alexander (top) as Oberon and Kymberly Mellen as Tatiana in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Karl Hugh.)

Happily, our trip coincides with two of their many 50th season special events — “Governor’s Night at the Festival” on Aug 12 and “Bard’s Beach Bash” on Aug 13.

Pity we’ll have to fly home before the Aug 19 “Bardway Baby” show featuring festival actors performing hits from Broadway shows in a concert setting. (I wonder whether “Romeo” and “Juliet” will grace the stage with a “Maria” and “Tony” duet.)

I’m especially eager to enjoy two exhibits on the campus of Southern Utah University. One features costumes, costume renderings and other artwork related to the festival’s costume artists and technicians. Another showcases the festival’s history as documented by its company photographers.

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of Romeo and Juliet. (Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Karl Hugh.)

An exhibit at Cedar City Library in the Park looks at festival posters and souvenir programs through the years. An exhibit in the auditorium theatre lobby celebrates costumes, props and scenery. Additional exhibits are open at area venues, making this an especially fun year to take in the Utah Shakespeare Festival.

Folks who attend the festival this month can enjoy visual arts at the Braithwaite Fine Arts Gallery, something on my “must see” list this year. Scholars from across the country will be in Cedar City Aug 10-12 for a cross-disciplinary conference called “The Wooden O Symposium,” where they study Shakespeare through the text and performance of his plays.

If you head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival on Aug 28 & 29, you can also enjoy the “Cedar City Fall Arts Festival.” Come October 8-10, students and teachers from Utah and beyond will gather for the Utah Shakespeare Festival/Southern Utah University Shakespeare Competition, something Lizabeth enjoyed while studying with Maren Mascarelli at Arizona School for the Arts.

Someday I’ll figure out a way to stay long enough to enjoy additional Utah attractions like Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park and Dixie National Forest.

— Lynn

Coming up: Photos, reviews and fun finds from the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 50th season

Shakespeare/there and here

I spoke with Lizabeth Sunday morning as she was bouncing back from an exciting night of theater at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, located in the southwestern portion of Utah.

Enter the world of Shakespeare...

She’d just seen the world-premier of “Great Expectations: A New Musical” based on the novel by Charles Dickens and directed by Jules Aaron–and eagerly described both the work and the “greenshow” that preceeded it.

Greenshows consist of pre-show entertainment including song and dance performed on a green surrounding one of the festival theaters. Lizabeth shared that she was looking forward to Sunday evening’s show featuring Scottish and Irish performers.

The Utah Shakespearean Festival makes for a fun family getaway. Once you make the drive to Las Vegas, you’re just two and a half hours away from Cedar City and all that the festival has to offer–including performances, greenshows, play orientations and a host of seminars (literary, props, costumes and actors).

The Bard certainly makes for a beautiful bust

Our own Shakepearean gem, the Southwest Shakespeare Company based in Mesa, opens their 2010-2011 season with “Blood Royal” on Sept. 9. It’s an original adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” trilogy by Michael Flachmann, directed by Jared Sakren.

But you needn’t wait that long to enjoy the best of the Bard.

Current offerings at the Utah Shakespearean Festival include three works by William Shakespeare, including “Much Ado About Nothing” directed by B. J. Jones, “The Merchant of Venice” directed by Sharon Ott and “Macbeth” directed by Joe Hanreddy.

Lizabeth has a theory that everything done in theater post-Shakespeare is a variation on a theme of sorts. I’m ill equipped to support or counter her case considering that I haven’t yet read his complete works or seen nearly enough of it performed on stage.

Do all roads follow from Shakespeare?

I’ll be hitting the festival myself before too long to up my “B.Q.”–my “Bard quotient.” Still, Lizabeth’s knowledge will likely surpass mine for an eternity.

She’s enjoyed “Shakespeare Collision” classes with Childsplay in Tempe since she was in grade school and studied with Randy Messersmith (co-founder and former artistic director of the Southwest Shakespeare Company, who serves as artistic director for theatre arts at Scottsdale Community College).

She’s also trained for several years with Maren Mascarelli (former company member of both the Utah Shakespearean Festival and the Southwest Shakespeare Company), and attended/competed in prior Utah Shakespearean Festivals with fellow theater majors at Arizona School for the Arts.

This summer, she’s attending a few of the festival’s summer programs–which includes seeing a wide variety of productions. Other shows currently playing at the festival include Alfred Hitchcock’s “39 Steps” directed by Eli Simon and an adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” directed by Kathleen F. Conlin.

Your child may blossom after a bit of time with the Bard

Once you’ve had your fun with summer movies from “Eclipse” and “Despicable Me” to “The Sorcerer’s Apprectice” and “Standing Ovation,” consider a road trip to Cedar City that’ll give your kids a taste of what theater is like outside the four walls of a cineplex.

The Utah Shakespearean Festival is a grand getaway fit for everything from a weekend escape from the heat to a longer stay to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or family reunion.

The festival runs through October 23, with later shows to include Shakespeare’s “The Adventures of Pericles” directed by Kathleen F. Conlin as well as two other works.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Diary of Anne Frank” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (directed by Paul Barned) begins in mid-September, as does “Greater Tuna” by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard (directed by Brian Vaughn).

Make this your family's season of Shakespeare

There’s way too much going on at the festival for me to cover it all here, so your best bet is to jump online for details or call to request a Winter 2010 season brochure.

It’s got the rundown on the festival’s new playwrights project, backstage tours, educational offerings, membership opportunities and more. Even lodging, child care and pet-related details are covered.

And don’t forget to support the Shakespearean craft right here at home through our own Southwest Shakespeare Company.  They’ll present four Shakespearean works this season, along with Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

They also offer seminars, performances for students, pre-show workshops, post-show discussions, show guides for teachers and more.

So go on, treat yourself to some Shakespeare–there and here.


Note: Visit the Southwest Shakespeare Company website to learn about Target field trip grants that can help students enjoy live theater performance. Applications will be available online at www.target.com starting Aug. 1.

Coming up: Valley venues presenting new theater works

Photos (top to bottom): Shakespeare Garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, Shakespeare bust in the McAshan Herb Gardens, Shakespeare Garden at Vassar College, Shakespeare Garden in NYC’s Central Park, Children’s book titled “Bard of Avon”

My sign reads “Love…”

I flipped on the television shortly after awakening one morning last week, only to be met with a scene of signs reading “God hates….”

I turned away in disgust before I got any farther with reading the signs, but I can guess at their content given the event being covered—the availability in Washington, D.C. of marriage licenses for gay couples.

We’re all free to carry whatever signs we like, but you’ll never see me with a sign claiming to speak for God—unless, perhaps, it reads “God hates hate.”

I feel akin to more than a few groups of folks considered minorities by the mainstream, so I wasn’t a bit surprised when my younger daughter, a high school theater major, felt an immediate affinity for “The Laramie Project” when she first learned of it.

And I’m proud beyond belief that she chose to audition for a role in the QSpeak/Greasepaint Youtheatre production, knowing full well that similar signs could greet the cast and crew at any time.

I imagine what my own sign might look like (I’ve carried plenty of them, mostly for the cause of mental health insurance parity). It would start with “Love….”

I spent much of last week researching “LGBTQ” issues, hoping to provide a context for folks who might wonder why a piece like “The Laramie Project” matters, or whether it’s stll relevant.

It’s been more than a decade since the events in Laramie, Wyoming that led the artists of the Tectonic Theatre Project in New York to explore how the small Wyoming town dealt with this tragedy in their midst.

But I learned Friday night, after my first experience with a live production of the piece, that it’s not an “LGBTQ” work of art. It’s a human work of art, and it’s profound.

I leave others to judge the merits of this particular production. As the parent of a cast member, I’m hardly objective—although there are two things I think other reviewers would be hard pressed to argue with.

First, that the cast is capable and consistent. It’s a true ensemble piece, and this was clear as the young actors—with no one, yet every one, a star—took us through the lives of those who experienced that Laramie tragedy firsthand, as well as the journey of the artists who crafted the piece. And second, that the direction—by Maren Mascarelli—is brilliant.

The audience, who offered a somber standing ovation, was clearly moved.

It’s rarely wise to approach a piece of art laden with expectations. Whether you’re eager or hesitant to see “The Laramie Project” because it tells the tale of a vicious hate crime, you may be surprised to discover that the questions it raises are not only bold, but broad.

To say this work is simply about sexual orientation is to sell it short, because it seamlessly weaves together reflections about culture, history, values, religion and so much more—including the ways parents and children care for and communicate with one another.

I found myself considering a wide range of questions as I watched the opening night performance, and hope that by sharing some of these with you I’ll convey a sense of the ongoing value of this work and an appreciation for the craft this young cast brought to the work (you’ll learn more about their collective and individual experiences in bringing “The Laramie Project” to life when you attend the production).

What authorities do we, or should we, embrace? Why do some judge themselves more harshly than others, while some judge others more harshly than themselves? Should we settle for tolerance or demand true appreciation and acceptance?

What role does denial play in our ability to cope with crisis? Should families let differences in ideas or values divide them? Can we ever really distance ourselves from ugly events within our communities or must we somehow own them?

How do we balance what we’ve been taught and what we’ve experienced? Where should adolescents draw the line between seeking acceptance and forging independence? Might verbal violence be just as dangerous as physical violence?

Why do so many onlookers seem malevolent or misinformed? Will we ever stop blaming victims for the brutalities that befall them? When does journalism obfuscate rather than elucidate?

What comfort lies in finding something good amidst a voracious evil? How is history shaped by storytelling? Who is the best judge of what is necessary or fair? What impact does remembering the past have on our future?

“The Laramie Project” is powerful in its entirety, but I found certain moments particularly poignant—hearing the cast sing “Amazing Grace,” listening to descriptions of the fence in a remote part of town where Matthew Shepard was savagely beaten and abandoned.

They’re all the more powerful if you spend some time in the Stagebrush Theatre lobby before taking your seat (the house was rather full, by the way, so your best bet is calling to reserve tickets before you go).

Patrons see samples of signs used by prior protestors against gay rights, watch video footage of passionate advocates, and hear audio clips of speeches by Matthew Shepard’s parents, President Barack Obama and the late Harvey Milk.

“I’m here,” says Matthew’s father, “because I lost my son to hate.”

I thought, while experiencing the show Friday night, of the many people I know who would appreciate this work, too often viewed as a niche piece of theater that appeals exclusively to those who self-identify as champions for the rights of gay Americans.

I thought of a colleague who did graduate study on the role of memoir in recounting women’s history, of a friend who has often been blamed and shamed because her son lives with schizophrenia, of a college student with an interest in storytelling—and so many others.

If you think you know what “The Laramie Project” is all about, this production may surprise you. If you’ve seen the work before and wonder whether a group of local teens can really do it justice, this production may surprise you.

Set aside your expectations, and two hours of your time. You won’t be disappointed.


Note: “The Laramie Project,” presented by Phoenix Theatre partners QSpeak and Greasepaint Youtheatre, runs through Sunday, March 14th. Learn more at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Fun with “forsooth”—and other Shakespearean shenanigans

I learned long ago that wagging my finger has little effect when I want my children to know I disapprove of something they’ve done. For our family, at least, humor seems so much more effective than hand gestures. Hence my use of the expression “Forsooth!”

My son hears it when he asks me for yet another serving at supper. My daughter hears it when she decides television might be more exciting than homework. My husband never hears it because, come to think of it, he’s pretty much always on his best behavior.

I’ve twisted the meaning a bit, I’ll bet. I use it to mean something akin to “how shocking.” My limited study of Shakespeare, which consists of arm crunches with Lizabeth’s “complete works” volume and a tad bit of time with professor Google, tells me it means something closer to “how true” or “indeed.” But I don’t guess there’s much Shakespeare can do about that now.

I might be better off using one of my favorite Broadway lines: “Shocking, shocking, shocking!” I roared with laughter the first time I heard it—I think it was during a production at Stagebrush Theatre in Scottsdale—but I’ll be darned if I can remember which show. It appears I’d rather mangle Shakespeare than use a source without proper attribution. Occupational hazard, I suppose.

Fortunately, the Valley is full of people who know a great deal more about Shakespeare than do I. One of them is Robyn McBurney, a theatre arts major at Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix, who also has a soft spot for humor. In her own words: “I love the classical texts. I adore more subtle humor and, I don’t know, I think some people associate Shakespeare with slapstick-like comedy, but all of his plays are full of little tiny double entendres and puns.”

I dare say that Lizabeth didn’t feel anything of the sort the first time she saw a Shakespeare work performed. She was in elementary school and I had grand visions of a trip to see Shakespeare performed in Sedona. We made the trip, but Lizabeth was less than impressed. The play was recast in a relatively modern-day setting, and I suspect she was expecting something more extravagent. Remember, this is the child who begged me to take her to see the opera Rigoletto at about that same time.

She’s always been a gracious kid. So I didn’t know until just the other day how she really felt about that performance. Here’s what Lizabeth told a fellow cast member from Oliver!: “I hated it!” Thankfully Shakespeare outfoxed me on this one. After seeing Ballet Arizona perform Romeo and Juliet, taking “Shakespeare Collision” workshops with Childsplay and studying Shakespeare in both arts and academic classes at ASA, she’s grown quite fond of him.

Isn’t it nice to know that our kids bounce back even when we blow it? Last year Lizabeth enjoyed attending the Utah Shakespeare Festival with fellow theatre arts students, accompanied by the incomparable (forsooth!) Maren Mascarelli, actress and theatre arts teacher extraordinaire. (You might think I’m biased here, but McBurney shares my opinion, so I’m quite certain it is entirely objective and true.)

Lizabeth missed the trip this year, but celebrated the return of her classmates when she learned several of them had placed well in the festival’s student competition. McBurney was among those who made ASA proud (again). But why on earth would a bunch of high school students take a shine to Shakespeare?

McBurney says it best: “Almost all of Shakespeare’s works look at the human creature, their loves and losses and revenge and happiness.” And frankly (my opinion here), who’s more human than a high school student? (Relax, young readers—it’s a compliment!) I hope to share more of McBurney’s reflections, and those of other Shakespeare fans, in future blogs. But seeing Shakespeare performed may be the only real way to do him justice.

You’ll have a chance this week because the Southwest Shakespeare Company is presenting “The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged)” through December 19th.

I don’t know everyone in the cast, but the folks I do know are rip-roaring funny. I mean rolling in the aisles, chuckling like a warthog funny. And there’s no reason to believe they’d settle for acting with anyone who didn’t share these credentials.

Performances take place at the Mesa Arts Center, a lovely-sized and beautifully-appointed venue that may indeed have aisles big enough to roll around in. (Of course, they may charge extra for that.)

The last time I saw a show there, the audience was as magnificent as the musicians on stage. This is important, given that theater is a communal experience.

I can’t tell you whether or not to take your kids. I haven’t seen this production, and I clearly missed the mark last time I tried to predict which Shakespeare play my own daughter might enjoy.

The company notes that “this show contains mature language and situations.” They also note that the production sold out the last time they did it, so you’d be wise to get tickets sooner rather than later if this appeals to your senses.

Let me know what you think, and whether anything fun like “forsooth” creeps into your vocabulary after you’ve seen it.

And to all you fellow aisle-rollers: Be careful out there…


Coming soon: The art at the heart of Cardon Children’s Medical Center