Tag Archives: new theater

This and that

Ron May directs a contemporary play titled "This" for Actors Theatre

Recently I enjoyed a fast-paced conversation with Ron May, a Valley director known to many as founding artistic director of Stray Cat Theatre in Tempe.

He’s either way ahead of me in the espresso department or seriously working a juggling riff. Maybe both.

May is readying for this Friday’s opening of “This” — a work by contemporary playwright Melissa James Gibson described in December 2009 by Charles Isherwood of The New York Times as “the best new play to open Off Broadway this fall.”

Anne Marie Falvey (Jane) in the Actors Theatre production of "This" by playwright Melissa James Gibson (Photo: John Groseclose)

It’s one of several works by women playwrights being produced by Actors Theatre this season. We can look forward to the Arizona premiere of Annie Baker’s “Circle Mirror Transformation” in April and May.

Gibson’s “This” resonates with May for several reasons, including its treatment of love and loss. Last year May lost both his mother and a friend named Scotty Jeffers — a beloved Valley actor last seen performing in “Androcles and the Lion” with Childsplay.

Hence the tribute “For my mom. And for Scotty J.” at the end of a bio May has posted on the Stray Cat Theatre website — which also notes his long list of directing credits, a couple of his acting gigs and the glamorous stint that “pays the bills.”

Previous shows he’s directed for Actors Theatre include the Arizona premiere of “Boom” — as well as “A View of the Harbor,” “Augusta” and “The Pursuit of Happiness.”

The central character in “This,” which runs Jan 21-Feb 6 at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix, is a woman in midlife whose husband recently died. As the teaser for the show notes: Jane is not alright.

Jane’s friends, says May, aren’t exactly helping. Seems they think that fixing Jane up with a “hottie” might do the trick, but things don’t quite unfold as expected.

David Dickinson (Jean-Pierre) in "This" -- which opens this Friday at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix (Photo: John Groseclose)

May hails from Chicago — a city he clearly loves, and honors right up there with New York City and Los Angeles when it comes to stage offerings and opportunities.

Chicago is home to a diverse assortment of unique and intriguing theater experiences for both practitioners of the theater craft and those of us who fill the house every night. Think The Second City, American Theater Company and Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

He first experienced the wonders of live theater as a junior high school student. Seems the same gentleman who coached May’s speech team also ran the school’s theater department.

The teacher encouraged May to audition for a play — something about a man in grey flannel, recalls May. May was cast. But more importantly, he was “bit by the bug.”

May headed to college to study acting — in a program that required actors to take a directing class. A directing teacher told May at one point that although his acting was just fine — he might be even better at directing.

He suspected at the time that this was simply her gentle way of telling him to throw in the acting towel. But she’d seen something in May that he had yet to see in himself.

May ended up studying at Arizona State University in Tempe, where he earned a B.A. in theater with a directing emphasis. Stray Cat Theatre grew out of work with nine of May’s ASU friends who “all had a taste for a certain kind of theater.”

Most were from other parts of the country and dreamed of working in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. May hadn’t yet heard of Actors Theatre, despite the fact that it will soon be celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Stray Cat Theatre began as a class project for a theater organization and management class. “We had to make up a theater company,” recalls May — who describes himself as “a huge cat fan.”

Like the theater May most enjoys watching and working with, cats are “rougher around the edges.” Knowing the company would likely live for many years without a permanent home, May dubbed it “Stray Cat Theatre.”

Today, Stray Cat Theatre makes its home in a charming red brick building once occupied by Childsplay Theatre, a professional theater company performing works for children and families.

Childsplay’s founder and artistic director, David Saar, is another gifted artist who graduated from ASU. My 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth grew up watching Childsplay performances and participating in Childsplay workshops, camps and conservatory — and will soon be heading off to study theater in college.

I’m thrilled that she’s been able to experience the works of Actors Theatre, Stray Cat Theatre and so many other outstanding companies here in her own hometown. The Arizona theater community has given her roots, and now wings.

But what of May? Doesn’t he long to return to Chicago’s vibrant theater vibe? “Arizona has been good to me,” muses May. He’s able to do the work he enjoys in a place where he sees a real need.

May likens the work of Actors Theatre to the sort of movies you’ll see at Harkins Theatre Camelview 5, a Scottsdale cinema that presents works a bit more provocative than most. In contemporary parlance, says May, the best descriptor might be “Indie.”

Actors Theatre describes its own work as “vital, contemporary, electric, thought-provoking theatre.” It’s hard to disagree.

Yolanda London (Marrell) and Anne Marie Falvey (Jane) in the Actors Theatre production of "This" (Photo: John Groseclose)

Part of the appeal of directing “This” for Actors Theatre is the obvious parallel to May’s own life in terms of midlife musings. “This script reallly spoke to me,” reflects May.

“It’s about that whole choppy middle-age thing, which is where I hit right now,” adds May.

Like May and his circle of college friends from the early days of Stray Cat Theatre, the central character Jane has a group of friends who’ve been together for years.

But life is intervening, and it isn’t always pretty. Babies happen. Unexpected relationships happen. Friendships splinter or wither away.

Like so many of us who’ve matured, sometimes kicking and screaming, into middle age — Jane realizes that “the cards she was dealt aren’t the cards she expected to be holding.”

Anne Marie Falvey (Jane) and Oliver Wadsworth (Alan) perform with Actors Theatre (Photo: John Groseclose)

May says he has “a tremendous affection for the play,” describing it as “incredibly funny and smart.” Yet the name of the play doesn’t exactly wow him. Given May’s fondness for word play, I suspect he’s toyed with an imaginary title or two.

After all, May did a bang-up job naming the pet he describes as “a gift from an ex of mine.” Seems the cat came to him with a lot of what May describes as “eye boogers.” So now he’s more than mere actor or director. He’s daddy to a black cat named “Boogers.”

A little this, a little that. It’s really all any of us can wish for.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “This,” being presented Jan 21-Feb 8 by Actors Theatre at the newly-renovated Herberger Theater Center (near the Arizona Center and Sympony Hall).

Coming up: Unstoppable theater, More fun with theater cats (and dogs)

Photos by John Groseclose, courtesy of Actors Theatre


Much ado about movie theaters

Never cry over spilled milk, but spilled popcorn is an entirely different matter

There’s much ado about this week’s opening of the movie “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

An exclusive sneak preview takes place at Harkins Theatres Fashion Square in Scottsdale at 7pm on Thurs, Nov 18.

Tickets are $20 apiece, and benefit Arcadia High School STUGO Prom and Project Graduation. They’re available only at the Arcadia front office and bookstore — and only while supplies last.

Maybe “Harry Potter” isn’t your vibe. If you’re more of a Metropolitan Opera buff, check out today’s movie theater showings of “The Met: Live in HD.”

Donizetti’s Don Pasquale” can be seen at several Valley movie theaters Sat, Nov 13 (mostly AMC, but also Cinemark) — and more live MET performances come our way during the 2010-2011 season.

We’ve already got our tickets to see a live broadcast of the 25th anniversary performance of “Les Miserables In Concert.” It’s playing in select movie theaters nationwide on Wed, Nov 17. (Take note if your child is a Jonas Brothers fan.)

Harkins Theatres and Emerging Pictures present “Das Rheingold” this week as part of the “The Opera and Ballet in Cinema Series.”

It’ll show at 11am on Thurs, Nov 11 at Arrowhead Fountain 18, Chandler Fashion 20 and Scottsdale 101 14 theaters.

Other big news in movie theater world this week includes the Fri, Nov 19 opening of a new theater at the Scottsdale Pavilions (just off the 101 at Indian Bend).

Those of us who’ve driven for months through and around Pavilion-related construction zones are especially pleased that we’ll soon be able to reap some of the rewards.

UltraStar Cinemas’ UltraLuxe Theater in Scottsdale plans to add two family-friendly features come December. 

Their “Parenting Movie Morning” program will show a new film each week in a baby-friendly environment (think low light rather than total darkness, lower volume that’s easier on babies’ ears, accessible changing tables and such).

The “Kidtoons” program will feature a different G-rated film each month, to be  shown Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30am.

I like the timing on this baby. Get your exercise in the morning, then hit the movie theater. Take kids home for a healthy lunch and watch them nod off during naptime.

Movies are selected to appeal to preschool through school age children, and tickets for those who’ve passed big birthday number two are just $2.50 (littler one are free). And kids who attend get free giveaways like stickers or temporary tattoos.

The first “Kidtoons” movie shows at 10:30am on Sat, Dec 4. It’s “Curious George: A Very Monkey Christmas.” Sounds like the perfect warm-up for an afternoon trip to see the many monkeys living at the Phoenix Zoo. (You can now enjoy “Curious George” on PBS television too.)

Technically, much ado about movies should involve Shakespeare in some way. So naturally I found that too. Turns out the fine folks at Emerging Cinemas now present “Ballet in Cinema,” “Opera in Cinema,” and “Shakespeare in Cinema” (complete with performances from the Globe Theatre in London).

But more about that in a future post. For now, we have “Harry Potter,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” and other holiday blockbusters to attend to.  

— Lynn

Coming up: Movies and mental illness, Finding art at the Phoenix Zoo

Musings on “gypsy” music

I’m as guilty as the next person.

I hear the word “gypsy” and I make all kinds of assumptions. But unlike the stereotypes held by so many others throughout history, my stereotypes aren’t negative.

They’re idealized, even romanticized.

I remember buying Jennifer a book of ‘gypsy fairy tales’ when she was in elementary school.

It was part of a series that included fairy tales from many countries–Russia, Ireland and more.

Jennifer, who now studies cultural anthroplogy and history at ASU in Tempe, has always been fascinated with India–its culture, its people, its religion.

The flag above, similar in some ways to the flag of India, has been adopted by the World Romani Congress.

Many trace the history of gypsies, described by most scholars as “Romani,” to India during the Middle Ages, though some trace their origins back much farther or to other regions such as modern-day Pakistan or Iran.

I’m eager to learn more about the topic–which landed on my radar when I discovered that a musical group called “Parno Graszt” (pictured at left) will be performing this weekend at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix.

They’re described as “Hungary’s #1 Gypsy Folk Band”–and have been performing “traditional gypsy music and dancing” for two decades.

I sometimes consider myself a bit of a gypsy simply because I moved a great deal as a child–from state to state and city to city–with a single mother I now think of as having some sort of a wanderlust.

But one of the first tidbits I uncovered while putting a mere tip of one toe in the ocean of historical and mythological information about these peoples is that they aren’t necessarily nomadic.

Those who study the Roma differ in their opinions of just how essential nomadicism is, and was, to their way of life.

Were I still a homeschooling parent, I’d be all over this topic (including the Romani alphabet at left).

It promises so many paths to explore–from the nature of historical research to the horrific outcomes of ignorance and intolerance.

I hope you’ll make time to enjoy the richness of musical experiences offered by the MIM–including the performance art of “Parno Graszt.”

But don’t leave it there.

Let the music inspire you to do a bit of your own musing on Romani art and culture.

I’ve located several resources for those of you who want to join me on this journey of discovery:

Amnesty International USA at www.amnestyusa.org. This organization offers information on human rights news, policy and advocacy regarding many cultures and countries–including the Roma. Website features info on “Artists for Amnesty.”

Dosta! at www.dosta.org. This website offers information on the “Dosta!” (“Enough!”) campaign against anti-Roma discrimation–and resources such as Romani museums and contemporary Romani musicians.

Museum of Romani Culture (Muzeum romske kultury) at www.rommuz.cz. This museum in the Czech Republic offers information on Roma history, culture, music (hudba), children’s activities and more.

Romani.org at www.romani.org. This website offers information on Roma history, stereotypes, persecution, dance, music (including discography) and more.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at www.ushmm.org. This D.C.-based museum offers information on various groups persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime, including the Roma. The website features “Music of the Holocaust” information and recordings (including Roma music from Auschwitz).

University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at www.chgs.umn.edu. This academic center offers information on Roma history and culture–as well as poignant images of the persecution of Roma (including the above photo of a couple at the Belzec extermination camp).

Voice of Roma at www.voiceofroma.com. This California-based non-profit offers information on Roma music, dance, film, culture and human rights.

I’ll never be anything close to an expert in Romani culture, but I can certainly look beyond the limits of my own time and place.

I can learn more.

I can do more.

I can be more.

And music is a great place to start…


Note: Click here to read the official statement of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on International Roma Day (April 8, 2010)

Coming up: Roundup of weekend art offerings in the Valley, which include the third staged reading of Phoenix Theatre’s 13th annual Hormel New Works Festival–featuring Nathan Sanders’ “Divine Fruit/Kundalini Rising” directed by William Partlien. It’s the perfect pick for mature teen and adult audiences interested in issues of multiculturalism, religion and gay rights.