Tag Archives: NPR

Musings on Maurice Sendak

If I need to find my youngest daughter Lizabeth in a crowd, I just look for the black hooded jacket she’s practically lived in for the past couple of years. It’s got a giant image from the book “Where the Wild Things Are” on the back, and she’s especially mindful of wearing it today knowing that 83-year-old Maurice Sendak, an author and illustrator who was born and raised in Brooklyn, has died.

I shared the news with a local librarian shortly after hearing it. She seemed both shocked and saddened. I’d gone to the Scottsdale Civic Center Library with my son Christopher to check out a copy of “Brundibar,” the work of both Sendak and Tony Kushner (known to theater folks for writing the play “Angels in America“). Reading Sendak’s work feels like a good way to honor him.

I brought the book along when we headed to our neighborhood yogurt shop — knowing Christopher likes to linger over his vanilla swirl with gummy worms. Some things boys just never seem to outgrow. Christopher saw “The Wild Things” movie with me several years ago, and felt a special kinship for the lead character Max, whose moods are often larger than life.

Christopher looked over my shoulder as I read through “Brundibar,” taking special note of the yellow star on a doctor’s jacket, challah bread in the town bakery and a sign reading “Arbeit Macht Frei.” Sendak once told a reporter for The New York Times that “The Holocaust has run like a river of blood through all my books.” His family’s experiences with depression have been reported as well.

Tonight, while driving to oldest daughter Jennifer’s favorite Mexican food joint, we listened to NPR’s re-broadcast of a Terry Gross interview with Sendak that covered all sorts of topics. The different ways he related to his brother and his sister. His decision to remain childless. The fact that his parents died never knowing he was gay.

Take time in coming days and weeks to revisit the work of artist Maurice Sendak, and to learn more about the man behind the stories — for he’s fascinating folk. Read his works alone and with your family. Consider gifts to causes he supported. Listen to the opera that inspired “Brunibar.” Explore the Rosenbach Museum and Library collection of Sendak manuscripts and illustrations. Wrestle with the “wild things.” And act on two words at the heart of his work: Never again.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read one of my favorite interviews with Sendak, conducted by Bill Moyers for “Now” on PBS. Click here to learn more about National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day (May 9).

Coming up: One mother’s diary


The agony and the ecstacy

Actors Theatre of Phoenix has seen plenty of both in recent months after announcing that a huge infusion of cash would be needed to complete their current season, then deciding to move forward with a 2012-2013 season announcement though still working to raise full funding.

So it’s fitting I suppose that the first show planned for their 2012-13 season is Mike Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs.” Daisey and his play became the focus of significant controversy after NPR’s Ira Glass retracted a January episode of “This American Life” featuring Daisey and the play due to “significant fabrications” — and Daisey’s been bombarded with more bad news since.

Folks eager to explore Daisey’s own take on his work can read an article Daisey wrote that’s titled “The Sin of Activism” — published in the April 2012 issue of American Theatre magazine, which has featured works of late that celebrate its four key values — artistry, diversity, global citizenship and activism.

Turns out Daisey was trained to think of activism as a dirty word, but drifted in that direction as his work “circled more and more around the fundamental conflict between the human and the inhuman in our culture.” His article for American Theatre details the evolution of his thought, process and product.

Today he’s a converstion story. “Action is the root of theatre,” writes Daisey. “Activism is the public face of that action. We need an American theatre that recognizes this. Now more than ever.” And I suppose Actors Theatre wouldn’t mind folks heeding the call by advocating on their behalf.

Following Daisey’s “The Agony and the Ecstacy of Steve Jobs,” Actors Theatre will stage “Opus” by violinist-turned-playwright Michael Hollinger — which imagines a string quartet preparing to perform a hefty bit of Beethoven at the White House when the erratic behavior of their resident genius necessitates that someone else  (who’s younger, less experienced and female) take his place. Think rehearsal room as pressure cooker.

New is next to godliness at Actors Theatre, and thank heavens for it. Next up is “The Fox on the Fairway” by playwright Ken Ludwig — described by Actors Theatre as “one of America’s greatest living writers of farce.” Ludwig is well-known to theater folk for writing “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Crazy for You.” But now, it seems, he’s turned his attention to “one man’s eternal love affair with golf.”

Also “A Steady Rain.” This baby was written by Keith Huff, lauded by Actors Theatre for helping to write and produce a little something on AMC called “Mad Men” — which Huff says he’s left behind to pursue other projects. “A Steady Rain” follows a pair of Chicago police officers whose mutual loyalty is tested when an unfortunate decision begets guilt, fear and corruption.

Actors Theatre plans to close its 2012-13 season with “Good People” by playwright David Lindsay-Abaire, whose “The Rabbit Hole” won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for best drama. It’s the tale of a single mother with a special needs daughter who moves to the suburbs in search of new opportunities after losing her dollar store gig. “Good People” was nominated in 2011 for a Tony Award, the year “War Horse” went home with best play honors.

Turns out there’s a lovely piece about “Good People” and Lindsay-Abaire in the current issue of American Theatre magazine as well. It’s penned by Christopher Wallenberg, who details the playwright’s own working class roots and growing realization that new American plays weren’t reflecting the real struggles of folks to make it in a land that sometimes fails to deliver on its promises.

New is nifty, but relevance rules — and it’s something that Actors Theatre of Phoenix is nearing nicely with its 2012-13 season, which reads more “everyday” than “high art” during a period in American life in which few can afford time with theater experiences that feel more luxury than real-life. Let’s hope that Actors Theatre has accurately gauged the pulse of its audience, something absolutely essential to keeping their own heart beating.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about the May 10 movie theater broadcast of a live on-stage performance of “This American Life” (complete with dance and other fun things you can’t see through a radio) — and here to learn about Annie Baker’s “Body Awareness,” being performed by Actors Theatre through April 15.

Coming up: Photography on the fly

Red fur meets red rocks

Kevin Clash and Elmo are appearing at the 2012 Sedona International Film Festival

The cheerful, chatty Sesame Street character named Elmo returns to Arizona in February for the Sedona International Film Festival. Prepare the paparazzi. He’s bringing Sesame Street puppeteer and producer Kevin Clash along, because the two appear together in a documentary being screened at the festival. It’s called “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey.”

Clash reminded me, when we spoke earlier this week, that he’s joined Elmo in journeying to Arizona once before — to film a one-hour video titled “Elmo’s World: Wild Wild West!” Clash also performs “Hoot the Owl” and “Baby Natasha” for Sesame Street, but Elmo seems to get more press as the television show’s most popular puppet.

Clash is the proud parent of a college-age daughter, but admits in “Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey” that she was well into her teens before he realized how much time he spent working with other children when his own daughter dearly needed more daddy time.

I chatted with Clash during the tail end of a typically busy day, shortly after he’d wrapped an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross for a segment of “Fresh Air” broadcast just yesterday. You can click here to listen to the interview, which features Clash both in and out of Elmo mode.

Turns out Clash has a few of his own puppet favorites. A furry blue fellow named Grover — first performed by one of Clash’s puppetry idols named Frank Oz. And Kermit the Frog, the smoother, greener fellow who reminds Clash of another friend and mentor, the late Jim Henson.

He’s keen on puppetry outside of Sesame Street too. In recent years, puppets have been featured in two Broadway shows. First a musical titled “Avenue Q,” which Clash describes as “really exciting.” Then a play called “War Horse,” which Clash calls “amazing.” He saw the play only recently, and says it was a “very emotional” experience. “It shows what puppets can do.”

Clash says he’s “curious about the next step” puppetry will take, though I suspect he’ll be pioneering much of what transpires. He’s thrilled that the Muppets’ popularity is once again soaring — thanks in part to “The Muppets” movie still playing at plenty of theaters. And he reveals that discussions about making a Sesame Street movie are underway. “We’re at the beginning stages of talks,” says Clash.

I’d hoped that Clash might reveal a little something folks don’t really know about Elmo. But there’s no mystery to Elmo, according to Clash. “What you see is what you get.” Elmo loves life — and hugs and kisses. It’s that simple, which is much of Elmo’s charm. Still, Clash says he “continues to tweak Elmo” — finding new ways to show Elmo’s “sense of humor” and “edginess.” Hence those snappy catchphrases like “Yeah, baby, yeah!”

To teens pursuing their passion for the performing arts, Clash offers some no-nonsense advice. “Start,” he says, “just do it.” For youth who share his passion for puppetry, Clash offers another suggestion. “Send me a DVD,” he says, “we’re always looking for new puppeteers.” Just find the address for the Sesame Street workshop and run with it.

— Lynn

Note: Stay tuned to the Sedona International Film Festival website for details about when Clash and Elmo will be joining the festivities, and information on the 145 + films being screened during the Feb. 18-26, 2012 event.

Coming up: Love & letting go, Puppets who call Arizona home

Ballet meets botanicals?

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” It’s the simplified version of something Cicero wrote in a 46 B.C. letter to a friend. But dancers might say there’s another essential he’s overlooked — the ballet barre.

I’ve got ballet on the brain after hearing an NPR story about an exhibit of Degas works in Washington, D.C. that features not only Degas originals, but also two mirrors and a mounted ballet barre. A dancer from The Washington Ballet who found she needed to use the barre, not merely admire it, was interviewed for the NPR piece.

If you sometimes find yourself facing the uncontrollable urge to dance, I know a place where you’ll fit in beautifully (assuming you’re in the age 21 + set). It’s a “Dance with the Dancers” event taking place Fri, Nov. 11 at the future digs of Ballet Arizona — a warehouse at 2835 E. Washington in Phoenix. It’s being presented by “The Ballet Barre,” the company’s “young professional group.”

Nutcrackers from our daughter Lizabeth's days dancing in the ballet

Younger dance lovers have other opportunities to enjoy time with Ballet Arizona dancers, including a Sat, Dec. 10 event called “The Nutcracker Family Affair.” It’ll take place at the Phoenix Convention Center, since two of the three ticket options for this baby include seeing a Ballet Arizona performance of “The Nutcracker” at Symphony Hall nearby.

Folks enamored with fairy tales but unimpressed with television shows like “Grimm” and “Once Upon a Time” can take in two ballets instead, and enjoy 25% savings with something Ballet Arizona calls their “Fairytale Package.” It includes tickets to “The Nutcracker” and “The Sleeping Beauty,” but is only available through Nov. 23.

Still, it’s a “ballet meets botanicals” work that I’m most eager to experience this season — the presentation by Ballet Arizona and the Desert Botanical Garden of “MOMIX: Botanica.” MOMIX is “a company of dancer-illusionists under the direction of Moses Pendleton” who’ve previously performed in the Valley at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

As winter holidays approach, remember that tickets to live theater, dance and music performance make great gifts for teachers, friends and family members  — and that several arts organizations, including Ballet Arizona, offer holiday boutiques that make it fun to shop while supporting the arts.

— Lynn

Note: The Opera & Ballet in Cinema Series presents a live simulcast of the Bolshoi Ballet production of “The Sleeping Beauty” featuring Svetlana Zakharova and David Hallbert in three Arizona theaters at 8am on Sun, Nov. 20. Hallberg attended Arizona School for the Arts and trained with Kee-Juan Han at Arizona Ballet School in Phoenix. Click here for details.

Coming up: Another glimpse of “Glee”

A trio of tributes

Detail of artwork by theater students at Arizona School for the Arts

Detail of artwork by theater students at Arizona School for the Arts

In Tempe Beach Park, a flag is flying for each person who perished in the attacks of September 11, 2001. So too in Battery Park, New York — where stripes on the flags have been replaced by the names of those killed, and people gathered Saturday morning to form a human chain of solidarity and remembrance.

Candlelight vigils in Scottsdale and countless cities throughout the world are honoring those lost, as well as those who remain. A beam from the World Trade Center is being installed at a Gilbert memorial, and a sculpture crafted of three sections of WTC buildings has been unveiled in London’s Battersea Park — a tribute to the 67 Britons lost that day.

Detail of Tiles for America exhibit in New York City

But it’s a trio of tributes, our country’s permanent memorials to 9/11, that most will visit in coming days, decades and beyond. One in Pennsylvania. One in New York. One in Washington, D.C.

I was particularly moved while watching a live C-SPAN broadcast of the dedication ceremony Saturday morning for the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania, where the heroism of everyday Americans was honored by dignitaries, artists, family members and others.

Poet Robert Pinsky read two works — “Souvenir of the Ancient World” by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and “Incantation” by Czeslaw Milosz. The second was interrupted at our house by a call from the National Republican Party. The timing made my stomach turn.

Art from one of two Tiles for America exhibits in NYC

I heard an interview with George Packer, who has a piece titled “Coming Apart” in the Sept 12, 2011 issue of New Yorker magazine, on NPR today. He noted that two things he’d hoped might change about America in the aftermath of 9/11 are much the same. Our partisan politics and the growing gap between America’s rich and poor.

I hope our national 9/11 memorials will help to change that. Reminding us of what we have in common. Reminding us that every person matters. Reminding us to volunteer in service to others. Reminding us to be grateful.

During the “New York Says Thank You” documentary broadcast on local FOX affiliates Saturday evening, several people involved with the “I Will” campaign shared ways they’ll be honoring those directly affected by 9/11.

More street art from Tiles for America

Actor Mariska Hargitay plans to volunteer at her local domestic violence shelter. A teen girl says she’ll “clean up my room.” A middle-aged man plans to plant a tree at the Flight 93 National Memorial. And a woman about my age says simply, “I will forgive.”

The Friends of Flight 93 and the National Parks Service (which operates the Flight 93 National Memorial) are partnering with the Fred M. Rogers Center at Saint Vincent’s College in Pennsylvania for an October event titled “9/11 Forum: Impact on Young Children.” And folks far and wide have started discussions about incorporating 9/11 into school curriculum materials.

My “I Will” is following the developments of the trio of tributes best known to Americans and sharing them with our readers, not just on 9/11 but throughout the year. But also the everyday stories of children, families, teachers, artists and others working to make September 12 and every day that follows a day of healing, humility and hope.

— Lynn

Note: Learn more about the Flight 93 National Memorial at www.npca.org and www.honorflight93.org, the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial at www.pentagonmemorial.org and the 9/11 Memorial in NYC at www.911memorial.org. All three appreciate gifts of time and money as they move forward honoring those affected by 9/11. Learn about “I Will” at www.911day.org.  Watch eight artists “talk about how that day and its aftermath have informed their work and lives” at www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/09/02/us/sept-11-reckoning/artists.html?ref=arts.

Coming up: A photo tour of memorials at Phoenix’s Wesley Bolin Plaza

9/11 on stage and screen

Imagine being asked by an FDNY fire captain to help with writing eulogies for eight men lost in the twin towers on 9/11. That’s just what happened, by some very odd twists of fate, to Anne Nelson — whose work about those experiences launched an unexpected career as a playwright.

Nelson’s “The Guys” is one of many plays looking at life on and after 9/11. Karen Malpede’s “Another Life” tackles a father/daughter difference of opinion about 9/11. David Rimmer’s “New York” follows 15 individuals who see the same psychiatrist in the aftermath of 9/11.

Invasion tackles the bigotry leveled against Arabic men in America

Rehana Lew Mirza’s “Barriers” examines prejudice both by and against Muslims. Steve Fetter’s “A Blue Sky Like No Other” is a one-man show about the playwright’s own experiences on 9/11.

Peter-Adrian Cohen’s “In the Name of God” follows six people who experience crises of faith in the aftermath of 9/11.

Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s “Invasion” tackles issues of identity, language and race in light of prejudice against Arabic men. Richard Nelson’s “Sweet and Sad” listens in as the liberal Apple family chats about loss, memory and remembrance around the dining room table on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. 

My daughter Liz will be intrigued by the connection between this play and War Horse at Lincoln Center

Smoke and Mirrors Collaborative created “Point of Departure,” which considers the obstacles facing post-9/11 passengers at an airport as they try to reach their respective destinations. And an ensemble of cast members in their tweens to early 20s developed ‘Ten Years Later,” which explores what it means to come of age in a post-9/11 era.

There are several others, plus plenty of films — most of which won’t be coming to Valley movie theaters anytime soon, though you’ll be able to buy some of them for your personal film collections (the fancy name for those stacks of DVDs you’re hoarding).

“New York Says Thank You” examines The New York Thank You Foundation, which engages citizens in “giving back” through disaster relief efforts in other parts of the country. www.newyorksaysthankyou.org.

New York Says Thank You is all about giving back

It’s being broadcast by Fox affiliate KUTP Sat, Sept 10 (7pm) and shown in select theaters nationwide. Arizona didn’t make the movie theater cut, be we can watch it streaming live from Action America and AOL starting that same night.

“Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football and the American Dream” follows four football players at a public high school in Michigan where most of the students are Muslim Americans and preparations for a big game take place during Ramadan.

It’s being shown at select AMC theaters around the country, but Arizona didn’t make that list either. So much for attempts to garner street cred with all that “sixth largest city in the country” fodder.

Folks in Arizona who want to experience a bit of 9/11-related filmmaking in a community setting have just a single option this weekend — the screening of “Rebirth” presented by the University of Arizona at the Loft Cinema in Tucson. www.loftcinema.com.

Rebirth will be screened at Loft Cinema in Tucson on Sunday

“Rebirth” follows the lives of five people, including a teenage boy and a firefighter, whose lives were significantly changed by the events of 9/11. www.projectrebirth.org/film.

The film, and additional footage taken by its creators, will eventually be housed at the 9/11 museum in New York City. www.911memorial.org.

If you miss the Tucson screening, watch for it on Showtime Sun, Sept 11 — perhaps inviting friends or family over for your own sofa screening. www.sho.com.

Those of you who worry that this weekend has become nothing more than a giant media fest will appreciate the work of Linda Holmes, who set out to compile a handy viewing guide of 9/11 television specials only to think better of it early in the game.

Here’s a link to her “befuddled note,” which my husband James shared with me recently. I’m starting to wish I had written it myself some dozen or so paragraphs ago: www.npr.org/blogs/monkeysee/2011/09/07/140245859/a-rather-befuddled-note-from-me-to-you-about-september-11-specials?ft=1&f=93568166.

— Lynn

Note: “Stage Mom” will resume coverage of Arizona arts and culture on Monday with “Recipe for Revenge” — a review of Southwest Shakespeare Company’s “Titus Andronicus.”

Coming up: Memorials honoring lives lost in Pennsylvania, New York and Washington, D.C.

Big Bird or Elmo?

Some say Elmo has got to go. At the very least, he’s got to get off the public dole. And what about Cookie Monster? Isn’t he eating up valuable taxpayer dollars?

I got to chatting with Tom Tiding, writer of all sorts of things he proudly dubs “twisted,” about moves by some politicians to end federal funding for things like NPR and PBS.

Tiding will be in Phoenix this weekend to perform an original work in the “Phoenix Fringe Festival” — but was gracious enough to chat with me about other matters when we spoke by phone the other night.

Elmo, world-famous artist, teacher and Sesame Street character--putting my taxes to good use

I wanted to get his take on the controversy surrounding federal funding for public broadcasting — but erred in leading with “Elmo,” the one thing on PBS Tiding says he could definitely live without.

Tiding is more of a “Big Bird” kind of a guy, but we still managed to enjoy a civil conversation. Because truth be told, the “Sesame Street” gang will rise or fall together whatever their fate.

Some suppose that an end to federal funding won’t hinder our furry little friends in any way, since most of public television is funded through corporate and individual contributions. But Tiding disagrees, in his usual “twisted” fashion.

“If you lost twenty percent of your body,” he muses, “it wouldn’t just grow right back.” Even folks who are terribly fond of public broadcasting won’t be in a position to make up the difference when they’re struggling to meet their own basic needs.

I asked Tiding why some folks are making so much noise about needing to defund public broadcasting. He suspects it’s a bit of a ruse. The more attention supporters of PBS and NPR pay to its naysayers, the more distracted we’ll be as other perilous policies move forward.

Seems “Elmo” and “Big Bird” are mere pawns in that old political strategy called “bait and switch.” I see where they may be going with this, but public broadcasting opponents seem to be forgetting that we’ve got “Miss Piggy” in our corner of the ring.

I chose the sports analogy because, oddly enough, it was sports-related content that Tiding most enjoyed as a boy growing up in Minnesota and East Texas. Seems public broadcasting was his only real lifeline to the soccer he loved as a boy.

He’s also keen on shows like the “PBS News Hour,” describing it as “one of the few places you can go and get really intelligent people from both sides.”

Those who live in large urban areas with thriving cultural resources might see NPR or PBS as mere niceties, but they’re necessities for Americans living in outlying areas that don’t have access to many of the things they offer.

Think live theater, music and dance. History and literature. Science and medicine. Health and fitness. Civics and education. Think easy, affordable and equitable access to elements that form the very foundation of a free and democratic society.

There’s plenty of noise out there about all sorts of budget-related issues. For today, it appears, public broadcasting has been spared the ax. But policy and budget discussions involving NPR and PBS will no doubt resurface. So I’m keeping my eye on the prize — preserving federal funding for both.

Trust me, you don’t want to get between me and my “Elmo” — or Tiding and his “Big Bird.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about this weekend’s “Phoenix Fringe Festival” (which features mature content fare) and the schedule for Tiding’s performances. Click here for details about “Sesame Street Live” coming to the Comerica Theatre April 29-May 1.

Coming up: Conversations with “Cosette”