Tag Archives: Pasha Yamotahari

“I Am Van Gogh”

Plenty of people have toured the “Van Gogh Alive” exhibition that’s running through June 17 at the Arizona Science Center, but reactions to the multi-media presentation of Van Gogh’s work and words vary. I stood in a single spot for a very long time, reading Van Gogh quotes projected onto an otherwise blank wall. Pasha Yamotahari recalls heading for a corner — looking at the silhouettes of people lingering in front of towering screens featuring rotating images of Van Gogh paintings and related fare. Yamotahari says he was struck by “people standing frozen in time with something timeless.” And then it hit him.

“Hey,” he recalls thinking to himself. “I wrote something about Van Gogh some time ago.” The exhibit conjured memories of a screenplay written about eight years ago when Yamotahari was studying theatre, film and television at Scottsdale Community College. It was about a little’s boy first museum experience, which included an unexpected encounter with one of Van Gogh’s paintings. He pictured Van Gogh coming alive to interact with the boy, but felt at the time that staging such a thing would be rather tricky. Hence the choice to write it as a screenplay.

But times are changing in theater world, as new technologies make all sorts of things more doable. Yamotahari knows this better than most as a member of the artistic staff for Phoenix Theatre, where he’s been known to wear lots of hats. He holds both an AAFA in theatre arts and film/TV from SCC and a BA in journalism from ASU’s Cronkite School in downtown Phoenix — but his talents also include directing, dramaturgy and more.

For years he’s been part of bringing Phoenix Theatre’s “Hormel New Works Festival” to life. But this year, he’s adding another hat — presenting a sit-down reading of his own full-length play called “I Am Van Gogh.” It’s an adaptation of his earlier screenplay reworked after that “Aha!” moment at the Arizona Science Center. His is one of two sit-down readings that’s free and open to the public.

Playwright Pasha Yamotahari still treasures this book his mother gave him

Yamotahari’s mother gave him a book during high school that contained letters written by Van Gogh. Yamotahari remembers reading it — fascinated that someone so gifted achieved success only after his death and curious about why so few people recognized Van Gogh’s greatness when the artist was alive. Nowadays it gives him pause to consider what counts as true greatness in the arts, to wonder about the ways we define success and to live with the ambiguity of never really knowing where one’s devotion to art might lead.

“I Am Van Gogh” runs about two hours and features four actors playing close to 20 characters. The play imagines a young son of devout parents who’s magically taken inside a painting where he meets Van Gogh. The artist tells the boy it’s his destiny to be the next Van Gogh, something complicated by the fact that 8-year-old Marc is simply “not that good at painting.”

Yamotahari was born in Iran but his family fled to France around the time of the Iranian Revolution, later moving to Toronto. Play goers meet Marc as an eight year old because that’s the age when Yamotahari first saw a Van Gogh work at a small gallery in Nice. Also because children develop rich memories around that age. Yamotahari notes that Marc “sees Van Gogh throughout his life pushing him.” Marc finds his destiny, but it’s not without sacrifice.

Knowing that Van Gogh is on most short lists of artists who lived with mental illness, I asked Yamotahari whether he’d integrated the issue into the play. Yamotahari notes that the more he worked with the protagonists, the more he realized that some artists feel the only way to truly reach art is to lose their mind. He describes it as “putting themselves in a constant state of pseudo-insanity.” Sometimes it’s merely an artist’s “obsession with a piece that gets misconstrued as mental illness.”

Though we don’t have works of Van Gogh here in the Valley, Yamotahari’s been able to study the artist’s works online via the “Google Art Project” featuring artworks from 17 of the world’s great art museums. Yamotahari recalls reading the words of Van Gogh, which felt fluid early on but changed somehow as if madness was brewing — especially near the end of Van Gogh’s life.

Yamotahari says he’s fondest of Van Gogh works depicting cornfields, and thinks it’s “cool to zoom in and see those brush strokes.” If you look closely enough, says Yamotahari, you’ll see mistakes — even moments of rage and passion. The playwright wants those who see “I Am Van Gogh” to wonder about the difference between destiny and free will. But don’t expect easy answers. Yamotahari hopes the play will “evoke ambiguity and mystery.”

— Lynn

Note: The 2012 “Hormel New Works Festival” takes place July 8-22. Click here to explore selections and learn about a related art contest. Click here to explore the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Coming up: Art meets asylum, James Garcia talks playwriting and social justice, Drawing a diary


Before there was the Web

The cast of Cookie Company's "Charlotte's Web" preparing to meet and greet young fans after a Sunday afternoon performance in Scottsdale

Before there was the Web, which makes it possible for people to click themselves in and out of friendships, there was a tale of true friendship called “Charlotte’s Web.” No mouse needed for that baby, though a rat named Templeton does fall into the fray. He’s one of many character living on a farm where a pig named Wilbur makes friends with a spider named Charlotte. Theirs is a tale of mutual support and sacrifice, first penned by author E.B. White, and adapted through the years for live theater performance.

Phoenix Theatre’s Cookie Company is presenting “Charlotte’s Web” in Scottsdale through April 29 — so you’ve just one more weekend to enjoy the show. It’s being performed at Greasepaint Youtheatre, where my son used to tag along when his sisters were in shows a decade or so ago. He joined me for the Sunday performance of “Charlotte’s Web,” which made for a lovely bit of remembering. When my children were little, theater outings were a fun way to explore the world, meet other families and start conversations about things that truly matter.

“Charlotte’s Web” a la Cookie Company is bright, bold and cheerful — like the set that features a big red barn and a beautiful backdrop painted with full trees, floating clouds and rolling hillsides. The little girl, Fern, who works so hard to assure that Wilbur won’t wind up on the menu, sports orange tights and tulle under a whimsical dress that matches her spunky personality. Snaps for scenic designer Robert Kovach, and costume designer Gail Wolfenden-Steib.

Also director Pasha Yamotahari, who makes a tale told countless times feel truly fresh. Young theater goers let out gaggles of giggles as farm animals worked together to save Wilbur from a frying pan fate. Every actor gave a skilled, energetic performance that seemed to reach right out into the audience. But I especially loved the goose (Nathalie Cadieux)/gander (Kim Manning) pairing. One rocked a French vibe while the other channeled Spanish-American performer Charro — making the show plenty fun for adults in the crowd.

Come next season, Cookie Company will return to performing on the Phoenix Theatre mainstage campus, where exciting renovations are currently underway. Phoenix Theatre Family is presenting three Cookie Company productions for the 2012-2013 season — including “Peacemaker” (both fall and spring), “Quiltmaker’s Gift” (Nov/Dec) and “Hanky and Girlo” (March/April). Children enjoy milk and cookies, and get to meet costumed cast members, after every show. Naturally, I made sure my son snagged a cookie after Sunday’s  performance. For old time’s sake.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Cookie Company and Phoenix Theatre offerings, which include school shows, summer camps, new theater works, mainstage shows and more.

Coming up: Hormel is coming (don’t tell Wilbur)

Showing too much leg?

Three generations of the Gardner family of Surprise attending the Saturday matinee performance of A Christmas Carol at Phoenix Theatre

My first foray into Christmas fare came rather early this year, when I headed down to Phoenix Theatre one afternoon in mid-September as they held children’s auditions for “A Christmas Story.” Kids filed in and out of the Little Theatre, where “A Christmas Story” director Pasha Yamotahari was heading up the open casting call for boys and girls to play characters from six to fourteen years old.

Children were asked to bring a resume plus headshot or photo, and to prepare a 30 second snippet of any Christmas song. Each was given what’s called a side, or portion of the script, to read during the audition – and had time to look it over before taking their turn. Eventually 11 boys and four girls were chosen for two children’s casts.

Director Pasha Yamotahari with young cast members from the Saturday matinee performance of A Christmas Carol at Phoenix Theatre

The cast of “A Christmas Story” at Phoenix Theatre also includes four adults – Harold Dixon (Narrator), Dion Johnson (Old Man), Emily Mulligan-Ferry (Miss Shields) and Debby Rosenthal (Mother). No double casting needed there since bedtimes and homework aren’t really an issue.

A Christmas Story has been extended through Dec. 24

Cast members young and old earned high praise from folks who attended the Saturday matinee on opening weekend. I overheard one gentleman telling his wife “the kids are terrific.” Not knowing that the “cheesy” factor is part of what makes this show so fun, she told him it felt a bit overacted. “The whole thing is overplayed,” he replied, “that’s why it’s so good.”

“A Christmas Story” follows the pre-Christmas adventures of a fictional Midwestern family as Ralphie, one of two young sons, dreams of finding a BB gun under the tree. But his chances aren’t good, because Ralphie’s mother is convinced he’d shoot his eye out with the darn thing. The mom has her hands full with Ralphie’s singular obsession, a younger child’s many eccentricities and her husband’s laser-like focus on winning every contest pitched via U.S. Mail.

Urban Outfitters sells these lovely items

One day the father receives “a very important award” in the mail. It’s a lone leg covered in black fishnet hose – complete with light bulb and lamp shade. He proudly displays the leg lamp so it’s visible from the street, and assumes the nightly catcalls from passersby are meant to congratulate his achievement. What he’s supposedly achieved is never made clear. It’s all part of the gag that keeps audience members in stitches.

Phoenix Theatre’s production of “A Christmas Story” seems a good choice for family holiday entertainment. Younger family members will enjoy watching other children on stage, and older family members will enjoy the show’s nostalgic nod to secret decoder pins, giant erector sets, jumbo tins of car wax and characters like the Lone Ranger. Several families, including three generations of the Gardners from Surprise, looked like they were having a great time at Saturday’s matinee.

Leg Lamp at the House of Broadcasting in Scottsdale

I hadn’t planned to see this – or any other Christmas shows this holiday season. There’s just too much happening in arts and culture outside of the holidays that I’m eager to experience. But I felt Saturday morning like seeing just this one show was somehow meant to be.

While buying something my daughter Jennifer had put on hold at Urban Outfitters, I stumbled onto Christmas fare bearing Ralphie’s mug and the lovely leg lamp. Later I spied an actual leg lamp at a Scottsdale museum dedicated to Arizona broadcasting. I headed home to snag one of the few remaining tickets for Saturday’s matinee – and I had a great time at the show.

Even if it does show a little too much leg.

— Lynn

Note: For a comprehensive list of holiday activities for families, consult the December calendar from Raising Arizona Kids Magazine. For news of a musical theater production of “A Christmas Story,” click here. To learn about the Cleveland house (now museum) used in the 1983 film “A Christmas Story,” click here. Click here for information on a special Dec. 13 performance (plus pre-show reception) benefiting Arizona Citizens for the Arts.

Coming up: Word power, Views beyond the Valley

Update: Mesa Encore Theatre is also performing “A Christmas Story” this season so now you can double the fun by seeing two productions. 11/28/11

Acting classes for all ages

Mr. Pricklepants, one of my two favorite thespians

If I had to choose an acting coach, I’d probably opt for thespian hedgehog Mr. Pricklepants from “Toy Story 3.” He’s a snappy dresser, he uses big words and he’s actually shorter than me.

But what’s available for the serious acting student, especially those still in their teens or even younger? Here’s a sampling of Valley options, some offered by professional theater companies and others offered by private studios.

I can’t speak for the possible pros and cons of each, since my 17-year-old daughter Lizabeth has done most of her training with Phoenix Theatre, Childsplay and Arizona School for the Arts, where she’s a senior majoring in theater.

Do your homework, looking for the things you expect in all experiences for your child–a safe environment, quality instruction, qualified and trusted professionals, convenient location and schedule, compatibility with your budget and the like.

Does your child want to be a triple threat?

Phoenix Theatre has an impressive roster of dance and theater classes, including several available this month. Think improv, Shakespeare, Fosse, musical theatre dance and more. (Master classes are for the 16 & up set.)

Teens and adults can enjoy an audition workshop with Daniel Solis, described by Phoenix Theatre as “one of L.A.’s leading Musical Theatre Casting Directors.” Solis is one of five musical theater casting directors for “California’s leading theme park.”

The Solis workshop is scheduled for Sat, July 24, at Phoenix Theatre. Solis will work with ages 12-17 from 11am-1:30pm and with adults ages 18+ from 2-4:30pm.

The latter “will also serve as an actual audition and could open up doors to potential employment with California’s leading theme park.”

I learned of another resource, Verve Studios in Scottsdale, from Laura Durant with Durant Communications, whose weekly audition notices are hailed as ‘free and safe’ by Janet Arnold, producing director for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company in Phoenix.

Good training can help your child stand out in a crowd

Durant’s website lists not only auditions, but also classes and workshops, consulting services for actors, production support classifieds and starving actor discounts.

Verve Studios offers group and individual classes in Phoenix, plus private lessons in both Phoenix and Scottsdale. Adult offerings include “foundational” techniques and “complimentary” specialties such as voice over, dialect, hosting, commercials and more.

Teen classes and workshops “are open to serious students ages 12-17 and are limited to 8 students per class in order to give each student individual attention.” Topics include film acting, scene work, monologue technique, character development and more.

Verve Studios also offers kids classes and workshops for ages 8-12. Kids classes prepare student for the “more rigorous teens curriculum” and serve “kids and parents who seek or already have agency representation.”

They also offer private acting coaching.

Always check teacher credentials and qualifications

Dearing Acting Studio with two Valley locations is proud to have been named a “2009 Parents’ Picks” winner. Their offerings include a movie camp dubbed “Valleywood” as well as a full range of classes.

Their website offers a convenient tool for searching for classes that match your needs in three categories–age group (kids, teens, adults), class type and location (North Phoenix/West Valley or Phoenix/East Valley).

Dearing Acting Studio classes cover diverse topics such as comedy, film, theatre and various specialty subjects.

I wonder if Andy is majoring in musical theatre...

Waymire Studio, with locations in Glendale and Mesa, offers diverse classes for all ages. New classes for ages 3-5, ages 6-8 and ages 9-13 begin on July 29.

The Waymire Studio teen program begins a series of six Sunday afternoon classes called “An Actor’s Life for Me” on Aug 8–which will feature training in “scenes, improv, auditioning, commerical, and more.”

Mesa classes starting July 26 include Monday night sessions for ages 5-9 and ages 10-17.

Can you tell which toy was classically trained?

One final class to note–from Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale, writing/acting/producing home to RAK’s own “Unmotherly Insights” blogger Debra Rich Gettleman.

They’re offering a fall singing class in “basic vocal techniques” Tuesday and Friday mornings 10am-noon from Sept 28 to Oct 29, which tells me its either for babies or grown-ups since all the other little darlings are in school during those hours.

Let’s assume grown-ups since most babies vocalize just fine–and I’ll let you know if I learn otherwise.

If you know of a Valley studio not mentioned here, feel free to comment below to briefly share their youth acting offerings with our readers.


Think outside the box by enjoying new works

Note: Phoenix Theatre’s “13th Annual Hormel New Works Festival,” featuring new works by emerging and established playwrights, opens this Friday (July 9) with a staged reading of James Christy’s “A Great War” directed by Pasha Yamotahari. Learn more at http://www.phoenixtheatre.com/page.aspx?title=New_Works_Festival

Coming up: Does your child need an agent?,  Musings on musical theater trends