Tag Archives: Phoenix College

Beauty in simplicity

In a theater landscape deluged by ever flashier design and monstrous displays of technology, a handful of storytellers are finding strength in simplicity. Todd Salovey is among them. His adaptation of Sherri Mandell’s “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” originally produced at the San Diego Repertory Theatre, is being performed by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company through April 1. And it’s masterful.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company performs at the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College, an intimate space perfect for works treating intimate topics like the loss of a child. “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” directed by Salovey for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, explores Mandell’s journey from teen to college student, from single woman to wife, from mother of four to mother of three — with dialogue that shares remarkable insights about each stage of life along the way.

The 80-minute production features Lisa Robins, who originated the role of Sherri Mandell. There’s a single set — a large stone edifice with a door that grinds as it slides open or shut, other elements of stone and sand around the edges. At times, slides flash across the central set piece. Family photos. Caves and other landscape elements. Images tied to songs with special meaning for Mandell.

Mandell and her family moved from America to Israel in 1996, a choice eloquently elucidated as “The Blessing of a Broken Heart” unfolds. Her son was one of two 13-year-old boys brutally killed in 2001 while hiking in the Judean desert, and much of the play explores the way Mandell moves forward in the face and embrace of grief. Like many works presented by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, it gives voice to Jewish experience while capturing shared human experiences with grace and beauty.

Today Mandell is director of The Koby Mandell Foundation Women’s Healing Retreat for Bereaved Mothers and Widows. In keeping with the play’s theme of resilience, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company is presenting “Journeys of Resilience: The Healing Power of the Arts” Mon, March 26 at 7:30pm in collaboration with the Temple Chai Deutsch Family Shalom Center.

The event, described by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company producing artistic director Janet Arnold as “an inspiring and enlightening conversation,” features theater artist Todd Salovey, visual artist Deborah Harris, musician Todd Herzog, actor Lisa Robins and interior designer Barbara Kaplan.

Other participants include Free Arts of Arizona, Stepping Stones of Hope, Jewish Family and Children’s Services and more. I’m told there’s free dessert, but donations of $10.00 are encouraged to help sustain Arizona Jewish Theatre Company. Beauty in simplicity is hard to come by these days, and worthy of support by those who treasure it.

— Lynn

Note: San Diego Repertory Theatre opens its 2012/13 season with “Zoot Suit,” by Luis Valdez, which was part of the 2011/12 ASU Herberger Institute Main Stage season. The season also includes “The Mountaintop” by Katori Hall, a Christmas show by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, a work from Todd Salovey (and a trio of co-writers) and more. Watch here for news of AJTC’s 25th anniversary season coming soon.

Coming up: Curtain Call Youth Theatre performs “Annie Jr.”


Calculus: The Musical!

Enthusiastic students posing with two previous "Calculus" cast members

A comic review of the concepts and history of calculus comes to the Valley next week as “Calculus: The Musical!” hits the Bulpitt Auditorium at Phoenix College. It’s being performed Tues, Feb. 7 at 11am and 7pm. No textbook is required. Good to know since mine only lasted the week or so I survived my college calculus class.

I’m hoping calculus ala musical theater will make math a little less scary, though I suspect grammar will always be my first love. “Calculus: The Musical!” was born as a teaching tool for one of its creators, Marc Gutman. Seems he “found that setting formulas and rules to music helped his students learn and retain tricky information.”

Gutman holds a master’s degree in math education, but I’m told his other talents include improv origami. Fellow “Calculus: The Musical!” creator Sadie Bowman is an actor, writer and musician who readily admits to learning most her math from Square One TV. They toured the show together for two years, but are working these days on other projects for Matheatre, an enterprise they started in 2006.

“Calculus: The Musical!” now tours out of Know Theatre in Cincinnati, where Bowman serves as education director. The musical is “a blend of sketch comedy, musical theatre and classroom lecture” designed to show that the calculus used in rocket science “isn’t exactly rocket science.”

The musical parodies styles of music from light opera to hip hop while introducing concepts like limits, integration and differentiation. Sounds like something straight out of sex ed. Until you get to the “high points of calculus history.” Think Archimedes to Riemann. That insatiable drive to find the instantaneous rate of change. And something about the area under the curve.

The work includes “musical tributes” to folks like Gilbert & Sullivan, Eminem and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. There’s “5 Sizes of Numbers” ala “In My Life” by the Beatles, “Triggy Rules” ala “Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant and “The Limit’s Alright” ala “The Kids Are Alright” by the Who.

Also “Chain Rule” ala “Chain of Fools” by Aretha Franklin, “Mean Angst” ala “Teen Angst” by Cracker, “A Critical Point” ala “Material Girl” by Madonna and “Power Rule” ala “Downtown” by Petula Clark. I’m still working on arithmetic for tunes like “Born to Sum” ala Springsteen.

If “Calculus: The Musical!” leaves you hungry for more art mixed with academics, get your tickets for the Feb. 12 preview of Childsplay’s original world-premiere titled “Rock the Presidents.” Everything’s more fun when set to song and dance. Even rocket science.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Matheatre and “Calculus: The Musical!” — which is part of the Arizona SCITECH Festival

Coming up: A gallery tale

Just around the corner

In a Jewish ghetto in Vilna, Poland, actors in an amateur theater group are struggling with their material. It’s 1931, and the play they’re rehearsing is based on an historical event called the “Dreyfus Affair.”

Dreyfus was a French-Jewish army captain, husband and father of two, falsely accused of treason in 1894 — who wasn’t completely exonerated until 1906. Seems the actors, especially the one playing Dreyfus, can’t quite grasp the relevance.

Members of the troupe focus instead on the nuisances of everyday life and their petty differences, frustrating the director who feels great passion for the play that recounts Dreyfus’ plight.

Morris (Michael Cortez) attempts to direct Myriam (Amy Serafin) and Michael (Will Hightower) in “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” performed by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company (Photo: Mark Gluckman)

That’s the premise of “Dreyfus in Rehearsal,” a play originally written in French by Jean-Claude Grumberg, an award-winning actor, playwright, screenwriter and author whose parents were Holocaust victims.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents the Arizona premiere of “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” Jan. 26-Feb. 5 at the John Paul Theatre located at Phoenix College. Admission to previews is $20 plus a can of food.

“Dreyfus in Rehearsal” was adapted by Garson Kanin (1912-1999), a New Yorker trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts who wrote screenplays, novels, memoirs, short stories, essays and plays.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company is “presenting the original script of this play, with special permission from the Garson Kanin Estate.” Kanin wrote the screenplays for two famous Tracy-Hepburn films, and his play titled “Born Yesterday” enjoyed a brief revival on Broadway last year.

Producing director Janet Arnold describes “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” as a humorous and poignant juxtaposition of witty banter and egotistical antics with the immediate threat of encroaching Nazi Germany.

Director Morris (Michael Cortez) has a moment with actor Arnold (Charles Sohn) in AJTC’s “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” (Photo: Mark Gluckman)

Those fond of finding modern-day parallels will surely discover them. Many are noted in Adam Gopnik’s “The Trial of the Century” in The New Yorker. It’s a review of Loius Begley’s 2009 book titled “Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters.”

“Dreyfus in Rehearsal” is directed by Ben Tyler, who has directed several shows in the Valley and serves as executive director of the Centennial Theatre Foundation, which funds and develops new works that reflect “the unique, diverse qualities of Arizona and its people.”

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company was founded “to preserve and enhance Jewish culture, by producing quality plays which reflect the Jewish experience” but welcomes diverse actors and audience members. May we all be mindful of what’s happening just around the corner.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Albert Dreyfus, here to read a review of a 2009 production of “Dreyfus in Rehearsal” at the Beckett Theater in NYC, and here to learn more about Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s fundraising efforts. Or click here to watch a brief YouTube preview of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company production.

Coming up: Ed Asner talks autism, arts, education and advocacy

Update: Click here for news of a Roman Polanski film focusing on the Dreyfus Affair. 5/10/12

Winter camps & workshops

Proof (from Greasepaint's Aladdin, Jr.) that the coolest kids do musical theater

Greasepaint Youtheatre of Scottsdale, home to ten young actors performing with Theater League’s “The Wizard of Oz” at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix through Sunday, recently announced the following winter workshops for youth:
Musical Theatre Dance
Featuring music from “The Muppets!”
For ages 6-12
Tues, Dec. 27 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Ariana Ziskin, who choreographed “Disney’s Aladdin, Jr.” for Greasepaint Youtheatre earlier this season. Participants will peform at 3pm for family and friends.
All Things Shakespeare
Featuring an adaptation of a well-known Shakespeare work
For ages 10 & up
Wed, Dec. 28 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Dawn Rochelle Tucker, education director for Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa. Participants will perform at 3pm for family and friends.
“A Chorus Line” Dance
Featuring the Broadway choreography from the musical “A Chorus Line”
For ages 12-18
Thurs, Dec. 29 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Anthony Toudjarov, who recently performed in “A Chorus Line” with Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria. Participants will perform at 3pm for family and friends.
Each Greasepaint Youtheatre workshop noted above costs $40. Call 602-889-7609 to learn more or click here to register.  

AJTC Curtain Call production of "Fiddler on the Roof, Jr." (Photo: Mark Gluckman)

Curtain Call Youtheatre with Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, which presents “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” through Sunday at Phoenix College, recently announced several winter workshops being held at Temple Chai in Phoenix:
Squeak and Meow
Featuring fairy tales about cats and mice put into musical theater form
For ages 4-7
Wed, Dec. 21 and Thurs, Dec. 22 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Elizabeth Peterson, performer with The Blue Bike Kids Show. Participants will perform at 3pm on Dec. 22 for family and friends.
A Bit of Glee
Featuring acting, singing and movement techniques
For ages 8 & up
Wed, Dec. 21 and Thurs, Dec. 22 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Ariana Ziskin, who directs the Bravo troupe at East Valley Children’s Theatre. Participants will perform at 3pm on Dec. 22 for family and friends.
The Great Flying Ship of Ivan the Impossible
Featuring song, dance and story based on a fairy tale about Ivan and his friends
For ages 4-7
Wed, Dec. 28 and Thurs, Dec. 29 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Elizabeth Peterson, performer with The Blue Bike Kids Show. Participants will perform at 3pm on Dec. 29 for family and friends.
Mythology Comes to Life
Featuring ways to build characters for the stage through voice and movement
For ages 8 & up
Wed, Dec. 28 and Thurs, Dec. 29 from 9am-3pm
Taught by Colin Ross, member of the 2011-12 acting company for Childsplay
Each Curtain Call Youtheatre workshop noted above costs $120 ($200 for one child taking two workshops). Click here to learn more.

Actors appearing in Annie, Jr. at Desert Stages Theatre

Desert Stages Theatre, which has a children’s theater performing “Annie, Jr.” through Dec. 18, recently announced three winter workshops taking place at their Scottsdale theater:
Music Theory Class – Musical Tools for Industry Success
Featuring a crash course in reading music and music theory
For ages 12 & up
Dec. 19-23 from 2-4pm
Taught by Mark 4man, DST mainstage music director.
A Little Bit of Broadway and Pop
Featuring song and dance to music participants help select
For ages 4-10
Dec. 26-30 from 10am-2pm
Taught by Desiree Vaughan, who performed in DST’s “Bye Bye Birdie” earlier this year. Participants will present a performance for family and friends.
Princess Parade
Featuring song, dance, arts & crafts and the opportunity to transform into your favorite prince or princess
For ages 3-12
Dec. 19-23 from 10am-2pm
Taught by DST instructors.
Prices for each Desert Stages Theatre camp noted above vary (from $100-$250). Click here for details.
— Lynn
Note: If your theater company or performing arts venue is offering winter break classes for children or teens, please comment below to let our readers know. Please note that workshops noted above may have minimum/maximum enrollment figures.
Coming up: Youth theater meets improv


Family gathered for the Sabbath in Fiddler on the Roof, Jr., being performed by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company's Curtain Call Youtheatre (Photos: Mark Gluckman)

It’s easy to forget, when faced with cities awash in Christmas lights, that not all Americans celebrate the Christmas holiday. Recent studies by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life indicate that nearly one-fourth of all Americans embrace traditions other than Christianity.

Jacob Shore as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

So I was delighted to learn that Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s Curtain Call Youtheatre is performing “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” this weekend — giving Valley audiences a break from nearly non-stop Christmas fare while offering a glimpse into traditions of Jewish faith and culture.

Scene from Arizona Jewish Theatre Company's Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.

Cast members were asked to write about family traditions rather than submitting traditional bios for the program, so folks who atttend the show can enjoy both the timeless tale of a family facing changing times and the reflections of Valley youth on their own traditions within contemporary society.

Two young cast members from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Janet Arnold, founder and producing director for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, shared a few “tradition” tidbits from the program, many focused on family holiday celebrations. Levi Gettleman (Rabbi, age 11) shared a Passover seder tradition in which his dad asks the kids questions, then rewards correct answers with two dollar bills.

Scene from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Julia Caplan (Mendel/Bottle Dancer, age 9) shared her family’s tradition of spending one night of Hanukkah buying presents for children who don’t have other Hanukkah gifts to open. Mykael Cooper (Constable, age 11) shared his family’s tradition of lighting a Holocaust candle every Friday to honor his grandfather, who is a Holocaust survivor.

Scene from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Jordyn Drake (Avram, age 13) shared his family’s tradition of watching holiday television shows together after putting up the Christmas tree, and Karlie Gibson (Yente, age 15) shared her family’s tradition of sending the kids on a treasure hunt to find their big Christmas gifts.

Young actors performing in Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Emily Ginsberg (Villager/Bottle Girl, age 12) shared her family’s tradition of having a huge Thanksgiving feast with relatives who fly in from out of state, and Eric Flayton (Lazar Wolf, age 11) shared his family’s Thanksgiving tradition of letting the kids do an “annual trashing of the playroom.”

Scene from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Seems that Halloween is a favorite for Maddie Felder (Tzeitel, age 14) and her family, whose traditions include making their own costumes, designing “Tim Burton-esque” pumpkins and watching lots of Halloween movies during the week. Something tells me they’re already planning next year’s theme.

Scene from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Several cast members shared traditions involving food. Emily Bachus (Villager, age 11) noted a long list of food and drink they share during the annual Super Bowl party her family hosts for about 100 people, and Mykael Cooper (Constable, age 11) revealed his family’s penchant for crab legs instead of turkey and dressing during Thanksgiving and Christmas meals.

Scene from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Rachel Ginsberg (Russian/Villager, age 12) shared her family’s tradition of enjoying a meal, and plenty of conversation, together every Sunday night. Shira Hamer (Villager, age 9) shared her family’s tradition of making up new recipes, noting that cooking is a bit like stand up-comedy. “If you’re confident,” says Hamer, “you can get away with anything.”

A little dance from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” — complete with young fiddler — tonight (Sat, Dec. 10) at 7pm and tomorrow (Sun, Dec. 11) at 1pm and 4pm. They perform at the John Paul Theatre on the campus of Phoenix College, an intimate venue that’s perfect for introducing children to the joys of live theater performance.

Scene from Fiddler on the Roof, Jr. by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

The “Fiddler on the Roof” story features themes we can all related to. Changing roles for youth. Shifting political influences. Mixed feelings about watching children grow. Challenges to traditions held near and dear. Whatever winter holiday you celebrate, it’s always nice to be reminded of the importance of family and the power of tradition.

— Lynn

Note: “All Rights Reserved,” the teen improv troupe for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, performs prior to each “Fiddler” — and can also be seen Wed, Dec. 14 at the Arizona Jewish Historical Society (near ASA) in Phoenix. Click here for details, plus information on the company’s full season, current online auction and theater training for youth. Click here to learn more about Mark Gluckman Photography.

Coming up: Art meets pluralism, Talking with “Elmo,” Teen improv tales

Update: Janet Arnold was excited to share that more than 200 people attended opening night for “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” and gave the show a “thunderous standing O.” Look for the “Fiddler” cast at the Arizona State Capitol Dec. 20 at 5pm, where they’ll sing “Tradition” (in full costume) and participate in “lighting the first candle on the official State Menorah for Chanukah.” 12/11/11

A season to LUV…

I love this season’s selections from Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

When Arizona theater companies started announcing their 2011/12 season selections several months ago, I was especially excited about every single offering in just a couple of line-ups — including the 24th season for Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, which launched just last night.

Their production of “What About LUV?” — a musical based on the play “LUV” by Murray Schisgal — runs through Nov. 6. It’s a tale of convoluted love set on New York City’s Brooklyn Bridge, opening with one character preventing another from making a fatal jump. The work features features book by Jeffrey Sweet, music by Howard Marren and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead.

Arizona Jewish Theatre Company presents “Dreyfuss in Rehearsal,” a work by Jean-Claude Grumberg and adapted by Garson Kanin, Jan. 26-Feb. 5, 2012. It follows a group of amateurish actors trying to stage a play about a very serious topic even as religious persecution begins to impinge on their own young lives.

“The Blessings of a Broken Heart,” adapted by Todd Salovey from the award-winning book by Sherri Mandell, will be performed by Arizona Jewish Theatre Company March 22-April 1, 2012. It’s based on the true story of a mother who discovers her own courage amidst tragedy after moving her family from Maryland to the wilderness of Israel. The work features music and images from the Holy Land.

You’re unlikely to see these works elsewhere, and all are perfectly suited to the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company — which excels with relationship-driven storylines and pieces that blend life’s lightest and heaviest moments. The company performs at the John Paul Theatre on the campus of Phoenix College, and also presents works for youth.

This season’s youth offerings include “Fiddler on the Roof, Jr.” — which is being performed just three times the weekend of Dec. 10 & 11. I’m especially excited to see the work after discovering the name of a child from the “RAK family” on a list of cast members (though I doubt she’ll ever stoop her calling herself a “stage mom”).

In addition to its “Curtain Call” educational division for children and teens, the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company has a teen improv troupe called “All Rights Reserved” — which entertains audiences prior to “Curtain Call” performances and at various community events.

Finally, the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company is presenting two works in recognition of Arizona’s centennial — a staged reading of Ben Tyler’s “Goldwater: Mr. Conservative” performed by Ken Bennett (Nov. 1) and a staged reading of a new play by Harriet Rochlin titled “For Better And Worse: Jewish Marriages in the Arizona Territory” (Jan. 30). Also a special event featuring author and director Salovey (March 26).

While the company is dedicated to reflecting and illuminating “Jewish culture, history and perspective,” the stories they tell elucidate experiences we all share –from love and laughter to longing and loss.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, and here to enjoy more hearts and other fun finds from [Stuff] by miss emma jude. For information on official Arizona centennial events, visit az100years.org.

Coming up: From civilized to savage

Talkback tales

Some of my favorite theater moments take place post-curtain call, as cast and crew members return to stage in their street clothes and everyday roles to answer questions for audience members who’ve stayed to learn more about the show.

Last weekend I hit the talkback for “My Name is Asher Lev,” an Aaron Posner play being performed through April 3, 2011 by the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company — which performs at the John Paul Theatre at Phoenix College in Glendale.

The first thing that struck me, having not seen the play, was the scenic and properties design. I’m perpetually amazed by the meaning this company manages to convey with simple elements like windows, doors, tables and chairs.

“My Name is Asher Lev” is based on a book by the same name, one of several works authored by Chaim Potok (1929-2002) — a man “born in the Bronx to Jewish immigrants from Poland” whose Orthodox upbringing conflicted with the world of literature and art that “captured his imagination.”

Though the characters in the play are Jewish, many audience members observed that the piece addresses universal themes. “We pride ourselves,” shared producing director Janet Arnold, “on presenting work that has universal themes from a Jewish perspective.”

Several of those attending the talkback were students who came to watch Michael Kary (Asher), who teaches acting and writing at Grand Canyon University. When Layne Racowsky, the show’s director, asked how many people had read the book “My Name is Asher Lev,” it was the student group that showed the most hands.

Turns out they also had plenty of questions. How much does the play directly mirror the book? “It’s a give and take between the book and the play,” answered Kary. Another asked, “What’s it like to do a play that makes you realize that art creates both pain and beauty?” The answer: “It’s the pain that we feel that makes us breath when the pain goes away…and makes us grateful.”

When someone asked about theater as a vehicle for social change, Racowsky was quick to affirm its importance — noting that seeing things that jar us can be a powerful jumping off point for action, for changing things in our own lives. “We like to be in the room and watch people when change happens,” explains Kary. And so, it seems — the theater/audience experience is hardly a one way street.

The variety of questions, asked by audience members of all ages, made clear that a single work can breed a host of different interpretations. For one man sitting in the front row, “My Name is Asher Lev” examines “what creates the difference between an artist and a great artist.”

For others, it’s about separating from parents to follow one’s own dreams. “That is one of the hardest things,” says Ben Tyler (Man), “when our own kids need to separate and go off and do their own thing.” For Asher Lev, that thing is making art — even if it’s controversial.

When a student asked how Andrea Dovner (Woman) is able to keep her voice despite screaming in the show, Kary is quick to remind them (and others in the audience) that “actors train like athletes.” “You don’t see it,” he adds, “because we come in all shapes and sizes.” But the work and discipline is there. “We keep ourselves healthy,” says Kary, “and there are regimens that we follow.”

I was moved by Dovner’s description of reading the book in preparation for her role. “The book is so delicious,” she said. “I read it slowly; I wanted to savor it.” I suspect many who’ve seen the production are eager to revisit the book again — and copies of several of Potok’s works were on sale the day I attended (thanks to a partnership with Changing Hands Bookstore).

Most touching was a tale shared by Kary, who has three young sons and one on the way. Kary said he had plenty of his own stuff to draw on in performing the role of young artist Asher Lev because he’s the youngest of his parent’s six children. Think five jocks and one actor — living in a house “filled with tons of trophies.” Still, Kary recalls his dad sitting behind him each day as he played piano, and says his dad “came to everything” when Kary was in performance mode.

As I left the talkback and headed to the parking lot, I overheard audience members reflecting on the themes they’d found most valuable. It was clear the work had an impact, and would continue to fuel all kinds of conversations. That’s the best evidence, I suppose, of the power of this piece.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to enjoy the “My Name is Asher Lev” study guide developed by Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company.

Coming up: From “Yonkers” to NYC