Tag Archives: play development

New plays for young audiences

Write Now recently issued the call for new plays for young audiences

Folks in the field of playwriting for youth are plenty familiar with the Bonderman Playwriting Festival for Youth, first conceived by founder Dorothy Webb in 1983. After Webb announced her retirement last year, Indiana Repertory Theatre (home of the Bonderman Festival since the mid-’90s) sought a new partner to help reimagine the festival.

Last May IRT and Childsplay met to begin work on transforming the Bonderman Festival into Write Now — a “biennial national competition and process-focused workshop” supporting the work of both emerging and established playwrights. Their collaboration is funded in part by a $100,000 award from the NYC-based Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The first Write Now gathering takes place March 14-17, 2013 in Tempe. The second takes place in Indianapolis during 2015.

IRT and Childsplay are collaborating to “advocate for playwrights and promote the development of new plays for young audiences.” Playwrights from across the country have until July 31 to submit their scripts for K-12 audiences to Write Now. Playwrights must be at least 18 years old when they submit their work, and only one submission per playwright will be accepted. Musicals will not be accepted for the 2013 contest.

At least four scripts will be selected by a panel of peers to participate in the full workshop process, which includes “a week on site at Childsplay with a development team, followed by a reading of the script at the Write Now gathering.” Semi-finalists will be invited to read excerpts of their scripts. Winners will be contacted in December.

Write Now gatherings are designed to engage playwrights, directors, actors, theater artists and others in the play development process. Producers, educators, students and theater practioners with a passion for new plays are invited to attend. The event features rehearsed readings of all finalist plays, excerpts of semi-finalist plays and an “experiential” artistic keynote.

Also “stimulating conversations about new pactices in the development of work for young audiences” and “a formal discussion of the development of a national new plays network for young audiences.” Registration fees are $150 (adults) and $135 (students) before Jan. 31, 2013 — and $175 (adults) and $160 (students) after.

There’s even a group rate on a limited number of rooms reserved by Childsplay at the Courtyard by Marriott Tempe Downtown, which is within walking distance of both Write Now venues — Childsplay’s Campus for Imagination and Wonder  and the Tempe Center for the Arts, where both local schools and community groups will participate as audience members.

So save the date, grab your pen and let the new works begin.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for details about submitting your work for consideration

Coming up: Art meets Mother’s Day, Once upon a dance competition, Festival spotlights women playwrights, One mother’s diary, Ode to Maurice Sendak


“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

Once upon a playwright

Family is a common theme in works by Dwayne Hartford, pictured here (upper right) with his great-grandfather Luther (middle center) and other family members in Smithfield, Maine (Photo courtesy of Childsplay)

Once upon a time, while working in the mental health field, I came upon a rare play tackling themes related to youth suicide. It was Dwayne Hartford’s “Eric and Elliot,” one of many works performed by Childsplay in Tempe, where Hartford is both associate artist and playwright-in-residence.

I was asked to spend some time talking with cast members about mental health disorders in children and teens, something I’d experienced in both personal and professional mode — and was struck by their genuine interest in touching the lives of youth who’d be seeing the play in school and community settings.

Luther Hartford (here with wife Mable) built the family farmhouse in Maine

Though “Eric and Elliot” feels most personal to me, it’s “The Color of Stars” — being performed through May 20 at Tempe Center for the Arts — that feels most personal to Hartford. Though the work is fictional, Hartford recently shared that it was inspired by a story his father told him several years ago about loggers who boarded at his great-grandfather’s farmhouse while harvesting giant red oak trees for the war effort.

Though vastly different in topic and tone, themes in “The Color of Stars” mirror those of “Rock the Presidents” — a musical that made its world premiere at Childsplay before starting a nationwide tour I’m hoping will someday lead to the White House. It features book and lyrics by Hartford, and music by Sarah Roberts — and its common thread with “Stars” is the duty of every citizen to serve his or her country and community.

Hartford’s plays have been developed through Childsplay’s Whiteman New Plays Program. They’ve earned several awards, and often tour the country after premiering here in the Valley. “Eric and Elliot” received a distinguished play award from the American Alliance for Theatre & Education in 2005, and “The Imaginators” was produced and aired by our local PBS affiliate.

Hartford’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic tale of love and redemption during the French Revolution, was developed through funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and chosen for further development through NYU’s New Plays for Young Audiences program — proof that the Arizona/NYC bridge gets traveled in both directions.

The family farmhouse in Smithfield, Maine where Hartford spent time as a child

Other works by Hartford, who holds a BFA in musical theatre from Boston Conservatory and began writing plays in 2000, include “A Little Bit of Water” and “The Bully Pulpit” (published as part of “The Bully Plays“). Nowadays he’s actor, director and playwright — plus theater educator. He’s teaching “On Stage: Play Production” (for ages 8-14) with Childsplay associate artist Katie McFadzen during this summer’s Childsplay Academy.

Folks eager to learn more about Hartford’s plays can find him on Facebook or hit his www.dwaynehartford.com website. Learn more about Childsplay — including their production of “The Color of Stars,” their “35th Birthday Party” happening tonight (April 27) and their summer academy classes by clicking here.

— Lynn

Note: Supporters of women playwrights should mark their calendars for this year’s Pandora Festival of New Works, coming to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts May 18-20. Artists/students can click here to learn about the Hormel New Works Festival Art Contest, which is accepting submissions through June 1.

Coming up: Students sing Sondheim, Musings on music education, More playwright profiles — including James Garcia, Ben Tyler, Jim Gradillas and many more

Got scripts?

New works festivals present great opportunities for writers and audiences

Jason Tremblay of Austin won last year’s EVCT aspiring playwrights contest with “Queen Zixi of Ix, The Story of the Magic Cloak” — which was performed by East Valley Children’s Theatre just last month. It’s the adaptation of an L. Frank Baum story about two young children forced to live with a greedy aunt who moves them from country to city in search of work — and the adventures that help them bring happiness and prosperity to everyone in their new land.

Second place in last year’s EVCT playwriting contest went to Drew Ignatowski of Gilbert for “Moonprince,” and third place went to Texan Bobbi A. Chukran of Leander for “Princess Primrose & the Curse of the Big Sleep.” Cash prizes go to the top three winners each year, and the winning play is produced by EVCT (assuming it meets their criteria for performance). The deadline for 2012 submissions is Fri, March 15.

New Carpa Theater Co. recently issued a call for scripts inspired by the legacy of the civil rights movement, the United Farm Workers Union and contemporary social justice issues. They’re looking for works to present during a short plays festival they expect to hold in late May/early June as well as October. Think 5- to 10-minute stage plays, monologues, play excerpts and performance pieces. Scripts are due April 20, and can be submitted in either Spanish or English.

James E. Garcia, producing artistic director for the company, notes that eight to 10 pieces will be selected by a panel of seven local playwrights, writers and producers for staging at the festival. Additional works may also be presented for festival goers. Garcia describes the festival as “a non-partisan, grassroots, community-based project” designed to give theater artists and audiences “an opportunity to express their concerns regarding some of the most compelling human and civil rights issues of our time” — including those effecting immigrants, women and people of color.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival is now considering plays for its 2013 New American Playwrights Project. Scripts submitted for consideration must be postmarked by Nov 1, 2012. Three works (all with mature content) are being presented during the 2012 series directed by Charles L. Metten — “The Greater Love” by Frankie Little Hardin, “Turquoise Wind” by Kurt Proctor and “Play Desdemona” by Daniel Hintzsche.

Those of you who favor watching new works rather than writing them can enjoy the 15th annual Hormel New Works Festival being presented July 8-22 by Phoenix Theatre. The festival features staged readings performed by professional actors.

Phoenix Theatre also holds a “2nd Draft Series” designed to further the development of select plays presented during the Hormel New Works Festival. Three plays will get the “2nd draft” treatment in coming weeks and months — including Richard Warren’s “Pollywogs” (March 24), Kurt Shineman’s “Mother’s Milk” (April 21) and Scott McCarrey’s “The Wilds” (May 19).

The Arizona Women’s Theatre Company presents its 6th annual Pandora Festival of New Works May 18-20 at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. It features full-length plays, one-act plays and 10-minute plays written by Arizona women.

Theatre Artists Studio in Scottsdale is home to the “New Play Series and Reader’s Theatre.” Up next in their new play series is “4” by Terry Youngren (March 17). Their next reader’s theater will be presented April 23 by Drea Pruseau.

A Childsplay world-premiere read of Dwayne Hartford’s “The Color of Stars” comes to The Temple Lounge in Tucson Sat, April 14 as part of the Arizona Theatre Company’s Café Bohemia” series. The play’s described as “a touching story about life in America during World War II with modern-day parallels about the costs of war both overseas and at home.”

Folks who prefer seeing plays fully staged and polished will be pleased to know that “The Color of Stars” is being performed by Childsplay April 22-May 20 at Tempe Center for the Performing Arts.

— Lynn

Coming up: Frankly speaking, So you want to be a playwright…

Once upon a “Showcase”

Pandora Showcase runs through Nov 19 in Scottsdale

I was pleased to see a good crowd of both women and men at Friday night’s “Pandora Showcase” presented by the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company — mostly young professionals, but some with several more years of life and theater-going under their belt. “Showcase 1,” which will be presented again Fri, Nov. 18, runs about 2 1/2 hours and includes five short works.

The venue — a small theater inside the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts — is intimate and polished. Clever song choices played before and after each “Pandora” work enhance each piece while tying them all together. Several of the plays share common themes — identity, relationships, destiny and the travail of making art.

The first is a sweet look at a young professional’s visit with her elderly grandmother and two aunts, but I prefer a tad more dysfunction in my on-stage families. I readily admit to being skewed forever by the biting combination of real life and Estelle Parson’s performance in “August: Osage County.” So “Family Recipes” wasn’t my favorite thing on the “Pandora Showcase” menu.

I found the second work, titled “Me,” infinitely more enchanting. It’s the tale of a writer who stumbles into a room where a sort of future self, her destiny, awaits. They banter back and forth about the relative merits of knowing, or not knowing, what’s coming down the road. The play ponders a serious question without pontificating and the actors deliver a solid performance.

To the same degree that “Family Recipes” feels a bit flat, the third play in “Showcase 1” feels somewhat frenetic. “Seeking Destiny” seems to be asking one central question: “If a hand is offered, would you take it?” But other questions flying too far afield dilute the focus of the work, and it would benefit from additional editing of ideas. The play left me wondering whether poetry might be the better vehicle for this particular vision.

The fourth work, titled “The Procedure,” is a playful look at medical bureaucracy with a brief foray into the politics of health insurance. The audience rewarded each actor’s prowess in physical comedy with genuine laughter. I’d love to see this playwright string together a series of similar works treating other political topics of the day.

The final piece in “Showcase 1” was far and away my favorite. I don’t know how plays make their way from Arizona to L.A., Chicago or NYC, but “Prism” deserves to start that journey. It’s an honest, unflinching look at what each person brings to the therapeutic relationship. It’s funny beyond belief, with writing honed to near perfection.

Playwright Debra Rich Gettleman performs one of two roles in “Prism,” which functions well with both therapist and client characters. But it’s also easy to imagine “Prism” as a one-woman play depicting only the woman talking to her therapist. Audience reactions to the work made clear the fact that Gettleman “gets it” in the therapy department.

Gettleman’s “Prism” reminds me of “No Child” by Nilaja Sun, but with psychotherapy rather than education the topic du jour. I asked Gettleman after Friday’s “Pandora Showcase” just how many plays she’s written, because she’s cleary got a gift for it — but counting doesn’t seem to be her thing.

Maybe plays are like children and it’s hard to pick a favorite. Still, Gettleman’s got an awfully precious baby on her hands with “Prism.” I can’t wait to watch it grow.

— Lynn

Note: Another “Pandora Showcase” work will be performed Sat, Nov 12 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts (and all the works are being repeated next weekend).

Coming up: When couples collide, This little piggie…

“The Sun Serpent”

An early rendering of "The Sun Serpent" set design

For two years, a unique collaboration of Valley artists and arts organizations have worked together to bring “The Sun Serpent” by José Cruz González to Valley  audiences. It’s being performed through Nov. 13 by Childsplay, a Tempe-based theater company specializing in works for young audiences and families.

“The Sun Serpent” is an adventure tale on a grand scale. It depicts the collision of worlds old and new as a boy struggles to save his family and preserve the memory of his Aztec culture, bringing the conquest of Mexico to life through captivating media, masks, music and more.

Entering the studio theater at Tempe Center for the Arts Saturday evening, I felt transported to another world. Lush rainforest scenes, the work of projection designer Adam Larsen, were projected onto three giant panels layered on each side of the stage.

Lights with a beautiful blend of blue and green, the work of lighting designer Tim Monson, shown down onto large Aztec images painted on the stage — the work of scenic designer Carey Wong. A gentle cloud of mist hovered over the stage as sounds of birds and other rainforest creatures, the work of sound designer Christopher Neumeyer, floated through the air. It was breathtaking.

“The Sun Serpent” marries the best of traditional storytelling with technology. As its three main characters — a young boy, his widowed grandmother and his older brother — face cultural shifts with diverse motivations and dreams, projections reflect their changing world.

We see foreign ships approaching the shore, villages consumed by fire, and journeys trekked over mountaintops — all part of a visual feast best suited for audience members ages 8 & above. There’s greed, death and betrayal. But also hope and courage. “The Sun Serpent,” says director Rachel Bowditch, “portrays the strength of the human spirit.”

The creative team also includes composer Daniel Valdez, costume designer Connie Furr-Soloman, mask designer Zarco Guerrero and puppet designer Jim Luther. Amy Gilbert, who recently made the move from Atlanta to Arizona, serves as stage manager.

David Saar has directed and taught for Childsplay since it began in 1977. Managing director Steve Martin, also president of the board for Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts, is enjoying his 11th season with Childsplay.

Just three actors peform 30 roles in the Childsplay production of “The Sun Serpent.” Andrés Alcalá (Tlememe), an associate artist with Childsplay since 2007, has also performed with Actors Theatre of Phoenix, the Southwest Shakespeare Company, Nearly Naked Theatre and Phoenix Theatre.

Ricky Araiza (Young/Elder Anáhuac), an Arizona native who attended Brophy College Preparatory, graduated from ASU in 2004 with a B.A. in theatre before pursuing additional training in ensemble-based physical theater. Araiza is a freelance acting and movement teacher studying mask-making with Zarco Guerrero.

Andréa Morales (Anci) previously spent five seasons as a Childsplay company member, but now lives in Chicago, where she is a company member of Halcyon Theatre and an artistic associate of Polarity Ensemble Theatre.

As I chatted with cast members after the show, I marveled at the amazing depth and breadth of Childsplay offerings. It seems only yesterday that I was watching Childsplay associate artists D. Scott Withers and Jon Gentry bounce, run, bark and drive around in circles during a theater-in-the-round performance of “Go, Dog. Go!” You never know where the artistry of Childsplay might take you.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for additonal show and ticket information, and here to learn about other works being presented as part of the CALA Festival.

Coming up: Border tales

Update: Playwright José Cruz Gonzaléz writes about developing “The Sun Serpent” and his experiences with Childsplay in an article titled “Chasing the Sun” published in the January 2012 issue of “American Theatre” magazine. 1/4/12

Evolution of a play

"Dreaming Darwin" opens Feb 11 at ASU in Tempe

Ever wonder how a work performed on stage goes from initial idea to polished performance?

You’ve seen a bit of the process if you’ve been following the development of “Dreaming Darwin” since its 2009 staged reading at Arizona State University.

My son, Christopher, is likely tempted to correct me here. As a student of native plants and wildlife biology, he enjoys sharing the finer points of how evolution differs from adaptation.

I suppose there’s good reason I’ve never authored a “Science Mom” post. Still, I’m fascinated by the work of Charles Darwin — and intrigued by the attempt in “Dreaming Darwin” to explore the famous naturalist’s inner world.

School of Theatre and Film faculty members Lance Gharavi and Jacob Pinholster assembled a team of ASU student artists to create this new work, intended as a “fantasy on a theme” about Charles Darwin.

“Dreaming Darwin” is being performed at ASU’s Prism Theatre in Tempe Feb 11-19.

After seeing the 2009 film “Creation” with Christopher last year at the Harkins Valley Art Theatre, I’ve come to think of Darwin as a family man first and a scientist second.

I haven’t any way of knowing what truly occupied his thoughts or his time, but I relish the opportunity to do some imagining of my own — inspired by the “Dreaming Darwin” performances at ASU.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about the many offerings of the School of Theatre and Film at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at ASU

Coming up: You be the judge, Mixed reviews for Ronald Reagan

Photo Credit: Original illustration by Ben Swift (www.nonsinthetik.co.uk) for SIN Cru, a Hip Hop dance, music and art company in Cambridge, UK (www.sincru.co.uk)