Tag Archives: prejudice

Musings on “Mockingbird”

We see what we look for, hear what we listen for. It’s one of many messages conveyed by Harper Lee in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published the year I was born and dubbed one of the great American novels. Harper’s writing is highly praised, as is her treatment of racial injustice in the American South. Central to the book, adapted for both screen and stage, is the trial of a black man accused of rape who’s defended in court by a white lawyer.

My only experience on the receiving end of racism was during ninth grade, when I lived in Hawaii and was one of just a few “haoles” at my school. I remember noticing that teachers never called on us, even when our hands were raised and we’d come to class eager to participate. Others have experienced far greater injustices caused by bigotry based on skin color.

But our family has lived for years with another type of discrimination, made more painful by the fact that few people even acknowledge its existence. We have a family member with mental illness, but there’s little public outrage when people ridicule such things. For all our progress as a society in championing the rights of LGBT individuals and raising awareness about families affected by autism, we’ve yet to truly see the 1 in 5 people in our midst who live with depression or other mental health conditions.

So I see in “To Kill a Mockingbird” both the tale of a black man falsely accused, and the tale of another man judged too quickly — the character called “Boo” who lives holed up in his house isolated from neighbors who ridicule him for being what they consider crazy. While I acknowlege the power of Lee’s book to heighten our awareness of racial injustice even as it occurs today, I see in her work something more.

The danger in drawing assumptions about anyone. Those with mental illness. Women. Children. White men. Lawyers. Those who commit crimes. Even novelists like Lee who choose to live a quiet existence outside of the public eye. I was reminded of all this today while watching a local theater company production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which affirmed what many have surmised. That the story is just as relevant now as it was when Harper wrote it. See it. Hear it. And act on it.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read the “1 in 5” report from SAMHSA

Coming up: Remembering Anne Frank,  Veterans who write


“The Color of Stars”

Playwright Dwayne Hartford grew up in a small rural town called Smithfield, Maine -- where red oak trees perfect for building warships were plentiful

A lone blue star hangs in a window on the set of Childsplay’s “The Color of Stars.” It signals that fact that there’s a family member at war. It’s the father of a boy who’s been sent to live with his grandparents on a small farm in Maine. His mother is one of many American women working to build battle ships. The setting is World War II, and fear is rampant — making life especially difficult for Japanese- and German-Americans.

I sat behind a grandmother and granddaughter during Sunday’s matinee performance of “The Color of Stars,” a work by playwright and actor Dwayne Hartford, who grew up in a small town full of trees prized as raw material for making minesweepers. It’s there that Hartford learned lessons reflected in the play. The value of hard work. The nature of sacrifice. The importance of integrity.

I chatted with the pair, who hail from Chandler, after the show. They were attending as part of a “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren” program run by Duet, a non-profit organization founded by the Church of the Beatitudes. The granddaughter, a spunky redheaded teen named Veronica who loves writing horror fiction, told me the play was all about trust. Grandmother Roberta agreed and reflected on some of its other take-home messages. It’s better to ask than to assume, and wiser to smother a small fire than watch it burn out of control.

A fire sparked in the woods near the home Eddie shares with his grandparents mirrors the flames of fear fanned by those who assume all Germans, including a government worker sent to survey the area for trees, are Nazis. The lovely duo I chatted with shared that their own German heritage made the play feel especially poignant. I suspect “The Color of Stars,” directed by Graham Whitehead, will resonate best with those who’ve been on the receiving end of prejudice, those who’ve sent family members to war and those accustomed to small town life.

There’s much in “The Color of Stars” that mirrors my own childhood days spent visiting German grandparents in the tiny town of Tripp, South Dakota. Catching and gutting fish. Tending to corn crops. Doing farm chores like feeding the animals. Playing card games and Cribbage. Cast members share favorite memories of their own grandparents in “The Color or Stars” program, which also features several generations of Hartford family photos. (Seems Dwayne once rocked a big grin and some serious bangs.)

There’s a charming nostalgia to Hartford’s work, and a balanced take on the best and worst of what wartime does to families. It’s inspired me to dig out family photos I haven’t looked at in years. “The Color of Stars,” being performed through May 20 at Tempe Center for the Arts, is that rare piece of theater that spans the generations while strengthening the ties between them.

It’s also an eloquent window into wartime for students who tend to find the study of wars before the age of terrorism rather tedious. War has consequences. So do words. And everyday actions. “The Color of Stars” is a beautiful reminder that there’s strength in family, serenity in the night sky and something each of us must give to the community that sustains us.

— Lynn

Note: Childsplay is partnering with East Valley Blue Star Mothers to collect care package items for military members serving overseas. Audience members are invited to bring food or hygeine items when attending “The Color of Stars” — where they will be collected in the TCA lobby. Visit the Childsplay website for a list of requested items.

Coming up: Playwright profiles — starting with Dwayne Hartford of Childsplay

Update: Childsplay holds its 35th birthday bash Fri, April 27. Click here for details.

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.

Pinky’s picks

Update: Pinky has asked me to share this link to a raffle benefiting an organization called “Save the Cats Arizona” — which we learned of from our friends at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. The raffle runs through July 31, 2011.

Several community theaters recently rolled out their 2011-2012 season announcements. But I imagine my cat “Pinky” fancies the new season for Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert more than most.

Hale opens their 2011-2012 season on Sept 2 with an Agatha Christie mystery titled “The Mousetrap” — a work that now holds the distinction of being “the longest running play in the world.”

Pinky isn’t terribly concerned that a murderer may be loose in London’s Monkswell Manor. But she’d love to be on the guest list if there’s any real prospect of finding mice trapped at mealtime.

It’s a Wonderful Life,” which opens at Hale on Oct 14, might seem to hold less cat-appeal, until you recall that the work — featuring one man’s struggle with doubt and disappointment — is set in a small town readying to celebrate Christmas.

We could treat Pinky to piles of pet store treats and toys come Christmas time, but she’d still find her bliss jumping into piles of crinkled up and discarded wrapping paper — and rubbing her wet little nose up against the corners of shiny packages under a tree sporting ornaments she’s sure were placed for her swatting pleasure.

Hale follows “It’s a Wonderful Life” with “A Christmas Carol,” which opens at the Gilbert theater on Dec 1. Even Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, who takes such delight in denying comfort to the poor and downtrodden, couldn’t ignore the pitiful pleas of Pinky when she’s ready for dinner.

I imagine Pinky would eagerly curl up beside the fire with Tiny Tim, offering a gentle purr as warming as the fire’s glow — and have great fun sitting with Tiny Tim in a chair by a window overlooking bustling holiday season streets.

Hale opens “See How They Run” Dec 31, giving Valley theater-goers a chance to welcome the New Year with comedic farce and fast-paced frivolity. Pinky might not know what to make of this one — with its cockney maid, men dressed as clergymen and a whole lot of misadventures spawned by mistaken identity.

Pinky might favor a different “See How They Run” plot — perhaps something featuring plump quails bobbing their tiny heads as they cross the road, or quivering dogs terrified by cats with an inflated sense of self.

Hale notes that folks who attend their production of “42nd Street” — which opens Feb 16, 2012 — will “love seeing the underdog succeed.” But Pinky”s never pleased when the word “dog” and “success” appear in the same sentence, so this will be a harder sell.

Perhaps she’d be more receptive if we decked her out in a slick tux with tails, then gave her a tophat and cane, so she could try a little soft-shoe during songs like “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” or “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.”

I’m afraid to tell Pinky about “Barefoot in the Park” — a Neil Simon comedy featuring the adventures of two newlyweds and a matchmaking mother-in-law — which opens at Hale on Feb 21, 2012. She’s perfectly fine with living the barefoot life, but might resent the “park” mention given her indoor-cat status.

Rabbits hold plenty of interest for cats, so Pinky might be thrilled to learn that a rabbit named “Harvey” is coming to Hale on April 5, 2012. But only until she learns that Harvey, the imaginary companion of Elwood P. Dowd, is more than six feet tall — and invisible.

Pinky spends plenty of time watching our own bunny, named “Rugby” — as well as a pair of lovebirds named “Taffy” and “Trixy” — who occupy pet pads near a staircase perfect for panoramic viewing of all things potentially edible.

I’ll need to have a little talk with Pinky about this next one — “To Kill a Mockingbird,” opening May 25, 2012. It might be a lot like a conversation I had with my husband recently that ended with the quip “you’re so literal.”

The classic work, based on the novel by Harper Lee, is set in the Deep South of the 1930s. It has nothing to do with killing birds — or leaving them as trophies on a “Welcome” mat outside the front door. Instead, it’s a tale of friendship and love amidst of world filled with prejudice and hate.

Hale closes its 2011-2012 season with “Bye Bye Birdie,” opening July 13, 2012 — which follows a teen singing sensation drafted into the military during the 1960s. Having used more than my fair share of “cat eats bird” fodder already, I suppose I’ll have to find a different link to all things feline.

Happily, the musical’s songs include not only “Put on a Happy Face” but also “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” — no doubt a reference to the “nine lives” of cats.

I know pets aren’t typically allowed at community theater productions, so I suppose Pinky will have to settle for nibbling on programs we bring home from Hale Centre Theatre productions.

But you can’t really blame me for conjuring images of my cat with every mention of birds, mice or bunnies. I can only imagine how the dogs living next door might react to seeing the musical “Cats.”

— Lynn

Coming up: Dance and identity

Photo: Christopher Trimble

SMCC performs “Mockingbird”

The South Mountain Community College theatre department presents “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the play based on a classic novel by Harper Lee, April 13-16.

The novel’s 50th anniversary was celebrated just last year, but its themes of “racism, classism and coming of age in America” feel no less relevant today.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is set in the Deep South of 1930s America — where “the conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by…one man’s struggle for justice.”

I learned about this particular production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” shortly after running across something called a “hate map” put together by the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama — which identifies “more than 1,000 hate groups operating across this country.”

The SPLC “hate map” lists 22 groups in Arizona — including “Faithful Word Baptist Church” in Tempe (Anti-gay), “Free American” in Tucson (White nationalist), “Vinlanders Arizona” in Mesa (Racist skinhead), “White Knights of America” in Tonopah (Neo-Nazi) and “United for a Sovereign America (USA)” in Phoenix (Anti-immigrant).

In addition to tracking hate and extremism, the Southern Poverty Law Center helps children at risk, fosters immigrant justice and teaches tolerance through publications and other tools you can learn more about at their website.

The novel “To Kill a Mockingbird” has endured controversy since its publication — even making the American Library Association’s list of the top 100 banned 20th century novels. Other banned titles include F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” J.D. Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye” and John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

The South Mountain Community College production of “To Kill a Mockingbird”– which is being directed by Julie Holston — offers Valley parents the opportunity to introduce their children to this classic piece of American literature through live performance art.

Most students read the book in school, and families can always watch the 1962 film (starring Gregory Peck) together. But there’s something especially powerful in seeing such works performed on stage by young actors living in our midst.

“To Kill a Mockingbird” at SMCC opens Wed, April 13, at 7:30pm. Additional 7:30pm shows take place April 14-16. The show’s only matinee is Sat, April 16, at 2pm.

All seats are general admission and tickets run just $10 (though Maricopa Community College District students attend for free with valid student I.D.). Tickets are available online at www.showup.com and at the SMCC box office before each show.

To learn about additional arts offerings from South Mountain Community College, including several storytelling events taking place this month, click here.

— Lynn

Coming up: A day spent with PBS, Herberger happenings, Of moose and music, Movie theater meets “Memphis”

Update: I’m now blogging as “Stage Mom Musings” at www.stagemommusings.com. Please find and follow me there to continue receiving posts about arts and culture in Arizona and beyond. Thanks for your patience as the tech fairies work to move all 1,250+ posts to the new site. For the latest news follow me on Twitter @stagemommusings. 6/13/12

White noise

Years ago the airwaves were full of infomercials for white noise generators — nifty devices that supposedly produce something capable of drowning out other distractions. I never tried one, though, since sound has been such a profound part of my parenting experience.

I wonder at times whether my children developed their own white noise force fields as teens — because it sometimes felt like everything I said bounced right back to me before making that split second journey from ear canal to brain.

White Noise, A Cautionary Musical is now on stage in Chicago

Recently I learned of a musical titled “White Noise” — currently playing at the Royal George Theatre in Chicago. The news came across my desk with a host of other alerts from the “Teaching Tolerance” program of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

I was disappointed by the timing of my discovery, which came just days after Lizabeth returned from Chicago, though harrowing hamster tales and tidbits she shared about dark moments from another show did serve to slightly assuage my guilt.

Lizabeth saw “God of Carnage” at the Goodman Theatre over the weekend, and even thought to get me a souvenir pen for future writing ventures. She revealed that her dad, not a giggling sort of a guy, laughed throughout — and that they also enjoyed their time together at the Art Institute of Chicago.

After James and I first married in Southern California more than two decades ago, both our homes and his offices were decorated with prints of famous pieces of art — many from the Art Institute of Chicago collection. I imagine he was especially pleased to visit the museum with one of our three children.

“Chicago” is one on a small list of shows he didn’t want Lizabeth to see when it came to the Valley several years ago — fearing she was too young for some of the content. But she’s grown into all sorts of mature-content theater since then.

God of Carnage is part of the 2011-2012 season for Arizona Theatre Company

“God of Carnage” is being mounted next season by Arizona Theatre Company — which Lizabeth expects will do it great justice. And Broadway World reported recently that a film adaptation to feature Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet (as two moms of children who have a bit of a playgound tussle) is in the works.

In the meantime, I’ll be looking for ways to see “White Noise,” which is being produced by Whoopi Goldberg. The cautionary tale is described as “an edgy new rock musical about a white separatist singing duo.” The musical “challenges conventional notions of free speech, media and the power of pop culture.”

An educational guide for working with high school and college age students has been developed by the Southern Poverty Law Center — which says the musical “raises important issues about the power of hate speech in our culture and should inspire people of conscious to call out those who engage in it.”

It feels particularly timely as tragic events continue to unfold in the aftermath of one man’s decision to burn a book held sacred by millions across the globe. Sometimes we fight on the playground, other times on the world stage.

I’m grateful for works like “God of Carnage” and “White Noise,” which help us hear the hate — then work together in peaceful ways to not merely mask it, but to eradicate it from our personal and collective lives.

— Lynn

Note: Scottsdale Community College presents the next film in its “The Many Faces of Hate” film series on April 27, 6:30-8:30pm in the Turquoise Room on the SCC campus (take the 1o1, exit at Chaparral, then head east to land at SCC). The documentary, “Strange Fruit,” will be followed by a moderated discussion.

Coming up: Musings on “Macbeth” from Valley students

Art meets community college

Head to SCC Wednesday for a film documenting the voyage of German Jews aboard a ship that no one wanted

Looking for low-cost or no-cost dance, music and theater productions? Fond of supporting the creativity of local students and those who teach them? Eager to experience art or film you won’t see elsewhere?

Then check out these offerings coming soon to Valley community colleges.

Chandler-Gilbert Community College presents…

“Get a Life” — an original CGCC production that “explores all the little things in life that drive us crazy from the cradle through the golden years.” March 24-27.

“14” — a play by Jose Casas that’s “based on interviews with Arizonans and their various different attitudes towards the contemporary issues of undocumented immigration.” Performed by Teatro Bravo April 1 & 2.

Mesa Community College presents…

“Student Art Show” — featuring diverse works of visual art. April 11-21.

“Almost Maine” — a play by John Cariani about residents of a “remote, mythical town” in which “residents find themselves falling in and out of love in unexpected and often hilarious ways.” April 22-30.

Paradise Valley Community College presents…

“Rumors” — a play by Neil Simon that recounts the adventures of four upper class couples embarrased by unexpected circumstances. April 9-17.

“Spring Dance Collection 2011” — a “compilation of dance works” choreographed by dance and adjunct faculty. Includes modern dance, jazz, ballet, hip hop, ballroom and other forms of dance. April 29 & 30.

Scottsdale Community College presents…

“Voyage of the St. Louis” — a documentary film that’s part of the SCC and Anti-Defamation League “The Many Faces of Hate” film series. It recounts the journey of 937 German Jews denied haven in 1939 by “every country in the Americas.” March 23.

Unique plays coming soon to Valley community colleges include SCC performances of works by Eugene Ionesco (Photo: Laura Durant)

“The Bald Chairs” — two one-act plays by Eugene Ionesco, both “from the school of drama known as the Theatre of the Absurd, a genre that often includes irony, slapstick humor and word play.”  March 31-April 9.

Each of these community colleges — as well as other community colleges in the greater Phoenix metro area — list art, dance, film, music and theater events online.

With just a little legwork, you can uncover a multitude of low-cost and no-cost events to enjoy with family and friends while supporting the budding artists in our midst.

— Lynn

Note: Our state universities — ASU, NAU and UA — also offer a wealth of visual and performance art open to the public. So stay tuned to their online calendars as well.

Coming up: More free and discounted arts events