Tag Archives: Sarah Sullivan

Beginnings

After on stage warm-ups that included plenty of high fives and cheering, Sarah Sullivan and Xanthia Angel Walker asked a cast of nearly three dozen youth (plus two grown-up actors) to picture “one person or thing you want to dedicate this show to.” Soon they’d begin a dress rehearsal for “Some Are Beginning,” a play written by José Zárate with several Valley youth as part of “The Arizonan Project.”

Cast members from "Some Are Beginning" from Rising Youth Theatre

It’s an effort by newly-formed Rising Youth Theatre, founded by Sullivan and Walker, to engage youth in telling their own stories. It’s up and running thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $5000, plus funding from the New Jersey-based Puffin Foundation — which “provides grants to artists and art organizations who are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender, or social philosophy.”

“You are making history right now,” the pair told their eager young performers — who auditioned for the show after learning of the newly-creating Rising Youth Theatre through various venues,  including Phoenix Center for the Arts, where “Some Are Beginning” opens tonight at 7:30pm. There’s also a 7:30pm show on Sat, April 28 — and a 6pm show on Sun, April 29. Tickets are just $10 or “pay what you can at the door.”

Scene from Rising Youth Theatre's "Some Are Beginning"

More than 100 young people from across the Phoenix metro area have been involved in developing and presenting the work, according to Sullivan and Walker — who note that their collaborators for this production include not only Phoenix Center for the Arts (which offers all sorts of arts experiences for kids and adults), but also the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix, Flight 33 and Barrio Nuevo.

I chatted with several small groups of “Some Are Beginning” actors before Thursday night’s dress rehearsal. Some showed remarkable focus. Others bounced to and fro with excitement. None seemed nervous, and all were incredibly composed and polished once the show got underway. Some aspire to theater careers, while others are happy just for the chance to make new friends.

Rising Youth Theatre's "Some Are Beginning" opens tonight at 7:30pm

“The play is about living in Arizona,” they told me. Also friendship, facing hardship, not judging others and standing up for those who’re mistreated. “It’s about the experiences of being a kid,” shares Sullivan, “which are really human experiences.” The work is suitable, she says, for audiences ages 8 and up — including adults. I found it sweet, funny and insightful. But it’s something more. It’s a beginning.

“This is the first performance of the first play of a brand new theater,” Walker told the cast before Thursday’s rehearsal. “I hope you’ll always remember how special this was.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here for more information on tonight’s performance

Coming up: From journalism to playwriting

Photos by José Zárate

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Rising Youth Theatre

Rising Youth Theatre founders Xanthia Walker and Sarah Sullivan

After completing MFA degrees in theatre for youth at Arizona State University in Tempe, Xanthia Walker and Sarah Sullivan knew they wanted to start a theater company, so they looked around and considered the community need.

“We noticed that no one was doing full-time, community-engaged theater with youth,” recalls Walker. They’d found the need — “creating original plays with youth based on their true stories.” And so Rising Youth Theatre was born.

At this point, says Walker, it’s a “pilot project.” The task at hand is “developing our model for creating work.” They expect to do residency work all over the Phoenix metro area for a good six months or so, creating a youth theater production and building the reputation they’ll need to move forward.

Once they’ve laid this foundation, says Walker, they’ll seek additional funding and partnerships. Walker notes that they’re already working with several Valley agencies serving youth — including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Flight 33 in Guadalupe and Barrio Nuevo Phoenix.

They’ve already spent more than a month working with groups of youth at seven different sites in Phoenix, Tempe, Chandler and Guadalupe. “We’re probably working now with about 1oo to 150 middle school or high school age youth,” says Walker.

“A team of resident artists work with us to facilitate story gathering with students,” explains Walker. Their current project focuses on “what it means to be an Arizonan in 2012 from the perspective of a young person.”

Walker notes that the artists use various methods to help youth capture and share their thoughts about Arizona — including improvisation, story sharing, theater games and writing exercises. They then look for universal notes, comments and stories that elucidate common threads and themes.

Playwright José Zárate, who attends each of these workshops with youth, takes notes that get translated into outline form — material that he’ll eventually craft into a play performed by Rising Youth Theatre. Walker expects to hold auditions around the end of February, then move forward with rehearsals and developing the program.

Auditions, shares Walker, will be open to both youth involved in the residency phase of the play’s development and youth from the larger community. She expects the process of developing the play together as a cast to take about six weeks.

“The play will have a full production team and professional actors performing alongside participating youth,” says Walker. Actors Ricky Araiza, recently seen in Childsplay’s “The Sun Serpent,” and Elizabeth Pollen, who performed last season in Childsplay’s “The Tomato Plant Girl,” have already signed on to the project. Both are energetic, vibrant performers.

Rising Youth Theatre recently became the resident theater company of the Phoenix Center for the Arts, which is sponsoring their first production. It’ll be performed at the center the last weekend of April in 2012.

Rising Youth Theatre is offering six theater classes for youth which start in January of 2012 and cost just $60 each. There are two for first through third graders (“A Whole New World: Imagination and Adventures” and “Choose Your Own Adventure”) and four for fourth through sixth graders (“The Actor’s Tools: Body & Voice,” “Who Do You Think You Are?,” “Clowning Around,” and “What’s The Story?”).

To learn more about Rising Youth Theatre, the “Arizonan Project” or theater clases for youth, click here.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read a “Stage Mom” review of an earlier work directed by Xanthia Walker which shares the stories of youth and families living with autism. Click here for information on other classes offered at Phoenix Center for the Arts.

Coming up: Making my holiday reading list

Photo courtesy of Xanthia Walker

Definition of a dream

Call those babysitters! The 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival starts tonight!

Many of us wake up every day in warm, secure houses with pantries full of food and closets brimming with clothes. We dream of smarter phones, faster computers, bigger television screens.

But the dreams of homeless teens are very different. You can get a rare glimpse into the lives of homeless youth in Phoenix by attending a play titled “Definition of a Dream.”

It’s being presented April 1-3 by homeless youth who developed the original work in conjunction with Sarah Sullivan and the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development. The Center describes the work as follows:

“Through the artistic experience, young people take their stories to the stage, looking to change the conversation about homelessness in Phoenix, one show at a time. This year’s play takes a look at dreams — the dreams we have for ourselves, for the people in our lives and our community as a whole.”

“Definition of a Dream” asks a powerful question: “What are the things we have to fight for and against to make these dreams a reality?”

The play is one of many thought-provoking works being presented as part of the Phoenix Fringe Festival, which runs April 1-10 at various downtown Phoenix venues.

Tickets for tonight’s performance of “Definition of a Dream” were not available online when I checked Friday afternoon, but tickets for the Sat, April 2 (5:30pm) and Sun, April 3 (8pm) performances may still be out there — but don’t delay in checking the Phoenix Fringe Festival website if you’d like to attend this or other works.

“Definition of a Dream” is being performed at “Modified Arts” at 407 E. Roosevelt in Phoenix. Additional venues for 2011 Phoenix Fringe Festival performances (most appropriate only for mature audiences) include Phoenix Theatre: Little Theatre, Third Street Theatre, Soul Invictus, Bragg’s Pie Factory and Space 55.

You can check out the full “Fringe” schedule (which also includes after-parties and such) at www.phxfringe.org. After reviewing the schedule the other day, I noticed that there are works dealing with religion, sexuality, border issues and a whole lot more. Even Greek myth and Shakespeare manage to get in the game.

Several “Fringe” works, including “Twisted: Greeting Card Moments Gone Bad” by “Tom T. and Twisted Tidings,” are presented by a single artist. Some are presented by local artists, others by artists from other regions (including Australia). A few include students from Arizona State University.

You can get a good feel for the festival by considering the titles of some of the pieces being performed. Schreibstuck. Oppressed. Borders and Bridges. Hamlet Machine. The Panic Opera Sacraments. Too Close to the Sun. Your Teacher Never Told You….

There’s even “Confessions of a Mormon Boy,” which may hold special appeal for those of you who, like myself, have yet to snag tickets to the new Broadway musical titled “The Book of Mormon” (billed by some as an atheist love song to believers).

The Phoenix Fringe Festival is an edgy, off-the-beaten-path experience that’s fun for date nights, outings with friends or solo adventures. Think of it as a way to up the job numbers for all those babysitters out there.

Consider an afternoon, evening or weekend out with the “Fringe.” You might be offended. You might be educated. You might be inspired. But I doubt you’ll be bored. It’s a great way to explore our smaller community theater venues, enjoy affordable performance art and meet folks who probably wouldn’t recognize a remote control if they saw one.

— Lynn

Note: Attend the Phoenix Fringe Festival and you can save $10 off your ticket to “Liz Lerman Dance Exchange: The Matter of Origins” Monday, April 11, at ASU Gammage (use the code FRINGE when ordering tix from the ASU Gammage box office or 480-965-3434).

Coming up: Jellly bean dreams, Chicago envy?