Tag Archives: SARRC

That’s what friends are for

Friends Janet Arnold and Ed Asner perform a reading of "Advanced Chemistry" to benefit Arizona Jewish Theatre Company

Like many arts organizations, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company has faced financial challenges in recent years. But executive director Janet Arnold has a friend in renowned actor Ed Asner, who graciously performs here periodically to support Arizona Jewish Theatre Company’s work.

Most recently he treated Valley audiences to a reading of Rich Orloff’s “Advanced Chemistry,” a pair of plays about “love, lust and longevity” at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. The event helped Arizona Jewish Theatre Company raise funds needed to continue their season with “The Blessing of a Broken Heart” — a work they’re dedicating to former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson.

But now it’s Asner who needs our help. Asner has both a son and grandson with autism, and says the issue “really hits me at home.” Asner describes the organizations Autism Speaks as “the main focus of my family’s charitable efforts.”

Will Asner and Charlotte Luckerman in a photo shared by Matthew Asner

Asner’s son Matthew serves as executive director for Autism Speaks in Southern California. “He is on the front lines,” says Asner, “fighting for our kids and others like them.” Ed Asner is eager to both improve the quality of life for children and adults with autism — and to “find a way to stop it.”

Asner has four children. Twins Matthew and Liza Asner, and Katie Luckerman, are in their 40s. Charlie Asner is in his 20s. His oldest grandchild, Jake Asner, is 11 — and the youngest, Charlotte Luckerman, is just two. There’s also Will Asner (age 9), Gabriel Luckerman (age 8), Grant and Helena Asner (7-year-old twins), and Sam Luckerman (age 5).

His passion for supporting families living with autism was clear when we chatted by phone a while back, soon after the American Psychiatric Association released information about proposed criteria for autism spectrum disorders — which Asner and other autism advocates worry will mean less help for individuals and families living with autism.

Jake Asner self-portrait, shared by Matthew Asner

Folks eager to join Asner in fighting for autism research and increased public awareness can donate to Asner’s “Walk Now for Autism Speaks” team — which is participating in the “10th Annual Los Angeles Walk Now for Autism Speaks” on April 21. Or click here to join his “Asner’s Avengers” online.

Those eager to participate on the local level too can support the “Arizona 2012 Walk Now for Autism Speaks” as well. It takes place Oct. 28, and is being presented in partnership with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

Both Autism Speaks and SAARC offer plenty of ongoing opportunities to learn more about autism and ways to support families living autism. SAARC presents a free screening of HBO Film’s Temple Grandin” at Studio Movie Grill in Scottsdale Feb. 21 (click here to register because space is limited).

Walk. Watch. Donate. Volunteer. Write to legislators. Learn more. And listen. That’s what friends are for.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Arizona Jewish Theatre Company — which is home to Curtain Call Youth Theatre (which holds auditions for “Annie” on March 5) and All Rights Reserved teen improv troupe (which presents a teen improv festival on Feb. 26), plus a variety of special programs and events.

Coming up: Ed Asner talks arts in education, Once upon a peacemaker

Advertisements

The normal heart

As AIDS activists mark thirty years since the first report of AIDS, the play “The Normal Heart” is enjoying a successful run on Broadway. It’s been nominated — along with “Arcadia,” “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and “The Merchant of Venice” — for a 2011 Tony Award® for best play revival.

The Normal Heart is nominated for five 2011 Tony Awards

“The Normal Heart” is described by its creators as “the story of a city in denial,” unfolding “as a tight-knit group of friends refuses to let doctors, politicians and the press bury the truth of an unspoken epidemic behind a wall of silence.”

The play was written by Larry Kramer, and performed Off-Broadway in 1985 and 2004. This revival is directed by Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe.

Like many in the Valley, I was mindful today of the many lives taken and affected by AIDS. According to a June 3 story from Reuters, the disease has “infected more than 60 million people and claimed nearly 30 million lives.”

But my thoughts turned as well to families affected by autism spectrum disorder, as I attended a benefit performance of a play titled “Like Everyone Else” — a joint venture of Phoenix Theatre, Arizona School for the Arts and the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

On either side of the stage, tall and narrow nooks looked like blackboards — each covered with dozens of colorful chalk words and images. Math problems. Movie slogans. Drawings of animals. Scientific formulas.

They hinted at the diverse but uber-focused interests of people living with autism, a theme mirrored in much of the play’s dialogue.

The work opens as three individuals living with autism share a bit about their unique struggles. But soon a loud chorus of voices on stage conveys a single message: “Everyone is special in their own way.” And a young woman says, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.”

“Like Everyone Else” gives voice to the concerns, hopes, challenges and dreams of children and adults living with autism spectrum disorders — plus those of parents and siblings. Even friends, teachers and various community members.

A girl argues with her sister. A boy engages his brother in a lightsaber duel. A young man looks for a job. A young woman longs to leave home and live on her own. A SARRC professional helps with various services and supports, and the audience enjoys a filmed tour of the Center.

During one vignette, a young woman in a white labcoat stands in front of a white screen showing a picture of the human brain. She gives a brief but comprehensive overview of autism spectrum disorders, sharing common characteristics of people with autism and noting that 1 in 110 people fall somewhere along the spectrum.

The remarkable use of props and noise elevate the work to a truly rare blend of education and entertainment. Under Xanthia Walker’s direction, the work is warm and humorous rather than preachy. We get it, but leave the theater feeling like we’ve just been handed the most beautiful gift rather than a piece of social commentary.

I spoke with ASA head of school Leah Fregulia-Roberts after the show. She’s grateful that students from ASA’s Theatre for Social Change class had the opportunity to work with SARRC youth. “This must have been a life-changing experience,” reflects Fregulia-Roberts.

Laura Apperson, ASA arts director, hopes to secure funding for future collaborations tackling additional issues facing youth. I suggested depression, of course, since it’s my job to advocate for my own kids — and because experts cite its prevalence at 1 in 10 youth.

She’d also love to see “Like Everyone Else” performed again and again, to raise awareness throughout the community — and to continue showcasing the talents of the remarkable cast and creative team who put it all together. I suspect Robert Kolby Harper, associate artistic director for Phoenix Theatre, agrees.

“It’s amazing,” says Harper, “what can happen when people come together and try to understand each other.”

— Lynn

Note: Click here for information from the folks of “The Normal Heart” about how you can “get involved.”

Coming up: “Annie” tales, Tony® meets AriZoni, From Sondheim to South Park

Seasons of change

Home Free, Cheyne - Sanctuary Art Center

With just a week before next Sunday’s CBS broadcast of the 2011 Tony Awards®, I’ve got a serious case of Tony fever. How kind of the Metropolitan Men’s Chorus to open Friday night’s benefit performance of “At the End of the Day…” with the song “Seasons of Love” from the Tony Award®-winning musical “Rent.” Also “Not While I’m Around” from “Sweeney Todd,” another Tony Award® winner, and two other selections.

I loved the fact that chorus members donned street clothes instead of traditional choir garb. Think red check flannel and Hawaiian print shirts. Khakis and flip-flops. And that they sang surrounded by set pieces resembling old aluminum siding spray painted with brightly-colored graffiti.

Open Heart, 2004, Gary - Sanctuary Art Center

“At the End of the Day…” — presented by QSpeak Theatre (of Phoenix Theatre) in collaboration with Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix — is “a play based on true stories and experiences of LGBTQ and homeless youth living in the Phoenix Valley.”

The play was “written in collaboration with program participants of START and GreenHouse Project programs at Tumbelweed Center for Youth Development, and youth participants at 1n10 and Y.E.P.” The one night benefit performance was directed by A. Beck, who describes it as the outgrowth of work with more than fifty youth during the course of nearly a year.

My daughter Lizabeth participated in several QSpeak projects (including “At the End of the Day…”) while attending high school at Arizona School for the Arts. Tomorrow afternoon, June 5, we’ll be seeing “Like Everyone Else” — developed by Xanthia Walker’s “Theatre for Social Change” class at ASA in partnership with Phoenix Theatre and the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center.” Both works feature snippets of stories meant to convey youth experiences in their own voices.

The 12-member cast did an exceptional job conveying the hopes and fears of LGBTQ youth struggling with homelessness and all that can entail — poverty, hunger, unwanted sexual encounters and more. Plus the issues that plague all teens and young adults, from self-identity to choice of values.

Choose, 2006, Ashley - Sanctuary Art Center

The work sheds light on complexities of societal supports for people experiencing homelessness. Bed shortages. Inadequate training for professionals. Budget cuts. And the tendency of too many to say they want to help the homeless without taking a single step to actually do so.

One message in particular stood out. These youth and young adults don’t want to be stereotyped or stigmatized. They’re people. Period. Yet portions of the dialogue revealed stereotypes some homeless youth hold against peers with mental health disorders, described in the work as “crazy,” “mental” or “psycho.”

Some aspects of life on the streets, including encounters with law enforcement, were deliberately excluded from the piece. The depiction of a youth who feels forced into prostitution by the need to pay rent was done with real artistry, but the sheer number of encounters “shadowed” through a piece of hanging cloth made this scene feel almost gratuitious to some in the audience.

At times, comments by cast and creative team during the post-show talk back were needed to elucidate points conveyed somewhat vaguely during the show. The fact that churches and temples, even those offering free food and clothing, feel unsafe to youth who grew up feeling judged by religious family and friends. And the aversion to accepting help that comes with strings attached. Think sermon first, meal later.

Coffee Shop, 2004, Scott - Sanctuary Art Center

If you missed the performance of “At the End of the Day…” but want to learn more about helping LGBTQ and/or homeless youth, click here to visit the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development in Phoenix. And stay tuned for future “theater for social change” fare from Phoenix Theatre and its many community partners.

— Lynn

Note: Additional information on programs and policies related to homelessness is available from the Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness.

Coming up: Valley stages featuring Tony Award®-winning works

All artwork from the Sanctuary Art Center in Seattle at www.sanctuaryartcenter.org

Play it forward

Phoenix Theater will soon be “playing it forward” with a pair of original works titled “At the End of the Day” and “Like Everyone Else” — both part of a “Weekend of Change” taking place June 3-5 at Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale.

Both works bring “youth theatre for social change” to the stage. Think arts and activism with a local twist. The “Weekend of Change” project has given youth ages 13 to 24 the chance to “participate in theatrical performance designed to create dialogue around social issues affecting an entire community.”

Both are part of the Phoenix Theatre education department, headed by A. Beck, who also serves as theatre arts coordinator for Arizona School for the Arts in Phoenix.

The “Theater for Social Change” class at Arizona School for the Arts partnered with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center to develop a work titled “Like Everyone Else.” 

The play is helping students, families and SARRC staff raise community awareness about autism spectrum disorders and the resources provided by SARRC for families affected by them. Click here to enjoy a trailer.

Ticket sales from “Like Everyone Else” — which is being performed Sunday, June 5 at 2pm — will raise funds for SAARC’s “Autism Artisans” program, a “series of art workshops that expose emerging and established artists with autism spectrum disorders ages 13 and older to a variety of art mediums.”

The “Autism Artisans” program at SARRC “utilizes art to promote autism awareness, therapeutic intervention and opportunities for the talents and contributions of individuals with autism spectrum disorders to be recognized.”

My daughter, Lizabeth, is privileged to be a part of the ASA “Theatre for Social Change” class, taught by Xanthia Walker — and also worked with Beck and fellow “QSpeak” youth to develop the other work being presented during Phoenix Theatre’s “Weekend of Change.”

“At the End of the Day: True Stories of LGBTQ and Homeless Youth” is being presented by Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development and QSpeak, both of Phoenix.

QSpeak’s mission is to “provide a safe space for queer youth and their straight allies to engage in community dialogue and affect positive change through storytelling and performance in order to bring awareness to their own lives and experiences.”

Tumbleweed serves youth ages 11-22 in Maricopa County who are “abused, abandoned, troubled, and neglected.” Many are runaways or homeless youth.

Tumbleweed helps these youth to understand and achieve their individual potential, increase their personal and social skills, and “become self-directed, socially responsible, and productive citizens.”

“At the End of the Day” will be performed Fri, June 3 at 7pm — also at Greasepaint Youtheatre in Scottsdale. Ticket sales benefit Tumbleweed’s GreenHouse Project, the Valley’s only LGBTQ transitional living program.

Tickets to “At the End of the Day” and “Like Everyone Else” are available online from Brown Paper Tickets or at the door the day of the show. Those wishing to make a donation or secure a sponsorship to support the “Weekend of Change” can contact Beck at Phoenix Theatre.

— Lynn

Coming up: 12 Arizona artists play 20 questions

Choosing a performing arts college

The happy day came just a few weeks ago. Lizabeth, our 17-year-old high school senior, finally got that last college admissions letter. We can all stop clinging to the mailbox, and turn instead to thoughts of mounting college costs and creative contents for care packages.

Lizabeth is in the final stages of deciding where to attend college — a step that follows a host of others. Researching schools. Deciding where to apply. Completing applications. Securing letters of recommendation. Traveling to campus tours and theater program auditions.

And now, revisiting information and observations about her three top choices to determine which college or conservatory feels most like home.

Xanthia Walker holds an M.F.A. in Theatre for Youth from Arizona State University in Tempe

For fellow families with children facing similar decisions, I’ve garnered tips from Xanthia Walker, M.F.A. — education associate with Phoenix Theatre, faculty member at Arizona School for the Arts and co-founder of Rising Youth Theatre.

Walker has worked as a resident artist for the Tumbleweed Center for Youth Development, Free Arts of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.

She currently teaches “Theatre for Social Change” at ASA in Phoenix — where students are developing an original theater production titled “Like Everyone Else” with the Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.

“Choosing a school is a very personally specific decision,” says Walker. “I think a lot of it is about knowing what you want.” Big school or small school? Dedicated college town or urban campus?

My husband James did a lot of work with Lizabeth during the pre-application period to help her identify wants and needs — and to search out schools that seemed to match her interests and priorities.

They put together a notebook with school profiles and such that Lizabeth used all through the appplication process. It was especially helpful during meetings with the ASA college counselor, and now serves as a place to put more detailed information on schools in her top tier (faculty bios, alumni achievements, history of works performed by students, etc.).

Walker encourages students to “sit down and think about what you want out of your college experience.” Make a list with three sections — your wants, your needs and your no-ways. 

Maybe you want to live in a big city, need affordable housing but think having a roommate is out of the question. It’s best to consider these factors early in the process — even visiting possible schools before applying when feasible.

“As a student,” shares Walker, “I learned so much about the schools I was considering that I would have had no way of understanding had I not been able to physically be in the spaces.” She’s a strong proponent of site visits for both undergraduate and graduate programs.

“Meeting the students and professors, getting the vibe of the school community, actually having face to face conversations with people and taking a tour of the department/campus — and even sitting in on some classes directly influenced my choices, and even changed my mind,” she adds.

“What I thought I would love pre-visit,” reflects Walker, “was different than what I actually loved post-visit.”

Though there’s plenty of buzz about “the best” schools in the country for those studying performing arts, Walker says it’s better to think in terms of “best departments” instead of “best schools.” Not every school excels in every area. “Look at the specific departments where you will be spending your time,” suggest Walker, “and compare that way.”

There’s also the “college” versus “conservatory” question. Again, Walker says there’s no better option — just the need to match what’s offered with what a student is looking for.

I’ll share more of Walker’s thoughts on the college/conservatory questions, and her tips for evaluating specific theater departments and programs, in tomorrow’s post.

In the meantime, please comment below if you’re a college or theater professional with tips to share — or a parent or student who has found certain approaches/strategies helpful in the great “choosing a performing arts college” debate.

— Lynn

Note: Click here for information on the ASU M.F.A. Theatre for Youth program and here to read an ASU profile of Walker.

Coming up: Choosing between college theater programs