Tag Archives: Social Justice

Tools for tackling bigotry

A new film called “Bullied to Silence” opens by dispelling the old “sticks and stones” adage that ends with “words can never hurt me.” Words can hurt. And sometimes, when bullied youth feel driven to suicide, they kill. “Bullied to Silence” was screened twice on Saturday at the Phoenix Art Museum, a fitting venue for a film for with such artistic flair. Filmmakers set the voices of diverse youth at the heart of this project. Several youth featured in the film have found that music, dance and other forms of artistic expression help them cope with others’ bullying behaviors.

Many of those who saw the first screening (including parents, educators, youth and others) commented afterward about their eagerness to take concrete steps to prevent bullying in their communities — by helping not only those who are bullied, but also youth whose pain prompts them to bully and youth who need skills to become effective bystanders. It reminded me of a book called “Cootie Shots” — which is subtitled “Theatrical Inoculations Against Bigotry for Kids, Parents and Teachers.”

“Cootie Shots” is a Fringe Benefits book published by Theatre Communications Group in New York. It’s edited by Norma Bowles, founder and artistic director for the L.A.-based theater company that inspired “the collection of plays, songs and interactive performances pieces against bigotry by a coalition of elementary school teachers, parents, theatre artists, therapists, administrators and students.” The preface by Rosa Furumoto also notes a common thread to each “Cootie Shots” work — “people committed to justice, respect and human dignity” — adding that “Almost every play contains elements of humor, idealism and hope for the future.”

The book is divided into four sections — noted below with themes and just a few examples of what they include. Each opens with a different work created by elementary age students.

  • My Family Tree is a Garden! Includes “What Color is Your Mama?” by Carol S. Lashof, “The Duke Who Outlawed Jelly Beans” by Johnny Valentine with Norma Bowles, “Ode to Parents” by Billy Aronson and more. Theme: Love is what makes a family.
  • Get to Know Me! Includes “The Golden Rule” by Stacie Chaiken, “Snooty Patooty” by Mark E. Rosenthal and Carl Andress, “That Race Place” by Alice Tuan and more. Theme: Name-calling is never acceptable.
  • Be Proud of Your Difference! Includes “Mother Nature” by Nancy Alicia de Los Santos, “Opposition” by Tony Kushner, “She’s a Real Spaz” by John Belluso and more. Theme: Love and accept yourself and others. Celebrate what makes us each different, unique, special.
  • We Can Change the World! Includes “Four Heroes” by Peter Howard, “What’s with the Dress, Jack?” by Amity Wescott with Erik R. Stegman, “Matzoh” by Carol S. Lashof and more. Theme: Whether we stand alone or with others, if we’re not part of the solution, we might be part of the problem.

A small section of the book featuring artist biographies makes for a fascinating read in its own right. The 50 writers listed include actors, an architect, playwrights, songwriters, activists, parents, a social worker, teachers and others. More than two dozen bios for visual artists — including Keith Haring, Norman Rockwell and Andy Warhol — are also provided. Some artworks were created specifically for the book, and many are the work of children who’ve attended “Fringe Benefits” performances of the “Cootie Shots” show.

Folks eager to use these plays, songs and such in school or community settings needn’t have expertise in the performing arts. A “User’s Guide” at the back of “Cootie Shots” offers suggestions for using the book at home or in a classroom, and shares both dramaturgy and directing tips for performing the plays. It also addresses “advancing the work and permissions.” The book includes 54 selections, so there’s plenty for folks to choose from depending on which specific issues they’re eager to address.

To learn more about “Cootie Shots” or Fringe Benefits, which promotes social justice through theater, visit www.cootieshots.org.

– Lynn

Note: The National Alliance on Mental Illness works to reduce stigma against those living with mental illness through a program called Stigmabusters. Click here to learn more, and here for information on National Mental Health Month.

Coming up: Art meets incarceration


Musings on “Mecca”

I headed out to Theatre Artists Studio near Paradise Valley Mall Saturday night for a play called “The Road to Mecca.” The Roundabout Theatre Company production of “The Road to Mecca” closed just last month, and cast member Jim Dale has been nominated for a Drama Desk award for best featured actor in a play. Before leaving, I leafed through the RTC play guide — a comprehensive treatment of the play’s themes, setting and such.

“The Road to Mecca” was written by Athol Fugard — a South African playwright, director, actor and novelist known for mixing art and politics — whose productions were “the first in the country to feature actors of different races together on stage.” Fugard received a Special Lifetime Achievement Award at last year’s Tony Awards ceremony.

Debra Rich (L) and Judy Lebeau in "The Road to Mecca" at Theatre Artists Studio

The RTC play guide notes that “The Road to Mecca was inspired by the true life story of Helen Elizabeth Martins, the youngest of six children, born and raised in the small South African village of Nieu Bethesda in December 1897.” Seems she left the village for a time to teach, but returned to care for elderly parents — staying on even after they’d passed away.

“In her late 40s,” it notes, “with no overall plan and no artistic training, Martin began decorating the interior of her house.” Think walls covered in colorful crushed glass — plus various works featuring owl and sun face motifs. Later she created a yard full of sculptures — all facing east towards Mecca. Martin took her own life in 1976, but her house was restored and preserved thanks to Friends of the Owl House established in 1991.

L to R: Debra Rich, Don Erickson, Judy Lebeau

There’s a touch of Martin’s artistic impulse in the Theatre Artists Studio set designed, decorated and painted by Patti Suarez. A giant moon face painted on the floor. Brightly colored walls sparkling with glitter. Dolores D’Amore Goldsmith provided additional set decoration, and the end result is stunning — especially with shadows created by lighting designer Dale Nakagawa.

The set is strewn with candles, reflecting the play’s themes of darkness and illumination. But other themes abound — love and duty, adventure and habit, faith and religion, playfulness and maturity, creativity and conformity. Also trust, hypocrisy, friendship and freedom. If there’s a shortcoming in the work, it’s the attempt to pack too much into a single serving.

The play’s dialogue is dense, compact — though truly gripping only during the second half of the second act. It’s well acted at Theatre Artists Studio by Judy Lebeau (Miss Helen), Debra Rich (Elsa Barlow) and Don Erickson (Marius Byleveld) — though direction by Judy Rollings seems a tad too safe. Miss Helen feels frenetic rather than passionate, and I’m not sure I got a true picture of her complexity. I’d have enjoyed seeing her in the act of creating which was so essential to her existence and self-identity.

Debra Rich (L) and Judy Lebeau in "The Road to Mecca"

Before the play began, I spent some time enjoying works by studio artists exhibited in the theater lobby. Several mixed media works by Judy Lebeau and seven pieces by Debra Rich Gettleman — all woodburning, color washing and acrylic. Also several Mark Gluckman photographs and works of watercolor and ink by Barb McGuire. Keep them in mind when you’re on the prowl for original art.

Nowadays the studio is working to raise matching funds for a challenge grant and gearing up for a free Mother’s Day event called “Music & Musings for Mothers.” They’re presenting a little something called “Hot” in May and their annual 10-minute play festival, dubbed “New Summer Shorts,” in June. “The Road to Mecca” runs through May 6.

I’ll never make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but my journeys to Theatre Artists Studio feel plenty illuminating. Their work is funny, poignant, relevant and smart. Learn more at www.thestudiophx.org.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read the RTC play guide, which includes information on Helen Martin, the Owl House and Apartheid in South Africa, as well as pre-show and post-show activities. Click here to explore the Apartheid Museum online.

Coming up: Debra Rich Gettleman talks playwriting, Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with arts and culture

Photos by Mark Gluckman

Update: Peter Kaczorowski is nominated for a 2012 Tony Award for lighting design of a play for “The Road to Mecca” on Broadway — click here for a list of this year’s nominees. 5/1/12

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…

We take care of our own

Work by 8th grade student Luis Velasquez exhibited by Young Arts Arizona

Springsteen’s “We Take Care of Our Own” topped the set list at last night’s Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert at the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem. I sat spellbound in Scottsdale as Springsteen and the band rocked their way through 19 tunes heavy laden with tales of upheaval and undying optimism.

Work by 6th grader Elias Galvin Rendon

The Apollo Theater concert was broadcast live by Sirius XM in celebration of its tenth anniversary, coinciding with the recent release of Springsteen’s “Wrecking Ball” album. Yes kids, that’s what some of us old timers call them. Without apology.

Critics have weighed in on both, and I find those from The New York Times most intriguing. But my own read on the concert has a different vibe. The Apollo Theater concert was simply Springsteen taking care of his own. Like all the best storytelllers, Springsteen listens. And he hears people hurting.

Work by 3rd grader Elizabeth Navarro

Hold tight to your anger. Don’t fall to your fear. Put old skills to new uses. Seize the break of blue in a long cloudy sky. Remember those dealt injustice, and help those suffering now. Be the change. Make the change. And enjoy the rock and roll ride — Springsteen’s vehicle for soothing the soul while calling heart and hands to action.

As Springsteen wove older works into newer “Wrecking Ball” fare, the continuity of his decades-long drive for social justice was clear. So too was his genuine gratitude for those who came before — including many an artist who’s graced the Apollo Theater stage. Springsteen is a soul man. And soul must be shared.

Some folks are especially gifted at simultaneously running with and passing the torch. Springsteen is among them. After longtime friend and fellow musician Clarence Clemons died last summer, the torch went to nephew Jake Clemons — now part of “the E Street horns.” The Apollo Theater concert was rich with brass, choral music and strings that make the band’s heart beat just a little louder.

Work by 3rd grader Gabriel Ramirez

Gospel. Soul. Rap. Rock and roll. Irish jigs and mariachi melodies. It’s not your mother’s Springsteen. Or perhaps it is. I remember taking our two daughters, then in high school, to Springsteen’s last concert in Phoenix. They were equally moved by the music and the food collection boxes scattered throughout the venue’s main hall. Music feeds the soul. But it takes more to feed the hungry.

Hence Springteen’s shout out, near the end of the Apollo Theater concert, to fans who support the work of WhyHunger — and to its executive director Bill Ayres, who co-founded the organization with singer/songwriter Harry Chapin (whose brother Tom Chapin recently performed here in the Valley).

Work by 5th grader Victoria Anchondo

Like plenty of Springsteen fans, we won’t be in the house for any “Wrecking Ball” concerts, but there’s much we can do to move our own communities past hard times. Learn more about WhyHunger. Support our local food banks. Advocate for just public policies. Promote the arts that sustain us. And rise up.

Wherever this flag’s flown, we take care of our own. — Bruce Springsteen

— Lynn

Note: Saint Mary’s Food Bank Alliance presents its 11th annual “Kids Cafe Open” on March 30 to raise funds for battling child hunger in Arizona — click here for details. Artwork featured in this post was part of the Young Arts Arizona “Living the Dream, Passing the Torch” exhibit celebrating MLK Day 2012 at the Arizona State Capitol.

Coming up: Rising Youth Theatre shares diverse youth perspectives

What the Dickens!

Happy Birthday Mr. Dickens!

I started celebrating Dickens’ 200th birthday early, after my hubby James suggested last year that I hit the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City — which is hosting an exhibit titled “Charles Dickens at 200” through Feb.  12. Those of you who can’t race right off to NYC can still enjoy it thanks to an online exhibition.

Remind your children, if they’ve ever read the tale of “Oliver Twist” or seen a staged adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” that today is the birthday of the man who brought Oliver and Ebenezer to life. No need for 200 birthday candles, but it’s nice to help kids remember the artists behind the arts we enjoy every day.

Several children’s books about Charles Dickens have been released in recent months — including “A Boy Called Dickens” by Deborah Hopkinson and John Hendrix, “Charles Dickens: England’s Most Captivating Storyteller” by Catherine Wells-Cole, “Charles Dickens: Scenes From an Extraordinary Life” by Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom, and “Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London” by Andrea Warren.

Adults eager to learn more about Dickens can visit the Charles Dickens Museum in London — in person or online. Folks visiting London can also see Dickens’ grave, located inside Westminster Abbey — where England held a ceremony today in the writer’s honor. Participants included actor Ralph Fiennes, who plays Magwitch in a BBC film adaptation of “Great Expectations” being released later this year.

I suppose the best way to honor Dickens is to revisit his work, but if your bookshelves (or e-readers) are short on Dickens titles, you can still explore his work — and life story — by visiting PBS online. They’ve got a lovely list, with links, to ten good sources of Dickens lore. Also succinct summaries of his writings and serial publications — plus his thoughts on both America and the social injustices of his day.

While Dickens lived through changes wrought by the industrial revolution, we’re living through changes born of the technological revolution. And social injustice still exists. Perhaps revisiting Dickens’ works — whether by tablet or traditional book — will leave us all inspired to do something about it.

— Lynn

Coming up: I’m just a bill…

Politics meets pastorela

Rehearsal for James Garcia's American Pastorela 2007 (Photo: Phil Soto)

I once made my own pilgrimage to Bethlehem, and still remember the tiny shop where I purchased small wooden nativity sets as Christmas gifts for various friends and family members. Getting there was more complicated than I’d imagined, but I hadn’t realized at the time that my life was imitating art.

After moving to Arizona, I learned that the story of shepherds journeying to witness the nativity in Bethleham has been recounted for centuries in “pastorela” plays that blend Latino and Native American cultures. They’re performed each Christmas across Arizona and beyond.

One particular pastorela has garnered national attention for its political prowess. James Garcia, a Valley playwright, often writes pastorelas that capture controversial topics. One “American Pastorela” was subtitled “The Saga of Sheriff Joe.” But this year’s offering pokes serious fun at those who’ve banned ethnic studies programs at schools. Hence the subtitle “Everything You Wanted to Know About Ethnic Studies But Were Afraid to Ask.”

James Garcia's American Pastorela 2011 directed by Alex Vega Sanchez

Garcia is the founder and artistic director for New Carpa Theater, which specializes in Latino and multicultural theater works. They’re presenting this year’s “American Pastorela” through Sunday (see note below) at the Third Street Theater, located at Phoenix Center for the Arts. Despite the sometimes ideologically racy content, Garcia says his kids loved it, and suspects others will too. There are seven children ages 7-17 in the cast, including one “sweet little girl (who) breaks into Broadway tunes at the drop of a hat.”

Borderlands Theater in Tucson presents “A Tucson Pastorela” through Sunday as well. It’s the work of Wendy Burke, Eric Magrane and “the pastorela ghost writers” —  and features band director Gertie Lopez. Pastorelas typically pit those making the pilgrimage to Bethlehem against various challenges — including Satan, and things more suggestive of contemporary experiences. Hence their inclusion of Arizona’s evil haboobs.

Sometimes laughter is the only real alternative to crying — so I’m grateful for artists who help us make that leap. Love their politics, or hate it, that’s up to you. But be proud to live in a country where free speech and creativity mix in ways that give us all pause to consider our own bigotry or bias.

— Lynn

Note: Some performances of “American Pastorela” have been cancelled, so check the New Carpa Theater website before you go, and have a “plan B” just in case you’re downtown for the show and need another option.

Coming up: Art meets economics

Once upon a witch hunt

“The Crucible” by Arthur Miller is widely read by high school students, and the most fortunate among them have the opportunity to bring the tale to life on stage.

The Marcos de Niza Theatre production (directed by Patrick McChesney) opened Wed, Nov. 16, at the MdN Auditorium in Tempe — and runs through Sat., Nov. 19. 

 Program notes describe “The Crucible” as  “a dark drama about a terrible period in American history… the Salem witch trials” — and offer a summary of the story that goes something like this:

A small group of Puritan teenage girls in 1692 Salem, Massachusetts are caught dancing and conjuring love potions to catch young men. The girls invent stories about Satan invading their bodies, forcing them to take part in certain rites.

The play’s main characters include a young farmer named John Proctor and his wife. Also a young servant girl whose infatuation with the farmer leads her to accuse the wife of witchcraft.

Greedy preachers and landowners complicate the situation and hysteria soon spreads as “good people of pious nature and responsible temper begin condemning other good people to the gallows.”

Proctor brings the servant girl to court, hoping she’ll admit her lie so his wife will be saved. Instead, “the monstrous course of bigotry and deceit turns all accusations to him and ultimately sentences him to death.” 

The program notes that Miller wrote “The Crucible” as a social commentary on McCarthy-era “witch hunts” against so-called communists during the 1950s. It’s a profound and perpetually popular work because, sadly, we seem always to divide ourselves into the hunters and the hunted.

“The Crucible” received the 1953 Tony Award for best play, and feels no less relavant today — especially in the hands of our youth. They know better than most just how rapidly rumors spread, and can help us all embrace our own power to prevent and stop them.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to watch the school’s YouTube promo for “The Crucuble.” Upcoming events at Marcos de Niza include a fall dance show (Dec. 2), an orchestra concert (Feb. 22), a spring musical (“All Shook Up” March 7-10), a band pops concert (May 9) and more. Check their website for details.

Coming up: Thespian tales, More fun with “I-Spy” photos, The fine art of recycling, School shows & budget woes