Tag Archives: theater and social justice

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


“Memphis” meets movie theater

Alert: Click here to learn how you can help victims of flooding in the Memphis area.

Lizabeth and I are heading to a Broadway musical Thursday night — not in the theater district in NYC, but right here in the Valley — as Fathom Events presents a filmed performance of “Memphis” at several AMC movie theaters.

Memphis” was nominated for eight 2010 Tony Awards, and won four of them. It beat out “American Idiot,” “Fela!” and “Million Dollar Quartet” for the 2010 Tony Award for “Best Musical.”

You wouldn’t have expected as much had you read an early review of “Memphis” by theater critic Charles Isherwood of The New York Times — who described it in an Oct 20, 2009 review as “the Michael Bolton of Broadway musicals.”

Isherwood decribes the musical as “slick but formulaic entertainment,” but that hardly dampens my interest. If anything, it ups the intrigue factor — already quite high because the music for “Memphis” comes from Bon Jovi pianist David Bryan.

“Memphis” explores issues of sex, race and rock & roll in 1950s America. Seems a white high school dropout stumbles into a black nightclub and wows the crowds with his powerful piano licks — then hits plenty of highs and lows before landing a DJ gig that appears his true calling. Falling for a black singer doesn’t make his life any easier.

The club where character Huey Calhoun first finds his bliss is located on Beale Street, an actual music row located in Memphis, Tennessee — where something called the “Beale Street Music Festival” takes April 29-May 1 this year.

I suppose those who get really inspired when “Memphis” meets the movies on Thursday night can hop a plane and live a bit of Memphis in real life this weekend. Other fab events on the Memphis horizon include a May 2-8 “International Salute to Belgium” and a May 12-14 “World Championship Barbeque Cooking Contest.”

Memphis has influenced or been home to plenty of famous actors — from Dixie Carter and Justin Timberlake to Kathy Bates and Morgan Freeman. Also musicians Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, B.B. King and Jerry Lee Lewis (depicted in the musical “Million Dollar Quartet“).

As every loyal Elvis fan knows, Memphis is home to Presley’s “Graceland.” Tennessee museums include the National Civil Rights Museum, the Memphis Rock n Soul Museum, the Memphis Zoo and the Children’s Museum of Memphis.

I have a feeling I’ll want to jump on a plane bound for Tennessee come Friday morning. Thankfully, I’ve got lots of reasons to stick around — including tickets to see the Arizona School for the Arts performance of “Triangle” and the Actors Theatre performance of “Circle Mirror Transformation.”

Come to think of it, perhaps the good folks of Memphis ought to think about coming here to enjoy a bit of Arizona arts and culture…

— Lynn

Note: “Memphis” is also being shown at Cinemark Mesa 16 (home to performances from the Metropolitan Opera in NYC and other special events).

Coming up: Like everyone else…

Update: We had a great time attending “Memphis” at a Mesa movie theater Thursday night. The movie theater venue lets viewers see actors up close, enjoy behind the scenes happenings and watch interviews with cast/creative team members that they can’t experience during live theater performance. I liked the musical as a story of the difference one person, or a small group of people, can make — but Lizabeth and I agree we’d enjoy it more as a concert or play rather than a piece of musical theater. You still have the weekend to see “Memphis” in select movie theaters. It’s perfect for those who enjoy rock and soul, those interested in the history of the civil rights movement, those who appreciate the marriage of history and music, those who like a lot of dance with their Broadway, and those who want to see what happened when Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan got inspired to write music that might help us all like each other more than we hate each other.

Hip hop with heart

Having a teenager is a humbling experience. Recently I learned of a combined hip hop/theater event being presented by ASU, and I eagerly shared my excitement with my 17-year-old daughter, a high school senior who’ll soon head to college to study theater.

After telling her about the hip hop/theater connection, I got “the look.” And then this quip: “That’s not new, mom.” She even had evidence to support her claim. A master class in Shakespeare and hip hop taken during last year’s thespian festival in Phoenix. The musical “In the Heights” performed at ASU Gammage.

She’s right, of course. And now I seem to find theater and hip hop, or something like it, around every corner. Even on that same day’s episode of “Charlie Rose” on PBS, which featured actor and comedian John Leguizamo talking about his latest one man show titled “Ghetto Klown.”

Were we not traveling to the East Coast for a final college trip this weekend, I might be able to redeem myself by taking Lizabeth to the latest “Performance in the Borderlands” — which merges hip hop, graffiti and theater arts. It features a new play by L.A. artist Rickerby Hinds: “Dreamscape.”

The “Performance in the Borderlands” initiative is “designed to bridge cultural boundaries by offering events featuring artists, critics and scholars who creatively explore the U.S./Mexico Border region.”

Hinds’ latest work “uses a hip-hop beat, dance, drama and poetry to explore the broken life and lost dreams of a young black woman who was shot to death by police while sleeping in her car in Riverside, California.” It’s based on a true story.

“Dreamscape” is suitable for ages 16 and up, according to Megan Todd (she and Mary Stephens put the event together for ASU). Recently I spoke to Todd, who notes that “Hinds is at the forefront of blending the language of hip hop with the theatrical form.”

Todd says Hinds’ work is important and relevant because it “deals with poignant social issues of our time” — including violence and racial injustice. She sees “Dreamscape” a profound way to contrast “youthful presence” with “some of the harsh things going on in the world.”

Having studied feminist theology as a doctoral student, I was eager to ask Todd’s take on the perception that hip hop music is misogynist — promoting hatred of women. Todd notes that there are many forms of hip hop, and that it’s the gangsta rap type of hip hop music that most often offends.

But Hinds’ hip hop, according to Todd, is “more soulful, roots hip hop” that takes the language of hip hop and “makes it grounds for the articulation of social issues.” For Todd, Hinds’ work is all about “finding places to connect and talk in a language that bridges our common humanity.”

ASU is offering several related events this weekend. “Dreamscape” will be performed Sat, April 23 at 7m — at “Phoenix Center for the Arts,” located at Third St. and Moreland Ave., in downtown Phoenix. Tickets are $8 in advance, and $10 at the door.

Phoenix-based artists Tomas Sosa of “Soul Phenomenal” will open the evening performance, and local DJ Alchemy will spin outside of the theater before the event. ASU notes that graffiti artists and dancers will also perform outside, and that a “talkback” with the cast will take place following the play.

You can head to ASU Friday, April 22, from 6-10pm for a free arts experience titled “Civil Disobedience” — taking place at the Galvin Plaza. The featured performance begins at 6:30pm and includes “Third Eye View” from the ASU School of Dance, an excerpt from Hinds’ “Dreamscape” and the Dulce Dance Company.

The event also includes an MC exhibition, a DJ exhibition, a graffiti clinic, a DJ clinic and live graffiti artwork — with a panel discussion to follow. It’s all designed, says Todd, to continue a conversation started when Hinds performed another piece for ASU last year — a conversation that unites diverse people through the common language of hip hop.

If you’ve never considered the power of hip hop music to unite and inspire, this is your chance to see the heart of hip hop in action. “It all comes down to love,” reflects Todd.

Trip your teens out by alerting them to the event, or by going yourself. When they ask for a ride to the mall or the movie theater, just tell them you’ve already made “civil disobedience” plans.

Then pay special attention to those teaching or performing the fine art of graffiti. It’ll come in handy one day when your teens head off to school and you’re ready to reclaim, and redecorate, the nest that they’ve left empty.

— Lynn

Note: The ASU Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts‘ School of Theatre and Film presents a free Rickerby Hinds Colloquium Fri, April 22 from 3-4pm at ASU in Tempe (Location: Music 130).

Coming up: A is for Alaska, B is for Billy Elliot