Tag Archives: theater for youth

Before there was the Web

The cast of Cookie Company's "Charlotte's Web" preparing to meet and greet young fans after a Sunday afternoon performance in Scottsdale

Before there was the Web, which makes it possible for people to click themselves in and out of friendships, there was a tale of true friendship called “Charlotte’s Web.” No mouse needed for that baby, though a rat named Templeton does fall into the fray. He’s one of many character living on a farm where a pig named Wilbur makes friends with a spider named Charlotte. Theirs is a tale of mutual support and sacrifice, first penned by author E.B. White, and adapted through the years for live theater performance.

Phoenix Theatre’s Cookie Company is presenting “Charlotte’s Web” in Scottsdale through April 29 — so you’ve just one more weekend to enjoy the show. It’s being performed at Greasepaint Youtheatre, where my son used to tag along when his sisters were in shows a decade or so ago. He joined me for the Sunday performance of “Charlotte’s Web,” which made for a lovely bit of remembering. When my children were little, theater outings were a fun way to explore the world, meet other families and start conversations about things that truly matter.

“Charlotte’s Web” a la Cookie Company is bright, bold and cheerful — like the set that features a big red barn and a beautiful backdrop painted with full trees, floating clouds and rolling hillsides. The little girl, Fern, who works so hard to assure that Wilbur won’t wind up on the menu, sports orange tights and tulle under a whimsical dress that matches her spunky personality. Snaps for scenic designer Robert Kovach, and costume designer Gail Wolfenden-Steib.

Also director Pasha Yamotahari, who makes a tale told countless times feel truly fresh. Young theater goers let out gaggles of giggles as farm animals worked together to save Wilbur from a frying pan fate. Every actor gave a skilled, energetic performance that seemed to reach right out into the audience. But I especially loved the goose (Nathalie Cadieux)/gander (Kim Manning) pairing. One rocked a French vibe while the other channeled Spanish-American performer Charro — making the show plenty fun for adults in the crowd.

Come next season, Cookie Company will return to performing on the Phoenix Theatre mainstage campus, where exciting renovations are currently underway. Phoenix Theatre Family is presenting three Cookie Company productions for the 2012-2013 season — including “Peacemaker” (both fall and spring), “Quiltmaker’s Gift” (Nov/Dec) and “Hanky and Girlo” (March/April). Children enjoy milk and cookies, and get to meet costumed cast members, after every show. Naturally, I made sure my son snagged a cookie after Sunday’s  performance. For old time’s sake.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Cookie Company and Phoenix Theatre offerings, which include school shows, summer camps, new theater works, mainstage shows and more.

Coming up: Hormel is coming (don’t tell Wilbur)

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Theater works

Happy campers participating in Youth Works Academy through Theater Works in Peoria, which hosts a free Summer Camp Expo this Saturday

Theater works in all sorts of ways. Think jobs, creative outlets for artists, shared experiences for citizens, positive experiences for youth and more.

Theater Works in Peoria is introducing folks to its summer camp options for children and teens this Saturday via their 2nd annual Theater Works Summer Camp Expo, which features drama-related activities for children and the opportunity to talk with Theater Works youth program staff about summer camp options for preschoolers through teens.

More fun with Youth Works Academy

The Sat, March 31 event takes place from 11am-1pm. Admission is free, and lunch (think hot dogs) is included. Sometimes theater works for tummies too. Folks who attend can enter for the chance to win a pair of silver passes to Castles N’ Coasters. If you’re game, just RSVP by March 30 to Athena Hunting at 623.815.1791 ext. 107. Theater Works, by the way, is located at 8355 W. Peoria Ave.

Theater works as well in forming community collaborations, like the Theater Works partnership with Ro Ho En (the Japanese Friendship Garden) in Phoenix to present “Sakura no Ne” (“Root of the Cherry Tree”) April 13-22. Also in helping us reflect on historical events and their meaning for our lives. Hence the April 13-May 13 Theater Works production of “All Through the Night,” a play inspired by stories of German gentile women during and after the Third Reich.

Jay meets giggling girls during Youth Works Academy

Theater Works recently unveiled their 2012/13 season, which opens with “Doubt” and wraps up with “Accomplice.” In between, there’s everything from “The Music Man” and “A Christmas Carol” to “Burning in the Night: A Hobo’s Song” and “Musical of Musicals.” This season’s “A Little Night Music” opens tomorrow night — Wed, March 28.

When you hit this Saturday’s Theater Works Summer Camp Expo, be sure and ask about other ways they’re making theater work for youth — from theater workshops and classes to puppet shows and special programs for homeschool students.

When theater works, we’re all better for it.

— Lynn

Note: Theater Works is seeking designers for the 2012/13 season — and Robyn Allen is accepting resumes at rallen@theaterworks.org. Also, a friendly reminder — The Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards take place tonight, March 27, at the Herberger Theater Center. Click here for details.

Coming up: Fun with freckles!

Reds versus blues

Rebecca Duckworth, Drew Ignatowksi, Cody Dull and Laurie Trygg in Peacemaker with Phoenix Theatre's Cookie Company

For grown-ups the “red vs. blue” thing conjures images of partisan politics. Or assumptions about huge swaths of Americans living in various states. California is blue. Texas is red. Purple is becoming harder and harder to come by.

But not so for the colorful clown-like folk who populate the land of Reds and Blues in a play called “Peacemaker” that’s being performed through Feb. 26 by Phoenix Theatre’s Cookie Company. It’s directed by Robert Kolby Harper, who knows a thing or two about juggling.

Seems there’s a land where reds and blues once lived peacefully together — albeit one to the north and another to the south. The bridge connecting them held room for just a single person to cross at one time, which wasn’t a problem until a pair who met in the middle each refused to yield.

This portion of “Peacemaker” is told by a lone character who’s lamenting her lack of juggling skills, and acted out by puppets — helping to make this work, best for preschool-K audiences, a perfect transition from puppet theater to works featuring on-stage actors.

After a battle of relatively tame proportions, the two sides decide the only way to stop the fighting is to assure the Reds and Blues never see each other. They build a wall, hire guards and hope for the best.

Until red juggling balls get thrown over the wall to the blue side, and children from warring factions begin a playful exchange that leads them to tear down a portion of the wall.

Cookie Company presents Peacemaker, a tale of children tearing down walls, through Feb. 26

A little Red girl wants to improve her juggling, while a little Blue boy wants to learn how to dance. Turns out each needs the other to get what they want. No cooperation and they all leave empty handed.

I’d have been tempted to write a bit more political parody into this piece, but it’s best I think that it’s a straight telling of a children’s story — meant to promote acceptance, empathy and friendship rather than satisfy the sarcastic tendencies of parents turned pundits.

“Peacemaker” is a very simple, straight-forward bit of storytelling that leaves the ending open so children can imagine how the world might be different once the Reds and Blues learn that neither has plans to actually eat the other.

Costumes for the Peacemaker are wonderfully whimsical, as are various sound elements that range from beatbox-style music to shoes that squish loudly as the Red guard storms across the stage befuddled that folks aren’t following the rules.

“Peacemaker” comes in under 45 minutes, so folks who go have plenty of time for exploring nearby attractions. Cookie Company performs at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale, which is near the Scottsdale Waterfront, Old Town Scottsdale, the Civic Center Public Library and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

Children who attend get a free cookie with milk. Your kids might leave the show feeling inspired to bake cookies with red and blue candies, create their own puppets with fabric and craft sticks, or give juggling a try. The best theater lives on long after the show comes to a close.

— Lynn

Note: Mark your calendars for the final production of Cookie Company’s 2011-2012 season — they’ll perform “Charlotte’s Web” April 14-29 at Greasepaint Theatre in Scottsdale. “Gypsy”opens at Phoenix Theatre, near downtown Phoenix, on March 7.

Coming up: A betrayal tale

To protect and preserve

Yolanda London, Eric Boudreau and Colin Ross in Childsplay's "Rock the Presidents"

With all the political bantering these days, I sometimes worry that the office of president isn’t getting the respect it deserves. So I was thrilled when Childsplay’s Sunday preview of “Rock the Presidents” at Tempe Center for the Arts opened with a rap number called “Hail to the Chiefs” — which recounts the name of each president while reinforcing our duty as Americans to protect and preserve the highest office in the land.

Think what you will of any given president, but know that the office is worthy of respect and dignity, and we do ourselves no favors by attempting to diminish it. “Rock the Presidents” is a perfectly non-partisan look at those who have served, which makes clear both their humanity and their dedication to the nation. It’s easy to sit back and criticize, and so little that’s worthy comes of it.

Better to teach our children to honor those who step up and lead, and to remind them that they too have the power to make a difference. Public service is a noble calling. And being an informed, engaged citizen is essential. These are the messages conveyed throughout “Rock the Presidents,” a musical salute to all 43 presidents featuring book and lyrics by Dwayne Hartford and music by Sarah Roberts.

Roberts plays guitar on the soundtrack, as does Jason Brown. Other musicians include Jonathan Ivie (piano and keyboard), Scott Miner (bass), Mark Stolper (drums), David Dickinson (Violin) and Scott Leader (ukelele and guitar). Jonathan Ivie is musical director for the work, which features everything from rock and rap to country and calypso. Think concert meets classroom.

The “Rock the Presidents” set, designed by Holly Windingstad, is a mix of stately and sparkly red, white and blue elements with a giant screen in the center onto which images of presidents and related fare from speeches to statues are projected throughout the show thanks to projection design by Limitrophe Films. It adds a fabulously nostalgic feel while upping the show’s educational value for children and teens.

Eric Boudreau, Yolanda London and Colin Ross rapping "Hail to the Chiefs"

Eric Bourdeau (Harry), Yolanda London (Amy) and Colin Ross (Ted) open “Rock the Presidents” donning black secret service gear by costume designer D. Daniel Hollingshead as they appear to sing into tiny spy mics hidden in the ends of their sleeves. They’re capable quick change artists who also rock general, cowboy, hippie and other vibes during the 90-minute gig that features choreography by Molly Lajoie. Think line dancing to shades of disco, all done in good taste.

Director Anthony Runfola strikes a perfect balance between rock concert and musical theater production. Lighting design by Tim Monson plays up the rock star vibe, as do cast member shenanigans with standing mics, high fives with children seated in the front row and shouts like “Thank you Tempe!” Their first crowd laughed and clapped with enthusiasm, rising to a standing ovation after the final number titled “Are You a President-to-be?”

The fact that every American president to date has been a man isn’t lost on Hartford, who included plenty of dialogue and lyrics hailing women who’ve made a difference while encouraging girls in the audience to aspire to the country’s highest office. But the favorite number by far, which closes the first act, was a little ditty on presidential pets from ordinary to odd called “They Got a Dog.”

The second act opens with “Not Made of Stone,” performed against the backdrop of an image of Mount Rushmore. It’s an ode to each president’s humanity which, when coupled with “I’m Not All Bad,” reminds folks that every president has both accomplishments and failures. Presidents, you see, are people too. In many ways, they’re like me and you.

Presidents we’ve lost are remembered in “What Could Have Been?,” while the contributions made by presidents after leaving office are celebrated in “I Am More Than Four Years.” Two rounds of “The Presi-tron” test audience member knowledge of presidential trivia, and “Who in the World is Millard Fillmore?” pays tribute to presidents too often forgotten.

Colin Ross in Rock the Presidents, being performed in Tempe through March 4

The song “John and Tom,” which praises the mutual civility demonstrated by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson despite conflicting ideas, feels most relevant for today’s society seeped in supercharged sniping. We don’t have to agree on everything to get along, or to get things done.

My own favorite song is “The Only Thing We Have to Fear,” inspired by FDR’s first inaugural address. Hartford says his greatest hope is that folks will be entertained by “Rock the Presidents.” That’s clearly the case. But I suspect something more will happen too, as those who “Rock the Presidents” with Childsplay reaffirm their responsibility to protect and preserve.

— Lynn

Note: The creative team for “Rock the Presidents” also includes Christopher Neumeyer (sound design). Samantha Monson serves as stage manager and Jenny Millinger serves as dramaturge. David Saar is Childsplay’s founder and artistic director, and Steve Martin serves as managing director.

Coming up: Let’s Play!

Photos: Heather Hill

Charlotte’s Web

Young Arts Arizona worked with children and teens from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale to create custom artwork you can enjoy when you see the show

Valley Youth Theatre opened its production of the play “Charlotte’s Web,” directed by Lauren Antioco, this weekend. It’s a Joseph Robinette adaptation of E.B. White’s classic book about friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice. And it’s beautifully done.

Charlotte's Web cast members get ready to meet and greet fans

The set design by Dori Brown in striking, as is lighting design by D.J. Selmeyer. Costume design by Karol Cooper perfectly captures the small farmtown setting from head to toe. Sound design by Clearwing Production is also exceptional. Taken together, they make “Charlotte’s Web” one of the best designed pieces of youth theater I’ve seen to date.

Sam Primack (Wilbur) poses with two young fans after the show

The production was also exceptionally well cast. Lead roles went to Hannah Blaile of Arcadia High School (Charlotte), Sophia Drapeau of Veritas Preparatory Academy (Fern) and Sam Primack of Cherokee Elementary (Wilbur). Primack has plenty of acting experience, and it shows. Together, the show’s 29 cast members create a cohesive, capable ensemble.

Charlotte's Web cast members pose for photos after the show

I especially enjoyed performances by the actors noted above — plus Jamie Grossman of Ironwood High School (Edith Zuckerman), Audrey Nelson of Archway Classical Academy (Little Lamb) and Aaron Zweiback (Templeton) of Arizona School for the Arts. Also Erik Wilson (Avery), a medieval history buff who didn’t note a school in his program bio.

These young ladies came out to see Sophia perform the role of Fern

A mother I talked to during intermission shared that the production had just the right balance for her two young daughters — holding their interest without being too loud or busy. To producing artistic director Bobb Cooper’s credit, “Charlotte’s Web” is just simple, elegant storytelling that shows real respect for young viewers.

Future teacher Audrey Nelson (Little Lamb) signs autographs after the show

“Charlotte’s Web” is being performed at Valley Youth Theatre through Feb. 19. Next up is Julianne Moore’s “Freckleface Strawberry” and “The Wiz” (which’ll be performed at the Herberger Theater Center). When you go, stay after the show to enjoy meeting cast members, who love signing autographs and talking with young fans.

You'll enjoy both visual and performing arts at Valley Youth Theatre in Phoenix

Also take time to enjoy “Charlotte’s Web” inspired artwork created by children and teens from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale through Young Arts Arizona. Valley Youth Theatre is one of several venues that displays Young Arts Arizona works — and pictures currently exhibited at VYT feature pigs, geese, spiders and webs sporting words ala Charlotte herself.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about VYT shows, spring break camps, performing arts classes and more.

Coming up: Don’t mock the presidents!

Here piggy, piggy…

This little piggy is one of many animal sculptures along Main Street in Mesa

Pig power returns to the world of youth theater this weekend as Valley Youth Theatre opens its production of “Charlotte’s Web.” Seems at least one of my favorite pigs, from Carters Farm Mobile Petting Zoo and Ponies, is joining VYT between this Saturday’s shows.

Folks who attend the VYT production of “Charlotte’s Web” on Sat., Feb. 4 at noon or 3pm can enjoy a lovely bit of piggy time. The show actually opens at 7:30pm the night before but apparently that’s past the piggy’s bedtime. Not so f0r Sam Primack, who performs the role of Wilbur on the VYT stage.

“Charlotte’s Web” is the work of E.B. White, described by publisher HarperCollins Children’s Books as “a legendary writer for decades at The New Yorker and the author of many books of essays” who lived in both New York City and Brooklin, Maine.  He also authored “Stewart Little” and “The Trumpet of the Swan.”

There’s a nifty E.B. White bio on the HarperCollins website, which reveals a bit about how animals like Wilbur made their way into White’s stories — “In 1938, White moved to the country. On his farm in Maine he kept animals, and some of these creatures got into his stories and books.”

Seems White was less fond of writing than we might imagine: “Mr. White found writing difficult and bad for one’s disposition, but he kept at it. He began Stuart Little in the hope of amusing a six-year-old niece of his, but before he finished it, she had grown up.” Encouraging words for those of us banging away on book projects.

I’m tempted to plan a weekend slumber party complete with “Charlotte’s Web” outing, piggy pajamas and pin-the-tail on the piggy-type games. But that would be tacky, I suppose, since my children are all in college. I’ll have to settle for pulling out the “Charlotte’s Web” poster that once hung in our home, and maybe sending a couple of care packages with a piggy theme.

Our own little piggies grow so fast. One minute you’re playing with tiny toes reciting “This little piggy went to market.” The next you’re paying for college textbooks and donating titles like “Charlotte’s Web” to your favorite children’s charity. So Carpe diem — and Carpe piggy too!

— Lynn

Note: Click here to read an E.B. White letter to readers recounting his inspiration for writing “Charlotte’s Web.”

Coming up: More from Mesa’s Main Street

A homecoming tale

Costume rendering (Lyf) for Childsplay's production of "With Two Wings"

Playwright Anne Negri is experiencing a homecoming of sorts as Childsplay in Tempe prepares its production of “With Two Wings,” a work Negri wrote while enrolled in ASU’s M.F.A. in theatre for youth program. Negri now lives, and teaches public school drama classes, in Illinois –but she’s been in the Valley this week for Childsplay rehearsals of her work.

“I’ve been in the room since the the day the actors read it,” says Negri. She’s also attended production meetings, spent time in the prop shop and more. Negri says she’s thrilled to have “all these smart people” talk about her work and debate the finer points about how best to give it wings.

The impetus for writing “With Two Wings” was a personal experience — coupled with a teacher’s expectation that she not only study playwriting but also give it a try. Negri shares that her older sister, who suffered malnutrition and other challenges before being adopted from India, has learning disabilities.

Though Negri’s sister, now in her late 30s, is now divorced — she was married for a time to a man with learning disabilities, and they had a son. Negri notes that Will, now 10 years old, “somehow missed those genetic hits.” And it got her wondering.

Costume rendering (Mom) for Childsplay's production of "With Two Wings"

What would it be like for a child to surpass his own parents in many ways? By age 8 or 9, says Negri, her nephew Will was already reading better than his mom. Early in the process of thinking about Will’s story, Negri had a dream about people with wings — which led her to revisit the myth of Icarus.

The myth describes an escape by Icarus and his father Daelalus using wings made with wax. Seems Icarus ignored his father’s advice to avoid flying near the sun, then died once the wax in his wings melted from the sun’s heat. Negri imagined the story with a different ending — in which the father, rather than the son, fell into the sea.

Negri describes “With Two Wings” as a “fantasy world.” Its inhabitants include a boy named Lyf (Nathan Dobson), his dad (Jon Gentry) and his mom (Kate Haas). Also two kids — Taur (John Moum) and Meta (Kaleena Newman) — who live in town but stumble one day onto the family’s isolated home.

Costume rendering (Dad) for Childsplay's production of "With Two Wings"

Lyf’s encounter with the pair sparks his first realization that his world is different. How and why it’s different are at the heart of the play — which is being performed weekends Jan. 22-Feb. 5 at Tempe Center for the Arts. Families who attend a Jan. 22 “Storybook Preview Performance” pay just $12 per ticket and receive a free book.

The back of my lovely “With Two Wings” postcard notes that there’s a “Backstage Tour” after the 1pm performance on Feb. 4. Also a “Family Improv” event that morning at Childsplay’s “Campus for Imagination and Wonder.” Parents can learn more by visiting Childsplay online at www.childsplayaz.org.

— Lynn

Note: Costumes for the Childsplay production of “With Two Wings” are designed by D. Daniel Hollingshead. Childsplay recommends this play for ages six & up. “With Two Wings” is also part of Childsplay’s 2011-12 “School Tours” season. Click here for details.

Coming up: More about the “With Two Wings” journey from class project to Childsplay world premiere