Tag Archives: Theater Works

You had me at “cherry tree”

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There’s a small parking lot at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts that’s covered with yellow blossoms these days — dropped from the Palo Verde trees that bring a splash of color to the desert each spring. I’ve taken to imagining these trees are cherry blossoms, picturing them in pink instead of yellow, because I’m still learning to love the Arizona landscape — but cherry blossoms have always tugged at my heart.

I saw the season’s first cherry tree blossom inside the Brooklyn Botanic Garden earlier this month and get wistful for Washington, D.C. each time the cherry blossoms emerge. So when I learned that a new theater work titled “Sakura no Ne” (“Root of the Cherry Tree”) included footage of trees in bloom, I knew I had to see it. Folks who feel the same have just one more opportunity (April 22 at 2pm) to see the family-friendly production being performed at Theater Works in Peoria.

“Sakura no Ne” is part multi-media production, part performance art, part morality tale and part homage to the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix (along with sister city Himeji in Japan). At times it has the feel of a fine work of theater for children. Other times it reads like a Japan-inspired version of “Riverdance” or “Stomp.” Everything about it is lovely, but it may need a bit more pruning as it evolves to reach wider audiences.

Children in the audience Saturday afternoon clearly loved the humor, drumming, martial arts component and digital projections. The 80-minute show also features diverse dance elements rarely scene on Valley stages. I chatted with a couple after the show, eager to see whether a storm scene filled with lightning and a fire-breathing serpent had scared their preschool-age son. “This is the first time he’s sat through an entire show,” they told me.

“Sakura no No” is the work of playwright Soji Kashiwagi (of Grateful Crane Ensemble) and music composer Scott Nagatani.  It’s directed by Dominik Rebilas. “Sakura no Ne” is produced by Yoshi Kumagai (who also serves as art director and fight choreographer) and Ken Koshio (who also serves as music director), sponsored by the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix and funded by a Sundome Performing Arts Association grant. Kumagai shared with me after the show that they’re hoping to present the work in additional Valley venues.

The show’s most dramatic element is drumming by Ken Koshio in the role of Ikazuchi (Thunder God). The cast also includes John Tang (Taro “Tama” Yamazajura), Urashima Taro, Old Man), Dale Nakagawa (Justin, Sea Turtle) and Sandy Harris (Haley, Sea Princess, Crane). Most delicate is Koshio’s title song, sung in Japanese and English with harmonica and guitar. I also enjoyed creations by Zarko Guerrero (mask and turtle outfit) and Derrick Suwaima Davis (crane feather outfit).

“Sakura no Ne” follows the adventures of two tween-age siblings — a boy rarely parted from his Nintendo and a girl attached to her cell phone. Think “I’m so bored” and “O-M-G.” They’re left one day at the Japanese Friendship Garden by parents hoping they’ll find a bit of bliss. But the pair finds something more — a renewed appreciation for nature, family and community. Even each other.

The simple storyline is punctuated by music, dance and martial arts performance. There’s traditional Japanese dance featuring Mari Kaneta (whose choreography and dance I enjoyed with daughter Lizabeth during the 1996 Arizona Opera production of “Madama Butterfly”), taiko drumming by Fushicho Daiko and Jakara, martial arts by a trio from Arizona Aikiko and dance by the ASU Japanese Student Association’s Soran Bushi Dancers. It all comes together in the service of a single message.

Only the cherry tree’s strong roots make its beautiful blossoms possible.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “Strolling in Yukata” (taking place April 28 at the Japanese Friendship Garden) and here to learn about a new musical titled “Allegiance” (which explores the World War II experiences of a Japanese-American family).

Coming up: Another tree tale, Don’t cry for me Shakespeare?

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All Through the Night

I listened all through the day for coverage of Thursday’s United States Holocaust Remembrance Day, but heard not a peep after watching the official ceremony at the U.S. Capitol broadcast online. It’s starting to feel like people pay more attention to tornado warnings than alerts to rising storms of a more sinister nature.

Seems we’re living a startling disconnect these days from events preceding the Holocaust, overlooking glaring similarities popping up all around us in contemporary culture. Shirley Lauro’s “All Through the Night,” being performed by Theater Works in Peoria through May 13, makes it clear that the Holocaust didn’t happen overnight.

Theater Works in Peoria presents "All Through the Night" through May 13

The play imagines life for several German women, none of them Jewish, as events surrounding the rise, rule and ruin of the Third Reich take place. They’re in high school, a time when feeling like the “other” is already plenty painful, when hatred of the different escalates to demonic proportions.

Imagine Nazi Germany as the backdrop for every major milestone in your young adult life. Dating. Career. Marriage. Children. Caring for aging parents. Imagine loving someone your government wants to exterminate. Or losing a disabled child to a state bent on brutal experimentation.

“All Through the Night” is a brilliant bit of playwriting that elicits genuine empathy rather than settling for mere sentimentality. And the Theater Works production, an Arizona premiere directed by Richard Powers Hardt, is beautifully done. You’ll feel, while watching it, like you’re right there alongside these women. And you’ll leave with a greater sense of the insidious nature of evil.

It’s easy to assume that we’d never allow such horrors to take place if set into similar circumstances. “All Through the Night” makes clear the complexity of each woman’s challenges and choices, giving pause to playgoers who’ve perhaps lost touch with their own moral compass. Anyone mature enough to see the film “Bully” should see this play as well. Hitler was a bully surrounded by bystanders.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to order a copy of the play from publisher Samuel French, and here to enjoy a piece about reading plays from The New York Times 

Coming up: School editions of mature content musicals, Zooming in on “Zero,” The New York Children’s Theater Festival

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!

Remembering Japan

I learned a bit of Japanese and followed the adventures of John Fulton in Japan last night after my daughter Jennifer invited me to watch an episode of one of her favorite television shows — the Discovery Channel’s “Must Love Cats.”

Turns out the episode featured all sorts of cat fare in Japan — including the story of a cat called Maneki Neko thought to bring good fortune, an island where cats exposed to radiation are cared for, and several cat cafes for cat-lovers who can’t enjoy cats in their own homes.

Knowing that it’s been a year since Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, Jennifer remarked that “we have our 9/11 and Japan has its 3/11.” Those eager to show solidarity with the people of Japan have several options, including donations to assist with ongoing relief and rebuilding efforts.

Also attending a “Special Anniversary Remembrance Event” being presented today by the Japanese Culture Club of Arizona. The 2pm event features the screening of a film titled “The Tsunami and Cherry Blossom,” which was nominated for a 2012 Academy Award for short subject documentary.

This Arizona premiere screening takes place in the Arizona Historical Society’s Steele Auditorium, located at 1300 N College Ave. in Tempe. A charitable donation of $10 is suggested.

The Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix is accepting donations at its gift shop today to benefit earthquake and tnunami victims. It’s open from 10am to 3pm, and admission is $5. Upcoming events at the garden include the following:

March 23: Anime Night at the Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix — presented in partnership with the Himeji Sister Cities Committee

March 24: Taiko Experience 2012 with Fushicho Daiko Dojo (includes the opportunity to learn taiko with special ticket purchase)

March 31: Children’s Day (with Valley of the Sun Koi Club) at Margaret T. Hance Park in Phoenix

April 13-22: “Sakura no Ne” production at Theatre Works/Peoria Center for the Performing Arts

April 28: Strolling in Yukata (traditional Japanese attire)

They’ll hold “The Spirit of the Garden Anime/Manga Contest” (all ages welcome, but no mature content allowed) in early May.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn about the Phoenix Sister Cities Program that includes Himeji, Japan.

Coming up: Celebrating National Poetry Month

Need a puppet fix?

Enjoy Big Bug Circus at Great Arizona Puppet Theater in May

It’s Theater Works meets Puppet Works in Peoria as Pinocchio takes to the stage. The company’s Youth Works presents “Pinocchio” March 9-25 at the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, and children can enjoy a Pinocchio-theme puppet show every Saturday this month at either 10:30am or noon.

East Valley Children’s Theatre presents a series of puppet shows in coming months — each held on a Saturday at 11am at the EVCT rehearsal studio in Mesa. They’ll perform “Bird Brains” March 31, “Hoppy Hearts” April 28 and “Summer Smiles” May 26.  Their next theater production — “The Story of Hansel and Gretel” featuring book by Vera Morris, and music and lyrics by Bill Francoeur — runs June 14-24.

Puppetry is always plentiful at the Great Arizona Puppet Theater in Phoenix, which is featured in the “American Puppet Theaters 2012 Calendar” along with 11 other groups including Puppeteers of America, the Owl Glass Puppet Center, Melchior Marionettes, Puppetry Arts Institute and more.

The Three Little Pigs in Party Mode at Great Arizona Puppet Theater

Great Arizona Puppet Theater presents several works during March and April — including “Jack and the Beanstalk” (March 7-18), “Jack Rabbit & The Easter Basket” (March 21-April 8) and “The Metamorphisis of Karaghiozis” (May 2-6). The latter features “hilarious traditional Greek shadow puppets by guest artist Leonidas Kassapides.

The third Saturday in April is the “National Day of Puppetry” so GAPT plans a day full of puppet shows, activities and celebration on April 21. For grown-ups, GAPT offers several adult “puppet slams” each year featuring content too “edgy and quirky” for folks under 18.

Great Arizona Puppet Theater performs “Jack Rabbit and the Desert Tortoise” on April 28 at Higley Center for the Performing Arts. It’s one of more than ten desert theme shows they offer. Others include “Canyon Condor,” “Oh, Coyote!,” “Hotel Saguaro” and “Zoner & The Drip.”

Other GAPT shows suitable for younger audiences include “Big Bug Circus” (May 9-27), “Little Red Riding Hood” (May 30-June 17), “The Three Wishes” (June 20-July 1), “Goldilocks” (June 5-15), ” Old Macdonald” (Jul 18-Aug 5) and “The Princess, the Unicorn, and the Smelly Foot Troll” (Aug 8-26).

Characters from Jack Rabbit and the Desert Tortoise at Great Arizona Puppet Theater

Princess Harriet is having a “Unicorn Party” Aug 26, and young puppet lovers are invited to dress as a princess or troll to enjoy an afternoon of “themed activities, character appearances, and tasty cake.” You can also arrange to use “Peter’s Party Room” at GAPT when your child’s own birthday rolls around.

Upcoming fare at GAPT also includes “Baby Bear Goes to School” (Aug 29-Sept 16), “Hansel and Gretel” (Sept 19-Oct 7) and “Little Bunny’s Halloween” (Oct 10-28). While you’re there, check out their nifty gift shop complete with tabletop puppet theaters, finger puppets, marionettes, hand puppets and my personal favorite — Peepers!

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn how you can support GAPT by attending “Community Night Out With The Suns” on April 7

Coming up: Transformation tales

Romeo, Romeo…

A scene from "Romeo and Juliet" performed in 2011 at the Utah Shakespeare Festival (Photo: Karl Hugh). View their current season at http://www.bard.org.

A pair of “Romeo and Juliet” productions come to Valley stages during the 2012/13 season, so those of you who’ve enjoyed one or more of this season’s theater productions featuring star-crossed lovers ala Shakespeare can now experience its grandeur as a work of opera or ballet.

Ballet Arizona presents “Romeo and Juliet” featuring music by Sergei Prokofiev and choreography by artistic director Ib Andersen Feb. 14-17, 2013. Those of you who insist it’s far too early to think of such things should recall just how recently we seemed to be celebrating New Year’s Eve. Time moves quickly, especially in matters of the heart.

Arizona Opera presents “Roméo et Juliette,” written by Charles Gounod, Nov. 16-18. The Arizona Opera production, sung in French with English subtitles, features lyric soprano Jennifer Black of the Metropolitan Opera performing the aria “Je veux vivre.” Talk about a moment.

Love fares no better in most works of opera, which is part of their appeal for those dashed in everyday life by similar dreams and disappointments. Arizona Opera opens its 2012/13 season with another tale of tragic romance set against feuding family — performing Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” Oct. 12-14. Think Scottish moor instead of Italian piazza.

Ballet Arizona opens its 2012/13 season with “Giselle,” composed by Adolphe Adam and choreographed by Ib Andersen, Nov. 1-4. It’s one of four works being performed with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall. Others include “The Nutcracker” (music by Prokofiev, choreography by Andersen) Dec. 7-24 and “All Balanchine” May 2-5, 2013 (featuring “Serenade,” “Monumentum pro Gesualdo”/”Movements for Piano and Orchestra” and “Western Symphony”).

Ballet Arizona’s 2012/13 season also includes “Director’s Choice” — being performed March 28-31, 2013 at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix — which features “Le Carnival des Animaux” by Alexai Ratmansky (an Arizona premiere), “Diversions” by Ib Andersen and “Untitled” by Alejandro Cerrudo (a world premiere).

Arizona Opera’s 2012/13 season features Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” in which passionate diva meets political dissident, being performed in Italian with English subtitles Jan. 25-27. Also Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Tavatore” (Italian with English subtitles) March 1-3. And Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figero” (Italian with English subtitles) April 5-7.

No worries, by the way, if your Italian feels a bit rusty. If the rest of America can keep up with the Kardashians, you can keep up with a romance language or two. A quick click here will direct you to Arizona Opera offerings from composer bios and opera synopses to tips for first-time opera-goers — plus special programs for youth and adults.

Click here and you can explore education and outreach offerings from Ballet Arizona. Both companies, by the way, are readying for moves to new homes that’ll give them more space for both the artistic and administration elements of their work.

They’re also performing pieces to round out the 2011/12 season — including “Director’s Choice” (March 29-April 1) at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix plus “Topia” (May 2-26) at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix for Ballet Arizona — and “Aida” (March 9-11) and “Orfeo ed Euridice” (April 13-15) for Arizona Opera.

— Lynn

Note: Additional information about performance locations (including Tucson venues/dates) are available at each company’s website. Click here to learn about tonight’s special “season reveal” event at Theater Works in Peoria, and here to explore 12 works featured in the 2012/13 “Live in HD” season from the Metropolitan Opera.

Coming up: Doing time

Arts & culture — festival style

Valley Youth Theatre (pictured above, performing Annie) is scheduled to perform at 4:05pm during Saturday's Herberger Theater Center Festival of the Arts

I’m heading out Saturday to enjoy the Herberger Theater Center “Festival of the Arts,” a one-day festival in Phoenix featuring music, dance, theater, visual art and film. It takes place from 1-5pm, which means I have plenty of time to coffee and catch up on other things ahead of time.

The festival is $5 (free for those under 12), but I’m taking a little extra cash along too so food vendors can feel the love. Think hots dogs, gourmet tacos and more. I’ll be visiting vendor booths, enjoying performances both indoor and out, and exploring the work of more than a dozen featured artists.

Folks who attend with children can enjoy the festival’s “Kids Zone,” featuring various art and science activities, demonstrations, play areas and more. Think Free Arts of Arizona and the Arizona Science Center. Even the APS Clowns are joining the fun.

The Arizona Jewish Theatre Company All Rights Reserved teen improv troupe is scheduled to perform at 2:55pm on Saturday at the Festival of the Arts

It looks like there will be about two dozen vendor booths, where you can meet all sorts of artists and those who love them. Theater groups doing the booth thing include Arizona Broadway Theatre, Arizona Jewish Theatre Company, Arizona Theatre Company, Grand Canyon University, the Scottsdale Community College Theatre Arts Program and Spotlight Youth Theatre.

I love the fact that several hail from parts other than downtown Phoenix so you can get a feel for the true breadth and depth of Valley art offerings. This is a great way to chat with folks who offer programs for children and gather information about their camps and such. (Yes, you should also watch for the 2012 Raising Arizona Kids Magazine Camp Fair.)

The Arizona Girl Choir is one of several arts organizations who will have a booth at Saturday's Herberger Theater Center Festival of the Arts

Dance groups joining the vendor booth fun include Arizona Youth Ballet, Center Dance Ensemble and Scorpius Dance Theatre. Music will be well represented too — thanks to the Phoenix Boys Choir and Arizona Girl Choir. Also keep an eye out for various art studios and others who offer family-friendly fare (like bobbles for wayward hair).

Several of the folks noted above will also perform at some point during the event on one of the Herberger Theater Center’s many stages. As will plenty of other groups — the Dance Shoppe Performance Company, EPIK Dance Company, Grand Canyon University Dance Ensemble, Theater Works and more.

An outdoor stage will feature music by the Bald Cactus Brass Band, Chicks with Picks and Take Cover! Porangui and String Serenade will perform inside Bob’s Spot, a lovely lounge adjacent to the Herberger Theater Center’s upstairs art gallery.

Performers who participate in the Herberger’s “Lunch Time Theater” series will also be on hand to entertain you. Think New Carpa Theater, Grey Matters Productions, Annie Moscow and Friendly People Productions. Sounds a bit like a smorgasbord, only sexier somehow.

Theater Works is scheduled to perform a scene and song from The King and I at 2:20pm during the Herberger Theater Center's Festival of the Arts

Film shorts run a little later than other festival offerings, starting at 4pm on The Kax Stage and wrapping up at 6pm. They’ll be introduced by emcee Ricky Faust, who will facililate Q & A sessions between films.

If critical body parts don’t give out (for me this means feet and knees), I might also hit the Rainbow Festival taking place Oct 1 & 2 from 10am-6pm at historic Heritage Square. It’s a “free admission street fair that celebrates the diversity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.” The event features “an international food court, artists, vendors and entertainment.”

If your city or town is offering festival-style fare with arts and culture flair, please comment below to let our readers know.

— Lynn

Note: The “Arizona Humanities Festival: Stories of Us” takes place Sat, Oct 22 from 10am-6pm at Civic Space Park in Phoenix. The festival features storytelling, children’s activities, author readings, dance performances, live music and film screenings. Info at www.azhumanities.org.

Coming up: Festivals featuring multicultural fare

Photos from organization Facebook pages