Tag Archives: Tom Leveen

One amateur’s take on “The Avengers”

Two rules of war. Never start one. Never lose one. It’s one of many gems I picked up while watching “The Avengers” — the Marvel movie based on a comic book series first published when I was three years old. It took several decades for the darn thing to get on my radar. It’s only there now because I have a daughter who digs it and respect for a critic who panned it. Take note, theater folk. There’s actually some truth to that whole “no publicity is bad publicity” mantra.

I took my 22-year-old son Christopher along for a Saturday afternoon screening. Seated to our left was a young father with his son, who looked like kindergarten might be in his future come fall. I saw “Jaws” as a teen, and spent half the movie covering my eyes. All the little guy two seats over needed during “The Avengers” was a few brief plot points and a little lap time during the final battle scene.

I wasn’t a fan of letting my kids see all that shoot ’em up bang bang stuff before their teens, but I’m even less inclined to tell other parents how to make such choices assuming there’s no real danger involved. Just be sure any kids you take along know that Hulk-esque moves won’t be tolerated on the playground. And remember that it’s rated PG-13 for a reason.

There’s a single scene in the film that’ll stick with me for some time. It features a lone elderly gentleman standing up amidst a crowd of people who’ve obeyed villain Loki’s “kneel before me” command. The setting is a street in Stuttgart, Germany — and the Holocaust reference is clear. The choice costs him dearly, but it was the right thing to do.

There’s plenty of philosophical fodder in “The Avengers.” Freedom is life’s great lie. The world is growing ever stranger. Sometimes people need a hero. The world is full of people we can’t control. We all follow our true nature. Failure stems from lack of conviction. It’s best to pay one’s debts. Seems superheroes also have their politics. Think nuclear proliferation as a lousy deterrent.

I give the action much higher marks than the acting in this baby, but it’s the writing that really rocks. Lizabeth told me as much after seeing a midnight premiere of “The Avengers” in NYC with some friends. She’s a longtime fan of Joss Whedon, who directs the film and wrote the screenplay.

At one point Loki tells Iron Man he’s got no idea what he’s dealing with. Iron Man responds with, “Shakespeare in the Park?” (Seems Iron Man feels Loki is a “full tilt diva.”) When Loki plays the “I’m a god” card, Hulk give him a jab and a “puny god” quip. When someone marvels over the differences between brothers Thor and Loki, Thor retorts with “He’s adopted.” There’s even a nifty reference to flying monkeys.

I don’t speak “Marvel,” but still enjoyed the film in novice mode. It’s funny enough that nodding off is a luxury rather than a necessity. I suppose I’ll have to delve deeper into “The Avengers” backstory now, though Lizabeth will likely advise against it. She’s already explained that only the true geeks really get it. But that won’t stop me from trying — because now I know just enough to be dangerous.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about “The Avengers,” and here for the scoop on Phoenix Comicon (coming to the Phoenix Convention Center May 24-27). Guests include Ed Asner, longtime friend of Arizona Jewish Theatre Company (whose Curtain Call youth theater performs “Annie” next weekend), and author Tom Leveen (known to Valley theater geeks for all those years at Chyro Arts in Scottsdale).

Coming up: Art meets Mother’s Day, Memoir tales


Arming teens with paper and pen

There are plenty of reasons to hit Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe.

Most recently I went with my 19-year-old daughter Jennifer to hear a state legislator and an ASU professor discussing Arizona’s immigration policy with attendees both for and against SB 1070. 

A month or so before I was there with Lizabeth, my soon-to-be 17 year old, to hear Valley actor, director and author Tom Leveen talk about his first “YA” (young adult) novel—titled Party.

Both events were packed, so I’m not surprised that Leveen will be making more appearances at the Indie bookstore

I’m told that Leveen shared a copy of his book with actor James Marsters (known to many as “Spike” in both “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spinoff “Angel”) Saturday at Phoenix Comicon, and that the two enjoyed a lingering conversation–which confirms my suspicion that Leveen is both author and marketer extraordinaire.

Leveen is one of several writers and authors presenting writing workshops at Changing Hands Bookstore this summer. The events are geared towards tweens, teens or adults—or sometimes a combination. Most last just an hour or two and cost between $20 and $50 dollars (for a single session or a series). Registration and pre-payment are required. 

First up during June is a teen writing workshop titled “Making Us Believe: Dragons, Spies, & Secret Histories.” Author Mark London will “take readers behind the scenes of his own Danger Boy time travel series, showing young writers (ages 9-14) how he mixes history and storytelling.” June 1 and 2, 2-4pm. 

For four consecutive Mondays, starting June 7, Phoenix New Times copy editor and freelancer Tricia Parker will lead girls in grades 7-12 in a teen writing workshop titled “Fems with Pens.” Participants will “write fiction and nonfiction based on a variety of exercises,” discussing and editing fellow participants’ work “in a creative, supportive environment.” June 7,14, 21 & 28, 5-6:15pm. 

Monday, June 7, will also see the return of Leveen (from 6:30-8pm) for a teen and adult writing workshop called “Using Theatre to Sharpen Dialogue,” during which participants ages 16 and up will discover “how taking an actor/director perspective with fiction can make dialogue come to life.” 

Leveen presents a teen and adult workshop titled “Armed Conflict: Getting to the Backbone of Your Fiction by Taking No Prisoners” from 6:30-8pm on Monday, June 28—and another titled “Publishing Basics” from 6:30-8pm on Monday, July 1. Both are for ages 16+.

Younger writers (ages 8-13) can enjoy a three-part tween writing workshop called “Motion Pictures to Picture Books” with Molly Idle from 4-5:30pm on June 14, 16 and 18. Idle will teach participants about “visual storytelling techniques used in film making” and how they can be used to “create unique and engaging illustrated stories.” 

Another three-part tween writing workshop, titled “Hero Quest,” will take place from 6:30-8pm on June 17, 24 and July 1. J.S. Lewis, co-author of the Grey Griffins series, will teach kids “how to create dynamic characters and striking plot lines using the model of the hero’s journey from Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth.”  

Participants ages 10-17 can join Taken by Storm and Sing Me to Sleep author Angela Morrison for a tween & teen writing workshop titled “Write What You Know” on July 27, 28 and 29 from 3-5pm. Morrison will “challenge participants to draw from reality to make characters and scenes live and breath” while working on “poetry, short stories, novel chapters, or any other genre they are interested in.” 

While you’re there, get a copy of the bookstore’s monthly listing of other family-friendly activities, and allow extra time to browse through books (plus impressively diverse magazine offerings) and find unique gift selections for your favorite teachers, friends and family members. (James ordered a birthday gift for Lizabeth from Changing Hands but I’d best not reveal it here until after the big day.)

Visit Changing Hands Bookstore online for workshop details, or call 480-730-0205 to register. In the war of words, no one wants to be unarmed. And you just might find that a few simple trips to Changing Hands can change a whole lot of things in your world.


Note: Writing workshops tailored to moms (of all ages) who write are offered by Amy Silverman (Phoenix New Times) and Deborah Sussman Susser (Jewish News of Greater Phoenix). Their next 10-week “Mothers Who Write” workshop begins Sept. 2 (registration opens July 1). For details visit www.motherswhowrite.com.

Coming up: Opportunities to honor our military folks and families year-round, Lessons learned at theater potlucks

Update: Click here to learn about Christopher Hitchens’ discovery as a youth that “words could function as weapons.” His new book, “Hitch-22,” is one of thousands of titles available through Changing Hands Bookstore.

Tom Leveen’s “Party”: Mission Accomplished

Lizabeth was eager to tell me about her day when I picked her up after school yesterday.

She’d taken Tom Leveen’s new young adult novel—titled “Party”—to school with her so she could finish reading it as soon as possible. Apparently Leveen’s first published book has that “can’t put it down” quality so many authors hope for.

Lizabeth, a high school junior, was one of just a few teens in the audience Tuesday night as Leveen packed the house for a reading at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe.

Leveen opened his talk with a confession: “I’m ditching my creative writing class to do this.” Pity his classmates weren’t there to share tales of his journey and join in the celebration.

Leveen shared that a novel he wrote long before “Party”—originally titled “Gothic Rainbow”—may soon become published book number two, but with a new title. Leveen fans longing for more can look forward to reading “Zero” when it debuts. Unless, admits Leveen, the title is once again changed.

After a reading from the opening chapter of “Party”—which features the gripping experiences of the first of 11 characters who attend a single party one night in Santa Barbara, California—Leveen answered audience questions about everything from character development to the nuts and bolts of getting published.

“Why write for juniors?” asked one of Leveen’s listeners. “Because,” he replied, “that’s where the change happens.”

Referencing both his own life experiences and the many challenges facing today’s young adults, Leveen reflected on “the importance of books and people stepping in at critical junctures.”

“A lot of people,” shares Leveen, “just need a little bit of help or just need someone to look at them.” He recounts wondering what it might be like to be homeless on the streets of Phoenix—imagining disheartening days without a single person making eye contact or offering even a quick hello.

Leveen shared several of the book’s themes—including faith (and the lack of it), relationships and racism. You’d be amazed by what teens encounter in the mix of family, friends, school and social media these days.

Leveen hopes that his revelation of these 11 teens—with all their triumphs and travails—will magnify the necessity of a single act in the lives of young and old alike…

“Say words,” affirms Leveen.

The characters in his books, who use other means to deal with their passion and their pain, don’t fare all that well. Leveen hopes for a different outcome among young readers. (And, yes, the language gets intense—but that’s real life rather than a literary device.)

Lizabeth shared with me yesterday that she felt Leveen’s work was “powerful”—noting that the first and final pages are especially profound. “He definitely succeeded,” she told me, “in his mission to teach and to touch.”

She described feeling transformed by Leveen’s work—noting that even her posture changed as she moved between classes. Rather than walking with her head down hoping to avoid the many complexities of high school encounters, Lizabeth stood tall—making eye contact with fellow students scurrying to and fro.

The impact of the book really hit her, I suspect, when she found herself offering a cheerful hello to a girl she’s long considered a bit of a bully. To Lizabeth’s surprise, the greeting—and smile—were reciprocated.

So Tom, from a mom: “Great job using your words.”


Coming up: Reviews of five shows I’ll be seeing between now and Sunday–starting with ASU Theatre and Film’s “The Death and Life of Sherlock Holmes”

Today’s Tidbit: Changing Hands Bookstore presents a poetry workshop with ASU English professor Cynthia Hogue at 7pm. (Tickets: $25. Info: 480-730-0205)

Still using our words

I remember a time when my children—now teens and young adults—were in preschool. Among their many take-away lessons of time spent with skilled and caring early educators was a simple mantra: “Use your words.”

I was reminded of those days yesterday as our celebration of Jennifer’s 19th birthday drew to a close.

We began our all-girls birthday tour after Lizabeth (now 16) got out of school, stopping first at MacAlpine’s Soda Fountain in Phoenix for ice cream and a bit of window shopping through their vintage clothing, jewelry and such. It’s a family-owned business (see “quality control” photo at left) that does ice cream “old-school and very cool.” They even whip up Egg Creams™ and Phosphates™ in 34 flavors!

Though a movie seemed the obvious choice for an early evening outing, we opted instead for a book signing with Tom Leveen at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe.

Jennifer is keen on supporting “indie” businesses like Changing Hands—which describes itself as an “independent community bookstore.”

Lizabeth was eager to support Leveen since she’d recently performed in “Talk Radio” at Chyro Arts Venue in Scottsdale, where Leveen serves as artistic director.

Chyro Arts Venue will close next month after the last performance of its final production, “Orange Flower Water,” which runs April 29-May 15. It’s directed by Michael Peck, and contains mature themes not appropriate for those under 18.

Chyro is renowned for selecting edgier works and presenting them with gusto, and notes that patrons with a taste for alternative theater still have terrific options in the Valley—including Stray Cat Theatre and Nearly Naked Theatre.

I was saddened to learn of their decision to close, but delighted to discover that Leveen and his wife Joy (an Arcadia High School graduate, like Jennifer) are already steeped in other adventures.

They were beaming at last night’s book signing, so I suspect they are enjoying a time in life that Tom Leveen laughingly likens to riding a roller coaster.

I kicked around Hoodlums Music and Movies for a spell after dropping the girls off two doors down at Changing Hands.

Seems I missed my opportunity to get the exclusive release 10-inch vinyl of Springsteen performing at Giants Stadium because they sold out during Hoodlum’s “Record Day” event over the weekend.

But I did get to enjoy an exhibit of painted “album covers” along one wall–a work by Glenn Moust of Denmark and a work featuring small irridescent red glass tiles by Deborah Wahl of Tempe were my favorites.

Then I shot my wad on a button for Jennifer reading “I Still Read Books & I Vote!”–only to learn later as we sat cross-legged in a little corner of Changing Hands comparing book finds that Jennifer had gotten me a bumper sticker with the exact same slogan. 

I’m not sure what’s more intriguing–discovering the many ways our children are different than we are, or uncovering the startling number of ways we seem so very similar.

Once I headed over to Changing Hands, I saw what looked like at least 50 people—including Lizabeth—listening to Leveen talk about his recently published book titled “Party.” It’s a “teen lit” work of fiction that follows the lives of eleven different characters as they attend a single party in Santa Barbara, California.

Leveen talked about his inspirations for the book, his lovely experiences with rejection letters (there were dozens), his hopes for those who read his work and his plans for a second novel for young audiences. He also shared tips for fellow writers and reflected on how theater prepared him for the craft of writing.

In the meantime, Jennifer and I strolled through the store in search of books, gift items and more. We even checked out the children’s area, where I was thrilled to discover some toy makers I hadn’t known about when my kids were younger–including Rubbabu and Jellycat.

I fell in love with the “Goodnight Moon” gift sets—one with a softbound book and little bunny in blue and white striped pajamas, and another with a chunky book coupled with tiny bunny slippers. I managed to leave the “Where the Wild Things Are” characters on their shelves, but I’m beginning to regret that now.

We leave so many things behind as our children grow with such incredible glory. But according to Leveen, artist of both stage and page, one thing remains ever true–and serves as the take-away message from his book…

It’s the importance of using our words.


Note: Lizabeth bought a copy of Leveen’s “Party” so one or both of us will offer a more formal review once we’ve had a chance to read it. Despite the note Leveen wrote for Lizabeth when he signed her copy of his book—which reads “Have fun staying up all night!”—we made Lizabeth go to bed before she’d finished more than the first chapter.

Coming up: More of Leveen’s reflections on the stage and the page, “Hoodstock” event benefiting a local school, Childsplay unveils their 2010-2011 season

Today’s tidbits: Chandler-Gilbert Community College presents a free Community Band Concert tonight at 7pm at the CGCC Performing Arts Center (info: 480-732-7343). The Musical Instrument Museum presents “Nation Beat” (a fusion of music from the southern U.S. and northeast Brazil) tonight at 7:30pm at the MIM Music Theater (tickets $25-$30, info: 480-478-6001).

There’s an award for that!

A week ago Monday, protestors took to the Arizona state capitol to protest immigration-related legislation—but the governor wasn’t there to witness the gathering.

David and Sonja Faeroy Saar (center) attend 2010 Governor's Arts Awards

She was already scheduled to appear at the 28th annual Governor’s Arts Awards, held at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Phoenix—an event presented by Arizona Citizens for the Arts, the Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Office of the Governor.

I spoke with a Valley artist attending the event that evening, who felt it a bit odd to be celebrating Arizona arts with the governor at a time when so many sectors of our community—including education, health care and the arts—feel ravaged by state budget cuts.

Still, it’s important to recognize the achievements of Valley artists and arts supporters. Now, more than ever, their work matters. I was especially proud that my 16-year old daughter Lizabeth was there, performing with Greasepaint Youtheatre.

She had strict orders to bring me a program and note names of the 2010 winners so I could pass the info along to you.

Dean Osborne performs at the Grand Canyon Music Festival

Here’s the happy news:

• Composer James DeMars of Tempe, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, received the Artist Award

• Preservationist Elisabeth Ruffner of Prescott, received the Individual Award

• Arts advocate Shirley Chann of Tucson, received the Shelley Arts Advocate Award

• The Grand Canyon Music Festival received the Education Award

Bank of America received the Business Award

The Drawing Studio in Tucson received the Community Award

Art for Kids Project at Webb Center

If you know of a deserving volunteer, artist, advocate, arts organization or business, there are plenty of other awards out there. Consider nominating/voting for the artists and arts lovers in your life if they’re eligible for the following…

• Arizona Central’s “Best” Poll. Vote on nominees online before tomorrow’s (April 28) deadline. Categories include art gallery, annual arts festival/event, regional arts center, theater company, live theater venue, museum, musical festival/event and more.

AriZoni Theatre Awards of Excellence. Nominations for two awards are being accepted through August 15, 2010. The “Outstanding Contribution Award” honors someone within the theater community and the “Distinguished Service Award” honors an individual, corporation or organization outside the theater community.

• Business in the Arts Awards. Nominations now being accepted for awards to be presented at the August 18, 2010 “New Artitude” event presented by Wells Fargo. Categories include large business partner, mid-size business partner, small business partner, arts organization, arts advocate, arts board member and special business volunteer.

Detour Company Theatre

Two other nifty bits of news in the arts award department…

Arizona Theatre Company’s own Latino Playwriting Award-Winner, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” by Kristoffer Diaz, was honored as a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. (The Pulitzer was awarded to “Next to Normal” by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey—which will tour, beginning in November, with stops in Los Angeles and San Diego).

• Eight’s Third Annual Be More Awards™ will be announced at a May 20, 2010 luncheon and awards ceremony at Eight’s downtown Phoenix studios. Nominated arts organizations include the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts, Rosie’s House and Valley Youth Theatre (for the “Be More Creative” award recognizing achievement in arts and culture) and Detour Company Theatre (for the “Be More Encouraged” judges’ choice award).

Rosie's House Music Academy

As always, I welcome your input if there are additional resources not included here. Please let me know of other award opportunities in the comment section below so our readers will have even more ways to recognize the artists, advocates and other arts leaders in our communities. There’s only one rule around here: Be nice.


NEW FEATURE! Watch for “Today’s Tidbits” at the end of Monday-Thursday posts so you’ll know of arts experiences you can enjoy during the week with your family or friends. Look for weekend arts events in Friday “Stage Mom” posts. More arts and other family-friendly activities are available every day at Raising Arizona Kids’ online calendar thanks to our amazing calendar editor Mala Blomquist.

Today’s Tidbits: ASU Theatre and Film presents their “5th Annual Student Film Fest” featuring both showcase and competitive formats at 7:30pm at Harkins Valley Art Theatre in Tempe (info at 480-965-6447 or www.theatrefilm.asu.edu) • Chandler-Gilbert Community College presents a free CGCC Community Choir and Orchestra Concert at 7pm (info at 480-732-7343) • Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe presents local author Tom Leveen with his debut teen novel “Party” at 7pm (info at www.changinghands.com) • Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts presents “Talk Cinema: Sneak Preview #7” featuring a film that “depicts the aspirations of all immigrants and the fulfillment of the American dream” followed by a moderated conversation with experts (tickets are $20; info at www.scottsdaleperformingarts.org). If you have a visual or performing arts event to share, please drop me a line at rakstagemom@gmail.com. Calendar items can be submitted online.