On the tiny, intimate stage of Space 55, director Charlie Steak and the cast of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play create a surprisingly convincing environment of impromptu community clinging to the familiar after the unthinkable occurs.
“It’s a fantastic choice for us,” says Steak. “At Space 55 what we really want to do is new, innovative work; usually that means doing original scripts.” He continues, “In this case…this script is something that most of us wish that we had written.”
At the 50-seat venue, says Steak, “we want what we do to be affordable and within reach, but that’s not our mission by itself. Our mission is to allow artists to do things that the gatekeepers at traditional theaters prevent.”
Steak, who wrote the play Woman and Girl and an adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, came to Phoenix seven years ago from PlayMakers at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He’s worked extensively with Rising Youth Theatre, Essential Theatre, and Space 55, where he’s currently serving as Associate Artistic Director and troupe member. Steak’s upcoming productions include another installment of the interactive Captain Jack’s Space Attack, with its signature drinking song and audience participation, and Space 55’s 7 Minutes shows, which give local performers seven minutes in which to do anything they want.
Why choose playwright Anne Washburn’s very quirky Mr. Burns? “The Simpsons survive the apocalypse,” Steak explains succinctly. “That’s enough, just by itself.”
He laughs and adds, “The basic idea is you have a group of people after the power grid has gone down — they’re living in a small group for mutual protection, a lot like the people in The Walking Dead, and so they’re sitting around a campfire trying to remember this episode of The Simpsons — that’s the first part…almost like a jigsaw puzzle. And what’s truly fascinating is the bits that they get right, and the bits that they don’t quite get right.”
“And then they go on to become a group of people who start performing episodes of The Simpsons. And this is when perhaps 99% of the population in America is gone, yet The Simpsons survive.”
With an eight-person cast ably supported in the third act by three musicians — Lali Breen, Jeremy Brunansky, and Ron Foligno — Mr. Burns uses the “Cape Feare” episode as its focus. “It’s like going inside an onion,” says Steak. “You’ve got the original [1962 Gregory Peck] Cape Fear movie, you’ve got the  DeNiro version of the Cape Fear movie, then you’ve got the Simpsons’ spoof of the DeNiro Cape Fear movie, and then you’ve got this show, so that’s a lot of layers.”
Washburn joined composer Michael Friedman for Mr. Burns, creating a thoughtfully realistic first act taking place immediately after the power failure, a second act set seven years later, and a completely surreal musical-theater third act following 75 years later. The ensemble includes Cynthia Elek, Brianne Holland-Stergar, Rebecca Brosnan, Toni Jourdan, Cody Goulder, Robert Peters, and Lee Quarrie.
“I’m interested in popular culture,” says Steak. “After the apocalypse these people are…preserving it, and you think about everything you have to deal with…food, water, shelter, safety — but no, there’s room for The Simpsons!” He chuckles. “This is pretty amazing.”
If you go:
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Iconic Phoenix storytellers discuss three Phoenix time periods, public invited to storytelling salon on October 29 in downtown Phoenix
The public is invited to learn about three distinct time periods in Phoenix history, brought to life through intimate stories and iconic photographs shared by Phoenix leaders and authors.
Speakers include authors and historians Jana Bommersbach, Shelly Dudley, and Frank Barrios as well as city leaders and noted community development experts Grady Gammage, Jr., Larry Lazarus and Joy Mee.
Topics feature the early stewards of Phoenix, the era of air conditioning and shift from agriculture to industry after World War II, as well as unique perspectives unveiling the history of Downtown Phoenix high rises built during the 1960s to mid-1980s.
During the presentations, artists will be capturing the highlights from each of the three topics in order to create additional murals to be added to the Phoenix Phabulous History Mural collection, on display at the A.E. England Building. This indoor mural collection depicts nine time periods in Phoenix history.
The evening is presented by Phoenix Phabulous Experience, City of Phoenix and Arizona State University at the Downtown Campus. The A.E. England Building is located at 424 N Central Ave (at Taylor St.), Phoenix, Arizona, 85004.
Images courtesy of Phoenix Phabulous Experience.
Dear Downtown Phoenix,
What a difference a decade can make! It has been incredibly gratifying to see the work of so many people that has resulted in today’s vibrant downtown. I have worked at Phoenix Art Museum at the northeast corner of Central Avenue and McDowell Road for the past forty years, and my wife Linda and I are residents of the Willo historic neighborhood so we’ve had an additional ringside seat to watch it all happen. We at the museum will continue to invest in helping further the success of our arts community and neighborhoods. When I look back on the growth that Phoenix Art Museum has experienced since I started here in my twenties – in physically expanding from the original 72,000 square feet to the 285,000 square feet it is today, as well as expanding our collection, our budget, and our reputation both nationally and internationally – it is tremendously satisfying.
There have been many milestones during my years at the museum. For me the most critical may have been with the City of Phoenix Bond Election in 1988. That was the launching point for the museum’s growth, and transformative to the entire arts community of Phoenix. I’m proud to have played a key role in that election and to have served as Treasurer for two City of Phoenix Bond Programs. Funds from the bond allowed Phoenix Art Museum to create and expand the Steele Gallery, Cummings Great Hall, JP Morgan Chase Lobby, Harnett Gallery and Whiteman Hall and to prepare for our first “blockbuster” exhibition, Splendors of Ancient Egypt in 1998, that attracted sellout crowds. We followed with other hit exhibitions including Monet at Giverny in 1999 and Secret World of The Forbidden City: Splendors from China’s Imperial Palace in 2001.
Five years later, after a $41.2 million campaign that included another cultural bond program, the museum completed our 18-year facilities master plan by opening the Greenbaum Lobby, Dorrance Sculpture Garden and the Marshall, Hendler, Anderman, Marcus, Marley, Brown, Norton and Men’s Art Council galleries in the Katz Wing for Modern Art. Shortly thereafter we opened Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art: Treasures from the Rijksmusen, Amsterdam. At that time our acclaimed model program with The University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography was unveiled.
As you may have heard, in April 2014 I announced my intention to retire from my position as The Sybil Harrington Director after forty years of working at Phoenix Art Museum. Combined with the fact that I turned 65 this year and Linda and I have our eighth grandchild on the way, I decided it was the right time. As a result, the museum’s board of trustees has initiated a search process to find my replacement that I hope will take the reins of Phoenix Art Museum for the next generation. I plan to remain in my current role as long as necessary to ensure a deliberate, seamless succession process and a smooth transition.
Our staff and trustee leadership has always firmly believed in the museum’s mission: bringing great art from all over the world to the people of Arizona to enrich their lives and communities. Our board believes that Phoenix Art Museum should be a leader in the community and that philosophy has allowed me latitude, for which I am most grateful. I have had the privilege of working with many dedicated volunteers, great trustees and incredible staff members who have always worked together for the good of the museum. Many of those people have taught me a lot. With Linda’s support and that of our family we have enjoyed knowing and working with so many people.
I am most proud of how Phoenix Art Museum has served the community beyond our walls including the arts community and neighborhoods of downtown Phoenix. I am particularly grateful for the support I have received from museum members, the community, and many colleagues, and I look forward to watching as the museum continues adding to the cultural quality, enjoyment, and way of life in Arizona.
Phoenix Art Museum is moving forward with a great exhibition schedule planned through 2016, a quality staff, enthusiastic support organizations, and a strong Board of Trustees. It is crucial the museum keep its momentum strong to remain one of the top amenities of downtown Phoenix and specifically the arts community of our wonderful city.
With sincere thanks,
James K. Ballinger,
The Sybil Harrington Director
Images courtesy of Phoenix Art Museum
David Krietor has served as CEO of the newly-formed Downtown Phoenix, Inc. (“DPI”) since April 8, 2013. In that time, he has begun work with community stakeholders to develop the downtown we want. “Your Downtown” shares his thoughts and DPI’s progress with the downtown community and beyond. Read the other chats here.
Admit it. You sometimes spell Phoenix wrong. Pheonix. Phoneix. Even the City of Phoenix does too. But it’s going to be pretty hard – and heavy – to make edits on several misspelled cast iron manhole covers spotted by eagle-eyed downtowners. From here on out, as you read this update on downtown Phoenix goings-on, be assured that spell-check is on.
While there continues to be concern about the regional and state economy, downtown projects continue to move forward. Here’s the latest news on several notable downtown and midtown projects in the works: Central Station (Central & Van Buren), Lennar Multifamily Communities (Central & McDowell), and several Phoenix Convention Center-managed spaces, including the former Matador restaurant (1st St. & Adams).
A noted local attorney has contributed $10 million to help build Arizona State University’s new Arizona Center for Law and Society, including the future home of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, in downtown Phoenix. The contribution from Leo and Annette Beus is the largest single donation ever to the law school.
Last spring, Professor Lauren Allsopp and 16 graduate students from ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning set out to create a reactivation plan for downtown’s historic, yet endangered, Warehouse District. The students’ work is summarized here.
Grand Canyon University is housing nearly 200 upperclass students at Roosevelt Point Apartments (3rd St. & Roosevelt) due to a shortage of onsite housing at the university’s 35th Ave. & Camelback campus. Last year, Roosevelt Point housed some GCU students, but on a much smaller scale.
On September 27 (before the rains came), a group of young downtown advocates organized and staged “Better Block PHX” on the block between Pierce and Garfield to demonstrate how existing “dead zones” (e.g., empty lots, vacant storefronts, asphalt parking lots) can be transformed into lively streetscapes, marketplaces, and community hubs.
On September 18, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration changed the west outbound flight path for planes departing from Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. The change directs planes to turn at a lower altitude between early afternoon and 2 a.m. over Lower Grand Avenue, rather than a more westerly and higher turn. The public in general and residents of the affected residential neighborhoods specifically were not made aware of the change, resulting in more than 240 noise questions or complaints in two weeks. In comparison, airport officials received 221 such complaints in all of 2013. The FAA and city officials will hold a community meeting on October 16 to discuss the noise complaints and rationale for the change.
City and economic development leaders are touting Phoenix to host one of three NCAA Basketball Final Fours in 2017, 2019, or 2020. Downtown Phoenix is key to the Final Four bid package because of the number of hotel rooms and the Phoenix Convention Center, which would be the site of the National Association of Basketball Coaches convention and the “Bracket Town” fanfest event. This is another great example of the working partnership that has emerged between the Phoenix CVB, Phoenix Convention Center and DPI.
My colleague Dan Klocke with the Downtown Phoenix Community Development Corp. noted in a Downtown Devil article that this summer’s retail outlook in downtown was on par with, if not better than, previous years. “We’ve seen a few more restaurants open up and a couple more coming, and we see hotel occupancy levels climbing in the first six months of the year compared to last year, so that’s good.”
Some of the businesses that recently announced their intent to open downtown include GrabbaGreen (CityScape) and Sutra Yoga (2nd St. & Portland). Unfortunately we did lose one, The Local restaurant (3rd St. & Roosevelt) after a six month run.
Last month, the City of Phoenix won a $1.6 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery federal grant to extend light rail from downtown Phoenix to Baseline Road. Thousands of residents of south Phoenix will reap the benefits of a stronger public transportation system that increases their mobility to other parts of the Valley. This is a big deal and one more important contribution by retiring Representative Ed Pastor.
Seed Spot, the non-profit social entrepreneurial incubator, hosted Maria Contreras-Sweet, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. Upon touring the Seed Spot office at Central and Thomas, Contreras-Sweet commended founder Courtney Klein on the group’s achievements, noting “I love the feel. It feels so organic.”
Co+Hoots, a coworking space in downtown Phoenix, has been ranked #8 on a list of the top 75 coworking spaces in the U.S. Symmetry50, a national bookkeeping service for small businesses, compiles the list. Founder Jenny Poon and Co+Hoots Foundation leader Kristin Romaine serve on the DPI Community Advisory Panel.
On the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, Barry Broome and Ioanna Morfessis, respectively the current and past CEOs of GPEC, wrote this Arizona Republic op-ed and noted that downtown is all about what metro Phoenix could be: diversity, creativity, education, and entrepreneurship.
News for a Health, Fitness & Safety Checkup
DPI, Downtown Phoenix Journal, PCA and the Phoenix Suns invite you to attend our third Radiate PHX business and community networking event on Tuesday, October 21 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Verve Lounge at US Airways Center. Topics include updates on sports and fitness initiatives such as “FitPHX” and “Meet Me Downtown,” plus a preview of the Suns basketball season. Guest speakers include Councilman Daniel Valenzuela, chair of the Downtown, Aviation, and Redevelopment Committee; Suns President Jason Rowley; and Ralph Marchetta, vice president of ticket operations and general manager of sports and entertainment services for US Airways Center.
The urban bicycle advocacy group, Phoenix Spokes People, has organized a series of events and activities in “Biketober” to promote the cause of cycling in metro Phoenix.
Thanks to the Arizona Cardinals, Super Bowl Host Committee, and NFL Foundation, the high school football field at the Arizona State University Preparatory Academy received much needed new sod, paint, and scoreboard. ASU Prep, a K-12 school at 7th St. & Fillmore, sits on the site of Montgomery Stadium. The then, 22,000-seat stadium was the largest in Arizona and one of the largest high school arenas in the country.
Students from Phoenix Union Bioscience High School gathered with members of the downtown Phoenix community on September 27 to build a community learning garden as part of the third annual Green Apple Service Day.
On October 4, an estimated 1,500 Garfield neighborhood residents – young, old, and in-between – participated in one of the city’s largest “Getting Arizonans Involved In Neighborhoods” (GAIN) events. Garfield’s unique social mixer and health fair, GAIN-FIESTA, was sponsored by numerous corporate, nonprofit, and educational groups, and organized by dozens of volunteers.
Fall-ing for the Arts
Goodbye summer heat, hello fall not-as-hot weather. What fall also brings is a jam-packed schedule of arts and culture events and activities throughout downtown Phoenix. October’s First Friday was as popular as ever, as evidenced by the 1,000-plus riders on the Artlink Trolley. Large crowds enjoyed Chaos Theory 15 and new this month was the AZ365 pop-up gallery on Roosevelt Row, sponsored by the Arizona Republic and Artlink.
Congratulations to the ASU International Artist Residency Program, located at Combine Studios in downtown Phoenix, for being awarded a $144,000 grant from The Institute of Museum and Library Services to commission three new artists from across the globe to develop art projects that engage the public, such as exhibits, lectures, performances, and publications. Greg Esser, director of the program, is a superstar.
Congratulations also to the Ground Cover Public Art Project, sponsored by the City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture and situated on a vacant lot in downtown Phoenix, for receiving a first place award in Arizona Forward’s 34th Annual Environmental Excellence Awards.
Phoenix was one of more than 300 cities chosen to participate in a 10-day global film festival late last month and early this month. The Manhattan Short Film Festival is an annual showing of international, independently produced short films. Ten finalists were selected by an international panel of experts.
Let’s note the life and passing of Patrick Anthony Lawlor, age 94, the last of the core group to build a place for Arizona’s Irish families to gather, the Irish Cultural Center at Margaret T. Hance Park. According to Mary Moriarty, the Center’s operations manager, Patrick was the patriarch of the local Irish community, having been involved in its formation for 60 years. “Plus he was the gentlest and nicest little man you would ever want to meet.”
While our changing leaves may not be as colorful as back east, Phoenix has one unique signifier of fall that comes back every year, right on time: PoeFest.
Every October, suspense fans from around the Valley gather to hear classic Edgar Allan Poe stories recited in decidedly dramatic fashion by local actors at the storied, and probably haunted, Hotel San Carlos. This year marks the sixth showing of the local event, which features dramatic recitations of classic Edgar Allan Poe stories such as “The Raven,” “The Red Mask of Death,” and the “Tell-Tale Heart.”
Perfect for Poe fans, literature nerds, and adventurous first dates, PoeFest is the creepy brainchild of the Arizona Curriculum Theater (ACT), an educational charity that works in Valley schools to help students learn in new ways with the help of performance. From literature and history, to more traditionally staid subjects like math and science, ACT brings new life to standard subjects and attempts to make education more fun.
James David Porter, the founder and executive director of ACT, said the idea for PoeFest came about thanks to some very disappointing experiences in run-of-the-mill haunted houses.
“I longed for something different in Halloween entertainment. And the idea for PoeFest was born out of that disappointment. I had always loved the works of Edgar Allan Poe, and I had always wanted to perform “The Tell-Tale Heart” on stage,” Porter said.
The first run in October 2009 debuted in a small art space in the Grand Avenue arts district, provided by friends of Porter’s. The first show featured two classic stories, one performed by Porter himself, and a quaint six people in the audience.
“We did four shows over two weekends for the run, and by closing night we were turning people away. The show became very popular very quickly.”
By the third year, the show had outgrown the small space, so Porter began the search for a new venue: specifically, a haunted venue. He soon came across the many stories behind Downtown Phoenix’s Hotel San Carlos.
“At that historic hotel you can walk with all kinds of ghosts from the past – taking up the same space once occupied by Marilyn Monroe, Mae West, Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, Cary Grant, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, and Gene Autry,” said Porter.
“The history seeps from the walls … It sounded like a perfect place for PoeFest. So I called up the hotel, had a meeting with General Manager Angela Hentz, and she agreed to let us try out one weekend inside the Ghost Lounge. It was such a success that we moved into the Hotel for our entire run the following year.”
After six years, Porter says his nightly audiences are a mixture of diehard fans and newbies looking for a thrill.
“PoeFest is also a fundraiser for our company, and I think our audience really digs that they are not just getting some great Halloween theater, but they are also helping our literacy and arts programs in Arizona schools and libraries. Our audiences care deeply about keeping the arts in schools, and so it’s a win-win for them.”
Phoenix resident and first-time PoeFest attendee Danielle Stephens said she found the format unconventional, but completely enthralling.
“PoeFest was a refreshing look at our favorite stories written by Edgar Allan Poe. I loved it!”
Porter started ACT after his work with the Southwest Shakespeare Company and taking part in their education outreach program in area schools.
“We just thought, ‘Why stop at Shakespeare? Why not do Poe, Emily Dickinson, historical reenactments, interactive story-telling, teach math through music, science through dance?’ I read a report that said the arts had declined more than 40 percent in Arizona schools, and there was all of this emphasis on curriculum – and so it was natural to find a way to connect the arts and the curriculum together. Why not use the arts to teach the curriculum? Two birds with one stone, as they say.”
ACT has brought the arts to more than 100 Arizona schools and libraries from Bisbee to Flagstaff, and have matched private donors to 37 schools in underserved or underfunded areas, schools that could not ordinarily afford professional artists or who have lost their funding for arts programs.
“What better way to learn about the Salem witchcraft trials, for instance, than to take part in a historically-accurate reenactment of the examination of an accused Salem witch?”
Porter hopes to continue traveling to schools across the valley and developing their programs to better serve teachers in classrooms. By continuing PoeFest, they are able to reach out to a new audience, share the goals of ACT, and inspire community support for their efforts.
In PoeFest, however, Porter hopes to finally provide a cure for the common haunted house by creating an Edgar Allan Poe-themed haunted asylum, in which each room features a different story or poem.
“Poe wrote many of his stories and poems as first person narratives, so the transition to the stage was quite natural. His stories sound like the confessions of the kinds of madmen that haunt my own nightmares. I don’t think there could be a more perfect marriage between the stage and classic literature.”
If you go:
Where: The Ghost Lounge at the Hotel San Carlos, 202 N. Central, downtown Phoenix
When: October 17 & 18, 24 & 25, Oct 31* & Nov 1 at 8:00 – 9:30 p.m.
Tickets: (for each individual night) $25 – general admission; $20 – students, seniors and military; Festival passes (good for all dates) are available for $38. Buy online.
*Special performances of “The Raven” will be presented on Halloween Night, Oct. 31, 2014 every twenty minutes from 7:30pm-9:30pm at Rosson House Museum, 113 N 6th St Phoenix, AZ. No seating is available, standing room only. (“The Raven” explores adult themes. This show is not recommended for very young children. Parental discretion is advised. Children under 13 will not be admitted without an adult.)