There are a few key indicators that the Phoenix art scene is growing up and coming into its own while still crackling with the edgy energy of a scene that is nowhere near ready to rest on its laurels. A dynamic example of this electric mix of increasingly sophisticated talent and “hey kids let’s put on a show” enthusiasm is embodied in what is arguably THE do-not-miss show of the year, Legend City’s Chaos Theory.
Now in its 14th year, Chaos Theory, an annual invitational exhibition, is the brainchild of Phoenix-based painter, Randy Slack. It grew out of a conversation he had with another local artist, Jeff Falk, back at the turn of this century, about how cool it would be to do a show and get every Phoenix artist they knew to submit one piece each, so “we could see what everyone was doing.”
Artists tend to work in isolation, tucked away in their studios, and Slack saw this as a chance to bring everyone together in one place. “Basically,” said Slack, “I just made a list of artists I knew and started calling people up. It didn’t seem like it would be a big deal.”
But a “big deal” is what it has become, not only in the depth and breadth of the work on display, but in the eager anticipation of the art-loving public that turns out in huge numbers each fall to see what comes together. Over the years, many of the core people are still participating, but both the show…and their careers have grown and evolved over time.
Slack still gets on the phone and personally invites people to submit and still has no idea what the work will be until they drop it off. The point of the show is really about the range of people in it, not just the art. While the majority are dedicated artists, some are full-time arts advocates/part-time artists and Chaos Theory is a chance for them to showcase their own creative work.
Now 41, Slack was 27 when he organized the first Chaos Theory in 1999. He stopped drinking two weeks before the first show opened and has spent the ensuing years creating his own successful career, as well as leading what he calls “a kind of double life” as a loving husband and soccer dad to two girls.
Fourteen years later, Chaos Theory is still entirely a labor of love. He is quick to point out that there is no money involved, no corporate sponsors, no big marketing campaign and he doesn’t take a cut of the sales. There is a minor $20 fee that each participating artist pays to help Slack cover the cost of hanging the work, getting lights, and buying food. People buy the pieces directly from the artists.
“Chaos Theory is a barometer of the downtown art scene,” says Slack. “People are really attracted to the show because it is a culmination of the pure love of making, creating and sharing art.”
Legend City is a full-time working studio for both Randy and his studio mates – photographers Jon Balinkie, Jason Grubb, and Brandon Sullivan. Because it is a full-time working studio space, the Chaos Theory exhibition has traditionally only been up for the one night – the First Friday in October. “Because it only lasts a minute,” Randy says, “it’s the freshest show in town.”
The only real marketing collateral is a postcard that Slack creates each year, mainly so people can have a keepsake of the event. The postcard is usually completed about two weeks before the show and serves as “the reveal” of the participating artists that year.
This year for the first time, the show will be open a handful of times beyond First Friday. There will be a private showing for the Phoenix Art Museum’s Contemporary Forum members on Saturday, October 5 and it will be open to the public again on Third Friday (October 18) and for the Grand Avenue Festival on Saturday, October 19. Finally, it will be open to the public when Legend City hosts the Downtown Chamber Series on November 16.
These additional opportunities to see the work are an example of the ways in which the show and the scene is changing. Public demand has made it necessary to extend the options beyond one night. Additionally, more and more artists are eager to be a part of the show. That is, perhaps, the most difficult part of the whole process for Slack. “It’s getting to be that I’m tugged in a bunch of directions.” Since he is involved in every part of the exhibition, from inviting the artists,to creating his own painting for the show, to creating the postcard, to hanging the work, to hosting the event, it’s an exhausting undertaking.
But, just as he has grown older and wiser, the show has grown better and better, but still carries the integrity of its original purpose with it. And while it is tough to turn people away, Slack remains dedicated to his first intention – inviting his fellow artists and friends, many of whom are now extremely successful – to bring their work together in one place, “to see what everyone is doing.”
Of course, Randy Slack is more than just the guy who puts together the Chaos Theory exhibition every year. He’s a native Phoenician, a talented and prolific artist, a dedicated husband and father, a keen surfer (ask him about Big Surf), and has spent the last five years bringing a 1951 VW Beetle (pictured above) back to its glistening former glory. He’s a true Renaissance guy with a seemingly bottomless reservoir of generosity when it comes to creating a place where artists and the public can come together and revel in the talent and the love that makes the Phoenix art scene unbeatable.
Photography by Steve Dreiseszun.
Special thanks to Legend City boys for their technical assistance.
If You Go
Where: Legend City Studios, 521 W. Van Buren (parking and entrance on south side of the building), turn south on 5th Ave and right into the parking lot.
Friday, October 4 from 7 – 10 p.m.
Friday, October 18 from 7 to 10 p.m.
Saturday, October 19 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Grand Avenue Festival)
Saturday, November 18 (Downtown Chamber Series)
Catch the final performances of the original Broadway musical version of Seussical this weekend as Valley Youth Theatre (VYT) concludes its two-week run at the Herberger Theater Center. Written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, and co-conceived by Monty Python alum Eric Idle, this family-friendly production enters the world of Dr. Seuss as young performers offer a fantastic, magical extravaganza.
In Seussical, the Cat in the Hat tells the story of an elephant named Horton who protects the infinitesimal Whos from danger while guarding an abandoned egg. A paean to friendship, loyalty, and community support, the children’s classic includes vivid costumes, full-scale staging, and enthusiastic acting by talented youngsters, some of whom may go on to performing careers.
All images courtesy Valley Youth Theatre.
If you go:
- Valley Youth Theatre
- Remaining showtimes (all at the Herberger Theater Center):
Friday, September 27 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, September 28 at 2PM & 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, September 29 at 2 p.m.
Under the sky, ballet has a completely different feel from the formality and tension of an indoor performance. Anything can happen — wind, stars, insects, and audience all add layers of natural art to even the most carefully planned production.
Each September, Ballet Arizona continues a 15-year tradition of free outdoor community performances at parks across the Valley, this year making stops in Casa Grande, Sun City West, Goodyear, Fountain Hills, Phoenix, and Tempe. On a portable elevated stage complete with lighting and music, costumed dancers share choreography by the iconic George Balanchine, up-and-coming young artist Alejandro Cerrudo, and Ballet Arizona’s own artistic director, Ib Andersen.
On Saturday, September 28, Ballet Under the Stars comes to Steele Indian School Park at 7 p.m., and downtowners can experience a bit of the glorious uncertainty of a live outdoor performance. While the professionals warm up, it’s not uncommon to see a handful of tiny would-be dancers leaping and spinning on grass and sidewalks between lawn chairs and blankets. They’re perfectly prepared to see scenes from Andersen’s luscious Cinderella, set to music by Sergei Prokofiev and featuring fairies, cavaliers, Cinderella, and her prince.
From the classical Cinderella, en pointe in tutus, the program shifts to a contemporary work: Cerrudo’s Second to Last, commissioned by Ballet Arizona for a world premiere this past March. The Spanish-born dancer, who works with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, cites major influence from choreographers Jiří Kylián, Ohad Naharin, and Mats Ek as well as Freddie Mercury.
“I have influences from choreographers that I don’t even like,” Cerrudo declares. “I think everybody does — I think everything that you see, touch, smell, read, see, will influence you for good or for bad. Sometimes you see something and you’re like, ‘Oh, I really need to go the opposite of that in my work, because I see how that makes me feel, or I just don’t like the aesthetics’…and then the opposite way, as we grow up…you create your idea of beauty.”
He continues, “Europe is ahead of us right now in dance, in the sense that they produce more and they’re more progressive. But…I feel like I have a little place here where I can help and promote that growth and…evolution of dance in the States very humbly.”
Second to Last was a lovely revelation at its spring performances, a sensual exploration of every possibility of movement between two dancers. “People should come and see it,” says Cerrudo earnestly, “because it’s not meant to be explained with words…[it’s] meant to be experienced.”
During Ballet Under the Stars, students from Clarendon Elementary School take the stage as Class Act, an after-school program guided by Ballet Arizona dancers in which the students choreograph and premiere a new work.
The evening ends with Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, with music for strings and piano commissioned from Paul Hindemith by the choreographer in 1940. Three themes danced by three successive couples broaden into variations named after the four humors of the human body specified in medieval cosmology, beginning with melancholic (analytical), continuing with sanguinic (sociable) and phlegmatic (calm), and ending with choleric (ambitious).
If you can’t make it to Ballet Under the Stars, consider visiting Ballet Arizona’s huge new dance center during its grand opening on October 12 from 10:30 a.m to 2 p.m. — it includes free performances, classes, and tours with a drawing for season tickets.
- Ballet Under the Stars
- Ballet Arizona’s Cinderella – Oct. 30 through Nov. 3 with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall
- Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo
- George Balanchine’s ballet The Four Temperaments
- The Balanchine Trust
- The Balanchine Foundation
- Ballet Arizona’s past program Director’s Choice
- Ballet Arizona’s past program All Balanchine
- Ballet Arizona’s grand opening on Oct. 12
2836 E. Washington St., Phoenix, 85034
Although the new venue’s gala grand opening isn’t until October 26, Phoenix Theatre opens the doors of its 250-seat black box theater for the off-Broadway hit Ruthless! The Musical this weekend, turning the spotlight on a split-personality child star.
“Outrageous, but in a funny way” is how Phoenix Theatre Producing Artistic Director Michael Barnard describes the campy show. “It’s done with such a heightened style…it sort of parodies those great old films,” he says. “Part of it’s like the movie The Women, or like Gypsy, or…All About Eve…or Mommie Dearest…so they were smashing all of these different shows together.”
“So if you know those movies,” he continues, “…it’s really fun on that level. It’s not offensive in any way…but it’s quirky and it’s bizarre, and it’s more of a black comedy humor than straight-across humor, because…I mean, the little girl is a little demon child …she’s like The Bad Seed.”
The comically disturbing role of Tina Denmark is shared by 11-year-old Riley Glick and 12-year-old Alex Kirby, both sixth-graders at Arizona School for the Arts and past veterans of Valley Youth Theatre. Glick also landed a role in the national tour of the Broadway show Dr. Seuss’ [sic] How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical, which she’ll repeat this holiday season.
Invited to join the cast of Ruthless by Barnard, who knew her work from Phoenix Theatre’s production of Gypsy, Glick plays a character described as “adorably diabolical.” Is it fun to portray a monster? “Yeah, I like it a lot,” she says with a laugh. “I mean, she really has a sweet vs. evil side, and she can flip any second, so it’s…fun because you get to show a lot of different emotion while you’re playing the role.” Glick continues, “It’s kind of Gypsy, but opposite…so it’s the little girl that’s pushing it rather than the mom.”
With a concert producer and an art director for parents, Glick was accustomed to behind-the-scenes creativity when she began her career in the role of a baby spider in Charlotte’s Web at Desert Stages Theatre. “She went to a play when she was three,” explains her mother, Ronna Glick. “Yeah, and I was like, ‘I want to do that,’” says Riley. “But then my parents made me wait ‘til I was four.”
More than 30 shows later, Glick enthusiastically describes a few special effects from her role in Ruthless. “So I baton-twirl in the show, and I do a couple of tricks…that’s a lot of fun, and that’s more on the sweeter side of Tina,” she says. “But when she gets to the more evil side, I throw a knife.” In a somewhat regretful aside, she reassures me, “Not really, though.”
“This is definitely an adult show,” Glick continues. “I mean, there are bad words in it.” Says Barnard, “The worst word that’s used is ‘bullsh*t’…and somebody gets called a b*tch once, and somebody gets called ‘assh*le’ once.” He pauses for a moment to consider. “I would totally say that an 11-, 12-, 13-year-old could find it funny…it’s just quirky fun…and the characters are very colorful.”
The cast of Ruthless includes longtime Valley favorites like Johanna Carlisle, Debby Rosenthal as stage mother Judy Denmark, and Rusty Ferracane in the drag role of flamboyant manager Sylvia St. Croix. A four-piece cabaret band plays just offstage — still clearly visible in the cozy confines of the black box.
Glick declares, “I promise you, when you walk out of that theater, you will not regret coming to see the show.” Barnard agrees. “If you’re looking for some laughs and…not just the same old fare…just when you think you’ve figured it out, it…keeps changing gears on you.” He concludes, “So it’s really not quite ‘til the bitter end that you know exactly what all’s happened and what transpired.”
“And I think you’ll really dig the black box,” Barnard adds. “We want to do…sort of like an off-Broadway type of material [in the new venue]…the gamut from quirky little musicals to aggressive niche musicals, comedies, or dramas; performance art, little musical revues, cabaret-style stuff…sometimes very heart-wrenching pieces that are…not for the masses…really interesting, provocative.” He cites productions like Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Spring Awakening as recent examples.
“There’s a whole different kind of energy that happens…off-Broadway…. There’s usually a whole different kind of audience there, too…whether they’re a thrill-seeker, whether they’re a risk-taker, whether they’re politically-minded, whether they’re romantically inclined…” he says. These are audiences willing to venture beyond traditional shows.
“I think also half the fun or enjoyment of seeing an off-Broadway piece…is the conversation that’s stimulated by it.” Barnard continues purposefully, “And Lord knows…that’s one thing that theater can do…to provide reasons for communication and socialization in conversation, because we’re becoming so much more…isolated as we go into our telephones, into our computers…” He smiles and tips his head slightly. “It’s nice when you can put that phone down and just talk face to face…’Well, why’d you think that?’ or ‘I didn’t understand this part’…it asks you to have a reaction to it, so that you can converse about it.”
Managing Director Vincent VanVleet explains that the company’s carefully planned ongoing capital building campaign funded the new black box and the airy atrium connecting the two performance spaces.
He reminds me that, after 93 years, Phoenix Theatre is “one of only three professional theaters left in Phoenix presenting local productions.” Growth is vital, and audiences expand in more comfortable surroundings.
Other improvements and plans accompany the new black box: a private donor lounge, a small area set aside for group ticket patrons, an inviting 45-foot bar, and the atrium’s huge glass wall, which can be fully opened to the courtyard.
Staggered curtain & intermission times will optimize use of the expanded bathrooms. “It’s not lost on us that women are the primary purchasers of beverages and gift cart items, so if they’re standing in line they’re also not buying,” says VanVleet. “They’re the primary buyers of tickets, too.”
Theatergoers will take advantage of additional opportunities to attend performances, he says, especially expertly-staged off-Broadway-style productions. “People who buy the arts buy more arts, so we’re not in competition with any of the other companies in town,” VanVleet continues. “The data suggests that the more you go, the more you go.”
If you go:
- Phoenix Theatre’s Ruthless! The Musical continues through September 29 — tickets at phoenixtheatre.com or 602-254-2151
- Bonus: The Broadway Brat Karaoke Party on Wed., Sep. 18, at 6:30PM — free, but tickets required (also at phoenixtheatre.com or 602-254-2151)
- Phoenix Theatre’s season in the Black Box Theatre:
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A Cheeky Menu to Hoppy Living
If you could bottle a virtue, what would it be?
The 6th Avenue Gallery and local designer Erik von Weber brews up intoxicating fun with Grin and Beer It. The show inspires renewed appreciation for the oft-forgotten virtues of life through a series of cleverly crafted, fictitious beer labels. The beer-themed exhibit opens on First Friday, September 6 with live music and sampling of real craft beer.
The public also will have an opportunity to vote for the label and virtue they would most like to see exhibited in life, and as a future craft beer. Results will determine the theme for a 6th Avenue Gallery show in the new year, and possibly a future craft beer. Voting will kick off First Friday and continue on 6th Avenue Gallery’s Facebook page through Sept. 13.