Arts & Culture
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.”
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Here at DPJ, we’re all about sharing what we love. Beyond the stories that make us love downtown, we often come across things that catch our eye, tingle our senses or have us dancing in delight. “We Like…” turns a brief spotlight on the little treasures that make our day, with helpful links so you can share in the fun.
Like it or not, our urban world is “by design.” The urban landscape is filled with images conceived and created by people trying to catch our attention, communicate a message, and most of the time, sell us something. Much of it is so badly conceived and executed that it creates a noisy backdrop of “blah” that barely registers in our consciousness, except as an irritation. But people, I am here to sing the praises of an instance of real design brilliance that rises so far above the crowd that you simply must take an extra minute out of your day to stop, look and swoon.
What’s got me all a-twitter and goose-bumpy? It’s an example of top-notch, world-class, divinely realized graphic genius: the drop dead gorgeous poster art for this year’s Arizona Opera season of performances. Have you seen the images? Have you stopped for that extra minute to really appreciate their brilliance? If not, now’s your chance to sit back and revel in an example of creative synergy that combines marketing vision, clean design sensibilities, and truly artful illustration to create a nearly perfect series of images that directly communicate what this season is all about. (Click on the thumbnails to enlarge.)
I am not trained in design, but when something beautiful and meaningful smacks me between the eyes and provides that elusive spasm of delight, I just have to stand up and cheer! And then I have to find out, WHO DID THAT?
I’ve long been a fan of the genius marketing minds of the Arizona Opera. I first became aware of how far above average they were when they were working with the brilliant Jacques Barbey, whose work combined photographs and surreal settings into jaw-dropping images that beautifully conveyed the power and magic that opera aspires to. The season brochures with his imagery were hugely popular over several seasons and helped bring renewed energy to the organization.
Eventually, Ryan Taylor, Director of the Arizona Opera, and his staff decided it might be time to try a whole different tack. To break through the saturated visual marketing landscape, they wanted to see what could be accomplished with a bold, simple graphic style. The challenge would be to communicate the emotional heart of the stories in a new and compelling way.
The far-flung team behind the new look includes Laura Schairer, Marketing Director for the opera; Rodd Whitney, long-time AZ Opera designer, now based in Pennsylvania; and Emiliano Ponzi, an award-winning, Milan-based illustrator. Whitney had spotted Ponzi’s work in Communication Arts, an internationally prestigious design and illustration magazine. Whitney said, “It was amazing how he could capture the essence of stories so simply. You are immediately captivated and it makes you want to know more.”
Whitney reached out to Ponzi via email and communicated what Arizona Opera was looking for. With the time differences between Italy and Pennsylvania they never actually spoke, which makes the brilliance of the collaboration even more stunning. Whitney sent him synopses of the season’s operas and placed his faith in Ponzi’s estimable talent. In a few short weeks, Ponzi sent back “nice, tight sketches” that were very close to the finished pieces. Ponzi hit the nail on the head with simple, but extremely sophisticated illustrations that catch the eye and communicate the stories with color, wit, and poignancy that matches the depth of feeling inherent to the art form.
Schairer and Whitney have worked together for nearly 20 years and the level of trust that has been developed gives them a sturdy foundation for expressing their creativity. As Whitney puts it, “When you are left to do a good job is when you can do your best work.” Schairer’s confidence in Whitney, and Whitney’s confidence in Ponzi’s talent and skill gave everyone the permission to do their best work. And what amazing work it is.
The Arizona Opera has been ahead of the crowd in recognizing the power of artful marketing for many years. With this new look, they are once again setting a very high bar that challenges every other art organization in this city to step up their game. A very low bow to everyone involved!
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
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
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
ZOMBIE WALK 6 TAKES AIM AT UNDEAD RECORD
Since the Downtown Phoenix Ambassadors started Zombie Walk in 2009 the event has grown from a 200-zombie get-together into a widespread epidemic with an estimated attendance of over 10,000.
Presented by Downtown Phoenix, Inc. and 98 KUPD, Zombie Walk 6 returns to Heritage & Science Park in Downtown Phoenix on Saturday, Oct. 25 and this year the horde craves more than braaaains: It wants to make history.
Zombie Walk 6 is a free, family friendly (and bloody) community festival featuring live music on the Psyko Steve Main Stage (including Zombie Walk mainstays Recipe for Disaster a tribute to Guns ‘N’ Roses), Lil Zombie Zone kid’s area, Four Peaks beer gardens, some of the best homegrown special effects makeup you’ll ever see, and of course the 1.3-mile limp through our urban core that will attempt to break Asbury Park, N.J.’s 2013 record walk of 9,592 zombies.
Zombie Walk 6 opens at 2 p.m. with a carnival-like atmosphere as zombies slowly make their way into Downtown Phoenix to enjoy the music, vendors, kid’s activities and refreshments all while preparing to march toward zombie immortality.
Need help with your zombie transformation? The first 400 attendees who bring a non-perishable food donation benefiting St. Mary’s Food Bank will receive a voucher good for one entry level zombification makeover, including face deadening, eye darkening and a generous splattering of blood.
The main event will commence at dusk (lineup beginning at 5:30) when Grand Marshal John Holmberg from KUPD’s Morning Sickness leads the record-breaking horde of zombies on a leisurely 1.3-mile shuffle and moan through the heart of Downtown Phoenix. There will be surprises along the route, including appearances by the Department of Zombie Defense, Arizona Ghostbusters and much more.
After terrorizing Downtown, Zombie Walk 6 will return to the park for a costume contest and more music and fun.
Photos courtesy of Joseph M Abbruscato of Mr Anathema Photography.