As summer moves toward autumn, don’t miss a final opportunity to catch Actors Theatre’s very funny two-play repertory before it slips away. Presented at the Helen K Mason Performing Arts Center, The Cottage by Sandy Rustin continues through August 10, while The Book Club Play by Karen Zacarías ends its run August 17.
By scheduling performances throughout June, July, and August, Producing Artistic Director Matthew Wiener deliberately bucked a common misconception about Valley audiences. “There used to be this kind of prevailing wisdom that everyone left Phoenix in the summer…that’s why no one did anything,” says Wiener. “And that’s just not true. I mean, a lot of people take vacations and holidays but they don’t go away for 12 weeks.”
“Actors Theatre is trying to actively reinvent after leaving the Herberger, which was a shock to our system,” he continues, “and I think this summer program is one way that we’re trying to stay vital and relevant and exciting and important to the community.”
According to Wiener, the strength of the company’s performances lies in strong casting. “They’re just marvelous performers,” he says. “I was actually trying to cast both shows together…the characters seemed to line up…and so I started kind of making up my fantasy football.” Wiener laughs. “It was like fantasy casting, and I pretty much got my first choice — my first draft.”
He explains, “I was really looking for actors who are very flexible, who could manage the language — because the language of both plays is pretty challenging — and people who I thought would get along well for 10 weeks.” Weiner continues, “These are very long contracts for the actors…and it was important to me that we work with all local people.” He adds with a smile, “I think I just got really, really lucky.”
Both plays feature Maren Maclean, who’s performed for Phoenix Theatre, Southwest Shakespeare Company, and Verse Theatre Manhattan. Joseph Kremer, who starred in a potent Actors Theatre production of A Steady Rain last season, joins Angelica Howland — familiar from performances with Phoenix Theatre, Stray Cat Theatre, and Childsplay — and Tyler Eglen, an actor-educator with a diverse background in theater and science. Ian Christiansen of Southwest Shakespeare, Stray Cat, and Phoenix Theatre rounds out the cast with recent ASU graduate Alexis Green.
“I think they’re all lovely,” says Wiener, “and they all have different moments.” He points out, “Maren, who plays Ana [in The Book Club Play] — she really has to run the gamut of emotionality. And we actually worked on that, because…you want it to be emotionally truthful, but by the same token you don’t want it to get so deep and horrifying that you can never work yourself out of it.” Wiener smiles. “Because after all they have to live happily ever after — it’s a comedy.”
The Book Club Play delves into the dynamics of a long-running book club, with plenty of shocking revelations and laughably realistic interplay. “I think it’s fun when they talk about the ‘homoerotic undertones of Moby Dick,’ [and] making fun of Twilight,” says Wiener. He explains that the play began as a more satirical, hard-hitting piece until Zacarías — the experienced, award-winning author of The Bare-chested Man, Looking for Roberto Clemente, Mariela in the Desert, The Sins of Sor Juana, and an adaptation of How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents – reworked it.
“I think it’s a testament to the writing, and the fact that it’s been rewritten several times,” he says. “Karen is a very careful writer — the language is very specific. And I just have an amazing ‘A’ team up there.”
The Cottage, on the other hand, is pure farce written by actress Sandy Rustin, who created the Off-Broadway sketch comedy musical Rated P (for parenthood). “It has some of the style of Nöel Coward,” says Wiener. “It’s informed by that kind of English aristocracy or English wit.” He adds, “It’s not an earth-shattering piece of theater, but it’s pretty damn funny for an hour and a half.”
“Right now there’s a fair amount of dialogue in the theater industry about the lack of women’s plays being produced,” Wiener continues, “and it’s something odd going on that we’re so far away from parity. But Actors Theatre has traditionally done a lot of plays by women.” He says with a laugh, “Maybe there’s just something about the voices that I enjoy — I grew up in a house filled with women; I live in house filled with women.”
Actors Theatre also presents That’s Life: From Sinatra to Sondheim on August 10, featuring Kristen Drathman, Rusty Ferracane and Craig Bohmler performing standards from the Great American Songbook and Broadway, including tunes by Cole Porter, Johnny Mercer, Stephen Sondheim, and more.
Look for a future DPJ story previewing Actors Theatre’s upcoming 2014-2015 season, which includes Theresa Rebeck’s Seminar, Sharr White’s Annapurna, Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss, and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.
If you go:
- Troupe: Actors Theatre at www.actorstheatrephx.org or 602-253-6701
- General admission
- Venue: The Helen K Mason Performing Arts Center, 1333 E. Washington
(nearby free parking available)
The education and performance venue, named after Phoenix-born jazz drummer Lewis Nash, is owned and operated by the non-profit Jazz in Arizona, familiarly known as Jazz in AZ. Board vice president Jeff Libman became involved with the organization as soon as he learned about plans for The Nash.
“The places I lived before are Chicago and New York City and then here,” says Libman, “and this place needed a jazz club — and bad.” He points out the wide range of musical experiences available at The Nash. “If this is going to be the one jazz club in Phoenix, we want everybody to have something they can appreciate here.” Libman adds, “And then, of course, we want to reach the people who said, ‘Hey, I had no idea that I like jazz…but I like this, and I discovered it here.’”
The Nash offers concerts through the summer on Friday and Saturday nights on the Contemporary and Mainstream Jazz series, as well as the occasional special event. Says Libman, “We wanted to say, ‘we’re open to different interpretations of jazz,’ because this ‘what is jazz?’ conversation is still going on in very interesting ways.”
He continues, “There does need to be some kind of boundary…we have a mission. This was supposed to be a jazz oasis in the desert…so one of the questions I ask about something that’s on the border is ‘Is this jazz-inspired? Does it have improvisation? Does it have swing? Are some of the musicians…jazz musicians who sometimes do other things, and this is their different side project?’” Libman smiles. “I think we get into trouble as an organization if we get too snooty or too particular about what [jazz] is.”
At Arizona State University Libman teaches jazz guitar and Jazz Lab, directs the Jazz Repertory Band, and coaches combos. He’ll complete his PhD this fall while maintaining an active performance schedule, playing on his own and in a contemporary jazz group called Running From Bears and regularly hosting jam sessions at The Nash.
The venue includes three back rooms for break-out sessions and workshops, as well as a recording booth. A tiny lobby leads into the open seating and stage area, where a curtain serves as the simple backdrop. The Nash’s gallery-lit walls carry themed art installations rotating every few months, and the sounds of downtown are faintly audible.
In its default table-seating configuration, The Nash holds 75, although without tables it can hold an audience of 120, allowing some groups to play without amplification. “If your jazz club gets too big it starts to feel like a concert hall; it’s not as intimate any more. So there’s a sweet spot of size,” says Libman. Without an elevated stage, the piano can be easily moved and the audience enjoys close proximity to the performers. “One of the reasons is sometimes we have a big band in here,” Libman adds, “and sometimes we have a big big band in here, and there’s somebody in the audience sitting here” — he pulls forward a chair in the front row– “and there’s a baritone sax player sitting here” — he gestures a few feet away. “So this allows us the flexibility.”
“If you want this visceral thing about being there and feeling connected with it more than perfect sight-lines, then this is the kind of room for you,” says Libman. “And I like that. There are trade-offs with everything.”
The Nash offers year-round private and group lessons, jam sessions every Saturday, and a wealth of affordable educational opportunities including workshops for all skill levels and instruments. Recent multi-week workshops featured “Singing Standards” — learning repertoire from the Great American Songbook — and “Playing on Changes,” a four-week introduction to improvising over chord changes.
Saxophonist Adam Roberts teaches “Electronics for Horn Players” on August 2 and the notation software workshop “Finale for Jazz Musicians” on August 9. Not every participant needs to be a performer; Libman himself led an “exposure” session on music history, appreciation, and listening.
The Nash’s 200 performances each year include the Catch a Rising Star series, which presents talented young artists and sometimes helps launch careers. First Fridays mean special free shows. “To be on the street is very powerful,” says Libman, “because this is a burgeoning arts district — we have 1500 people come in and out of the door on a First Friday.”
Libman particularly appreciates The Nash’s attraction for young listeners. “[It’s] one of the few places that I can think of where people who are under 21 years old are like, ‘We’re gonna go to jazz shows regularly.’”
The venue often welcomes all ages, but also holds a BYOB certificate, which allows patrons to bring a limited amount of alcohol for a small corkage fee, an arrangement which may change next year. “But we won’t do anything that makes it so you can’t be under 21 and come here on a regular bases,” Libman assures me. “There are some compromises we’re unwilling to make.”
“We feel like this whole artistic energy in Phoenix is starting to coalesce and grow,” he says, “and we just want to get in and be a part of that.”
If you go:
Visit: The Nash
Address: 110 E. Roosevelt St.
For more: thenash.org – 602-795-0464
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
Go Skateboarding Day (June 21st) has become a tradition throughout the entire skate community. It’s also an opportunity to give back to all who support skateboarding year round…the SKATEBOARDERS. With the consistent support from the Skateboarding Industry, we at Cowtown have been fortunate to watch it grow over the years. Its always been a good time and we are looking forward to this years events.
Cowtown is proud to have partnered with eS to bring the eS Game of S.K.A.T.E. back to AZ for the first time since 2011! It’s a perfect fit for Go Skateboarding Day.
On top of that we’ll be giving out free food and drinks, premiering Orchards Stone Soup, Product Giveaways and finishing it up with a nighttime session in the streets of Downtown Phoenix.
Its a free event on June 21st with registration starting at 5pm. The eS Game of S.K.A.T.E. will start at 6. Orchards Stone Soup video will premier about 9.
DPJ’s Wire series delivers news and information straight from the source without translation.
View From the Tracks: The Light Rail Plays
Rising Youth Theatre, a new theatre company that creates socially relevant original plays with youth will present the world premiere of View from the Tracks: The Light Rail Plays on June 6, 7, and 8, 2014 on the Valley Metro Rail system. Eight short plays will be performed on the trains and at the stations from Roosevelt/Central Ave. to Central Ave./Camelback, and explore the idea of “how Phoenix moves from place to place.” Performances will happen throughout the evening each night, from 6:00 – 8:00pm.
Eight adult performers: Liliana Gomez, Cody Goulder, Anthony Kelley, Kim Manning, Elizabeth Polen, Julie Rada, Tomas Stanton, and Charlie Steak are paired with eight youth perfomers: Clare Emmert, Monica Essig-Aberg, Za’Nea Jackson, Bridget Marlowe, Xavier Ramirez, Stephanie Santa Cruz, Alex Tuchi, and Colt Watkiss to develop the plays. Professional designers Samantha Bostwick, Anastasia Schneider and Joey Trahan work alongside youth designers Victoria Arora, Maria Ramirez and James Tanner to create the aesthetic of the plays in an alternative performance environment. Even the stage management follows the youth/adult pairing model, with stage manager Rachel Solis working alongside youth stage manager Lyric Jackson.
Rising Youth Theatre received funding for this project from the Arizona Commission on the Arts as part of the Art Tank funding program. The project received $10,000 (the highest level of funding) at the Art Tank West event.
RYT has worked in close partnership with Valley Metro to develop the project, and looks forward to exploring what theatre on light rail can look like in Phoenix.
If you would like to reserve a “ticket” to View from the Tracks: The Light Rail Plays, you can reserve your spot and a free transit pass at lightrailplays.eventbrite.com (limited availability). You can also attend the show without pre-registering, enjoying any combination of the eight different plays.
Photo courtesy of Rising Youth Theatre’s Facebook page.
Downtown Phoenix is home to Arizona School for the Arts (ASA), a unique campus where the performing arts are deeply infused into an academically rigorous curriculum. Next week, on the evenings of May 28 and 29, the ASA Showcase 2014 at the Orpheum Theatre offers a special opportunity for the public to sample the range of student talent.
Leah Fregulia Roberts helped found ASA in 1995; she started as a curriculum specialist and English teacher and worked her way up to her current position as Head of School.
“This is a dual program,” says Roberts, describing ASA’s mission as a college preparatory and performing arts school with top-ranked academic programs. English, social studies, math and science form a required core program beginning in the 5th grade. “Middle school students have to take a fifth academic class split between piano for half the time and what we call ‘life skills,’ which is really academic skills, college planning, et cetera for half the period.”
“High school has the same academic core,” she continues, “but they replace piano and life skills class with foreign language. …So they’re getting the most rigorous programs that all college prep kids are getting — the only difference is that their additional programs all center around the performing arts.”
Since ASA students must take piano and choir classes through the 8th grade, says Roberts, “Music is really the foundation.” Older students can choose to focus on an instrument, choir, dance, or theater arts, but those core programs remain equally important.
“I know we have a reputation for the arts,” says faculty member Johnathan Robinson, “but the academics are actually very, very good and strenuous as well.” Robinson is pursuing his doctorate in clarinet performance at Arizona State University, and he’s taught single reed and bassoon studies at ASA since 2011.
“I’m always amazed by the kids because they’re very articulate,” he says. “They get the best of both worlds…public speaking and performance…it transfers over into the music as well. The academics definitely help the arts.”
Robinson believes the nurturing atmosphere of ASA sets the school apart. “It’s the culture,” he explains. “It’s a very communal-type base where everyone knows everyone, so we’re all very supportive of each other, and I think the students benefit the most from that.”
Despite ASA’s reputation for elite arts and academics, cutthroat behavior isn’t a problem, says Robinson. “It’s never a super-competitive environment — all the kids applaud for each other after all their tests…I guess they realize where their strengths lie, and what they need to work on to fix it…. I think that…speaks to the culture itself, that we’re very accepting of what we can and can’t do.”
ASA students also enjoy the benefits of partnerships with numerous other arts organizations like the Musical Instrument Museum and Phoenix Chamber Music Society, says Head of School Roberts. “That’s the special sauce on top of a really great arts program,” she says with a smile. “They get exposure to all these other artists…and performances across the Valley.” In this past season, for example, ASA students appeared as the children’s chorus in Arizona Opera’s production of La Bohème.
Graduating senior Max Beckman looks forward to jazz studies in upright bass performance at ASU, but he’s already spent a semester in a combo with Scottsdale Community College, and he plays in a community band with Young Sounds of Arizona.
“I’m very active outside of ASA,” Beckman says. “I have two regular gigs, one at Carly’s Bistro…and one at Copper Star Coffee.” He’s attended ASA since the 5th grade. “I like…the freedom that you have to build your own arts curriculum,” he adds. “I’m choosing to go on with my art forms…I think I was pretty lucky because of that.” At school Beckman participates in Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Combo, and Symphony Orchestra, as well as serving as a teacher’s assistant with low strings.
On May 28 and 29, he’ll play with all three ensembles in ASA’s Showcase 2014 concerts at the Orpheum Theatre, the school’s annual end-of-year production. “We’re playing a pretty cool orchestra piece — it’s called The Firebird Suite [by Igor Stravinsky],” Beckman says, “…and then the jazz combo is playing some cool jazz and hard bop tunes, like Blue Rondo à la Turk and St. Thomas.”
“It’s the opportunity for the students to showcase their arts achievements for the year and for us to really highlight what’s been going on in our programs,” says Roberts, “and it’s also one of the few times…when we get to integrate the arts amongst one another…whether it’s in the massed choir or one of the bigger bands or the combined orchestras; the entire ballet program performs, so it’s every student on the stage.”
“There’s always a theme,” she continues. “This year [it’s] the four elements: earth, water, fire and air, so all selections will embody one of those elements in some way.” Roberts sees the elements as analogies for ASA’s “essential building blocks” of academic quality, arts quality, a culture of safety and excellence, and community partnerships. Although the students perform regularly throughout the year, Showcase is “the big fundraising performance of the year,” Roberts adds.
Each night features a different program, but both evenings will include an ASA Theater Department production of Bertolt Brecht’s 1944 play The Caucasian Chalk Circle along with ballet performances set to excerpts from Handel’s Water Music and Music for the Royal Fireworks. Wednesday, May 28 offers a piano arrangement of Wagner’s “The Ride of the Valkyries,” and Thursday night includes orchestral performances of Tchaikovsky’s popular waltz from The Sleeping Beauty and Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance.”
“It’s kind of…a kaleidoscope of everything that we do throughout the year,” describes faculty member Robinson. “You get a tasting of every arts area that we have to offer…it’s like the best of the best.” ASA students finished their final exams on May 21, leaving them free to focus on Showcase rehearsals.
Olivia Freeman, an ASA graduating senior and saxophonist who plans to attend Chicago’s DePaul University, is currently sitting first chair in Wind Ensemble. “We’re playing Vesuvius [Thursday night],” she says, “…a very interesting piece and very intricate — there’s a lot of little melody lines within the bigger piece.”
Freeman entered ASA from the public school system. “There was a huge difference,” she says. “When I came to ASA I was asked to analyze…my thought process. It was basically asking me to think in a whole new different way, so that was obviously a tough transition at first, but now I think it’s helped me in the long run through problem-solving….” She adds, “I’ve learned how to work in a group successfully.”
Head of School Roberts points out that, although the waiting list for ASA can be quite lengthy after the 5th grade enrollment, openings for new students often become available between the 8th and 9th grades. “Sometimes…people forget to take another look at us in high school,” she says. Showcase 2014 is a great opportunity to see ASA’s students in action.
All photos courtesy Arizona School for the Arts.
If you go:
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 203 W. Adams:
When: Two different programs are scheduled:
- Pre-show — ASA Jazz Combo performs outside each night at 6:15 p.m.
- Concert: Wednesday, May 28, 7 p.m.
- Concert: Thursday, May 29, 7 p.m.
Tickets: Purchase tickets here. Tickets are $55/$40/$25, with proceeds benefiting ASA