Theater-goers looking for fresh repertoire sated their hunger earlier this month with a daring, historically-based production justifiably billed as “sexy-pants.” Phoenix Theatre pushed beyond its standard line-up of expertly-staged Broadway musicals to offer Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, giving audiences a sample of the provocative works planned for the troupe’s new black box venue in the coming season.
In the fledgling years of the United States of America, the hot-tempered and fiercely patriotic Andrew Jackson rose from obscurity to become the seventh President, following John Quincy Adams and preceding Martin Van Buren. Along the way, Jackson’s controversial path included defeating the British as a general in the War of 1812, serving as first governor of Florida, fighting accusations of an adulterous relationship with his own wife, establishing the Democratic Party, defending his contentious policies leading to the forced relocation of Native Americans, and representing Tennessee in Congress.
Impressively, he was also beloved by the American public, winning the popular vote. Jackson was elected by a tremendous margin in 1828, but his victory in the Presidential race was overshadowed by the death of his beloved wife Rachel.
Jackson’s action-packed life story is fascinating, but is it the stuff of theater? Phoenix Theatre took a well-justified, successful gamble with its run of Bloody Bloody AJ performances, which ended June 23. “This isn’t an encyclopedic account of Jackson’s life,” said director Ron May. “You’re not getting a stage version of a Wikipedia page. There are a handful of blatant anachronisms cozied up right next to historical fact,” he continued. “But for the most part what happened, what he did, is dead-on.”
May has made his name in the Valley theater scene both as an actor in shows like Nearly Naked Theatre’s Fuddy Meers – including ovation-winning scenes with a sock puppet — and as Stray Cat Theatre’s founding Artistic Director, offering works like The Dianalogues, columbinus, and Learn to be Latina. May has also directed for Actors Theatre and Black Theatre Troupe.
Bloody Bloody AJ is an emo rock play with music (as opposed to a full-bore musical), peppering action, quirky narrators, and impassioned monologues with “angry young men singing about how unfair life is, and angsting and angsting and angsting” — the very definition of the genre, according to May.
He’s always drawn to the works of Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, who also wrote Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant and Heddatron for their theater troupe Les Freres Corbusier in New York. ‘They have a wicked sense of humor, an enormous awareness of pop culture, and an off-the-wall sense of theatricality,” declared May.
“[Bloody Bloody AJ]…does for history what ‘The Daily Show,’ for me, did for daily news — made it accessible, interesting, relevant, and a hell of a lot of fun,” said May. “America at the time was a young nation — kind of prepubescent, still trying to find its footing.” He continued, “Andrew Jackson ultimately becomes its mouthpiece — the best front man you could possibly have for an ‘emo nation.’” May added, “The show is like an insane mash-up of ‘Schoolhouse Rock,’ ‘South Park,’ and a Fall Out Boy concert.”
Actor Joe Kremer described the play as “like a parallel universe. It’s in the history, but it’s all these modernizations of language…. He [Jackson] says stuff like ‘This sucks!’” (some of the most PG-rated dialogue in the show, which carried provocative “mature audience only” warnings).
At the same time, the piece revealed glimpses of Jackson’s personal and ideological vulnerabilities, bolstered by the pleasantly enjoyable shock of Caleb Reese’s clear, melodic voice in the title role, which pointed to his nine-year run with busy local cover band The Instant Classics.
Joe Kremer played multiple parts in Bloody Bloody AJ, including Jackson’s political rival Henry Clay and the Native American statesman Black Fox, who negotiated many of Jackson’s treaties.
“Henry Clay’s just kind of funny, and just like an old, grumpy politician…I would call it ‘My dad in a bad mood on a Sunday morning,’” he said, laughing. “Black Fox is a lot more stoic, and…at the end of the show, very serious.” Kremer concluded, “Black Fox is more me, where Henry Clay is more of a portrayal of a character — let’s put it that way.”
As for using Kremer in the role, May said, “The show was written so that non-Native actors could play the Indians, but…[the] biggie is making sure we represent the Indians in the show in a way that isn’t offensive, doesn’t simmer in stereotype.”
Regarding the production as a whole, Kremer said, “It’s tight jeans, big boots…. When you wear it [the costume]…it’s this eyeliner feeling.” He continued, “I think that’s the big difference — I mean, you could do a show about Andrew Jackson and the 1800s…just based on what’s there…but how fun would it be?”
Kremer said, “I have a 16-year-old daughter…there is no way I could get her to sit…and watch a documentary about Andrew Jackson. It just wouldn’t happen.” He chuckled wryly. “But I could get her to sit in the show and…actually be interested in who he is and what he did and…‘Wait a minute – what did he do? Indians? Why would you do that to people?’”
He started his acting career in Nearly Naked Theatre’s 2002 production of Equus, starring with May in Fuddy Meers and Take Me Out and working under his direction in The Laramie Project and other shows. The actor’s credits include Noises Off, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Much Ado About Nothing, [sic], and, most recently, Phoenix Theatre’s run of Our Town.
It was a bit of a jump turning from Thornton Wilder to Andrew Jackson, admitted Kremer. “How different is it? Uh, wow… I don’t know how to describe it without some drug reference,” he said with a grin, “because…it’s kind of going from this realm of seriousness…to just this constant thing of laughter…so it’s a very different vibe.”
“Going from drama to comedy…it hits a tightrope, because you come into it still in that dramatic role. It’s difficult, but it’s doable,” continued Kremer. “One of the things we did with Our Town…we took away a little bit of the reverence,” he said. “So once the reverence is gone, going between those two is pretty easy, because they’re [both] shows, they’re just a little different, and you have to just pay attention to what’s in the text, and that’ll guide you into good places.”
Watch for May’s upcoming productions at Stray Cat Theatre and other venues around the Valley. In October, you’ll have a chance to see Joe Kremer as a conflicted Chicago police officer in the dark, gritty comedy A Steady Rain by Keith Huff, produced by Actors Theatre.
- More about the historical Andrew Jackson from the University of Virginia’s Miller Center
- Phoenix Theatre’s upcoming 2013-2014 season
- Stray Cat Theatre
- Actors Theatre
DPJ’s Bike Chic series by Nathan Simpson. You may see him around town scouting locals who not only ride their bikes but look dapper doing it.
Name: Morgan McNally
Profession: Baker at Paradise Bakery/ painter/ mistake-maker
Her neighborhood: Garfield
Favorite thing about DT Phoenix:
Is it dumb to say the American Way Market, because they have red cream soda? Because that’s kind of my favorite. I don’t care if it’s dumb, that’s my answer.
How do you get involved in the community?
I used to be more involved than I am now. Babies, while cute, are incredible time-takers. I organize events here and there (like the Arrested Development screening at Welcome Diner), and recently took on some of the zine publishing for Lawn Gnome Publishing. I have a few art shows coming up, including tinygallery.
What is tinygallery.?
tinygallery. is a series of wall-hanging microgalleries that will be in different venues around the city. As of now, there’s just one, which will be debuting its first show by Kristen Elfering at Welcome Diner in the coming weeks. It’s a means to create a more impactful environment for tiny pieces of art. Having had a childhood love affair with the Thorne miniature rooms at the Phoenix Art Museum, I wanted to have a place where people would be able to appreciate the precious nature of very small works of art.
Why are you car free?
I sold my car when I moved downtown, and I don’t really regret it. Downtown Phoenix has a walkability that’s getting better all the time. It makes being carless pretty easy. The only real inconvenience is grocery shopping, which is more of a post-baby issue than a trike issue. Honestly, living downtown, having a car seems like more of a hassle than not having a car.
When I was pregnant, I had my trike stolen while I was at work. Brandon (Huigens) needed a new bike too, so we went to see Derrick at Hood Ride. He had two matching red Columbia trikes from the early ’70s (if I remember correctly), so we bought them as a matching set. Not being used to riding three wheels, Brandon traded his in for a late ’50s Schwinn. I think even if I knew how to ride a regular bike, I’d still ride trike because of the basket. I can hold so much stuff! It also makes transporting art much, much easier.
Bike Trike essentials:
A GOOD SEAT. Seriously. I had this really awesome gel seat that was super comfortable…until it got hot outside. The gel seeped out of the seat in the heat and left black goo on every pair of jeans I owned at the time. My boyfriend (Huigens) bought me some bike streamers from MADE for Christmas, and genuinely and truly, they make my trike way more fun to ride. Highly recommended.
Biking Triking style:
I’m a fashion mutt. I like things that are sleek and laid back and frilly and trendy and vintage and handmade and old lady and fun and nerdy. I like bright colors. I’ve been really into vintage floral housedresses lately. I also really like dressing monochromatically. I wear a lot of stripes, polka dots, and argyle, and I usually wear short dresses over pants or tights. I love ridiculously impractical shoes and wearing tutus. You will never see me in shorts. You’re welcome for that.
Where do you like to shop for your clothes?
I don’t really shop. I mean, I guess I do, but I never go out with the intention of buying anything. I just kind of leave for the day and come home with clothes. In terms of actual shops though, I love Cellar Door Vintage, Grow, and all of the very pretty jewelry at MADE. Also, I recently discovered how excellent Ebay is for shopping without leaving the house (because I live in 1998, apparently).
Tips for riding chicly?
If you’re planning to wear a maxi skirt, tuck it under your butt, because getting stuck in your own gears is pretty much the biggest nerd move ever. I mean, I’ve never done it or anything, I’m just saying. OK, I’ve totally done it… More than once.
What she’s wearing:
- Purple rhinestone hat: Target
- Book bow: I made it! Sold at Lawn Gnome Publishing.
- Necklace: MADE, with charms from a “Guns and Stuff” 25 cent machine added.
- Bangles: Goodwill
- Purple knit dress: Simply Posh.
- Pink leaf belt: vintage from Butter Toast (RIP)
- Grey tight leggings: Walgreens, maybe?
- Red ballet flats: K MOMO
- Carpet bag: vintage, a gift from Shawna Franks (of Space 55)
Symphony Hall and the Orpheum Theatre are Ballet Arizona’s usual performance spaces, firmly in the heart of downtown. Occasionally, however, the troupe ventures outdoors for its free annual Ballet Under the Stars community performances and, for the second year, Topia at Desert Botanical Garden.
“The lighting and staging are better this year,” says Artistic Director Ib Andersen, a Balanchine protégé known for his appealing choreography. He created Topia last spring, crafting an instantly popular work on a large-scale outdoor stage for a production completely unique to the Valley’s environment.
Unusual aspects of Topia come from not only the open-air surroundings but also the sheer size of the endeavor. The 80-foot stage is considerably wider than Ballet Arizona’s typical indoor venues, generating logistical challenges of scale. It’s also set at ground level, a fundamental difference from the troupe’s elevated staging for Ballet Under the Stars.
“I wanted the dancers to be level with the audience and level with the desert,” describes Andersen, “so everything is a part of the ballet.” His concept incorporates the flora and fauna of the Garden in a show very specifically designed for its exact location.
Topia begins at sunset, even before the dancers take the stage, while shadows move across the Garden and change perspective on the looming Papago Buttes. As part of Andersen’s design, geological characteristics become integral to the ballet’s scenery.
His lightweight, minimalist costumes also reflect the colors and textures of nature, although his original intention would have used far less fabric. “I wanted them [the dancers] to be naked,” Andersen explains, “but it’s impossible.” He laughs. “It’s distracting for the audience, and not practical.”
Andersen continues, “But the dancers aren’t complaining about the heat — they’re not too hot because they’re wearing so little.” The men wear flesh-tone briefs, while the female dancers are clad in gossamer tunics.
The music for Topia is nearly the entirety of Ludwig van Beethoven’s sixth symphony, the “Pastoral.” “Beethoven is difficult to choreograph,” says Andersen, “because it’s so complete on its own. It’s enough without the dancing.” He felt able to use Beethoven’s music, he explains, only because the Garden and the desert sky create such a vast, open backdrop, resulting in a production not constrained by walls or ceiling.
All photos courtesy Rosalie O’Connor and Ballet Arizona.
If you go:
- Ballet Arizona’s Topia:
Continues through Saturday, June 1 at Desert Botanical Garden
(Discounts available for Ballet Arizona subscribers and Desert Botanical Garden members.)
- Back in downtown Phoenix at the Orpheum Theatre:
The Spring Performance, featuring students from The School of Ballet Arizona
- Make plans to attend a free Ballet Under the Stars performance in September:
7 p.m. on Sep. 28 at Steele Indian School Park. Visit Balletaz.org for details
If you’re feeling the Thursday mental fatigue that comes near the end of the work week, give your tired synapses a pick-me-up at the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, and take a look at cutting-edge student research.
The Intel® International Science and Engineering Fair® (Intel ISEF) is a program of Society for Science & the Public, wrapping up this year’s event at the Phoenix Convention Center through Friday. Celebrate the joys of science at Thursday’s Public Outreach Day with hands-on interactive exhibits, and meet talented young finalists creating groundbreaking research in chemistry, computer science, engineering, and other disciplines.
Approximately 1,600 high school scientists competed from around the world, coming from 433 affiliate fairs and resulting in over 400 award-winning finalists and 17 “Best of Category” winners in fields including animal and plant sciences, cellular and molecular biology, behavioral and social sciences, medicine and health, bioengineering, and physics and astronomy.
The Special Awards Ceremony takes place Thursday evening, while the Grand Awards Ceremony starts Friday at 9AM. It’s intriguing to speculate on the prize-winning topics of research — finalists are competing for more than $4 million in awards.
Last year’s first-place winner was 15-year-old Jack Andraka of Maryland, who created a simple dip-stick sensor to test for pancreatic cancer. Astonishingly, Andraka’s study resulted in greater than 90% accuracy, and showed his sensor to be 28 times faster, far less expensive, and more than 100 times more sensitive than current tests.
Winners of Young Scientist Awards in 2012 included 17-year-old Canadian Nicholas Schiefer, who studies “microsearch,” developing ways to search tweets and Facebook status updates by improving the capabilities of search engines. Another winner, 18-year-old Ari Dyckovsky of Virginia, investigated the science of quantum teleportation, “entangling” atoms to transfer information.
Curious? Learn more about past projects through the abstract search, or stop by the Fair and see for yourself — you might find research exploring new drugs made from spiderweb silk, or discover an internal combustion engine with only four moving parts…or you just might meet the next great scientific mind in a teenager.
If you go:
- The Intel® International Science and Engineering Fair® (Intel ISEF): at the Phoenix Convention Center through Friday, May 17.
- Society for Science & the Public is a non-profit organization promoting the understanding and appreciation of science.
- The Intel ISEF Public Outreach Day features hands-on interactive exhibits and the opportunity to meet top young scientists.
- Check out highlights from last year’s Fair on YouTube.
DPJ’s Bike Chic series by Nathan Simpson. You may see him around town scouting locals who not only ride their bikes but look dapper doing it.
Name: Jet Dispo
Occupation: Server at Federal Pizza
His neighborhood: Coronado
Favorite thing about Downtown Phoenix: You don’t have the hustle and bustle of a big city or the weird, closed in vibe of a small town. It’s the best of both worlds.
Favorite places to hang out in Downtown: Windsor, Lost Leaf and Lux.
Favorite places to shop Downtown: Retro Ranch and Grow Op.
How do you get involved? I volunteer with Devour.
What’s your typical biking ensemble: I’m typically wearing my work clothes or what I’m going out in for the night. If I am going for a ride to ride then I’ll just wear shorts and a t-shirt.
Where do you get your style inspiration? I piece outfits together from things I find and get ideas from what I see people wearing.
- Tora Randonneurs tires
- Brooks Saddle
- A good lock
What he’s wearing:
- Shirt – Coto
- Hat – Brookstone
- Levi Khakis
- Shoes – Sperry high top siders