Bringing Literature to Life On Stage at The Rogue Theatre

Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Touring the golden cage with The Rogue Theatre’s Joe McGrath and Cynthia Meier.

by Leigh Moyer

Rogue logo“What we’ve managed to do is build a golden cage for ourselves,” said Joe McGrath, Artistic Director of The Rogue Theatre, with a chuckle. “Our audience wants us to do the plays that we want to do. So we have to keep doing the plays we want to do– not the plays that we think will sell, or that we think people want to see.”

Cynthia Meier, The Rogue’s Managing and Associate Artistic Director, added, “And they really are plays that we want to see and that we want to work on. We keep this ongoing, long list of plays and we’ll look at it throughout the year and say, you know, it’s about time we did Brecht. Or, it’s about time we did this play. And these are plays that we want to see and spend time with.”

This season is focused on stories about obsession; it will have shows that make you think, make you laugh, make you cry, and — if they do their job right — make you reconsider how you look at a piece of literature or a cultural phenomenon.

The Rogue is generally known for doing classic pieces. For example, they do a Shakespeare play every season. “It’s a touchstone for us. Our mission is doing challenging pieces of great literature in an ensemble way; Shakespeare is the epitome of that,” Meier explained. They usually do an adaptation of a novel as well, often adapted for the stage by Meier. They do plays that make you think and plays that make you feel deeply and… plays where usually at least one character dies. 

I teased McGrath and Meier about that. Meier laughed and commented that she should have done research on how many characters had died on their stage when she looked at the diversity of casting and the playwrights.

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Joe McGrath and Cynthia Meier. Photo courtesy of The Rogue Theatre.

McGrath pointed out that while it is a funny unifying theme linking The Rogue’s plays, “Death is something that makes us human and unless we’re conscious of mortality and unless we bring it up, we’re not really dealing with what is important and even what is beautiful. The brevity of life is what makes beauty. There is no precious moment without the passage. So I want to stand up for death as being a good thing. So let’s hear it for death.”

Looking at this season and the major moments that the array of plays will present, it seemed to me Moby Dick was going to be the most challenging. I had one big question. There have been gods, snakes, dogs, and a bear on the Rogue stage, but all those things are smaller or more manageable. I wanted to know how exactly they were going to present the great white whale Moby Dick. That whale. Their answer: they don’t know yet. They have ideas, but how it will actually come together is still somewhat of a puzzle. 

“The interesting thing about this enterprise is making sure that we’re doing live theatre, not doing plays that are live television,” McGrath said. “That’s one of the reasons we like to go more theatrical. It’s all in the language. Film and television don’t like to just dwell on the language without visuals.” 

Maybe that is the answer. Moby Dick is a book, adapted for the stage in this instance by Meier and Holly Griffith. While theatre is a visual medium, for McGrath and Meier it is equally as much about language. “We usually do an adaptation because we believe that great literature deserves to be heard and seen, not just silently read,” Meier said.

Aaron Shand, Holly Griffith and Hunter Hnat in the 2018-2019 season production of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

Aaron Shand, Holly Griffith and Hunter Hnat in the 2018-2019 season production of The Secret in the Wings. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of the Rogue Theatre.

McGrath jumped in to add, “And the interesting thing about great literature is that it is only great literature because of the words, because of the language. We think of Moby Dick as having whales and boats and the sea but it only lives because of the way it was conjured in language.”

He mused on how the audience feels and about The Rogue offers: “I’m guessing that a good percentage of audience members who stay after the show for the post show discussion just want us to tell them what to think. But that’s the nature of the plays we do; they don’t tell you what to think, they leave you grappling.”

The whole season is listed online and below, including a summer production. Come to see how they get a whale in a theatre, but come more to see how you relate to the whale; what your obsessions are and how they have shaped you. Season tickets start at $195.00 and single tickets can be purchased during the run of the show for $42.00 (preview performances are $32.00) with $15.00 student rush tickets available fifteen minutes before the show (depending on availability). Tickets for the summer performance of Middletown are $38.00.

The Rogue Theatre’s 2019-2020 Season:

Middletown by Will Eno (Summer Production)
July 11 – 21, 2019
Metaphysical musings on life and death bubble up from the “common folk” on the streets of contemporary Middletown, USA. Comic and prosaic lives show cracks of poetic existential despair. Directed by Christopher Johnson.

Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill
September 12 – 29, 2019
A masterful image of a day in the Tyrone household, struggling with alcoholism, morphine addiction, and regret, as they reflect on love, dreams, and roads not taken. One of the most lauded of American plays, this deeply personal play received both the Tony Award for Best Play and a Pulitzer Prize. Directed by Cynthia Meier.

Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward
November 7 – 24, 2019
The novelist Charles Condomine invites the spiritualist Madame Arcati to hold a séance in his home. Arcati inadvertently summons the ghost of Charles’ first wife, Elvira, who Charles can see, but his present wife, Ruth, can’t. A jealous ghost, Elvira tries to upset the marriage. Directed by Joseph McGrath.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville, adapted by Cynthia Meier and Holly Griffith
January 9 – 26, 2020
The obsessed Captain Ahab assembles a whaling crew to pursue the albino sperm whale, Moby Dick, that took his leg in a prior voyage. Regarded by many as the great American novel, Moby Dick is Homeric, biblical, and Shakespearean in its breadth of expression. Directed by Cynthia Meier.

The Beauty Queen of Leenane by Martin McDonagh
February 27 – March 15, 2020
In a rural Irish cottage of the aging Mag and her spinster daughter Maureen, their comic and appalling lives are brought to a head as a romance develops for Maureen that Mag resents. Directed by Christopher Johnson.

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
April 23 – May 10, 2020
The shipwrecked Viola dresses as a boy for protection and is employed by Duke Orsino to woo Olivia for him. Olivia falls in love with Viola-in-disguise and Viola herself falls in love with Orsino. Meanwhile, the pranksters of Olivia’s household dupe the puritan Malvolio into falling in love with Olivia. Directed by Joseph McGrath.

The John and Joyce Ambruster Play-Reading Series:

Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen
October 6, 2019, 2:00 pm
The story of a man who dares to speak an unpalatable truth and the devastating consequences.

Madagascar by J. T. Rogers
December 1, 2019, 2:00 pm
At three different periods in time, three Americans find themselves in a hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome confronting the haunting mystery that connects them.

Molly Sweeney by Brian Friel
February 2, 2020, 2:00pm
Told in a riveting series of monologues, a blind woman living in Donegal, Ireland undergoes a revolutionary operation to restore her sight.

The House of Bernarda Alba by Federico Garcia Lorca
March 22, 2020, 2:00pm
Following the funeral of Bernarda Alba’s second husband, the tyrannical matriarch announces to her five daughters that their period of mourning will last eight years.

Editor’s Note: This is the forth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season. 

Theatre is a Community Service

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Sabian Trout, artistic director at Live Theatre Workshop, on the importance of live theatre to the health of the community.

by Leigh Moyer

Live Theatre Workshop“Do plays in the service of the community. Doing a play for yourself is going to kill your theatre and the worst thing you can do as an artistic director is to kill a theatre. There are so few left.” Sabian Trout, artistic director of Live Theatre Workshop’s Mainstage series, is not messing around when it comes to her community. Theatre is critical to a healthy community and she works to make sure that Tucson has live theatre year round. 

At the time of writing, LTW’s 2019-2020 season has already kicked off with Things Being What They Are and will continue through the summer into the more typical theatre season, and wrapping up as it warms up again. Then the next “season” starts the cycle all over, ensuring quality theatre all year. Trout is straightforward about working to bring the best shows to Tucson audiences: “I’m just applying for the best plays for our community.” Of course, selecting nine shows isn’t simple. Trout explained, “It’s a big puzzle every year based on feedback from the audience, what the space can accommodate, the talent available, if we can get the rights to produce the play, and a dozen or more factors. There are thousands and thousands of plays to choose from. It’s such a complicated thing, it is like its own living animal.”

Audiences can expect a little of everything this season, and should expect LTW’s offerings to expand their experience of life and lives that are different, but not so different, than their own. The season starts with a production exploring the bond between an unlikely duo and wraps with a play navigating the political and social ramifications of same sex marrage in a conservative southern home. In between, season ticket holders can expect mystery, love, heartbreak and revenge, humor, complicated relationships, tricks, first-time homebuyers and even a look at being an out-of-work actor. The plays are all tied together by experience, things we’ve all felt or fought in some way.

Shanna Brock and Stephen Frankenfeld in Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Shanna Brock as She and Stephen Frankenfeld as He in the 2018-2019 season production of Stage Kiss. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

“When I took over 13 years ago, it was clean, just stuff that wasn’t topical and didn’t represent our greater community,” Trout said.My favorite socially relevant plays are comedies. There are so many topical or socially relevant plays that are draining. That isn’t necessary to have an illuminating experience. A humorous take on challenging topics often changes your heart and mind more than angst-ridden plays.” 

According to Trout, Radiant Vermin and The Cake are probably the most socially relevant productions for LTW this season. Radiant Vermin is a comedy about the housing crisis, how difficult it is to buy a home, and what individuals are willing to do to get their dream place. The Cake follows a baker, thrilled to bake a wedding cake for her niece until she learns the niece has a bride rather than a groom. Humanizing the headlines, The Cake explores political and emotional viewpoints, cultural expectations, and how complex baking a cake can be.

Trout is excited about Heisenberg as both the artistic director, and this particular play’s director. “I don’t usually keep darlings to myself. I try to match plays to the directing talent, but this season, I chose a play that I’m elated about,” Trout admitted. “It’s a special play, newer, quirky, theatrical, I’m madly in love with this play, and I had to keep it for myself. It’s a love story about an extremely unlikely relationship.”

Heisenberg

Image courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Still, she maintained that Tucson audiences should catch every show this season. The greatest compliment Trout can get is when an audience member tells her after a show that they weren’t sure about a show, based on the title or even the description, but after seeing it, are thrilled they gave it a shot because they loved it. Descriptions of each play are online and reproduced below. But maybe trust that Trout tamed the animal that is putting together a season and become a season ticket holder and catch them all. You might see something you never would have guessed you’d love.

Live Theatre Workshop’s Mainstage Series 2019 – 2020 Season:

Things Being What They Are by Wendy MacLeod
June 20 – July 20, 2019
As up-and-coming Bill readies a new condo for himself and his soon-to-arrive wife, he gets an unexpected visit from Jack, who at first appears to be a nightmare neighbor. What follows is a sharp comedy about the lives we dream of having versus the lives we end up living.
“Despite (or maybe it’s because of) its origin in a female mind, this funny, charming, and rather moving play probes the vulnerabilities of middle-class maleness with…good humor, affection and incisive accuracy.” ~ Chicago Tribune

Show People by Paul Weitz
July 25 – August 24, 2019
Jerry and Marnie are Broadway actors who haven’t worked in years. At Jerry’s insistence, they take on a wildly unorthodox job for a rich, young New York banker in Show People, a crazy comedy about the darker aspects of the need to be theatrical.
“A smashing light comedy…delightful and witty.” ~ NY Observer
“A real laugh-out-loud comedy…guaranteed to make audiences laugh themselves silly.” ~ Journal News

Heisenberg by Simon Stephens
August 29 – September 28, 2019
Amidst the bustle of a crowded London train station, Georgie spots Alex, a much older man, and plants a kiss on the back of his neck. This electric encounter thrusts these two strangers into a fascinating and life-changing game. Heisenberg brings to blazing, theatrical life the uncertain and often comical sparring match that is human connection.
“On its surface, a satisfyingly life-affirming mating dance between two people who are so utterly dissimilar that of course they are made for each other. But if you choose to tune into the quieter frequencies… a probing work that considers the multiplicity of alternatives that could shape our lives at every moment.” ~ NY Times

Accomplice by Rupert Holmes
October 10 – November 16, 2019
Winner of the Mystery Writers of America’s coveted “Edgar” award (the “Oscar” of crime and suspense) The New York Times called Accomplice “a deliciously witty cocktail of a whodunit with a maniacally seamless plot where skullduggery emerges the winner!” This theatrical roller coaster will trigger screams of laughter even as audiences vow to keep its secrets hush-hush. “The best fooler since Sleuth and twice as clever!” said the L.A.Times, while L.A. Theatre & Entertainment Review proclaimed it “the comedy thriller of all comedy thrillers!”

Tilly the Trickster by Molly Shannon
November 29 – December 29, 2019
Molly Shannon has created numerous unforgettable characters on Saturday Night Live and in movies such as Superstar and Never Been Kissed and now introduces young readers to her latest hilarious creation, the musical Tilly the Trickster. Tilly is a mischievous girl who loves nothing more than causing a little trouble. From leaking cups to toothpaste-flavored cookies, Tilly has a trick for everyone: her mom, dad, brother, classmates, and even her teacher. But when the tables are turned and her family does some scheming of its own, will Tilly decide to change her trickster ways?

The Norwegians by C. Denby Swanson
January 9 – February 15, 2020
A “killer” dark comedy about two scorned women and the very nice gangsters they hire to whack their ex-boyfriends. Fast-paced funny dialogue combines the spirit of Fargo with Saturday Night Live in this unexpected, entertaining, quirky comedy.
“C. Denby Swanson’s extremely odd and delightful comedy, is something of a guilty pleasure.” – The New York Times

Radiant Vermin by Philip Ridley
February 20 – March 28, 2020
When a young couple is offered an ideal house by a mysterious stranger, it prompts the question: How far would any of us go to get our dream home? A fast-paced, pitch-black comedy, Radiant Vermin is a provocative satire about consumerism, gentrification, and inequality.
“A blithely told fable for the age of unaffordable housing. Like a Brothers Grimm story, it is executed with its own consistent fantasy logic, deployed to remind us of the dangers of getting what we wish for…it makes for nasty and energetic fun…” – The New York Times

Ripcord by David Lindsay-Abaire
April 2 – May 9, 2020
David Lindsay-Abaire’s ripping Ripcord is a deeply satisfying and entertaining story of two women thrown together by a comic cosmic force possessed of a wicked sense of humor. A sunny room on an upper floor is prime real estate in the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility, so when the cantankerous Abby is forced to share her quarters with new-arrival Marilyn, she has no choice but to get rid of the infuriatingly chipper woman by any means necessary.
“…sweet-and-sour Ripcord is great fun…larded with moments of surprise, both wacky and more substantial. When the play gets serious, it’s genuinely moving.” ~ Time Out NY
“A show to treasure.” ~ Deadline.com 

The Cake by Bekah Brunstetter
May 14 – June 13, 2020
When Della, a North Carolina baker, is asked to bake a wedding cake for her best friend’s daughter, she is overjoyed. But that joy is short-lived when she learns that the intended is another bride, and realizes she is faced with an agonizing choice between faith and family. Struggling to reconcile her deeply-held belief in “traditional marriage” and the love she has for the young woman she helped raise, Della finds herself in strange new territory.
“Brilliant… Powerful and meaningful… great writing… abundant wit and humor” ~ LA Post-Examiner

Make Time to Laugh with Family Theatre

Editor’s Note: This is the forth in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Talking the serious business of making time to be silly, plus bringing live theatre to Tucson’s children with Live Theatre Workshop Family Theatre artistic director Amanda Gremel.

by Leigh Moyer

Live Theatre WorkshopIn the theatre business, you hear a lot about doing it for the love of art or as a passion project. For Amanda Gremel, the Live Theatre Workshop Family Theatre  is certainly a passion project, but isn’t just a love for the craft; rather, it’s a calling and an obligation to future generations that she is only too happy to fulfill. Gremel’s life is steeped in Live Theatre Workshop. As a teen, she discovered her love of acting in their educational programs. As an adult, she pays it forward as a teacher in the same educational programs where she got her start, acts regularly, and is the artistic director for the Family Theatre.

While theatre for all ages is often shorter and lighter than productions rated for adults, it is no less important. “So many times, adults underestimate the power of kids to show us the way,” Gremel explained. “Sometimes we have to stop and take a moment and look at it through their eyes to be reminded that we can problem solve our way, can feel what we do, and it’s okay. Adults get wrapped up in our lives and forget that it’s okay to take that time to laugh.”

“I come to the family shows and I can’t tell you how funny they are.” Deborah Daun, the theatre’s marketing and public relations representative chimed in. “Not only are these shows really hilarious and the playwrights, mostly local playwrights, are really good, but there is incredible quality represented in these shows.”

Beyond being entertaining, the Family Theatre reminds children that they can face big problems, even monstrous ones like in the season opener Tabitha Turnpike Has a MONSTERous Problem, and with trust, determination, and, often, imagination, they can solve those problems. It might seem like a simple lesson, but it is one worth learning at every age, especially when you feel small in the face of problems that seem too large to tackle.

Overcoming life’s challenges with humor isn’t the only important work the Family Theatre productions do. Gremel works hard to expand not only what wonderful worlds children can imagine on stage, but who portrays the characters on stage.

Leda Robinson as RAPunzel and Evander Alan Gains as the Prince. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Leda Robinson as RAPunzel and Evander Alan Gains as the Prince. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

“One of my favorite shows, and audiences loved it, too, was RAPunzel. I loved the script, loved the songs, being able to tour it in schools was great, and the diversity we had was great. We had an African-American Rapunzel and we don’t get to see that very often, right? For young people, and particularly the students in the Title 1 schools we tour in, to be able to see someone that looks like them on stage, in the lead role and singing their hearts out — that is what we are doing this for,” Gremel said of a 2018-2019 hip-hop musical adaptation of the fairytale Rapunzel. “In our world right now, it is so important to showcase that it is okay to be you, regardless of what you look like or who you identify as. The more I can bend the outdated norms, the more I want to. I want these kids to be like, oh, I am going to be this because there shouldn’t be boundaries. It is our job to show that story.”

“Part of the Live Theatre Workshop mission, and we’re very community oriented, is to create the next generation of theatre people,” Daun added. “We have shows for youth, but also education programs both in and out of school. It is a very organic way that LTW cultivates young people. We’re working with teachers and working with young people to come and audition, to be the next generation of actors and audiences.”

To do that, Live Theatre Workshop provides a number of educational opportunities from summer camps to acting classes. One of the programs that Gremel enjoys most is taking two shows from the season, one in the fall semester and one in the spring semester, and touring them in schools. The tours bring shows to children who might not otherwise have access to live theatre.

It isn’t easy to make all this happen. Running two seasons concurrently (Live Theatre Workshop also hosts a full mainstage season as well) isn’t always a fairytale come true. Productions, not to mention classes and other programs, share the same space. That can add up to some logistical challenges. “We have to get very creative in our Family Theatre shows. We only have one stage. Our shows are running at the same time. Our pieces and back drops need to be able to be hung in front of and hide the mainstage show, and often overlap multiple mainstage shows. We have to adjust to accommodate them to make one show work on a new set– in the middle of the run. So we come in early to make it work,” Gremel said. “Tucson has such great talent and passion. There is such passion that the young kids of Tucson are getting the same quality as in the mainstage shows.”

With the new season starting this Sunday, June 30th, who should be getting tickets for Live Theatre Workshop Family shows? Performances are open to everyone. “Audiences range from kids as small as breastfeeding babies, as young as six months old to people in their eighties or nineties,” Gremel answered, “Mainstage season ticket holders enjoy our Family Theatre shows, with or without children, right alongside enchanted kids.” The whole season is online and outlined below. You can become a season ticket holder now and ensure that you and your kids (or your inner child) get five Sundays of theatre.

And which show should you definitely see? Gremel laughed, “I hate to cop out but you are going to get and feel something different from each show. One might make you laugh and let you be silly with the actors on stage, one might let you feel something you forgot how to feel, especially as an adult. One might bring back memories. One might tell an old story in a completely new way, like this season’s adaptation of Pinocchio, done in the commedia dell’arte style using shadow puppets and mask work. They are all so different.”

2019-20 FAMILY SERIES Season

Live Theatre Workshop Family’s 2019-2020 Season:

Tabitha Turnpike Has a MONSTERous Problem
An original musical story by Richard Gremel and music by David Ragland
June 30 – August 11, 2019 (no show July 21), Sunday afternoons at 12:30 PM
Tabitha Turnpike is a little girl with a big imagination. But when her imagination gets her in trouble with her mom and dad, they insist that she quit being creative and grow up. Only problem is, Tabitha discovers a monster living under her bed and she can’t tell her mom and dad about it, because they will think she’s using her imagination again. Her monster has problems of his own. So the two team up and travel to Underthebedland to use their creativity and prove that all of us, monsters and humans, are great despite of our differences.

Pinocchio: The Legend of the Wooden Boy
An original musical adaptation by Tyler West and music by Michael Martinez
September 8 – October 20, 2019 (no show September 29), Sunday afternoons at 12:30 PM
This is a new adaptation based on the beloved characters from Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio: The Adventures of a Marionette.” Watch as three players set up their stage and tell the legend of the wooden puppet who came to life. With the help of masks, costumes, and shadow puppetry they will portray over a dozen of characters; like Geppetto, Pinocchio, The Cricket, The Fox, The Cat, The Blue Fairy, and many more!

Molly Shannon’s Tilly the Trickster
Adapted by Jeremy Dobrish, music and lyrics by Drew Fornarola, orchestrations by David Abbinanti
November 29 – December 28, 2019
Friday and Saturday nights at 7 PM, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 3 PM
Tilly is a mischievous girl who loves nothing more than causing a little trouble. From leaking cups to toothpaste-flavored cookies, Tilly has a trick for everyone: her mom, dad, brother, classmates, and even her teacher. But when the tables are turned and her family does some scheming of its own, will Tilly decide to change her trickster ways? Molly Shannon has created numerous unforgettable characters on Saturday Night Live and in movies such as SUPERSTAR and NEVER BEEN KISSED and now introduces young readers to her latest hilarious creation, TILLY THE TRICKSTER, the musical! Fun for all ages, this is a show you and your family won’t want to miss. Starring Samantha Cormier as Tilly!

Mona Lisa on the Loose
An original musical story by Gretchen Wirges with music by David Ragland
January 26 – March 8, 2020 (no show February 16), Sunday afternoons at 12:30 PM
The Mona Lisa has hung on the walls of an art museum for over 100 years. But what visitors don’t know is that when the lights go out, the paintings come to life! On this day, she overhears the museum officials saying she is no longer drawing people in, and make plans to move her somewhere else. Come join us for a secret view into the mysterious life of the Mona Lisa and other paintings after hours as she plots a way to save her spot on the walls of the Louvre!

The Old Ball Game
An original musical story by Kristian Kissel with music by Michael Martinez
April 19 – May 31, 2020 (no show May 10), Sunday afternoons at 12:30 PM
Forrest Foster LOVES baseball. He comes by it honestly – his Dad played, his Grandfather played, his Great-Grandfather played, his… well, you get the idea. The only problem is that Forrest can’t seem to get into the game yet. But when his little league team’s star player gets injured, his coach just might have to look to the end of the bench and give Forrest his chance. He’s spent countless hours studying the game, its history, its players, and his own opponents. Now he’ll need to take everything he’s learned and put it to use to try to lift his team to victory – all for the love of the old ball game!

Logistical Challenges, Creative Surprises, and the Human Condition

Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season.

Exploring the human condition with Winding Road Theater Ensemble’s co-artistic director Maria Caprile.

by Leigh Moyer
Winding Road Logo

Winding Road Theater Ensemble aims to produce plays that are entertaining but outside of the box, and always speak to the human condition. The way co-artistic director of Winding Road Maria Caprile says “the human condition”, it sounds like an illness. Not one we need to get over, but one that we all share, and one that we can manage better by experiencing it together. This season at Winding Road explores life’s harder decisions, funny moments, challenges, morals, coping with loss, family dinners, and simply surviving.

This season is comprised of three mainstage productions plus the return of Eight 10s in Tucson, Winding Road’s short play festival, and three Winding Reads staged readings.

Caprile, along with co-artistic director Glen Coffman, doesn’t have a list of possible plays they want to produce in a particular season, but they do have stacks (and stacks) of plays waiting for the right time or the right cast. Sometimes everything falls perfectly into place, like with The Little Foxes. The first show of the season, opening Labor Day weekend in the Scoundrel & Scamp theater, it was too exciting an opportunity to pass up. Getting the rights to a Tony award-winning play, the chance for Coffman to direct a play he’s wanted to direct for a long time, and having the space to fully stage the production was more than reason enough to add it as the season opener. In addition to artistic direction, directing, and acting, Caprile is an extremely talented costume designer. “I’m doing the period costuming, which is always a fun challenge,” she added with excitement.

Like The Little Foxes, often they choose shows they’ve wanted to do for a while, but just as often, they’ll see something new and want to do it immediately, or think a play needs a revival in Tucson. Some of these plays get into this season, some next, some never. In her second season as co-artistic director, Caprile has gotten to know Winding Road, and, as a result, which scripts are in the spirit of Winding Road and which plays, even good plays, don’t fit the theater’s personality.

The Fantasticks

Kelly Coates, Tony Caprile, Elena Lucia Quach, Jerry James and Damian Garcia in The Fantasticks. Photo courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

“I like those plays where the audience can look over your shoulder and into the play,” Caprile explained. “I like to blur those lines between play and audience.”
They also choose plays that not only are suitable for their ensemble cast, but that help them grow or give them opportunities they might not easily find elsewhere. Caprile explained that they have an obligation to the ensemble, as well as to talented people with whom Winding Road wants to work, so they look at a script and ask, “Do we have something for this actor or a directing opportunity for someone interested in getting into that?”. They are a community working together to bring interesting and thought-provoking theatre to Tucson and to encourage and teach newer talent skills that will help them succeed down their own winding road.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Eight 10s in Tucson. Modeled off Santa Cruz Actors’ Theater’s 8 Tens festival, Eight 10s in Tucson gives playwrights and aspiring playwrights the chance to have their story cast, directed, and brought to life on stage. It is also the chance for actors to try new roles and untested directors to wet their feet. After a huge response last year, this year, Winding Road is only accepting scripts during the month of August 2019, and only until they reach 300 total. From there, a team of volunteer readers and the artistic team at Winding Road pare down the applicants to the best and most Winding-Road-esque scripts until they’ve chosen the eight best short pieces of never-before-seen theatre to present to Tucson audiences.

Eight 10s

Morgan Smith and Maggie Geertsen in Eight 10s in Tucson. Photo courtesy of Winding Road Theatre.

And if producing eighty minutes of brand-new theatre in ten minute snapshots isn’t logistically challenging enough, this season Winding Road is all over the map. Not so much in theme — Caprile described this season as well-rounded, perhaps with an emphasis on family if you were looking for a particular connective thread — but literally. They don’t have a home stage, giving them the opportunity to put on shows not just downtown, but all over Tucson, and not just on traditional stages. “Angels Fall is a play about disparate people who all end up in a little chapel so we’re doing it in a little chapel,” Caprile explained, sounding equal parts thrilled and daunted by the challenge. “We have the chapel, but a chapel is not a theatre, so we’ll just have to figure out how to do it. It’s exciting. Those creative surprises are part of the joy of theatre. And you make it work.”

This isn’t the only production staged to challenge the director. Caprile is directing The Big Meal. Without giving too much away, this is the story of how a couple meet, simply enough, at a restaurant. It is told, however, by an ensemble of actors playing the five generations of one family it takes to tell their story. Caprile is keeping all the actors on stage. In the round. There might be a bit of madness in artistic genius.

If she had to choose one show that audiences not miss, it isn’t the trip to the chapel or the family dinner the actors aren’t excused from (not to say those aren’t well worth seeing, obviously); rather, the one she felt we all need to see is a staged reading of The Women of Lockerbie as part of the Winding Read series. Shown in the style of a Greek tragedy, this play revisits the explosion of PanAm 103 over Lockerbie in 1988. “That was so long ago and so much has happened, is this going to resonate?” Caprile said, wondering if it would be a good fit for modern audiences. “But it isn’t about the incident. It is about grief. And how this keeps happening. And how we deal with it. You can’t just ignore it. It isn’t about PanAm 103, it’s about public grief.”

In this day and age, and maybe in every age, grief is one part of the human condition that we need each other more than any other to understand, process, and, with time, overcome.

Tickets are available at WindingRoadTheater.org, $28.00 for mainstage productions (discounts may apply) and $15.00 for Winding Reads. Or you can purchase one of four season combination packages ranging from $35.00 to $125.00. Winding Road’s Box Office can be reached via email at windingroadte@gmail.com or by calling (520) 401-3626. The whole season is listed online and below.

Winding Road Theater’s 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
August 29 – September 15, 2019
An American classic first staged at the National Theatre in New York. Directed by the Ensemble’s Co-Artistic Director Glen Coffman, this morality drama about corruption and greed within a wealthy, early 20th century Southern family has been revived more than half a dozen times on Broadway since its premiere in 1939.

The Big Meal by Dan LeFranc
December 5 – December 22, 2019
A hilarious, expansive tale that traverses five generations of an ordinary modern family in 90 minutes. Written by Dan LeFranc, The Big Meal won the 2010 New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award and received a 2012 Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Play. This production is directed by Co-Artistic Director Maria Caprile.

Angels Fall by Lanford Wilson
February 13 – March 1, 2020
Set in a remote part of New Mexico, six people find themselves in a small mission church, brought together by the closing of a highway due to a possible accident at a nearby nuclear facility. Brightly humorous and deeply affecting, Angels Fall becomes a parable of vocation and survival which, in exploring the lives of its characters, illuminates the human condition. This production is directed by Molly Lyons.

Eight 10s in Tucson
April 16 – April 26, 2020
Winding Road presents the second annual Eight 10s in Tucson 10-minute play festival. Eight scripts, submitted by playwrights from around the country, selected and combined to make for a unique evening of entertainment – full of comedy, drama and everything in between. “…it’s a reminder of the prodigious playwriting talent out there, the accomplished actors and directors we have here, and it exposes Tucsonans to new and exciting works.” (Kathy Allen, Arizona Daily Star)

Winding Reads:

The Wrong People Have Money by Reed McColm
Popular York University professor Martin Delancey is challenged by a wealthy consortium of investors to conduct a serious study into the feasibility of an “impossible” endeavor. The funniest play ever written about moving Greenland South.

Christmas Break by Monica Bauer
When daughter Lilly comes home from college with newfound passion, the McNally family has a big decision to make: invest in Lilly’s scheme to end world hunger or pay for life saving treatment for the family pet. Add a teenaged son and a retired monk and you’ve got all the ingredients needed for a Christmas to remember.

The Women of Lockerbie by Deborah Brevoort
A grieving mother from New Jersey roams the hills of Lockerbie, Scotland, looking for her son, lost in the crash of Pan Am 103. Loosely inspired by a true story and written in the structure of a Greek tragedy, it is a poetic drama about the triumph of love over hate.

Parity or Better, but Usually Better

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season. 

Coffee, representation on the stage, and really good plays with Something Something Theatre Company’s founding artistic director Joan O’Dwyer and founding director Whitney Morton Woodcock.

by Leigh Moyer

Something Something LogoSomething Something Theatre brands itself as theatre by women for everyone. Their mission is “Parity or better,” founding Director Whitney Morton Woodcock explained over coffee. “So fifty percent or better, but we usually have more than fifty percent of our season written by female playwrights.”

This mindset started with their first season – not as a fluke, but also not exactly on purpose – driven instead by feminism and the realization that there was a lot of good work that was too often overlooked. It started when three fierce women, Joan O’Dwyer, Whitney Morton Woodcock, and Esther Almazán, saw a gap in the Tucson theatre community that became their niche. “There are just so many plays written by women, and women are really finding their voice right now. And they’re young women and they’re brilliant,” Joan O’Dwyer gushed, “And they’re not just writing about homely things, they’re writing about war and injustices to women and women in different countries and their experiences which nobody has ever heard before and I just love that.”

I have to say, I agree with her. But that doesn’t make doing theatre by women easy. While it was a woman who was the most-produced playwright in the United States in the 2017-2018 season and second most-produced in 2018-2019, this is a distinctly modern phenomenon. (That playwright is Lauren Gunderson, playwright of Something Something’s first production of the season, The Revolutionists.) Historical restrictions limited women’s opportunities to write and kept women’s work from the stage for a long time, which means staging women’s plays now is often a choice to focus on contemporary work rather than well-known classics. It doesn’t faze the women of Something Something, but producing a significant amount of new or unknown writers is a risk. Women may be finding their voice now and using it to tell amazing stories, but we have ground to make up.

But boy, are we. O’Dwyer and Morton Woodcock are faced with the best kind of problem when selecting plays: there are almost too many great plays by women. Selecting the next (and next, and next) season is a process of narrowing down the choices, and then amending that list as new plays are written and produced. And if they do a play by someone of the male persuasion? “Well,” Joan quipped, “if the play is written by a man, it has to be a really good play. They have to work five times as hard if they want to get in– for half as much pay!”

Oh, how the tables have turned. And while it is important to the Something Something artistic team to have representation, like all theatres, the point isn’t that the play was written by a woman, but rather that the play is meaningful, inspiring, challenging, or simply entertaining. (The point, I would add, is that women playwrights are writing great theatre prolifically, not in isolated cases of genius.)

Morton Woodcock explains, “It is more about the story and how we think the audience will feel. What it comes down to is that it is a good story and there are good roles. And liking the characters. Like in The Aliens, those guys are so… they’re so incompetent sometimes, but they’re also so funny. They are likable.”

“They’re sexist,” O’Dwyer interrupted.

This didn’t slow Morton Woodcock down for a beat, “But likable.” And so goes theatre. So goes storytelling. You don’t always want to be friends with the characters in a good show. She continued, “We pick plays about humans, humans who should be represented on the stage, but also humans who are flawed. We choose scripts that address those flaws, call out the bad behavior, but sometimes you just have to let the characters be the characters. I wouldn’t do a play that portrayed someone who was really horrible in a positive light and of course we aren’t going to do plays that endorse problematic people.”

“You have to feel empathy for these people,” O’Dwyer added. “But it is going to have to be handled delicately.” That is, after all, what good theatre is: showing people new perspectives and challenging them to reflect and take new perspectives out of the theater and into the real world. A lot of characters are morally gray.

While some plays this season present characters that force the audience to consider a new view point, others take on issues that are often overlooked or downplayed in a male dominated culture, like the decision to become a mother, go back to work, breastfeed in public, or seek help for postpartum depression. Cry It Out focuses on women connected by the experience of new motherhood and the challenges that come with it, something that struck close to home for Morton Woodcock as a new mother. She is also the director of Cry It Out and can relate to the women. “It isn’t sexy or fun to discuss,” she admitted, “Like, maternity leave, ohhh. But it has to be discussed. They talk in the play about how people judge the choices you make, about deciding to have a baby at all. Everyone, other moms included, has an opinion and everyone feels like they are right and if you do it differently, you are a monster. I cried when I read the script.”

I asked both if they had a show they were most excited about. Without hesitation O’Dwyer answered, “I’m really excited about Cry It Out. It has something we don’t often see on stage: new mothers and they are all different.” Cry It Out goes beyond the stereotypes of never getting enough sleep or complaining about changing diapers.

Woodcock Morton also has a favorite: “The one I think is important for people to see it Martie’s play Transformations. This topic, the concept of transgender and gender fluidity, is something that has been growing in the public eye in terms of celebrities and media and people talking about it more but a lot of people still don’t understand. Martie is not giving a lecture or sharing what can be googled; she is sharing people. She is funny and it is well written and she gives each character she plays their own persona that you can relate to. I’m not sure that people realize that representation matters. The types of stories you see, the types of characters you see, impacts your world view. We consume stories to explain our lives, or who we are, but it also normalizes new or different perspectives.”

The 2019-2020 season, Something Something’s fifth, brings five plays, all written by women, to the stage. And Joan has a point, they aren’t just writing about homely things, they are writing about revolution, being human, pride and pain, motherhood, and even boys being boys.

This season is a lot about people you think you know, but are presented in a different way that makes you question yourself and those notions. Confront what you think you know at Something Something Theatre. The season is listed online and below. You can become a season ticket holder now and catch all five performances for $75.00 or purchase single tickets for $25.00 each by calling their box office at (520) 468-6111.

Something Something 2019-2020

Something Something Theatre’s 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson
September 12 – 29, 2019
Set during the height of the French Revolution, four women – a playwright, an assassin, a spy and an empress – bond to tell the story of their turbulent times for future generations. It’s a comedy. Guillotines may be involved. 

TransFormations by Martie van der Voort
October 31 – November 17, 2019
Local actor and playwright van der Voort performs all twelve transgender characters, their close relatives and significant others at a group therapy session. TransFormations’ has been performed to acclaim in Tucson and in cities around the nation, but this will be its first full run!

Apples in Winter by Jennifer Fawcett
November 27 – December 15, 2019
We are with a woman baking a small pie in a kitchen not her own. The room is bare, institutional. There are no chairs, and a knife is attached to the work table with a wire.  This is the story of a mother’s deepest love and most grievous pain.

Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler
February 13 – March 1, 2020
Metzler’s sympathetic yet brutally honest play brings characters to the stage not normally seen. Three women, diverse in all ways… except hat they have all recently given birth and are coping with everything that comes with being the main caretaker. Funny and uniquely insightful, written by a young mother.

The Aliens by Annie Baker
March 26 – April 12, 2020
Something Something Theatre produced Body Awareness, another of Baker’s ‘Shirley, Vermont plays’ in our second season. Dramatists Play Service describes The Aliens so darn well that we’re simply forced to run their synopsis here: “Two angry young men sit behind a Vermont coffee shop and discuss music and Bukowski. When a lonely high-school student arrives on the scene, they decide to teach him everything they know. A play with music.” – Dramatists Play Service

A Conversation with Susan Claassen

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of interviews with creative decision makers and artistic directors at all of Tucson’s theatres as we look forward to the 2019-2020 season. 

An interview with Invisible Theatre’s managing artistic director Susan Claassen on love, feminism, and the magic of live theatre.

by Leigh Moyer

IT logo“Everyone has a story, and if you’re open to listening, you’re going to find a connection,” Susan Claassen, managing artistic director at Invisible Theatre, told me in a recent conversation. “Now people are so isolated that the mere nature of coming to live theatre is empowering.” She takes the almost magical, invisible connection between actors and audience as a universal truth — and as the namesake of the theatre.

As a Tucsonan lucky enough to be raised surrounded by art and theatre, the Invisible Theatre has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Long enough that I once thought Claassen was Edith Head, a role she reprises regularly in her original piece A Conversation with Edith Head. As one of Tucson’s oldest and longest running theatres, I was curious how they keep the magic alive.

The answer is straightforward: a combination of love, passion, and necessity. In the early 1970s, contemporary works weren’t being produced in Tucson. The few theatres in town stuck to the classics and classical pieces. And, perhaps more troubling but not surprisingly, women rarely held any decision making roles. Women in theatre might be actresses if there were roles for them, but off stage they worked in PR or hospitality positions. Female directors were practically unheard of. When Invisible Theatre started, they didn’t exactly go in to change theatre culture as a whole. They were women and wanted a say in what was being produced, and they certainly wanted to produce modern works, something that brought more women playwrights before audiences, but becoming “the feminist theatre,” wasn’t the goal. They wanted equality on and off stage, which happens to be feminist.

Susan Claassen as Edith Head. Photo courtesy of Invisible Theatre.

Susan Claassen as Edith Head. Photo courtesy of Invisible Theatre.

Then, for the men working with them, the reality of doing contemporary theatre set in. It was hard to start a theatre; harder still to do all new plays without the name recognition of, say, William Shakespeare. In their first year, facing economic hardship, 90% of the men working with the early incarnation of Invisible Theatre jumped ship. The women left took charge. They knew what they had was precious and worked to make sure they could produce the theatre they thought was important while staying in the black. And they did.

This season (their 49th!), follows the business model that has seen success over all these years: produce new or contemporary work, bring in artists with whom they want to work, put on shows they find interesting, usually by women, pay their team, and put women in charge. That last bit is my own interpretation of their model, but their leadership and staff page is dominated by women and 90 to 100% of their productions are directed by women.

Women, Claassen pointed out, are strong, have strong opinions, take stances on issues and are active in confronting problems. Claassen believes that artists should be activists – She admitted, proudly, to cancelling rehearsals to make sure her actors or students could attend a rally or protest.

When selecting plays, she takes a similar, but less in-your-face approach. They are still committed to producing new works and primering pieces in the region, but with the turbulent world we live in, Invisible Theatre is looking for something a little more subtle: “Plays that address current politics that aren’t actively about current events, but that still invigorate and give audiences something to reflect on.” And, Claassen said of the play selection process, she is looking for plays that give the audience a new way to look at things and have at least “a modicum of hope.”

This season Invisible Theatre is facing down the hate we hear on the news and see on social media with a Season of Love. Forty-nine seasons in, the play selection still resonates with what got them started in the first place: love, passion, and necessity. What that means varies from play to play, as they take a broad look at the concept of love. From love of humor to familial love to Becoming Dr. Ruth, “Which is certainly one way of looking at love,” Claassen remarked with a chuckle. As an actor (she’ll be playing Dr. Ruth) she knows actors and directors take risks, and that audiences trust them to produce work that is entertaining and thought provoking. “No one does theatre for money,” she observed, “so if the experience isn’t amazing, we aren’t doing our jobs.”

season of love

Invisible Theatre’s season is listed online and below. You can become a season ticket holder now and catch all six performances for $175.00 or purchase single tickets for $35.00 each by calling their box office at (520) 882-9721. Claassen couldn’t pick a favorite or must-see this season. In fact, she wouldn’t. When I asked for a show she is most excited about, she exuberantly said, “I couldn’t pick one! All of them! All of them!” She did add that Becoming Dr. Ruth would be an interesting challenge for her. “There are words Dr. Ruth says that I have never said in public,” she said with a laugh that suggested the guilty pleasure of taking on another persona on stage that lets you break the rules.

Join Claassen and the Invisible Theatre this fall and get a taste of what the company produces with Sizzling Summer Sounds, a cabaret style performance at the Carriage House downtown every evening July 8th through 21st (excluding July 15th) at 7:30pm. Patrons with dinner reservations at Janos Downtown Kitchen not only get an A+ date night, but reserved seats for the show.

Invisible Theatre’s 2019 – 2020 Season:

Sizzling Summer Sounds (Summer Cabaret)
July 8 – 21, 2019 at the Carriage House
Directed and produced by Susan Claassen, audiences will be treated to world class entertainment in a world class setting with award winning world class dining! The Carriage House will be transformed into an elegant and cosmopolitan cabaret showroom! The talent gracing our stage and being showcased is extraordinary!  Where else can you see seven different shows in two weeks? Our stellar lineup includes international guest artists Steve Ross, Natalie Douglas, Jon Weber, Ann Hampton Callaway and John Bucchino plus an array of Tucson favorites. Why go to New York or Los Angeles this summer when the best is coming to Tucson?!

Now and Then by Sean Grennan (Southwest Premiere)
September 3 – 15, 2019
A magical romantic comedy-drama about love and its unpredictable ways. Jamie is a young aspiring pianist working as a bartender when an amiable older gentleman enters and engages him in a friendly conversation. Jamie’s girlfriend Abby walks in and before you know it, the gentleman offers them a thousand dollars – each – to sit and just talk with him for one hour. They agree, and what they hear is an incredible story that changes their lives. This surprising tale about what it means to really love someone will touch your heart in unexpected ways.

Last Train to Nibroc by Arlene Hutton (Southwest Premiere)
October 22 – November 3, 2019
This is a funny, touching portrait of two people searching for happiness set in December of 1940. An eastbound cross-country train carries the bodies of the great American writers Nathanael West and F.Scott Fitzgerald. Also onboard is May, who shares her seat with a charming young flyer, Raleigh. A change in plans sets the course for a journey filled with emotional struggles, family differences, and ultimately, love.

Tony Award-Winning and Broadway Stars Lillias White and Scott Wakefield in the Arizona Premiere of Texas in Paris
January 18 – 19, 2020 at the Berger Performing Arts Center
Based on true events, Texas in Paris is the musical journey of a man and a woman – one white, one black – invited to France to perform at the Maison Des Cultures du Monde. They have never met, have no professional singing experience, and face the challenge of working together and co-existing in an unfamiliar world. Apprehensive of each other, they struggle with preconceptions, but forge a surprising spiritual bond that transforms their onstage performance and their lives.

Becoming Dr. Ruth by Mark St. Germain (Arizona Premiere)
February 11 – 23, 2020
Everyone knows Dr. Ruth Westheimer from her career as a pioneering radio and television sex therapist. Few, however, know the incredible journey that preceded it.From fleeing the Nazis in the Kindertransport and joining the Haganah in Jerusalem as a scout and sniper, to her struggles to succeed as a single mother coming to America, Becoming Dr. Ruth is filled with the humor, honesty, and life-affirming spirit of Karola Ruth Siegel, the girl who became “Dr. Ruth”, America’s most famous sex therapist.

Award-Winning Broadway Star Steve Solomon in the Arizona Premiere of From Brooklyn to Broadway
March 14 – 15, 2020 at the Berger Performing Arts Center
Presenting an evening of hilarious comedy with the author and star of one of the longest running one-man comedies in Broadway history: My Mother’s Italian, My Father’s Jewish & I’m In Therapy. This will be a night of pure enjoyment as Steve, using his gift for acting, dialects, and voices, brings to life more than twenty oddball people in hysterical situations that we can all relate to. From family to friends, from TSA officers to Steve’s doctors… from Brooklyn to Broadway! You’ll recognize these characters from your own life and leave the theater wiping tears of laughter from your eyes!

Filming O’Keefe by Eric Lanen (Southwest Premiere)
April 21 – May 3, 2020
An emotional, lyrical, and funny play that tells the story of Max and his classmate Lily, who are making a film about legendary artists Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz. Max and his mother, Melissa, live on the Lake George property that was once part of the artists’ home. When Max’s estranged grandfather unexpectedly shows up the family’s hidden and mysterious past is revealed.

Special Shows This Season:

Made For Each Other by Monica Bauer
November 15  7:30 PM and November 16 3:00  PM and 7:30 PM
This not-to-be-missed play by acclaimed Tucson Playwright Monica Bauer has been performed to rave reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Orlando Fringe, Boulder Fringe, Off Broadway at the United Solo Festival and The 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Gay marriage, with an Alzheimer’s twist. One actor plays four parts in this tour de force drama with lighthearted comedy about a gay couple, the power of memory, and the need to tell the truth. NY Guest Artist John Fico will reprise his award winning (“an incredible performance” Three Weeks) role in this five-star hit.

Down To Eartha! Starring Film and TV Star Dierdra McDowell and Directed by Marishka S. Phillips.
November 22 7:30 PM and November 23 3:00 PM and 7:30 PM
In 1968 while at the height of her career as a world renowned entertainer, Eartha Kitt was also working as one of the main lobbyists for a group of young activists called the “Rebels With A Cause”. During this time, she was invited to a White House luncheon by Lady Bird Johnson to discuss the issue of the rising crime rates in America. Eartha stood up and expressed her views that the increase in crime was mostly due to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Lady Bird Johnson was personally insulted and by order of President Lyndon Johnson, Eartha Kitt was blacklisted from work in the United States for the following 10 years!  DOWN TO EARTHA, chronicles through her music and actual testimony, this amazing woman’s journey back to her own power, affirming that a woman´s freedom of speech should never be compromised!