Mona Lisa Teaches us a Lesson on Art

by China Young

Art is alive. I believe this to be true because those of us that view art are alive. Whether it is a painting, a sculpture, a play, a song, or any other art form, no two people will have the exact same opinion.  Author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford put it best when she wrote, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Beauty and value cannot be judged objectively because everyone experiences art through their own individual lens, and that lens is ever-changing. However, with opinions come critiques, and if you’re reading this then you’re likely aware that critiques can influence opinions. Mona Lisa on the Loose, written and directed by Gretchen Wirges with music by David Ragland, explores all these themes with humor, music, and joy. Despite these themes being a bit more complex than expected for a family show, the simplicity with which it is told leaves the entire audience with a beautiful message that is full of heART.

Mona Lisa on the Loose

Ally Tanzillo as Helen, Andrew Miller as Blue Boy, Christina Evans as Mona Lisa, and Kyleigh Sacco as Pierre and Robert. Photo courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

The play begins by establishing the audience as visitors to the Louvre Museum. We are introduced to our tour-guide, Pierre (Kyleigh Sacco), who then proceeds to show us the art contained in the museum. However, Pierre is clearly bored from giving this same tour multiple times every day and presents the art in an over-critical manner, touting them all plain, boring, and nothing special. Even the Mona Lisa, considered one of the greatest works of all time, is criticized by this jaded tour guide. After the Louvre closes, the four pieces of art we’ve met (I’ll get to them all specifically in a minute) come to life, shake off their “forever” poses, and start to talk, sing, and even dance. They are discovered to be “alive” by the Louvre overnight janitor, Roberta, who eventually reveals to them that, because of Pierre’s criticisms, they are no longer considered  “great works” and there is a rumor that they will all be relocated to the storage room. Through the power of (theatre) magic, the artwork transforms Pierre’s attitude towards them from disdain to appreciation, ensuring they keep their place in the halls of the museum and in the hearts of all people that come to see them. 

The first work of art the audience is introduced to is Pearl (Taylor Thomas), the oil painting The Girl with the Pearl Earring by Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer (c. 1665). Next, we meet Blue (Andrew Miller) from Thomas Gainsborough’s full-length oil painting The Blue Boy (c. 1770). Our only sculpture is Helen (Ally Tanzillo), a bust of a Greek goddess. The precise origin of this piece is unknown, but she is believed to be from approximately the 4th century BC. Finally, we meet Mona Lisa (Tina Evans), Leonardo DaVinci’s “archetypal masterpiece” from the Italian Renaissance. The Mona Lisa is shrouded in mystery: Who is she? Is she smiling? Why is she smiling? Is she finished? It is even uncertain when DaVinci began to work on her. She is believed to have been painted sometime between 1503 and 1517 and was likely not worked on consistently. The Mona Lisa, or La Gioagonde in French, has lived at the Louvre since 1797 and is one of the most visited works of art in the world. If I remember correctly, most, if not all, of these facts are presented within the play, making it just as educational as it is entertaining.

Full disclosure, I’ve never been to a Live Theatre Workshop Family Series production because I’m not really a “family series” kind of person. The audience was predominantly kids ranging from “babies” to “who knows,” with a generous sprinkling of adults (because how else are kids going to get to the theatre). I usually avoid places where I anticipate large gatherings of young children, but I have to admit that they made the show that much better. Their reactions and interjections were priceless. It helped that there were tons of clever lines and jokes within the script that were obviously put there for the adults, whether the kids picked up on them or not. The song lyrics were also very clever, though the music itself occasionally slowed down the pace of the play. Sometimes it was the tempo of the song itself, other times it was due to lengthy opening interludes. This was a minor issue in an otherwise lovely production for all ages. 

The technical designs complimented the script in their educated simplicity. Stephanie Frankenfield’s costumes found a smart balance between the essence of the art each character represented while including flourishes of modern-day dress that made them instantly more contemporary. The set design (by Stephen Frankenfield and Amanda Gremel) and scenic painting (Karin Hupp) were equally successful in this regard, if not more so considering this production must share a stage with LTW’s Mainstage productions. Each “painting” had their own stationary frame to stand behind (or around), and the bust of Helen sat on a movable pedestal that hid her body and allowed the other actors to move her around and include her into the action. Gremel also designed the lighting, which included tricks to light the artworks similarly to how you might see them in an actual exhibit. The script and staging allowed these lights to become their own characters at times, exposing the audience to how integrated technical designs can be in a production. Again, smart and simple. 

I really appreciate introducing children (and adults) to other art forms through theatre. It is a fantastic tool to educate and inspire, especially when not everyone can visit the Louvre. The best part of this show was the message I was left with: art comes from the human heart, and that’s why it is so beautiful to witness. Love what you love, and share it with others. 

Mona Lisa on the Loose is playing at Live Theatre Workshop on Sundays, January 26 – March 8, 2020 (no show February 16), at 12:30pm. More information and tickets are available online at https://www.livetheatreworkshop.org.

A Bump in the Night and a Monster Dilemma

by Jess Herrera

Tabitha Turnpike has a big imagination. But, for her parents, Tabitha’s imagination is nothing more than a big problem.

In the Live Theatre Workshop’s original play, Tabitha Turnpike has a MONSTERous Problem, written by Richard Gremel and featuring original music by David Ragland, the titular character uses her bravery and creativity to solve a larger-than-life problem.

Under the direction and choreography of Samantha Cormier, this current production in the theater’s family series is an enjoyable story for young audience members with a meaningful lesson aimed at adults. There are plenty of jokes that land with parents, and it features a plot that’s easy to relate to at any age.

The costumes, designed by Stephanie Frankenfield, help pull viewers right into the story, and ensure the actors who split roles easily transitioned between characters. This was especially true of the monsters, who were the perfect mix of fluff and fright to be believable without scaring young attendees. And the simple sets were just enough to allow everyone’s imagination to run wild.

In the opening scene Tabitha, played by Taylor Thomas, saves her doll from an evil henchman with time to enjoy tea before bed. She beautifully blends two big childhood dreams as a superhero who can fly and who is also a princess. She draws you into her rescue mission with just a few props and doesn’t fall into a tired stereotype.

Mike Saxon as Mr. Turnpike, Taylor Thomas as Tabitha Turnpike and Danielle Dodge as Mrs. Turnpike. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Mike Saxon as Mr. Turnpike, Taylor Thomas as Tabitha Turnpike and Danielle Dodge as Mrs. Turnpike. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

Unfortunately her superhero cape, fashioned out of an heirloom tablecloth, is the last straw for her mom and dad, played by Danielle Dodge and Mike Saxon respectively. Tabitha is grounded and sent to bed with no story.

But her troubles have just begun. As soon as her dad turns out the lights, she begins to hear growling from under her bed. Tabitha, who has just been told to grow up, can’t tell her parents about the monster in her room.

Out from under her bed appears Squirble, played by William Seidel. After some shrieks from Tabitha and Squirble — as well as the audience — it’s revealed that Squirble needs Tabitha’s help. He’s a monster trying desperately to join the Super Scary Society, but he’s just not very scary.

They team up to convince the leaders of the society, Fangs and Spike, characters also played by Dodge and Saxon, that Squirble should be accepted despite his differences.

William Seidel as Squirble and Taylor Thomas as Tabitha Turnpike. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

William Seidel as Squirble and Taylor Thomas as Tabitha Turnpike. Photo by Ryan Fagan, courtesy of Live Theatre Workshop.

My five-year-old, who joined me for the performance, immediately fell in love with Squirble. Seidel’s sweet performance, coupled with his very cuddly costume, made him a favorite. My daughter ran to give him a big hug at the end of the performance — a clear sign of approval.

And although Fangs and Spike were late additions to the ensemble, they were definitely stand-out characters. With their hilarious musical number (and a few fart jokes), they were just the right mix of menacing and lovable for everyone to enjoy.

On the flip side of Dodge and Saxon’s monstrous performances as Fangs and Spike were their roles as Tabitha’s parents. While they delivered some funny and familiar lines, their reactions felt a bit overblown. Perhaps this was because Tabitha’s intended age was hard to pin down.

Many of the musical numbers felt lacking. While Spike and Fang’s song was catchy and funny, others were far less memorable.

Despite these limitations, Tabitha Turnpike has a Monsterous Problem is creative, funny and heartfelt. Running at just under an hour, it’s a great early theater experience for preschool-aged children, and it has a story that kids in early elementary can also enjoy.

 Tabitha Turnpike has a MONSTERous Problem is playing at Live Theatre Workshop on Sundays at 12:30 p.m. through August 11. You can buy tickets on their website, http://www.livetheatreworkshop.org/, or by calling the box office at (520) 327-4242.

 

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!