The Little Prince is Pure Magic

by Chloe Loos

The Little Prince is my favorite book. When I was a little girl, my mother introduced me to the world of the enigmatic prince and all the characters he meets throughout his travels of the universe. I didn’t, as most children don’t, quite grasp the eternal life lessons this book has granted me. As I’ve grown, I find myself drawn to quotes from the book that give me clarity. Many of us likely have a similar bond with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 novel. Entering the star-strung set, all of my nostalgia came to light.

Kate Cannon (middle) as The Aviator with Julia Balestracci (left), Gretchen Wirges (right), and Lance Guzman (bottom). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Kate Cannon (middle) as The Aviator with Julia Balestracci (left), Gretchen Wirges (right), and Lance Guzman (bottom). Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The Scoundrel & Scamp’s adaptation of the novel, translated by Claire Marie Mannle, and adapted and directed by Holly Griffith, delivers everything I so love about this book. I can’t remember the last time that I was so enthralled with a piece of theatre. It’s magical, it’s beautiful, it’s funny, it’s poignantly sad, and every line is filled with deep truths and wisdom. It is in this space that we hear big truths from the little voices of both the prince both on stage and the one within us.

Cole Potwardowski as The Lamp Lighter and Ryuto Adamson as The Fox. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Cole Potwardowski as The Lamp Lighter and Ryuto Adamson as The Fox. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The ensemble cast, led by Kathleen Cannon as The Aviator, glided through this piece of work with grace. Attention was directed and kept so well; I would be so caught up in a performance that I wouldn’t notice the utter magic happening on stage until they reminded me to look for it. While every single performer had moments where they either made me laugh or sometimes brought me to tears – sometimes at the same time – special shout out to Gabriella de Brequet’s performance of the Rose, Cole Potwardowski as The Lamplighter, Ryuto Adamson as The Fox, and each one of Gretchen Wirges’ many characters. The ensemble was so strong and so striking in the physical, vocal, and character work that I sometimes forgot this wasn’t a cast of 30.

The performers navigated the tonal shifts and transitions with beauty and were strongly supported by music director Feliz Torralba. Torralba’s playing underscored multiple moments to the point that she and the music felt like another member of the ensemble. Her strong use of musical motifs helped us journey through the plot and tethered us to characters and emotions felt by the characters on stage and the audience.

In addition, the stagecraft was truly out of this world. The set featured a revolving platform and twinkles of starlight, supported by the incredible lighting (Raulie Martinez) which took us from day to night through sunrises, sunsets, dusk, and twilight. The props were childlike and simple but imbued with a sense of playful awe. No wonder we adults still go to the theatre. Kids go, too. I stayed for the talk back and a little boy, no more than 8, asked a question about what The Prince did after the end of the story, to which Griffith noted was the same sort of question the aviator would ask. This shows that the work we choose to do, as theatre makers, matters. By allowing a space to wonder, to hope, to welcome, the art done impacts hearts and minds of all ages.

Finally, I can’t remember seeing a production this diverse in a long time. Out of nine on-stage bodies, there were six women, half of whom were women of color, and three men, none of whom were white. The creative team was primarily made up of women as well. The variety of performers in this production reminds us that there is so much space for love, acceptance, and voices, if we only let them on stage. Through The Little Prince, those of us in the audience, especially those tired or excluded by lack of representation are reminded, simply, that this story is for all of us.

The Little Prince runs through Sunday, November 3rd at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, by calling the box office at (520) 448-3300, or in-person an hour prior to the show.

Students of All Ages Are Invited to See Themselves in Any Role at PCC Arts

Editor’s Note: This is the eleventh 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.

A theatre education for all audiences with Pima’s Todd Poelstra and Chris Will.

by Leigh Moyer

Pima ArtsIt should come as no surprise that Pima Community College Theatre Arts’ advance program coordinator Todd Poelstra and theatre faculty member Chris Will took the opportunity to teach me when I sat down with them a few weeks ago. They are, after all, professors. It struck me as very likely that they see almost every moment with an audience, from an interviewer to a classroom to a theater full of people, as an educational moment. Each season is structured to contain a children’s show in the fall, a musical in the spring, and either a contemporary piece or a classical piece rounding out each semester for a total of four productions per year. While chatting, though, they quickly moved past these nominal constraints to the boundlessness of what theatre offers.

“We could do Disney or something very popular but we don’t,” Will said, explaining why they are producing The Sun Serpent, the third installment of a bilingual (or in this case, trilingual) series by José Cruz González. “We’re doing Sun Serpent because it is culturally important, and because the kids who see this show, who come on field trips, probably wouldn’t come to theatre otherwise. Those kids need to see this work. Kids should have the very best theatre because they’re the future of theatre.”

“And it isn’t just the grade school students, it’s our students, they need that too,” Poelstra added, “We really want to change the dynamic; we want students of color to see themselves onstage and see stories that might be their story on stage and have opportunities to imagine themselves on stage.”

Adrian Hinojos as Dionysus, Veronica Hernandez as Persephone/Semele, and Rene Gallego as Orpheus. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

Adrian Hinojos as Dionysus, Veronica Hernandez as Persephone/Semele, and Rene Gallego as Orpheus in the 2018-2019 season production of Polaroid Stories. Photo courtesy of Pima Community College Center for the Arts.

But if a mixed media story about the conquest of Cortez isn’t your thing (but really, it ought to be), don’t worry: the season is very eclectic. After Sun Serpent, audiences will be treated to Baskerville, a stage adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of Baskervilles. Then they change direction again, with the musical Singin’ in the Rain. The season wraps up with Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the origin of the oft-repeated line “All the world’s a stage.”

While many theatres have a theme tying the season together, Will pointed out that that can be hard or even inappropriate in an educational setting: “We need a balance, because we need to give these students a variety of pieces since we don’t know where they’re going to be heading. It’s our job to give them the experiences that will be good on a resume and get them roles in local theatres. We’re the training ground for them.”

There is one unifying trait among this season’s plays, although it might be more obvious to a director than to audiences. Each show is an ensemble piece, so while there will be a Sherlock and a Watson, for example, there will be a whole cast of characters that don’t have to fit a specific type. Casting is done based on who is excited, who is a promising young actor, and who gets what the directors are trying to create. 

Poelstra had a number of examples: “For all our shows this year, the idea of casting can, for the most part, go in any direction. We’re already making changes. The Sun Serpent is written as two brothers, now it is a sister and a brother. So as far as gender, and certainly any other category of identity, almost anything could happen in almost any of the shows. It is challenging with a dance-heavy musical; we have a student who is an amazing singer and in a wheelchair. I don’t know if she’ll be in the show before auditions, but I’m interested in the idea conceptually. And Watson could be anybody. Or, so could Sherlock. Anything could happen. It depends on who shows up and what they bring to auditions.”

It is exceptionally refreshing to see a company adopting this mindset. When Poelstra and Will choose plays, they are looking at the story and how it is best told. Casting is a secondary consideration, focusing on which actors bring the works most vividly to life, rather than seeking to fill the roles with a specific type of person. For me, Will summed it up best: “A lot of people become actors because they they think they want to play all these different characters, but in reality it’s the opposite, you find all those characters within yourself.”

Check out the whole season, whatever it might bring, at the West Campus (2202 W. Anklam Road). Contact the box office at (520) 206-6989 for tickets and information or shop online. The whole season is outlined below.

Pima Community College Center for the Arts’ 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Sun Serpent, by José Cruz González, directed by Milta Pinate
September 28 – October 6, 2019
When young Anahuac’s family meets the newly arrived Cortes, they believe he is the Sun Serpent come to usher in a new and better world. Anahuac’s brother eagerly joins Cortes’ grand march to the capital, Tenochtitlan. But while Cortes promised a world of peace and plenty, the soldiers he left behind soon engage in a ruthless search for gold. Orphaned during one of their raids, Anahuac sets off through the jungle to find and warn her  brother. Along the way, she meets the omnipotent Aztec ruler, Motecuhzoma and discovers that he is unable to protect his people against the Spanish. She comes to realize that neither leader is divine.

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, by Ken Ludwig, directed by Chris Will
November 7 – 17, 2019
Comedic genius Ken Ludwig transforms Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic The Hound of the Baskervilles into a murderously funny adventure. Sherlock Holmes is on the case. The male heirs of the Baskerville line are being dispatched one by one. To find their ingenious killer, Holmes and Watson must brave the desolate moors before a family curse dooms its newest heir. Watch as our intrepid investigators try to escape a dizzying web of clues, silly accents, disguises, and deceit as five actors deftly portray more than 40 characters. Join the fun and see how far from elementary the truth can be.

Singin’ in the Rain, Screenplay by Better Comden and Adolph Green, songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, directed by Todd Poelstra
February 20 – March 1, 2020
Adapted from the 1952 movie, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN captures the waning days of the silent screen era as they give way to new-fangled talkies. Set in Hollywood, the studios are forced to suddenly change all the movie-making rules at once to accommodate sound. The plot focuses on Monumental Studio’s romantic lead Don Lockwood, his sidekick Cosmo Brown and Lockwood’s leading lady Lina Lamont who can’t sing, and can’t even really talk. Lina’s voice sounds something like nails on a chalkboard. Enter Kathy Selden, whose dulcet tones are able to cover Lina Lamont’s—calling into question what it means to act, how credit is distributed, and what it means to get a fair shake in the movie  business. Singin’ in the Rain includes some of the best-loved comedy routines, dance numbers and love songs ever written, including Good Mornin’, Make ‘em Laugh, and the show-stopping dance number, Singin’ in the Rain.

As You Like It, by William Shakespeare, directed by Mickey Nugent
April 16 – 26, 2020
The story follows its heroine Rosalind, accompanied by her cousin Celia, as she flees  persecution in her uncle’s court to find safety and eventually love in the Forest of Arden. In the forest, they find Orlando, Rosalind’s love. Disguised as a boy shepherd, Rosalind has Orlando woo her under the guise of “curing” him of his love for Rosalind. Along the way they encounter a variety of memorable characters, notably the melancholy traveler, Jaques, who speaks many of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches—such as “All the world’s a stage,” “too much of a good thing” and “A fool! A fool! I met a fool in the forest”. Jaques provides a sharp contrast to the other characters in the play, always observing and disputing the hardships of life in the country.

Old and New Favorite Stories This Season at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre

Editor’s Note: This is the tenth 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.

Building empathy and expanding what tribe means to us, one show at a time, with Bryan Falcón.

by Leigh Moyer

ScoundrelType_529_Black-01.pngWhat makes a Scoundrel & Scamp show? Well, according to Artistic and Co-managing Director Bryan Falcón: “At the heart there’s really the question of does the show have a mixture of heart and mind? Does it have a sense of mystery to it? Is there a little touch of whimsy? And is there duende that’s living underneath the surface?”

For those of you like myself who are unfamiliar with duende, it’s a figure from Latin American fairy tales: a mischievous spirit that lives in the walls of homes. While the term might be new to some of us, those familiar with the shows that The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre produces will recognize it immediately. Not all their shows have spirits, but they do tend to have a personality of their own, an extra life beneath the surface, changing what seemed like a straightforward story into something else.

That  layered depth is alive and well in their first production, The Little Prince. A crashed aviator is confronted by a young prince exploring nearby worlds, and, with the innocence of a child, questions and ridicules the strange habits and priorities of adults. The Scoundrel & Scamp version aims to ask a classic loved by generations some of the same questions. Upsetting expectations, like taking traditional gender expectations and casting roles like the Aviator as a woman, intend to ask the questions of why things have been done one way and not another and, hopefully, answer them skillfully.

Falcón gushed about all the plays this season, about the mystery and joy he hopes each of them bring audiences, but one stands apart from the group: “In Cloud Tectonics there’s a search for who we are. It is a story that is near and dear to me. It’s a beautiful love story set against the backdrop of magical realism. A man living a mundane life, separated from the passions that filled him when he was young. It is his journey to look for the things that made him who he is and doing so through remembering Spanish and remembering the foods of his youth. These are things that speak to me as a Latin artist growing up in the United States.”

He continued, “I think border issues are on my mind a lot these days and the weight of our tendency to ‘other’ people. A lot of othering comes from a struggle to find our own people. We are hungry for an identity, something that we can believe in, that we feel is good and upright. And it’s so important for Tucsonans to be in tune with. How do we go through that process of finding what’s important to us, what gives us passion, what gives us reason to live? Cloud Tectonics is a really good story for our community today.”

Much of what he spoke about wasn’t about the content of the plays, but the issues he hopes they bring to light — namely, the issues of hate, intolerance, and a lack of basic empathy for others — and the conversations he hopes they will spark in audiences. Beyond border issues, the political climate of 2019 is on Falcón’s mind and that concern makes itself known in the productions to which he is drawn. 

“I think that’s interesting, tracking how our society has changed in the course of the last three years. And there’s a lot of argument to say it has changed recently, right? But in other ways, at a basic level, we haven’t changed a lot. It feels like we are inclined as a society to draw boxes around identities and say this is our tribe and we are going to just cheer for our tribe and just tear down the other tribe as much as we possibly can. And I feel that now it’s just as important, if not even more acute, that we set up situations where that conversation can happen across the table in the lobby of a theatre or in a talkback session where you can start to feel, to step into the identities of other people, start to understand what it is that hurts them, what is it that fires them up and makes them passionate. And start to have empathy so we can real conversations instead of pointing fingers at each other and labeling them bad people.”

Empathy is key, not just in this conversation, but in the mission statement of the theatre. Falcón stressed that showing a variety of voices and viewpoints was the foundation of each season. It can be challenging, he admitted, as the history of play-writing does not always lend itself to telling stories outside of a certain sphere. But that is where he and the Scoundrel & Scamp creative team, which includes Elizabeth Falcón and Claire Mannle, come in. He explained that he might find a season he is excited and passionate about, but then realize it all comes from one perspective. And when that happens, he says, “We scrap it and begin again. It takes a lot of time and effort but it is so important to our identity as a theatre company to have that sense of diversity and multiple lenses for those coming to see a play.”

The cast of the 2018-2019 season production of This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

The cast of the 2018-2019 season production of This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Falcon seems to see his role as artistic director as a humanistic duty or community obligation. “We’re really in the business of growing empathy for others through addressing concerns of the heart. We want to explore themes of race and tribe and gender and push the boundaries of what all things mean to us. And the theatre is one of the few art forms if not the artform that allows you to step into other people’s skin for a time and in doing so learn empathy. Theatre is a way to change hearts. I borrowed that, that isn’t my quote, but I heard it and it stuck with me.”

Their season contains both plays “for Scoundrels” (usually recommended for those in high school and up) and “for Scamps” (theatre to be enjoyed by audiences of any age), The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre is working to bring theatrical inclusivity to as many people as possible, regardless of age or background. “Part of our mission is to introduce the next generation to theatre,” Falcón explained. “Part of that is by providing theatre that families can come to with some sense of security that is is going to be a good experience for all involved, work that will hook people no matter their age. And there are some things we want to talk about of a darker or more adult nature and that is our season for Scoundrels.”

You can learn more about the whole season below or on their website. Individual tickets are available before the run of each show begins but season tickets are on sale now. This season they are also introducing a new way to consume (and I really think that is the best descriptor) theatre: The Scoundrel Society. As a member, you can watch any show as many times as you like. Entrance to other events like the new Late Night with Scoundrels cabaret and more intimate conversations with creatives and invitations to parties are also promised. Plus, you get a cool mug.

The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre’s 2019 – 2020 Season:

The Little Prince, adapted by Holly Griffith from the novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, directed by Holly Griffith
October 17 – November 3, 2019
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”An aviator crashes his plane into the Sahara desert and encounters a mysterious little prince from a distant planet. The two strangers, each far from home, share adventures and become friends. A new ensemble-based, physical theatre adaptation of the beloved classic story for children and grown ups who can remember that they were children once. 

Cloud Tectonics, by José Rivera, directed by Bryan Rafael Falcón
November 21 – December 8, 2019
“What better way to understand a mystery than to fall in love with it?”
On a rainy night in Los Angeles, a man picks up a pregnant hitchhiker to help her find her way home and time suddenly stops. Realism and magical realism collide in Rivera’s dreamlike world where two souls unexpectedly cross paths.

The Light Princess, book by Lila Rose Kaplan, music by Mike Pettry, directed by Michelle Milne
February 6 – 23, 2020
“A princess needs to find her ground so goodness can prevail, everyone needs something they can call their fairy tale.”
In this musical adapted from George MacDonald’s fairy tale, a king and queen are desperate to have a child. They turn to a witch for a solution, but “there is always a price.” Their daughter is born without gravity and must find it before her 16th birthday or else… Wise men, witches, princes all attempt to come to the rescue. This enchanting musical comedy is a Valentine for the whole family, appropriate for Scoundrels and Scamps alike.

Ada and The Engine, by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Bryan Rafael Falcón
March 26 – April 12, 2020
Ada Byron Lovelace is the woman you didn’t know to thank for our digital age. Although her dear friend Charles Babbage conceived the first “analytical engine” or proto-computer, she wrote and published the first program for it, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. As she comes of age with a stern mother and in the shadow of a scandalous father, we see her brilliance in conflict with 19th century conventions. Genius knows no gender.

Letter’s End, by Wolfe Bowart
May 15 – 31, 2020
Wolfe Bowart (Cloud Soup, U.S. Premiere) triumphantly returns to the S&S stage with his unique solo physical comedy. On his inspiration for Letter’s End, Bowart says “I’ve always been interested in memory – how at times it tumbles out like Fibber McGee’s closet and other times seems elusive, stuffed away in an old package in the attic. The story begins with a man inhabiting a slightly off-kilter dead letter office, but then becomes something altogether unexpected. Ultimately a wondrous and poignant journey down a most magical memory lane, where mops sneeze and storks swoop in bearing gifts and trees grow out of shoes, Bowart’s performance inspired Canberra critic Wendy Brazil to remark “you will be mesmerized … he will make you laugh, he will make you sigh, and and you will be enchanted by his every move.”

Late Night With Scoundrels

The second Friday of the month at 10:30pm
A Late Night cabaret experience – sixty minutes of the best variety that Tucson has to offer! Explore the many skills and talents the artists of our community possess in this unique experience to 4th Avenue and the Tucson Community. Acting! Song! Dance! Standup! The Physical. The Metaphysical! …and Puppetry! Now something completely different for your Friday night. The first Late Night with Scoundrels will be held on September 13th.

 

Editor’s Note: Leigh Moyer is the resident house manager at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. While she had no input or involvement in the creative process behind building a season, we feel it is important to disclose any potential biases.

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!

 

My Kingdom for Cohesive Direction!

by Gabriella De Brequet

Richard III is one of Shakespeare’s most famous history plays written about the insidious king and his corrupt quest for blood, power, and the throne of England. It’s truly horrifying how relevant Richard III is for today’s audience considering our current political climate. However, the direction by Brent Gibbs, in this Arizona Repertory Theatre production, left me unsatisfied and confused.

‘The blocking of this production was awkward and unmotivated. The performers seemed to be crossing from once side of the stage to the other with no greater reason other than the fact that they were told to.  This was especially the case in large crowd scenes.

Richard III is a play heavy with death. But this production seemed to have little to no stakes from characters who were being sent to their executions. There was no sense of danger associated with many of the character’s deaths, and ultimately it didn’t support the content of the play. The world just wasn’t believable and this made the two-hour production difficult to sit through, even for a Shakespeare-lover such as myself. To top it off, director Gibbs chose to create an out of left-field alternate horror movie ending which completely strays from the original text. This left me wondering, will there be a sequel? If so, count me out.

Through all of the awkward staging, lack of relationships, and bold directorial choices there were some notable performances. Liam Thibeault’s Duke of Buckingham was witty and sharp, Kelly Hajek’s Queen Elizabeth was strong and striking, Jenna Meadow’s as the Murder was hilarious, Marina DeVaux and Sophia Goodin as Edward and Duke of York were unified and clear. Overall I felt that the female ensemble members carried the show. They were dynamic and interesting to watch on stage. As for Connor Mckinley Griffin’s portrayal of the title character, I felt that his lack of charm presented the character as one dimensional. Griffin delivered plenty of horrifying menace, but I wish that his Richard had a little more depth in his villainy.

In spite of all the production’s directional bumps, visually this play was stunning with a multi-leveled set by Jason Jamerson adorned with spikes, skeletons, and abstract metal work. The lighting by Tori Mays was striking and helped set the scene. The costumes by Elizabeth Eaton were gorgeously grungy. This production was a technically and visually jaw dropping, and the production is worth witnessing for the design elements alone. However, the production design team could not save the show from its misguided direction.

Richard III is playing at the Marroney Theater through Sunday, March 31st. Tickets can be purchased via the Arizona Repertory Theatre website: theatre.arizona.edu or by calling the box office at 520-621-1162.

Sweet Calendar Girls

by China Young

Calendar Girls by Tim Firth is a sweet story about love, friendship, and female empowerment. But when I say female empowerment, I don’t mean radical feminism, bra burning, or Women’s Marches. The production, currently performing at St. Francis in the Foothills, offers its audiences a sweeter, subtler version of girl power. Although, it does still involve the removal of bras.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo by Gretchen Wirges, courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

The story, based on real life events, takes place in England. Annie (played by Gretchen Wirges), is married to John (played by Mike Manolakes), a delightful man that everyone in her women’s group (WI) adores. John quickly loses a battle with Leukemia, and the women all share the grief of his loss. However, this grief is quickly transformed into a fundraising project. Annie’s friend and fellow WI member, Chris (played by Colleen Zandbergen), strategizes a way to honor John by raising funds for a new settee in the local hospital waiting room in his memory. She hopes to accomplish this through the the sales of the annual WI calendar. In an effort to make the calendar more appealing than usual, Chris convinces the women to pose nude, using various objects to hide behind. The women debate over their fears and excitement about the idea, but their enthusiasm, comradery, and mutual love of John win over and they decide to do it. The calendar turns out to be a hit, giving the women tons of public exposure, in more ways than one. However, fame does what it does best and eventually leads Annie to question Chris’s true motives for helping John, and their friendship falters.

I decided to Google the true story behind Calendar Girls and discovered that there was in fact a schism of friendships that took its toll on the actual group of women. There remains a permanent split, with some more in the public eye than others. The fracture of trust between Chris and Annie mirrors this real-life split. Despite the real Calendar Girls being unable to make amends, this production leaves the audience with feelings of warmth and love.  

First, I’d like to note that out of the 20 people listed in the program, 14 of them were women with 9 on stage and 5 off stage, including a female director, Samantha Cormier, and female producer, Cecilia Monroe. Though the men were fewer in number, they were essential in helping the production bloom and are certainly not discounted. The only thing that would have elevated it would be more ethnically diverse representation. Director Samantha Cormier notes that the production is “another example of how women need to help each other out and be there for each other.” She is absolutely right, especially when it seems as though women have a tendency to see each other as threats instead of kindred spirits. This story is about the power of coming together for a cause that is important. In that way, it’s much like the Women’s Marches and can be used as a tool for change. For me, those protests promoted awareness of the intersectionality of women and minorities, and this show provides the perfect vehicle to share the same message through theatre.

Of course, sometimes a play is just a play, but as an artist, I always appreciate when a much larger message is presented profoundly within the simplicity of a beautiful show like this. Even so, this cast represents the essence of community and the power that love and kindness can have on all of us. Not to mention how vulnerable it must have felt being literally naked in front of an audience. Their encouragement of one another to fearlessly liberate themselves was truly powerful. This production reminded me of the strength and power that women can have to change the world through simply supporting one another.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

The cast of Calendar Girls. Photo by the Pima Community College department of theatre, courtesy of the St. Francis Theatre.

Cormier and her cast create a fun and high energy environment that envelops the audience, literally. Many entrances were from the back of the house, inviting the audience to be a part of the action. To further enhance that quality, the stage was set up as a thrust with audience on three sides. While there were often enough people on the stage to provide nice stage pictures from all angles, I felt there were lost opportunities to take advantage of diagonal angles when fewer characters were on stage or when one character took focus. I also found the high energy of the women to sometimes be a bit chaotic and in need of a little more focus. All that said, the joy the performers had with this show and the heart that they brought to it overshadowed those few technicalities.

Gretchen Wirges as Annie was a pillar of this production. She grounded herself and her character beautifully. Even in the moments she wasn’t speaking or taking center stage, you could sense her internal life holding its own. She had moments of vulnerability that wrecked my heart, as well as moments of strength and fortitude that I could admire. The other “Calendar Girls” included Colleen Zandbergen, tragically convincing as she channeled Chris’s hubris, Ellie Vought, bringing a ton of fun and sass to her character Celia, Sue Bishop, giving Ruth a genuine innocence that turns rebellious, Pat Timm, delivering unapologetic bluntness as Jessie, and Nancy French with her skilled piano playing and hilarious punchlines.

The cast is rounded out by Jan Aalberts Waukon, Ina Shivack, Naima Boushaki, David Zinke, and David Gunther, all of whom did more than their share to create a production that is sure to lift your spirits. In lieu of revealing the most touching moment of the production, I encourage you to take the opportunity to experience the magic it summons, making every single person in the room feel loved and appreciated. I left humbled and inspired by the mark it left in my heart.

Calendar Girls runs Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3:00pm through March 24th. You can purchase tickets online at www.artmeetsheart.com or by phone at (520) 329-2910.