Up Close with Alyssa Ruiz: an ensemble member at Stories that Soar!

Alyssa Ruizinterviewed by Gabriella De Brequet

How did you get involved with Stories that Soar!?

I was apart of Stories that Soar!’s high school program at Desert View High School when I was 17 or 18, I ended up loving it and planned to audition for the ensemble, but I got a school scholarship, so I went away for two years. As soon as I came back this summer I auditioned and got in, and I don’t regret it at all. It’s so much fun!

What has working with Stories that Soar! taught you about your community?

That kids are very aware of everything that happens to them. They are a lot smarter than we think they are. Adults underestimate youth especially, so I’ve learned to accept everyone no matter their age. I don’t necessarily agree with the statement “The older, the wiser”, I think with age comes experience, but a child can be just as wise.

What do you think every performer can benefit from being part of an ensemble?

You learn how to collaborate and especially in Stories that Soar!’s case you play a variety of roles in the same show. As a performer you learn how to to use your body to create multiple characters. Are you everything and every one.

Photo courtesy of Stories that Soar!

Photo courtesy of Stories that Soar!

Do you have an all time favorite story that has been adapted for the stage?

Yes! A few shows back we did Lemonade. We performed it entirely in silhouette. This little girl wrote this story about this old man who would drink lemonade and eat toast with jam on the porch every day to remember his wife who had dementia that passed away. This little girl’s writing was incredible; her vocabulary was out of this world.

What are you looking forward to sharing with your audience on Saturday’s 2019 Best of Stories that Soar! show at the Fox Theatre?

All the work that the kids have put in! In total they wrote 15,000 stories this year. All the dedication they have put in to feed the Magic Box is incredible. They are invested in the Magic Box. It’s become something that’s essential to their school. Writing becomes less of a chore for these kids and that’s really powerful.

Magic Box at the Fox: Best of Stories that Soar! 2019 show will be Saturday May 11th from 3pm to 5pm at the Fox Theatre (17 W. Congress St.). For tickets visit foxtucsontheatre.ticketforce.com. For more information about Stories that Soar! visit literacyconnects.org.

 

The spotlight series is an on-going series where we spotlight local female and non-binary artists in the Tucson Community.

Men on Boats, A must see season opener!

by Gabriella De Brequet

Men on Boats

Hannah Taylor as Powell, Katie Burke as Bradley, Analiese Bloom as Hawkins, and the cast of Men on Boats. Photo by Whitney Morton Woodcock, courtesy of Something Something Theatre.

Men on Boats is a genderbent semi-historical comedy about John Wesley Powell’s 1863 expedition to map the the Colorado River’s passage through the Grand Canyon with ten explorers, four boats, and slim rations. I was delighted to discover that not only is the playwright a woman (Jaclyn Backhaus), but Something Something’s production is directed by a woman (Jasmine Roth), stage managed by a woman (Shannon Harral), production designed by a woman (Madeline Greenwalt), and all of the characters are intentionally written to be played by trans or cis women! In reading the notes on the playwright I discovered that Backhaus included a casting note into her play instructing directors to cast racially diverse actresses who are cisgender or female identifying. As a queer person myself, I felt safe in the room I was sitting in, and I felt proud to be supporting a queer friendly theatre in Tucson.

The play follows ten explorers on four boats as they battle with each other and the elements to serve the United States government. The stakes are high and they struggle to get along with each other in close quarters and to find basic resources on their journey. The play deals with themes such as doubt, fear, and loyalty and friendship. There were some incredibly strong performances from some ensemble members. Maryann Green’s Dunn was particularly compelling. She took the stakes very seriously, and even when she wasn’t speaking, her subtext was clear. Kimberly Swanson’s Old Shady was incredibly lovable. Timea Post’s Hall and Analiese Bloom’s Hawkins were a perfect comedy duo, and Christine Peterson’s Goodman and Hannah Taylor’s Powell were strong and poignant.

Although there were some great performances from individual actors, I felt that the ensemble as a whole could have been a little more connected to each other. I found this to be a hiccup for the ensemble when the stakes were intended to be high. While some actors took the moments of danger in the boats and at camp seriously, some others did not. This ultimately made it more difficult for me to connect to the drama unfolding. I wish there had been more of a juxtaposition between the comedy and the drama throughout. Often the comedy was played through the danger and it didn’t quite serve the play.

The action in the boats happened downstage and into the audience, breaking the fourth wall to bring us into the narrative. This staging challenged the modern audience’s viewing experience, was fun to watch, and worked incredibly well for the structure of the play. I felt that there were some missed opportunities with the scene changes. The scene changes were done in black out, and in such a small space with that many props it would have been great to watch the characters help each other out of their boats and congratulate each other on a successful journey instead of watching actors stumble in a blackout.

The set design was simple, clear, and effective. The camp site set was made up of spare windows and spare wood pieced together to create a makeshift home. The props were great for practicality, stage business, and for setting the scene, and the lighting design worked well to create a distinction between the camps, and action in the boats. The technical elements worked well together to set the mood and support the play. Men on Boats is an incredibly well written play and I had a ton of fun watching it! This production is a huge victory for Something Something Theatre. Men on Boats is an exciting must see and a perfect season opener for Something Something Theatre!

Men on Boats runs through October 28 at the Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Arts. Tickets are $20 for students and seniors and $25 for general admission. You can purchase tickets on Something Something Theatre’s website somethingsomethingtheatre.com or by calling their box office at 520-468-6111.

After Centuries, the Damsel in Distress is Finally Given Her Voice in Eurydice

Kate Cannon and Adam Denoyer in Eurydice. Photo Tim Fuller

Adam Denoyer as Orpheus and Kathleen Cannon as Eurydice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

by Betsy Labiner

The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre’s Season for Scoundrels is off to a strong start. Their opening production is Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, which reinterprets the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice by turning the focus away from Orpheus and onto Eurydice. Knowledge of the myth isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for seeing and enjoying this play, but personally, I found it fascinating to have the source material reexamined, challenged, and given nuance.

Director Claire Marie Mannle points out the peripheral role traditionally played by Eurydice in the story: “Usually the myth of Orpheus is seen from the viewpoint of the man, Orpheus, and his heroic but tragic journey. His wife Eurydice has little influence in the original versions of the myth. This play takes a chisel to that and breaks it open. It is all about Eurydice, her choices, her journey, her voice. Eurydice’s voice starts and ends this play.”* In modern pop culture studies, we’d essentially say the original myth engages in “fridging.” The term “Women in Refrigerators” was initially coined by writer Gail Simone in regard to comic books, and it refers to trope in which female characters are injured, raped, killed, or depowered – women that are, more often than not, victimized in order to catalyze a man’s story or character development. Essentially, in the original myth, Eurydice serves as a plot device and is fridged in order for Orpheus’s story to unfold. Not so here.

Mannle foregrounds Eurydice, played by Kathleen Cannon, from the outset. She has the first dialogue, is subtly placed in front of Orpheus, and is immediately charming. Everything about her is vibrant and engaging, constantly calling the audience’s attention back to her even as Orpheus rhapsodizes about his music. Orpheus, played by Adam Denoyer, is initially something of a harder sell as a character; he is distracted and inadvertently dismissive of Eurydice, though his love for her is evident even in his moments of apparent self-absorption. As the play progresses and Orpheus sinks into despair, Denoyer’s performance becomes more and more compelling. His pain is palpable, and stands in stark contrast to Eurydice’s delighted engagement with (re)learning and experience in her new realm.

Cannon’s Eurydice is literally a spark of life in the underworld. Eurydice’s confusion is matched by her determination and exuberance, and she literally glows against the muted backdrop of the underworld. In addition to Cannon’s captivating performance, the costuming, designed by Allison Morones, is another success in this manner, particularly in its interaction with the lighting and set design (Josh Hemmo; Jason Jamerson). Hemmo’s lighting shifts between a yellow-orange spectrum for the living and a blue-green tint for the dead, with characters in the underworld dressed in dark or muted tones. Eurydice’s red dress and hair stand out in the underworld, markers of her liveliness and vigor despite the circumstances. This is juxtaposed with the costuming and lighting of her father, played by Bill Epstein, on whom a grey suit and white lighting serve to make him much more intangible and ephemeral when not actively next to Eurydice. 

The Stones, played by Julia Balestracci, Leah Taylor, and Gretchen Wirges, were another delight. Their haughty disapproval for much of the play is heightened by the sound effects used on their voices, making them resonant and even more forceful. Their reactions both offer comedic asides and heighten the tension, particularly in moments such as when the Nasty Interesting Man walks onstage and each woman’s posture pulls taut. The Nasty Interesting Man, played with smarmy malice by Ryuto Adamson, offers both laughs and anxiety, as Adamson continually reasserts his power and revels in the control he exerts.

Kate Cannon leads the cast of Eurydice. Photo2 TIM FULLER

Kathleen Cannon as Eurydice. Photo by Tim Fuller, courtesy of The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre.

Mannle’s production gives Eurydice life and depth, making her a real person to be loved and grieved. For Mannle, this is crucial not only in terms of our understanding of the characters and their stories, but also to reassess our own stories and those of the people surrounding us.  “It seems vitally important (perhaps now more than ever) that we tell old stories with new voices, voices that struggle to be heard,” Mannle explained. “I think it is critical that we amplify the voices of women and voices of people that have been historically marginalized and listen to them so that we can build a better world. Hopefully, this performance offers something to continue that conversation.”

Eurydice runs through October 28 at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. Tickets are $28 general admission, with discounts available for students, educators, and patrons under the age of 30.

Tickets may be purchased online at scoundrelandscamp.org, by phone at 520-448-3300, or in person at the box office beginning one hour before each show. The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre is located in the Historic Y, at 738 N. 5th Avenue.

*Quotes from Mannle are sourced from promotional materials provided by the Theatre.

 

Editor’s Note: Betsy Labiner is a box office assistant at The Scoundrel & Scamp Theatre. While she had no input or involvement with the creative process for this production and reviewed this play as she would one at any theatre, we feel it is important to disclose any potential biases.