Tag Archives: short plays

Art as witness

3rd and 4th grade We are the World artwork exhibited at UUCP in Paradise Valley

As the Unitarian Univeralists open this year’s general assembly in Phoenix, they’re readying for tonight’s parade of banners made by participating congregations. I’m told that many feature some real artistic flair. And that another event, open to the public, takes place later this evening.

It’s a public rally dubbed “Arizona Immigration Ministry Witness: Turning the Tide from Fear to Human Rights” — happening at 9:30pm outside the Phoenix Convention Center. Hundreds of Unitarian Universalists and social justice advocates are expected to attend.

Several people are scheduled to “speak out against human rights abuses in Arizona that are being replicated across the country, including racial profiling, mass detention and deportation, militarization of the border, and anti-immigrant laws” — including Rev. Peter Morales, president of the Boston-based UU Association.

We are the World artwork by 3rd and 4th graders at the UU Congregation Phoenix

Also Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray of the UU Arizona Immigration Ministry, Salvador Reza of the Committee for the Defense of the Barrios, Pablo Alvarez of National Day Laborer Organizing Network and representatives of the SOMOS coalition. Frederick-Gray leads the UU Congregation of Phoenix, where I found the artworks featured in this post.

I first learned the 2012 general assembly was coming to Phoenix while chatting a while back with Arizona playwright James E. Garcia, whose theater company is perfoming as part of the event. Garcia founded New Carpa Theater Company, which focuses on Latino and multicultural theater works, in 2002.

New Carpa Theater Company performs “(In)Justice: A Short-Play Festival” Fri, June 22 at Civic Space Park. Expect “monologues, play excerpts and performance pieces” presented in English and Spanish. It’s part of the UU’s “Community Celebration with Partners,” which also features music by Emma’s Revolution.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation Phoenix sanctuary is often filled with artwork.

Many of the 5- to 10-minute plays feature themes inspired by the civil rights movement, the United Farm Workers Union (celebrating its 50th anniversary this year), and contemporary social justice and human rights issues.

I spent some time reviewing their five-day agenda this morning, eager to find items with an arts and culture twist. I found several “Music and Justice” sessions and exhibitors specializing in chalice art (the chalice is a shared symbol for UU congregations). Also plenty of choral singing.

A “Dance of Universal Peace” takes place one morning in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix located near the convention center. That baby features dance “using sacred phrases, music and movement from the world’s traditions.” Sounds almost as fun as the dance I watched Kids Kamp children practice in the UU Phoenix sanctuary this week.

Want to know how a child views the world? Have him or her draw a picture.

José Torres-Tama performs “Aliens, Immigrants, and Other Evildoers: The Latino Immigrant Experience” Friday afternoon. It’s “a bi-lingual, Latino noir, solo performance chronicling the current rise of hate crimes against Latino immigrants.” A discussion of related themes will follow.

There’s also a screening of Ruth Leitman’s “Tony and Janina’s American Wedding,” which follows “a Polish family separated by deportation and their struggle to be reunited in the United States.” And several immigration-related gatherings to which the public is invited. Folks can click here for details.

– Lynn

Note: The American Humanities Festival comes to Civic Space Park in Phoenix on Nov. 3 — click here to learn more.

Coming up: Helping at-risk youth experience live performance, James E. Garcia talks playwriting and social justice

Musings on “Mecca”

I headed out to Theatre Artists Studio near Paradise Valley Mall Saturday night for a play called “The Road to Mecca.” The Roundabout Theatre Company production of “The Road to Mecca” closed just last month, and cast member Jim Dale has been nominated for a Drama Desk award for best featured actor in a play. Before leaving, I leafed through the RTC play guide – a comprehensive treatment of the play’s themes, setting and such.

“The Road to Mecca” was written by Athol Fugard — a South African playwright, director, actor and novelist known for mixing art and politics — whose productions were “the first in the country to feature actors of different races together on stage.” Fugard received a Special Lifetime Achievement Award at last year’s Tony Awards ceremony.

Debra Rich (L) and Judy Lebeau in "The Road to Mecca" at Theatre Artists Studio

The RTC play guide notes that “The Road to Mecca was inspired by the true life story of Helen Elizabeth Martins, the youngest of six children, born and raised in the small South African village of Nieu Bethesda in December 1897.” Seems she left the village for a time to teach, but returned to care for elderly parents — staying on even after they’d passed away.

“In her late 40s,” it notes, “with no overall plan and no artistic training, Martin began decorating the interior of her house.” Think walls covered in colorful crushed glass — plus various works featuring owl and sun face motifs. Later she created a yard full of sculptures — all facing east towards Mecca. Martin took her own life in 1976, but her house was restored and preserved thanks to Friends of the Owl House established in 1991.

L to R: Debra Rich, Don Erickson, Judy Lebeau

There’s a touch of Martin’s artistic impulse in the Theatre Artists Studio set designed, decorated and painted by Patti Suarez. A giant moon face painted on the floor. Brightly colored walls sparkling with glitter. Dolores D’Amore Goldsmith provided additional set decoration, and the end result is stunning — especially with shadows created by lighting designer Dale Nakagawa.

The set is strewn with candles, reflecting the play’s themes of darkness and illumination. But other themes abound — love and duty, adventure and habit, faith and religion, playfulness and maturity, creativity and conformity. Also trust, hypocrisy, friendship and freedom. If there’s a shortcoming in the work, it’s the attempt to pack too much into a single serving.

The play’s dialogue is dense, compact — though truly gripping only during the second half of the second act. It’s well acted at Theatre Artists Studio by Judy Lebeau (Miss Helen), Debra Rich (Elsa Barlow) and Don Erickson (Marius Byleveld) — though direction by Judy Rollings seems a tad too safe. Miss Helen feels frenetic rather than passionate, and I’m not sure I got a true picture of her complexity. I’d have enjoyed seeing her in the act of creating which was so essential to her existence and self-identity.

Debra Rich (L) and Judy Lebeau in "The Road to Mecca"

Before the play began, I spent some time enjoying works by studio artists exhibited in the theater lobby. Several mixed media works by Judy Lebeau and seven pieces by Debra Rich Gettleman — all woodburning, color washing and acrylic. Also several Mark Gluckman photographs and works of watercolor and ink by Barb McGuire. Keep them in mind when you’re on the prowl for original art.

Nowadays the studio is working to raise matching funds for a challenge grant and gearing up for a free Mother’s Day event called “Music & Musings for Mothers.” They’re presenting a little something called “Hot” in May and their annual 10-minute play festival, dubbed “New Summer Shorts,” in June. “The Road to Mecca” runs through May 6.

I’ll never make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but my journeys to Theatre Artists Studio feel plenty illuminating. Their work is funny, poignant, relevant and smart. Learn more at www.thestudiophx.org.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to read the RTC play guide, which includes information on Helen Martin, the Owl House and Apartheid in South Africa, as well as pre-show and post-show activities. Click here to explore the Apartheid Museum online.

Coming up: Debra Rich Gettleman talks playwriting, Celebrating Cinco de Mayo with arts and culture

Photos by Mark Gluckman

Update: Peter Kaczorowski is nominated for a 2012 Tony Award for lighting design of a play for “The Road to Mecca” on Broadway — click here for a list of this year’s nominees. 5/1/12