Tag Archives: To Kill a Mockingbird

Once upon “Les Mis”

Scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2012 production of Les Miserables (Photo: Karl Hugh)

As our youngest daughter Lizabeth readies for her weekend move to Brooklyn, my thoughts are becoming a sentimental stream of memories about times spent together through the years — many of them at the theater. During ages and stages when mothers and daughters sometimes find it hard to connect and converse, we always had love for theater in common.

Two of our favorite theater traditions are seeing touring Broadway productions at ASU Gammage in Tempe and traveling each summer to enjoy Utah Shakespeare Festival productions. We owe a friend and teacher named Maren the credit for introducing us to the wonders of Shakespeare performed under the stars in Cedar City, Utah.

Families who’ve yet to experience current Utah Shakespeare Festival offerings have only this week to make the trip if they’ve yet to see the festival’s breathtaking production of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and outrageously funny production of “Scapin.” Three Shakespeare plays are being performed through this weekend as well, though “Titus Andronicus” is far too violent for young audiences.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival production of “Les Misérables” runs through Oct. 19, and a touring production returns to ASU Gammage Sept. 11-16 as a special engagement for their 2012/13 season. After seeing “Les Mis” in Utah this summer, we had a lovely conversation about our favorite elements of each production.

Les Miserables production coming to ASU Gammage in Tempe Sept. 11-16

While Lizabeth favors the bigger touring production complete with massive barricade, I’m fonder of the intimate production where story feels more important than set pieces. They’re as different as two tellings of the same story can be, which makes seeing both productions a grand adventure for theater goers.

Some consider theater outings a mere frivolity, but I know better. Shared theater experiences bring families and communities closer together. Live theater fuels imaginations both young and old. Giving life to a show is a creative exercise in problem solving and teamwork. And stories told through theater can unite us during times that seek to divide us.

I’ll miss my Brooklyn baby once she’s soared from the nest, but hold fast to memories made through theater while watching the unique story of her own life unfold.

– Lynn

Coming up: Conversations with members of both “Les Misérables” casts

Update: “Les Mis” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival had been extended through Oct. 27. 8/28/12

Hale Centre Theatre performs “Mockingbird”

L to R: Zoe Zamora (Scout Finch), Rob Stuart (Atticus Finch) and Dale Mortensen (Jeremy “Jem” Finch) perform in “To Kill a Mockingbird” through June 30 at Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert

I headed out to Gilbert Saturday for a matinee performance of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which is being presented by Hale Centre Theatre through June 30. It’s directed by D. Scott Withers and stars Rob Stuart as Southern gentleman and lawyer Atticus Finch, who’s charged with defending a black man accused by a white woman of rape.

The setting is Maycomb, Alabama during 1935. Hale’s production is a Christopher Sergel adaptation of the Harper Lee novel published in 1960. The cast includes three young actors — Casey Pettyjohn (Dill), Dale Mortensen (Jeremy “Jem” Finch) and Zoe Zamora (Scout Finch). Each did a terrific job.

There’s much to love about the Hale Centre Theatre experience. The theater is located near several great eateries and arts destinations — and there’s a park across the street where children can run off steam. Hale also has a children’s theater, which presents “Rapunzel” through June 30.

The day I attended, the vibe was warm and friendly. There’s a concessions area with an old-time feel, and the fellow who staffed it Saturday wheeled a two-level cart onto center stage during intermission for folks who wanted a water or candy fix without moving far from their seats. The same spot was raffle central before the show started.

Four sections of seats surround a center stage at Hale Centre Theatre, and three small balconies serve as extended portions of the set. Actors sometimes enter and exit the stage from these areas, which is especially fun for folks who like to see them up close. For much of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a central set piece is a tire swing suspended from exposed beams above.

Before “To Kill a Mockingbird” began, David Dietlein (half of the owner/producer team that includes his wife Corrin Dietlein) unveiled the theater’s 2012-2013, noting that they’re honoring requests for more musicals by doubling their musical theater offerings. Think “The Secret Garden,” “Annie,” “Forever Plaid,” “South Pacific,” “Damn Yankees” and “Hairspray.”

They’ll perform “The Price of Freedom,” a musical tibute “dedicated to those who served in World War II and the loved ones they left behind” during Sept/Oct and the holiday musical “A Christmas Carol” during late Nov/Dec. Comedies for 2012-2013 include “The Hit” (an Arizona premiere by Mike Buckley), “The 39 Steps” and “The Man With The Pointed Toes” (billed by Hale as its “most popular show ever”).

Dietlein noted that folks who buy tickets for ten shows will save $10 per show, and that tickets for patrons ages 6 to 18 are always $10 each. I learned after the show, while talking with actors who greet folks via reception line in the lobby, that students from Mesa Preparatory Academy were in the audience on Saturday – having read the novel to prepare for seeing the work.

Parents who take children to see the show should be ready for questions about mature content, including references to rape and use of what we’ve come to call “the N-word.” Both have been cited by folks who’ve sought to ban Lee’s book, and folks eager to learn more about that fight can find resources through Banned Book Week, taking place Sept 30-Oct 6 this year.

I checked the interest level of various teens in the audience several times during Saturday’s performance. Many leaned forward, showing more interest in the play, during the courtroom scene that dominates the play’s second act. This was clearly the most compelling part of the production, and the most humorous piece as well.

Parents and teachers interested in learning more about Harper Lee and “To Kill a Mockingbird” can read the Utah Shakespeare Festival study guide and consult several PBS pieces available online. Click here for details on upcoming Hale Centre Theatre productions.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to read about a recent screening of the film “To Kill a Mockingbird” at the White House. Click here to learn about the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 51st season, which includes “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Coming up: Art meets Father’s Day, The secret life of paper

Musings on “Mockingbird”

We see what we look for, hear what we listen for. It’s one of many messages conveyed by Harper Lee in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” published the year I was born and dubbed one of the great American novels. Harper’s writing is highly praised, as is her treatment of racial injustice in the American South. Central to the book, adapted for both screen and stage, is the trial of a black man accused of rape who’s defended in court by a white lawyer.

My only experience on the receiving end of racism was during ninth grade, when I lived in Hawaii and was one of just a few “haoles” at my school. I remember noticing that teachers never called on us, even when our hands were raised and we’d come to class eager to participate. Others have experienced far greater injustices caused by bigotry based on skin color.

But our family has lived for years with another type of discrimination, made more painful by the fact that few people even acknowledge its existence. We have a family member with mental illness, but there’s little public outrage when people ridicule such things. For all our progress as a society in championing the rights of LGBT individuals and raising awareness about families affected by autism, we’ve yet to truly see the 1 in 5 people in our midst who live with depression or other mental health conditions.

So I see in “To Kill a Mockingbird” both the tale of a black man falsely accused, and the tale of another man judged too quickly — the character called “Boo” who lives holed up in his house isolated from neighbors who ridicule him for being what they consider crazy. While I acknowlege the power of Lee’s book to heighten our awareness of racial injustice even as it occurs today, I see in her work something more.

The danger in drawing assumptions about anyone. Those with mental illness. Women. Children. White men. Lawyers. Those who commit crimes. Even novelists like Lee who choose to live a quiet existence outside of the public eye. I was reminded of all this today while watching a local theater company production of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which affirmed what many have surmised. That the story is just as relevant now as it was when Harper wrote it. See it. Hear it. And act on it.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to read the “1 in 5″ report from SAMHSA

Coming up: Remembering Anne Frank,  Veterans who write

Art intersection

I headed out a few weeks ago to enjoy the opening of “Emerge” at Art Intersection in Gilbert, which offers exhibitions and classes focused on visual arts for youth. I first met the fine folks of Art Intersection while attending this year’s Scottsdale Arts Festival near my own neck of the woods.

Driving east up Gilbert Rd. towards their studio and gallery space in Gilbert’s Heritage District, I spotted a long line of teens waiting their turn at a bit of Joe’s Real Barbeque. I like to believe they’d have hit the nearby Gilbert Farmers Market too had it been Saturday morning rather than Wednesday night.

A arrived at the two-story building housing Art Intersection to find an upper level courtyard filled with youth watching a fellow teen doing his singing thing. While exploring the Heritage Court complex, I stumbled on Banner Neuro Wellness — which offers diverse programs for people living with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions. Think visual arts, dance and more.

When I got to Art Intersection, I found several teens huddled around a tall table talking art and everyday life. Nearby, I spied a collection of works drawn with colored markers by an artist named Sam Irving who’s living with autism. A father and son admired old cameras displayed on a high shelf and checked out the venue’s collection of art books.

I turned right down a short, narrow hall to discover a nicely-sized and well-lit space where classes in everything from painting to photography are held, then made my way to a wide-open gallery with blonde wood floors where a dozen or so folks were milling around enjoying student artwork.

“Emerge” includes works by “emerging talent ranging from high school to undergraduate students” — and runs through May 26. Next up is “All Art Arizona 2012″ (June 2-July 28), an exhibition of sculpture, photography, painting, ceramics, mixed media, artist books and more — all juried by Art Intersection’s curatorial staff.

After exploring Art Intersection offerings, I strolled west on Gilbert Rd. and stopped in to chat with all sorts of business owners. One graciously granted my request to photograph inspirational quotes painted on several walls. Another told me about their creative birthday party fare. After complimenting a boutique owner on her vibrant offerings and display, she shared a bit about her interior design background.

Nearby, the owner of a gallery filled with eclectic wares answered my questions about several quilted works as students and their grown-ups from a nearby school worked to take down items from an auction held that evening to raise funds for their school.

If you’re eager to explore all things arts and culture in Gilbert, you can enjoy this season’s final “4th Friday Gilbert Art Walk” from 6-10pm on Fri, May 25. Remember too that Gilbert is home to the Gilbert Historical Museum and Hale Centre Theatre, which opens “To Kill a Mockingbird” directed by D. Scott Withers (also an associate artist with Childsplay in Tempe) this week. Hale’s Children’s Theatre continues its “Rapunzel” run through June 30.

Look for Art Intersection where N. Gilbert Rd. meets Cullember Ave. It’s an intersection surrounded by art that’s full of heart.

– Lynn

Note: Look for an article on the changing face of libraries in the June 2012 issue of Raising Arizona Kids, then click here to learn more about public libraries in Gilbert.

Coming up: More East Valley fun finds, Once upon a window

Justice tales

I woke up in New York City Sunday morning, and took to channel surfing while brewing a lovely bit of hotel room coffee. First I stumbled on Bob Schieffer delivering his customary end of show remarks for “Face the Nation” on CBS — this week sharing some very personal pearls we’d all do well to remember as a noisy world amplifies more of our differences than similarities. Think humility, civility and appreciation for the wonders all around us.

Then Melissa Harris-Perry – an author, professor of political science at Tulane University and founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South — who hosts a weekend morning show on MSNBC.  Harris-Perry opened a marvelous riff on the role of arts in society by discussing President Obama’s recent White House screening of the film “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Soon she was quoting John F. Kennedy, sharing works by a Utah artist who blends paint with politics and putting a new face on the Jesus so often depicted with white skin and something of an overarching glow. All in the service of supporting art’s role in engaging citizens in dialogue. All powerful stuff — especially during a weekend filled with both Passover and Easter celebrations.

Things took a decidedly whimsical turn once I left my hotel room headed for Theatre Row on 42nd Street. People carrying Easter baskets turned up on the subway every now and then, but it was the gentlemen sporting tall rabbit ears that really grabbed my attention. If I was a rabbit, I’d surely be crying foul.

I passed banners for lots of events with a justice twist while walking from subway stop to theater, which reminded me that justice tales are on the horizon back home as well — as the South Mountain Community College Storytelling Institute concludes its annual “Folktales for Grownups” series Wed, April 11 with “The Jury’s Out: Tales of Justice.”

I’m told the event features “performances that spotlight time-honored folktales about justice from cultures around the world.” The SMCC Storytelling Institute notes that its storytelling programs “often contain sophisticated themes and content, and are suitable for both adults and young people.”

“The Jury’s Out: Tales of Justice” starts at 6:30pm on April 11, and latecomers aren’t seated — so get to the SMCC Studio Theatre (located at 7050 S. 24th St. in Phoenix) with time to spare. It features storytellers Sandy Oglesby, Kelly Davis, Harriet Cole, Mark Compton, Sule Wilson and KT Threatt.  Also Liz Warren, director of the Storytelling Institute, in emcee mode.

For those of you eager to explore justice-related themes with your children, I’ve included a sampling of books you might enjoy — many by author Margaret Read MacDonald, Ph.D., who has more than 30 years experience as a children’s librarian. Best to start exploring justice tales when your children are young lest they learn too late to care about such things.

– Lynn

Coming up: From lullaby to lion

From Shakespeare to slam

Childsplay meets The Hunger Games July 9-20

I returned home from NYC to a modest stack of mail that included a piece I anticipate reading each spring — the Childsplay Summer Academy schedule. I’m amazed each year by the collection of offerings they put together, and know firsthand that these puppies can fill up fast before dawdling parents decide on summer camp options with their children. So here’s a roundup of a few selections I found especially fanciful…

First, two options in mixed age classes — weeklong “Musical Theatre Marathon” classes for ages 8-15 and one-day “Midsummer Days” classes for ages 7-12. Musical theater themes include Footloose, Aladdin, Wizard of Oz, Sound of Music, Glee Club, Mary Poppins, Lion King and Alice in Wonderland.

I’m especially delighted with that last one given a recent blurb in The New York Times noting a Variety report that Broadway director and choreographer Rob Ashford was recently tapped for a staged musical adaptation of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” film.

Four “On Stage Classes” including voice, choreographed movement and character work culminate with a performance at the Tempe Performing Arts Center. And there are two special “Middle School/High School” options, including “Deconstruction Zone: To Kill a Mockingbird” and
“Exploring Literature: The Hunger Games.”

Childsplay meets Fancy Nancy in June

Childsplay also offers eight classes in each of four age groups. Options for ages 4-6 include “Story Journeys” a la Fancy Nancy and Pinkalicious. Kids ages 5-7 can enjoy “Step into Spanish,” “Fractured Fairytales” and more. Classes for ages 6-9 include “Story Journeys: Magic Tree House” and “Poetry in Motion,” and choices for ages 8-12 include “Shakespeare’s Tempest,” “Poetry Slam” and “Story Drama: Harry Potter.”

Like many of the works performed by Childsplay for young audiences, several of their camps are literature-based and feature literacy-related themes. Think fairy tales, young adult novels, classic children’s series and more. (The Childsplay production of “Tomás and the Library Lady” opens with an April 7 preview at Tempe Center for the Performing Arts.)

They’ve got “Music Makers” for kids who dig music — plus options tailored to children who love pirates, dinosaurs, superheros and other sorts of adventure tales. Favorites are already filling up, so now’s the time to do your parent homework on the subject of summer camps.

You can jump online to see a full range of options, or call to request their nifty brochure that breaks everything down by age, theme and dates — and shares fun details about everything from extended care options to performances for family and friends.

Childsplay meets Shakespeare's Tempest in June

Camps are offered at two locations — the Campus for Imagination and Wonder and the Tempe Performing Arts Center (home to Childsplay before their move to a new Tempe campus at Mitchell Park named for Sybil B. Harrington).

There’s little sincerity when the orphans in “Annie” chime “We love you Miss Hannigan,” but I’m genuinely grateful for generous donations by Harrington and others that make theater experiences possible for our children and teens.

In a world where developing intellect, creativity, problem solving and social skills is so critical to learning, working, loving and being an active, engaged citizen, theater companies and other arts organizations serving youth are a necessity, not a luxury.

– Lynn

Note: Raising Arizona Kids subscribers receive our summer camp issue each year, and additional information about summer camp options is available at www.raisingarizonakids.com.

Coming up: Tears for two daughters, Women’s art goes global

What’s new: Shakespeare

Christine Williams (left) as Hermia, Michael Brusasco as Lysander, Ashley Smith as Demetrius and Tiffany Scott as Helena in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2005 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream (Photo by Karl Hugh)

There’s a lovely assortment of Shakespeare coming to the Valley during the 2011-2012 season — thanks to the Southwest Shakespeare Company in Mesa.

Shakespeare works they’ll be performing include “Titus Andronicus” (Sept. 8-24), “Romeo & Juliet” (Jan. 5-21) and “Much Ado About Nothing” (April 19-May 5).

True “Titus” fans, including my daughter Lizabeth (who tells me “Titus” makes Showtime’s “Dexter” look tame), can also experience the work as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s 2012 season.

Other works being performed by the Southwest Shakespeare Company for 2011-2012 include “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens (Nov 26-Dec 17) and “Art” by Yasmina Reza (Mar 1-17).

Those needing a faster Shakespeare fix can enjoy “Shakespeare at the Biltmore” June 2-11 at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix – featuring the SSC performing Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest.”

Or head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival for the following works being performed June 23-Sept 3: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Richard III,” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

Utah Shakespeare Festival also presents Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man” and Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” June 23-Sept 3. They’ll perform Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off!” June 23-Oct 29.

Those who head to the Utah Shakespeare Festival this fall can enjoy Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” (Sept 22-Oct 29) and Frederick Knott’s “Dial M for Murder” (Sept 23-Oct 29).

Stay tuned to the Southwest Shakespeare Festival website to learn when single show tickets for their 2011-2012 season will be available. Season tickets are available now.

Tickets for the 2011 Utah Shakespeare Festival are already on sale, but folks who aren’t yet Festival members will have to wait until June 23 to get tickets for 2012 productions.

Ashley Smith (left) as Laertes and Emily Trask as Ophelia in the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2006 production of Hamlet (Photo: Karl Hugh)

In addition to “Titus Andronicus,” the 2012 Utah Shakespeare Festival line-up includes Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor” and “Hamlet.”

Also Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart,” a stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” a modern adaptation of Moiliere’s “Scapin,” Marie Jones’ “Stones in His Pocket,” a Tony-Award winning musical titled “The Drowsy Chaperone” and a holiday show they’ve yet to announce.

Folks who assume Shakespearean companies proffer only “doom and gloom” or “satire and silliness” are quite mistaken — as demonstrated by the diversity of offerings noted above.

If you’ve never given Shakespeare, or the fine folks who perform his works, a fair shake — maybe this is the season you should give it a shot. There’s a good chance, I think, that you’ll like them a lot.

– Lynn

Note: Paradise Valley Community College performs “Twelfth Night” directed by Eric Schoen June 17-26. Click here for details.

Coming up: “Macbeth” meets movie theater — plus, Valley high school students review “Macbeth”

Pinky’s picks

Update: Pinky has asked me to share this link to a raffle benefiting an organization called “Save the Cats Arizona” — which we learned of from our friends at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe. The raffle runs through July 31, 2011.

Several community theaters recently rolled out their 2011-2012 season announcements. But I imagine my cat “Pinky” fancies the new season for Hale Centre Theatre in Gilbert more than most.

Hale opens their 2011-2012 season on Sept 2 with an Agatha Christie mystery titled “The Mousetrap” — a work that now holds the distinction of being “the longest running play in the world.”

Pinky isn’t terribly concerned that a murderer may be loose in London’s Monkswell Manor. But she’d love to be on the guest list if there’s any real prospect of finding mice trapped at mealtime.

It’s a Wonderful Life,” which opens at Hale on Oct 14, might seem to hold less cat-appeal, until you recall that the work — featuring one man’s struggle with doubt and disappointment — is set in a small town readying to celebrate Christmas.

We could treat Pinky to piles of pet store treats and toys come Christmas time, but she’d still find her bliss jumping into piles of crinkled up and discarded wrapping paper — and rubbing her wet little nose up against the corners of shiny packages under a tree sporting ornaments she’s sure were placed for her swatting pleasure.

Hale follows “It’s a Wonderful Life” with “A Christmas Carol,” which opens at the Gilbert theater on Dec 1. Even Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge, who takes such delight in denying comfort to the poor and downtrodden, couldn’t ignore the pitiful pleas of Pinky when she’s ready for dinner.

I imagine Pinky would eagerly curl up beside the fire with Tiny Tim, offering a gentle purr as warming as the fire’s glow — and have great fun sitting with Tiny Tim in a chair by a window overlooking bustling holiday season streets.

Hale opens “See How They Run” Dec 31, giving Valley theater-goers a chance to welcome the New Year with comedic farce and fast-paced frivolity. Pinky might not know what to make of this one — with its cockney maid, men dressed as clergymen and a whole lot of misadventures spawned by mistaken identity.

Pinky might favor a different “See How They Run” plot — perhaps something featuring plump quails bobbing their tiny heads as they cross the road, or quivering dogs terrified by cats with an inflated sense of self.

Hale notes that folks who attend their production of “42nd Street” — which opens Feb 16, 2012 — will “love seeing the underdog succeed.” But Pinky”s never pleased when the word “dog” and “success” appear in the same sentence, so this will be a harder sell.

Perhaps she’d be more receptive if we decked her out in a slick tux with tails, then gave her a tophat and cane, so she could try a little soft-shoe during songs like “We’re in the Money,” “Lullaby of Broadway,” or “Shuffle Off to Buffalo.”

I’m afraid to tell Pinky about “Barefoot in the Park” — a Neil Simon comedy featuring the adventures of two newlyweds and a matchmaking mother-in-law — which opens at Hale on Feb 21, 2012. She’s perfectly fine with living the barefoot life, but might resent the “park” mention given her indoor-cat status.

Rabbits hold plenty of interest for cats, so Pinky might be thrilled to learn that a rabbit named “Harvey” is coming to Hale on April 5, 2012. But only until she learns that Harvey, the imaginary companion of Elwood P. Dowd, is more than six feet tall — and invisible.

Pinky spends plenty of time watching our own bunny, named “Rugby” — as well as a pair of lovebirds named “Taffy” and “Trixy” — who occupy pet pads near a staircase perfect for panoramic viewing of all things potentially edible.

I’ll need to have a little talk with Pinky about this next one — “To Kill a Mockingbird,” opening May 25, 2012. It might be a lot like a conversation I had with my husband recently that ended with the quip “you’re so literal.”

The classic work, based on the novel by Harper Lee, is set in the Deep South of the 1930s. It has nothing to do with killing birds — or leaving them as trophies on a “Welcome” mat outside the front door. Instead, it’s a tale of friendship and love amidst of world filled with prejudice and hate.

Hale closes its 2011-2012 season with “Bye Bye Birdie,” opening July 13, 2012 — which follows a teen singing sensation drafted into the military during the 1960s. Having used more than my fair share of “cat eats bird” fodder already, I suppose I’ll have to find a different link to all things feline.

Happily, the musical’s songs include not only “Put on a Happy Face” but also “A Lot of Livin’ to Do” — no doubt a reference to the “nine lives” of cats.

I know pets aren’t typically allowed at community theater productions, so I suppose Pinky will have to settle for nibbling on programs we bring home from Hale Centre Theatre productions.

But you can’t really blame me for conjuring images of my cat with every mention of birds, mice or bunnies. I can only imagine how the dogs living next door might react to seeing the musical “Cats.”

– Lynn

Coming up: Dance and identity

Photo: Christopher Trimble