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Arizona Theatre Company Premieres Ten Chimneys in Downtown Phoenix

[Source: Arizona Theater Company]

Jeffrey Hatcher’s new play offers a look at the private lives of artists who are always on the stage

Photo by Ed Flores

In the lavish world premiere comedy TEN CHIMNEYS, Arizona Theatre Company reveals what every Broadway star already knows – that the real drama on stage happens when the curtain is down.  Commissioned by Arizona Theatre Company and written by nationally acclaimed playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, TEN CHIMNEYS brings Broadway legends Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne to life in a romantically charged, comedy that offers a revealing look at the private lives of artists who are always on the stage.

This world premiere directed by ATC Artistic Director David Ira Goldstein runs in Phoenix downtown at the Herberger Theater Center February 17, 2011 – March 6, 2011. TEN CHIMNEYS is sponsored by “Friends of Ten Chimneys,” a group of individual donors dedicated to the advancement of new works and preservation of the Ten Chimneys estate. The Phoenix media sponsors for the 2010-2011 Season are Phoenix Magazine and 99.9 KEZ. This production is also sponsored in part by the Edgerton Foundation.  Arizona Theatre Company’s season sponsors are I. Michael and Beth Kasser.

Love, intrigue, romance and suicide.  And that’s just in the play they’re rehearsing.  In the late 1930s, Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, the two most revered stars of the Broadway stage, decide to perform Chekhov’s masterpiece The Sea Gull.  But first they must retreat to ‘investigate’ the play at Ten Chimneys, their legendary Wisconsin estate, where they are surrounded by actors, family and hangers-on.  When a young actress named Uta Hagen arrives, a romantic triangle begins to mirror the events in Chekov’s play about passion and art.

In life and in the theatre, things have a way of circling back. I was a college freshman sitting in the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in New York the night they dimmed the lights for Alfred Lunt, who had died earlier that day.  The next year in acting class, I read Uta Hagen’s Respect for Acting for the first time.  Two years later, when I was a senior, I played Trigorin in my college production of The Sea Gull.  When David Ira Goldstein and I toured Ten Chimneys and someone pointed out that the Lunts had performed The Sea Gull with Uta Hagen in 1938, the strands came together in a flash.  Working on TEN CHIMNEYS has been one of the most enjoyable – and meaningful – experiences I’ve had in the theater.  Here’s hoping it honors the ghosts.”

—playwright Jeffrey Hatcher.

Jeffrey’s witty and delightful new play is a work of imagination, speculation and outright invention about the Lunts and their circle. But it is based on very real people who lived and worked in a very real place. The Lunts loved everything to do with the stage, so TEN CHIMNEYS is a celebration of what we still hold dear about the theatre: the sense of fun, the very real work of exploring a play and the hot-house humanity of artists working in close collaboration. Like all of Jeffrey’s plays it is full of delights with delicious roles for actors and an energetic intelligence for audiences.

—director and ATC Artistic Director David Ira Goldstein

Read about the cast and company’s visit to Ten Chimneys – and see photos of the Lunts’ home – in ATC Literary Manager Jenny Bazzell’s rehearsal blog.

7 healthy signs for the metro Phoenix arts scene

[Source: Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic] — There’s no point in soft-pedaling it: The great financial panic of 2008-09 sent Valley arts organizations into a tailspin.  Cautious consumers sat on their wallets instead of opening them up at the box office, and big corporations had less cash to send trickling down to the non-profits.  So performing companies canceled shows, slashed production budgets and cut staff.  MyArtsCommunity.org, a high-profile campaign to raise donations, fell flat.  The latest bad news comes from the West Valley, where the Heard Museum plans to shutter its satellite gallery and the West Valley Art Museum has closed its doors while scrambling to raise $150,000 to keep it afloat.

With the 2009-10 season revving up this month, anxiety about ticket sales and charitable giving remains high.  But the show must go on, and there are hundreds of dedicated individuals, in the spotlight and behind the scenes, who are working to make sure that the crisis doesn’t spin into an arts apocalypse.  To counter the gloom and doom, here are seven reasons to be optimistic about the state of the arts:

  1. Up-and-coming companies: Arizona Opera and Ballet Arizona remain strong, but they are no longer the only game in town.  The upstart Phoenix Opera has brought in top-notch singers for two years of traditionalist stagings, while Novaballet, entering its second season, is committed to cutting-edge choreography that brings dance into the 21st century.
  2. New works: For theaters, the temptation might be to rely on familiar titles to fill seats.  Yes, there’s a bit of that in the coming season.  But in addition to the return of “The Phantom of the Opera,” ASU Gammage is bringing in-the-now Broadway hits “In the Heights” and “August: Osage County” (last year’s Tony winners for best musical and best play, respectively).  Actors Theatre has four Arizona premieres on the bill, while Arizona Theatre Company will be staging a new adaptation of “The Kite Runner” and commissioning a world-premiere comedy, “The Second City Does Arizona.”
  3. Investments in venues: The building boom that gave us new performing-arts venues in Mesa, Tempe and Peoria isn’t over.  The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts and the Herberger Theater Center are undergoing extensive renovations, while future projects, including an expansion at Phoenix Theatre, are in the works.  The economic downturn is sure to slow the pace of big capital projects, but the momentum hasn’t been lost.
  4. Fresh blood: The Scottsdale center’s rebuilt theater comes with a new artistic director, Jeffrey Babcock, who promises to reach out to a broader audience with splashy events, such as its first Festival of Latin Jazz & Culture.  New leadership always presents an opportunity to rethink ways of doing things, which means we could soon be seeing innovative programming at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, ASU Art Museum and Heard Museum: All are on the lookout to fill director positions this year.
  5. Experienced leaders: Shaking things up can be good, but there’s also something to be said for a steady hand on the tiller.  That’s what many major companies have: savvy executives with track records for success.  At the Phoenix Art Museum, Jim Ballinger has been in charge since 1972, growing it into a multimillion-dollar company that attracts well over 200,000 visitors a year and overseeing two major expansions.  On the artistic side are such leaders as Ballet Arizona’s Ib Andersen, a Balanchine protege who in 10 years has elevated the company to one of the most respected ballets in the country.
  6. International networking: The arts community forms a web that crosses all borders, and some of the greatest performers in the world are Arizona-bound this season.  There’s the incomparable cellist Yo-Yo Ma, of course, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, which also will host top dance troupes, including the pioneering Paul Taylor and Martha Graham companies.  Then there’s the conducting world’s biggest superstar, the charismatic Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, who will bring the Los Angeles Philharmonic to Phoenix’s Symphony Hall for a performance that’s sure to be a highlight of the season.
  7. Grass roots: Even if the unthinkable happened and every major company in the Valley were forced to close, that would not be the end of the arts.  There will always be actors and singers and dancers, and art lovers who want to see them.  In good times and in bad, every generation breeds a crop of optimistic entrepreneurs who aren’t satisfied with how everybody else does things.  Just one example is Chyro Arts Venue, which opened last year in south Scottsdale and offers provocative, independent-minded theater without the benefit of a six-figure budget.  Many such companies come and go, but some will thrive and move to the next level, becoming the Nearly Naked Theatres and Center Dance Ensembles of tomorrow. The future is always unwritten.  [Note: Read the full article at 7 healthy signs for the metro Phoenix arts scene.]

Downtown’s Phoenix Theatre reaches 1,000th show

[Source: Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic] — Having survived the Great Depression, World War II, and 20 Arizona Cardinals seasons, Phoenix Theatre has marked more than a few milestones since it was founded in 1920.  But as the state’s oldest performing-arts group celebrates its 1,000th production this fall, it will be looking, not back on the first 999, but to the future.  The show in question will be the first local version of “The Producers,” the musical version of Mel Brooks’ classic comedy.  It’s the perfect pick, artistic director Michael Barnard says.  “It’s about show business, and I think it’s a show that appeals across demographics,” he says.  “It’s important to us to reach out to a younger audience.”

That’s not what was important when Barnard took over in 1999.  For decades, Phoenix Theatre had essentially been the only game in town, but after the rise of such competitors as Arizona Theatre Company and Actors Theatre, it had hit a bit of a slump.  Barnard, one of the Valley’s most talented directors of musicals, lured audiences back with high-quality renditions of such tried-and-true tuners as “Tintypes,” “Beehive,” and “How to Succeed in Business (Without Really Trying).”

Once the ship was righted, however, Barnard looked at the changing landscape, with a younger crowd being drawn to a revitalized downtown, and decided it was time to change with the times.  Last season, in addition to such “safe” material as the Gershwin revue “Crazy for You,” the theater took a chance on the fresher (and somewhat naughty) “Altar Boyz” and “The Full Monty.”  In addition to “The Producers,” the 2008-09 season will include the first local production of the mega-musical “Les Miserables,” as well as a world-premiere musical, “Unbeatable,” inspired by one woman’s battle with breast cancer.  Barnard is planning to take the production to New York in October.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]