I guess it wouldn’t be totally unheard of that a reputable theater group, even though located in a strip mall, would be opening two shows in the same week, one called “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley-(TYA version)” and the other called “The F Word.” But it might take a little extra convincing, even if you are a Live Theatre Workshop regular.
A lot of us are familiar with the consistently entertaining plays these folks produce. But a lot of us don’t know the half of what goes on. We might be familiar, if we read the program, that there’s some sort of children’s activities on Sunday morning before the “real” show. But it’s just a bunch of kids putting on a cute little show to delight their families, right? Wrong!
The All Together Theater is a no low-rent treat for the kiddies. It’s actual theater, performed by adults that both kids and adults can enjoy. And its work is going to get a chance to shine in prime-time for a few weeks as it proudly presents a show as part of the main stage season.
Amanda Gremel and Stephen Frankenfield head up the education arm of LTW, which has a lot more going on than just producing plays with family appeal. But that’s a story for another time. Right now the two are working hard to see that the All Together Theatre isn’t LTW’s lowly stepchild.
“Amanda, even before I came on full-time, wanted to have a main stage shot because we want to showcase for a different audience the kind of things we do” says Frankenfield, a fine actor who can often be seen in the shows for grownups. This opportunity, he says, will allow ATT to stretch its wings, to put more emphasis on sets and costumes, because as it is now, they have to work around the sets for the shows on the main stage.
Frankenfield is directing “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley (TYA version)”—that means “theater for young audiences”—which is based on Jeff Brown’s 1964 book, “Flat Stanley,” about a boy who longs to do something amazing. He has his chance when, one night as he sleeps, the bulletin board above his bed falls on him and leaves him flat. As in two-dimensional. It’s not so bad at first, but a two-dimensional life has its limitations. So Stanley comes up with a plan: he will slide inside an envelope and travel the world as a human letter, searching for a plan to become the un-flat Stan. If you’re a kid or a parent you know this book.
Running this show as a main stage production “is an experiment for us, so just getting people in here would make it a success,” Frankenfield admits. “But we hope it will change the way they think about what we do. It’s a really good show, and people should see it.”
Another experiment is taking place in the LTW program that has been known as Etcetera. For years it was the late-night showcase for edgier works. But in an organic way—no one person’s will is being imposed—it’s identity is shifting. Michael Martinez, who is executive director of LTW, explains that Etcetera is being “reshaped to be theater that is more directly connected to the community,” a place to showcase things that are experimental and that originate here. “We are the producers, but we are opening it up to people who might be doing work around town as well.”
Which brings us to Maryann Green and “The F Word.” And, no, it’s not that F word.
Green, a theater instructor at Rincon and University High Schools for 15 years, has a wild streak, theatrically speaking. She’s very much into experimenting and challenging herself, which, in a way, of course, challenges her students. She’s even participated in the Tucson Fringe Festival with great success. Last November she heard about Time magazine’s fourth annual poll to banish a word from our vocabulary, and they included the word “feminist” in the list.
Huh? Well, that was Green’s reaction, which was relatively calm compared to the reactions of a good many others.
“But it got me thinking,” says Green. “What was it about this word that it should be banished? What is feminism anyway? Am I a feminist? I didn’t want to explore all this alone so I decided to do the research through the medium I know best. I gathered a few of my favorite collaborators and thinkers. I did man-on-the-street interviews about gender identity and feminism, and over the course of the last eight weeks we’ve developed what we feel is a pretty cool, thought-provoking piece of theater.”
It includes improvisation, scripted scenes, and she’s made sure there’s a personal story from each member of the cast, who are all former students. And it’s full of humor.
“I didn’t want it to be a liberal, left-wing soapbox, because that would be really easy to do; the challenge has been to present the other side. The goal is really to start a conversation, to get the audience thinking. Theater is a powerful medium, but this is not a propaganda piece. I’m not trying to tell the audience what to think. I just want them to think.”