Credit: John Groseclose

Phoenix’s Stray Cat Theatre is at it again, putting cutting-edge shows on stage affordably but with exceptional quality. Their current show, columbinus, is a haunting docudrama that blends The Laramie Project with elements of The Real World.

Credit: John Groseclose

Without seeming glib, columbinus begins simply, bringing together 8 high school students for a typical day of classes, gossip, lunch, and turmoil. Each cast member walks out on stage, strips down to their underwear, and then goes to sleep, only to then start their day all over, putting on the familiar clothing of the archetypes they represent: the jock, the popular girl, the religious girl, the prep, the freak, the nerd, etc. For the next hour, these unnamed archetypes circle each other like sharks, preying on the weaker and butting chests with the stronger.

Although it has bearing on the second half of the show, the way columbins begins was too vague for me. I hope I don’t seem jaded, but the play seemed to state the obvious (that everyone in high school has life-threatening problems/fears/concerns), and then it stated it over and over again. This is really a problem of scripting rather than performance. The strength in the opening was the poetically-crafted dialogue, acting as a sort of Greek chorus of voices who pop and sizzle individually, then snap together percussively.

The actors were all exceptionally made over into teenagers, both looking and acting like crazed hormonally-charged weirdoes. I especially liked “the bad girl,” whose anger was always barely contained–but likewise her vulnerability.

Credit: John Groseclose

By the end of the first act, two of the archetypes morph seamlessly in Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers. It’s a powerful moment, one that asks the audience to consider just how easily any of these students could have snapped and become like them; it asks the audience to consider our own part in fostering violence and intolerance.

The second half of the show is much, much stronger. We watch Harris and Klebold plot, prepare, and then attack their school. The playwright smartly backs out of this sequence, letting historical documents and survivor testimony stand in for crafted dialogue. Survivors describe their terror blankly, focusing events more than feelings. We hear of heads exploding, legs torn to shreds by gunfire, the way a body feels as it stops breathing. We watch our friends die, we play dead, we beg, we profess our belief in God, we are shot.

It’s an almost indescribable sequence, staged flawlessly by Ron May and his cast. The rhythm, the lighting, the staging, the sound effects, and the performances are all top-notch, lacking both irony and pathos. The real strengh of columbinus is its resistance of editorial, putting before us the evidence, then asking us who we are.

Arizona Derby Dames

Last night I went to the roller derby competition with a bunch of friends. It was my first time. I wasn’t familiar with roller derby except for what I recently read about it in The Advocate but I was interested in witnessing what was sure to be a rock-n-roll spectacle like no other.

If you’re not familiar with how the game is played, here’s a little primer:

The group skate around the track, lap after lap. The “Jammers” (one player on each team with a starred helmet) tries to skate through/around the “pack” of “blockers” (skaters who get in their way) in order to pass them. Every time the Jammer passes the pack, they get a point.

Last night we were there rooting for the Brutal Beauties, a black and hot pink-clad group of skaters. Of them, Phyllis Killer was kind enough to hold us some rink-side seats so we were pretty much part of the action. And that’s another important part of roller derby: names. Along with other team names like the Runaway Brides, the Grave Draggers, and the Bombshells, the team members all have “derby names.” Among my favorites were “Ann Thrash” and “Dr. Mary Lu Botomy,” along with the aforementioned Phyllis Killer.

I had no less than three ladies tumble and slide directly into my chair during the competition, which was awesome. I fared pretty well; another group of people had a skater land on top them, slicing through a series of sodas in styrofoam cups first. Phyllis Killer, in one particularly spectacular fall, got her skate wrapped around my friend Helena Handbasket’s handbag. When she finally noticed, she immediately reached down, untangled the purse strap—and then took out my friend’s wallet as if to skate away with it.

Roller derby is tough, like hockey, but with a decidedly tough-girl edge to it. Many of the team uniforms emphasize the player’s bust and butts, often revealing one or the other as they skate by, bent over:

Beau and I were brainstorming derby names for ourselves. Although we arrived calling ourselves “Judy Gnarl-land” and “Lauren ‘Ex-Con’-rad,” we later decided to create full teams of players. My team is based on famous gymnasts of the past: Mary Lou Rotten, for example. Beau’s team is all named after feminine hygiene products—and the only example I could post in this entry is “Summers Eve.”

Roller derby is gaining popularity around the country. Google your hometown to find out if there’s a match happening near you. At $8, you can’t get more enjoyment out of each measly buck these days.

It Finally Came Around to Me

After thirteen years of bona fide adulthood, seven years of consistent living in more or less what you would consider “the same place,” after watching countless friends and colleagues go through it, it finally happened to me:

I got my summons for jury duty in the mail earlier this week.

It’s not necessarily an invitation to participate, though. In Arizona, you are given a date upon which you must begin calling the courthouse to see if you will be required to come down and sit through the vetting process. To see if they event want to see if they want you.

Apparently, it involves a day of sitting and waiting, no reading, and having to watch some strange “civic duty” movie on a TV/VCR while you make time with your fellow citizens.

I feel a civic obligation to do my part as much as the next person, but I’m pretty sure my lifestyle just isn’t ideal for jury service: full time employment, a part-time at-home literary journal gig, extensive volunteering in the community, plus a nine-credit student course load for the term. A dog relying on me for love and nourishment. A boyfriend who can’t cook. Does it all make for a compelling argument to disenfranchise me from my civic responsibility?

Furthermore, is it ethical or not that the state is willing to pay me $40 a day to determine someone’s guilt or innocence?

Spread the Word: Phoenix is Hot (But You Already Knew That)

I’m pointing out interesting factoids to you in bold.

Phoenix arts economy is flourishing
Kyle Lawson
The Arizona Republic
Jun. 6, 2007

People may not realize it, but Phoenix maintains a thriving growth industry: the arts.

A national survey released today states that the city’s non-profit cultural institutions and their audiences contributed $361 million to the Valley’s economy during 2005.

That represents an increase of 38 percent in local arts spending since 2000, when the last survey was conducted. That survey was released in 2002. In terms of generated revenues and attendance, the total places Phoenix well ahead of most cities and regions with populations of 1 million or more. And it is more than the $311 million in economic impact generated by the 2007 Cactus League.

Indeed, one of the most surprising revelations in the study: Arts events attracted 6.1 million people in 2005, more than attended the 2007 FBR Open and Arizona Diamondbacks, Phoenix Suns and Arizona Cardinals games combined.

The survey also estimates that local arts groups directly or indirectly support 11,164 jobs, more than 10 times the national median for that category.

The figures are contained in “Arts & Economic Prosperity III,” compiled by Americans for the Arts, a cultural advocacy group based in New York and Washington, D.C. Across the nation, 156 communities participated in the project, the most extensive of its kind ever conducted, said Phil Jones, executive director of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture.

Data was collected from 67 city arts institutions, including Ballet Arizona, Arizona Opera, Heard Museum, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Symphony, Arizona Theatre Company and smaller troupes.

Although the first survey involved seven Valley communities, the 2005 report concentrated on Phoenix, with three East Valley communities compiling their own statistics.

“The first survey showed that, Valley-wide, arts institutions and patrons spent $344 million,” Jones said. In 2005, “that figure was $361 million for Phoenix alone. I think that is pretty significant in terms of just how fast the arts are growing here and their strong economic impact.”

The report also indicates that institutions and patrons of Chandler, Mesa and Tempe spent $82 million in 2005.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon said he wasn’t surprised to learn that the arts were an economic power in the city.

“Years ago, Jim Ballinger of the Phoenix Art Museum taught me that, if the art museum itself were a business, it would be one of the largest businesses in Arizona,” Gordon said.

“What is surprising is the magnitude of the growth. I’ve always felt that you can’t have a great city without the arts. This is proof that we’re getting there. Phoenix is becoming one of the great cities of the 21st century.”

Kevin Myers, executive director of Ballet Arizona, appreciates the encouragement.

“We’ve known for some time that the ballet is doing well; we’ve seen a 20 to 40 percent growth in revenues every year for the past four years,” he said. “What pleasantly surprises me is to learn that the ballet is not alone in its success. The public appreciates that this is a city that enhances the lives of its residents.”

It’s about time the arts received some recognition, Cheryl Weiner of Scottsdale said. Weiner regularly attends symphony concerts, theater productions and events at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

“People don’t appreciate the arts and the quality of our artists,” she said. “I find that depressing. I’m a native of Boston and, when I came here, I was apprehensive about what I was going to find. Instead, I was impressed by the work. I hope this survey convinces more people to attend local events. If we don’t engage in what is here, it’s going to go away.”

The survey breaks the Phoenix figures down into $133 million spent by arts groups and $228 million by patrons. The latter figure does not include the price of admission but does include money spent on dining, transportation, souvenirs and other items connected with the arts experience.

Not everyone spending money on the arts is strictly local, not by a long shot.

“During the gathering of the data, we discovered that 60 percent of those attending city events came from outside Maricopa County,” Jones said. “They each spent an average of $45 beyond what they paid for tickets.”

Although the numbers are impressive, Jones noted that they’re also useful. The survey’s greatest benefit will be as “an invaluable advocacy tool,” he said.

“We now have something to take to the City Council and the state Legislature that shows in a quantifiable manner just how strong an impact the arts have on this community.”

Jones’ office receives in the neighborhood of $1 million in annual tax dollars to distribute among non-profit groups and artists.

“Thanks to this survey, we can show that the $1 million leverages $17 million in local tax revenues and $22.5 million in state tax revenues,” he said.

“That’s a pretty good return on an investment.”