“Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” (P.S. This Play Doesn’t)

I had the pleasure of attending Childsplay’s, “Junie B. Holiday Extravaganza” this past weekend.  It was a fun filled event where the participants got to partake of four separate zones: cookie decorating, ornament making, gift wrap designing and jingle bell singing.  Children came dressed in their holiday best and boy, were they ready for some holiday creativity.  We even got to make Junie B. glasses out of pipe cleaners.  If you attended, then you know how much fun was had by all.  If not, then fear not, you haven’t missed out on ALL the fun.  

After the Extravaganza we had the pleasure of seeing a production of “Junie B. Jones, Jingle Bells, Batman Smells.”  It was super fun!  A perfect production for the littler kids.  The set was AMAZING.  Carey Wong brought each scene to life, big and bold.  My favorite part was when the classroom was decorated for the holidays.  The actors were super in their parts.  My favorite character was tattletale, May, played by Debra K. Stevens.  A bit of a brat, but pure kid.  Katie McFadzen played Junie B. Jones with perfection.

JBJ dress 8

 Oh, and this is a great place to mention Kish Finnegan’s costumes.  They came straight out of a picture book.  Colorful kids wear for all the big kids on stage.  Dwayne Hartford was the perfect Mr. Scary.  A teacher that you respect but also that you can laugh with.  Michael Peck, Ricky Araiza, Jon Gentry and Kate Haas round out the classroom.  No, they do more than that… they are the students that you remember from your childhood.  If you’re still going to school you will recognize them as the kids that fill the desks around you.  

JBJ dress 1

Now this brings me to the story.  I love anything theme related and adore a good holiday tale.  This one delivers.  David Saar (Director) brings this beloved book by Barbara Park (adapted by Allison Gregory) to life.  You’ll find yourself laughing throughout Junie B’s school day ups and downs.  Bottom line, this is a great story and families should flock to the theatre.  In a busy season our days are stretched to the limit.  So much to do, and so many things to see.  Our choices that we make are important now more than ever.  From where dollars are spent down to where we should bring the family.  Let me just tell you that you can’t go wrong by adding this onto your Christmas list.  Plus you get a great lesson to be learned during the Secret Santa scene.  Don’t be “shellfish” bring your family to the theatre.  It’s a good gift for all, almost as good as a Squeeze-a-Burp.

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Sassy Santa Time Fun

Childsplay’s upcoming production of “Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!” opens November 25th and runs thru December 23rd, but wait there’s more!  “Junie’s Holiday Extravaganza!”  This event should be added to your “must do” holiday calendar along with Santa Photos and making Snickerdoodles.  Do you like cookie decorating, hot chocolate and kid friendly gift shopping which you can then wrap in your own hand crafted gift wrapping?  Plus decorate an ornament or even a dreidel!  Top it off with a super special visit from Junie B. characters and you have a date to remember for the whole family!  At the end of the fun you are privy to an awesome VIP performance of “Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells,” AND you leave filled with holiday cheer that should last you well into 2013.  Don’t miss an afternoon of fun that will surely put the EXTRA in EXTRAvaganza, December 2nd, 2:00-5:30pm.

Imagine that you are 11 years old…

There is a ceremony that will be held when you and your friends turn 12.  It’s called, aptly enough, “The Ceremony of Twelves” and at this ceremony you will be given a work assignment.  This will be your job until you’re old.  Unless of course you don’t do your job well, or perhaps you might not fit in… then you will be released.  That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  

Childsplay’s production of Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” delivers from the moment you enter the theatre, until long after you’ve driven home.  This one will stick with you, I promise.  You begin in the lobby by filling out an Assignment Survey.  By answering 4 questions you will find out what your work assignment will be.  I was a Teacher of 3’s.  My son, Nick, who’s 13 (only a year late for his Ceremony) was given Path Maintenance Crew and his friend, Jax, was a Director of Recreation.  We are then asked how we “feel” about this and on a separate piece of paper you choose from Relieved, Apprehensive, Proud or Sad.  That’s it.  You then stick your “feelings” answer on a board with everyone else’s “feelings.”  Feelings are important in this play.  The Caregivers often ask the children “how they feel” but that’s ironic, because they live in the land of “sameness.”  They feel like everybody else feels.  Fine.  Meanwhile, Jonas’s “family” takes in a baby named #36 and the Dad finds out that if it is a good baby then it will be given the name of Gabriel, and if it continues to cry, as it’s been doing, then it will have to be released.  There’s that word again, “released.”  But what exactly does “released” mean?

The set, costumes, apples… are gray.  Everything is gray for everyone, except for Jonas who’s been catching glimpses of color lately.  So when he receives the work assignment of “Receiver of Memories” he doesn’t quite realize how upside down his life will become.  From this time on, Jonas meets with The Giver as he receives the many memories that people aren’t “allowed” to experience any more.  But then, it’s for their own good.  No pain, no hunger, no anger… but with this comes, no joy, no colors… no snow.  Even all flesh is the same color.  They gave up colors when they gave up sunshine.

If everything’s the same then there’s no choices.  It’s because the Committee of Elders care so much about the people that everyone is now protected from making choices.  There’s always a good chance that if left to your own device, you might make the “wrong choice,” and that would be bad.

One person that didn’t make a wrong choice is Andrés Alcala when casting, “The Giver.”  Adrian Hernandez is spot on with his performance of Jonas.  As he feels each “memory” we “feel” for him.  There’s a lot of “feeling” going on in this play.  Louis Farber and Debra K. Stevens are the perfect (and eerie) Mom and Dad of the future.  Michelle Cuneen is the adorable little sister, Lily, who has a lot of great questions but no one to answer them for her.  Dwayne Hartford is engrossing as The Giver.  The audience experiences the memories that he’s passing on to Jonas as Jonas receives them and the pain associated with it.  Only ours isn’t actual pain.  Rounding out the cast is Cullen Law and Kaleena Newman as Jonas’s fellow Twelves.  They make you wonder if it’s really so bad to be part of the “sameness.”  They get to ride gray bikes, for gosh sakes!  And isn’t gray the new black?

The backdrop is a series of large, many shaped video screens, always on and always in sync with the action on stage.  It’s only when Jonas sees colors, that we, the audience, are privy to just what it might be like to see red for the first time.

The very talented, Andrés Alcala, director of “The Giver” has stayed true to his word.  The audience will have more than enough to talk about at the dinner table.  Plus the audience is sent home with a “For the Ride Home” pamphlet with discussion prompts and ideas that will get your creativity juices flowing. “The Giver” will stick with you AND because we still can make our own choices, I would suggest that you choose to come see this great play.

I’d Like to Introduce You to: Andres Alcálá

So, if  you are already in the know about the upcoming Childsplay production, “The Giver” then the name Andres Alcálá isn’t new to you and you would shout out, “He’s the show’s director!”  If you haven’t become acquainted with this talented man, then I hope that this will give you a little insight into Childsplay’s Guest Director and Associate Artist, Mr. Andres Alcálá.

A resident of Portland, Oregon, Andres got his BFA in Acting with a minor in Video Editing at Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon.  He worked with the Northwest Children’s Theatre and Oregon Children’s Theatre as an actor/director.  This is where he originated the role of the Father in the World Premiere of “The Giver.”  When he returns to Portland he will have the honor of originating the role of Jamison in the World Premiere of Lois Lowry’s follow-up book entitled “Gathering Blue.  He also originated a 5-year educational outreach program.  He has been an Associate Artist with Childsplay for the last 6 years.   

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  Are you asking yourself how he got this great gig?  Well, wonder no more … about 7 years ago Andres was directing his favorite play, David Saar’s, “The Yellow Boat” for Oregon’s Children Theatre.  He had seen pictures that David’s son had drawn and he wanted to include them in videos.  He contacted David (yes, the very same David Saar that’s the Artistic Director and founder of Childsplay).  David gave him permission and not long after that he offered Andres a mentorship program that brought Andres to the Valley of the Sun and allowed him to immerse himself in Childsplay’s theatre program for two years.  Six years later he’s still here (lucky for us).  During this time Andres suggested “The Giver” to David and both agreed that it would be an amazing addition to the 2012-2013 season.  

Now, to “The Giver” and what’s he up to with this production.  Because Andres has a passion for video production he’s integrating a “Big Brother” element to the play by greeting the audience with several video cameras that will basically “watch their every move” and then play parts of it back to them.  Within Lowry’s tale a Big Brother element watches the children from remote locations and the parents that are chosen for the children keep the children under watch, reporting back to the elders.  When the main character, Jonas, starts to have “stirrings” or dreams of wanting, then it’s reported by his parents.  The videos will bring the audience into this part of his world with a 360 degree experience.  He hopes that this has the audience walking away asking questions.  He would love it if this production sparked conversations between the generations leaving them discussing the play over that night’s dinner table.

Have you noticed video images before in Childsplay’s day to day?  Andres is the man behind video music montages, lobby videos and he’s the director for the Childsplay commercials.

I had asked Andres if the play stays true to the Newbery Medal winning novel and he told me that Eric Coble’s script gives a perfect adaptation and as for any moments that might be too “intense,” well don’t worry Moms, there isn’t anything too edgy to worry about when you bring your young ones of varying ages.

I also questioned him about how this play might resonate, timing wise, with the upcoming presidential elections.  He told me that “The Giver” has no “political” point of view per se, but just that one should “question authority” and people should “think.” “The Giver” brings forth the idea of choosing and how important that is since the kids aren’t allowed a choice of how their lives might turn out.

Let me see, have I missed anything?  Oh yes, if he could play any role in “The Giver” he would like to portray the Giver.  

October 10th he will be attending the upcoming Lois Lowry book signing for the final book of the series, “Son.” (see earlier blog for information regarding this event) and he’ll be answering any questions regarding this production.

What’s next for Andres Alcálá?

Next directorial project – “Emma” the musical adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Emma” for Arizona Theatre Company.

Next big career step – Filmmaker  

Andres is very honored to be a part of Childsplay’s “The Giver” but as for my point of view, Andres is definitely a “Giver” and I’m sure the audience, the actors, and all of Childsplay are pleased to be the recipients of his talented gifts.

 

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