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Phoenix Theatre & Indianapolis Public Library Present Actors Performing Holiday Books For Kids

The series premieres Thanksgiving Week featuring Jolene Mentink Moffatt, reading Over the River & Through the Wood.

Phoenix Theatre & Indianapolis Public Library Present Actors Performing Holiday Books For Kids It's the holly jolliest time of the year as The Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre and the Indianapolis Public Library will present Season's Readings, a ten-book children's storytelling series that highlights a diversity of families, cultures and celebrations.

The series premieres Thanksgiving Week featuring one of Indy's favorite actors, Jolene Mentink Moffatt, reading Over the River & Through the Wood by Linda Ashman about how all shapes and sizes of families come together to celebrate the holidays. Upcoming books showcase Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and LGBTQ-inclusive themes, in addition to kid-favorite holiday characters and wonderfully wintry, snowy days.

"As we conclude what most of us would describe as a tumultuous and trying year, bringing artists and audiences together to celebrate illustrated children's books seems like a lovely way to bring us a little closer together as we head into 2021," said Bill Simmons, artistic director of The Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre who will also perform Twas the Night Before Christmas. "Whether you're a kid or a kid at heart, you'll not want to miss these fun, one-of-a-kind performances by some of Indy's most amazing actors."

Scheduled to appear in the series is a wide range of noted and award-winning actors who have graced Indy's stages. Milicent Wright tells the story written by Newbery Honor-winning author Patricia C. McKissack and illustrated by Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Jerry Pinkney about a little girl, Nella, sharing the best gift in The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll. Ben Asaykwee brings to life the LGBTQ-inclusive story of Peter celebrating his colorful feathers in The Enchanted Page Book Award-winner A Peacock Among Pigeons.

Comedic actor John Vessels, Broadway World's 2019 Regional "Best Actor in a Play," presents his twist on Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas on December 1. He'll be followed on the first day of Hanukkah by Adrienne Reiswerg who will bring us Hanukkah Haiku, a book praised by the Jewish Book Council for its "exquisitely illustrated...Chagall-like" paintings that "capture the joy and excitement of Hanukkah." Similarly, on the first day of Kwanzaa, we present Josiah McCruiston's personally selected story Santa's Kwanzaa.

Rounding out the Season's Readings selections is the childhood holiday double feature of Frosty the Snowman read by Arianne Villareal and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer performed by Carlos Medina Maldonando.

"One of the best gifts you can give a child is the love of books," said Jackie Nytes, chief executive officer of the Indianapolis Public Library. "We hope this Season's Readings storytelling series helps ignite that spark in children throughout Indianapolis this holiday season."

Each performance will be shared on Phoenix Theatre and Indianapolis Public Library social media platforms including Facebook. The series runs through early 2021 with the final story Snow read by Jan Lucas to be released on January 8. For more information and a full schedule, go to https://www.seasonsreadings.info/.

RELEASE SCHEDULE

Over the River & Through the Wood

By Linda Ashman

Actor: Jolene Mentink Moffatt

Release Date: Nov. 23

Sponsored by:

Little Hoosier Materials Company

Nancy and Bill Hunt

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

By Dr. Seuss

Actor: John Vessels

Release Date: Dec. 1

The All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll

by Patricia C. McKissack & Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

Actor: Milicent Wright

Release Date: Dec. 7

Louise and Joseph Boling

The Michael O'Brien Family

Hanukkah Haiku

By Harriet Ziefert

Actor: Adrienne Reiswerg

Release Date: Dec. 11 (First day of Hanukkah)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer & Frosty the Snowman Double Feature

By Little Golden Book Various Authors

Actors: Carlos Medina Maldonado & Arianne Villareal

Dec. 16

Sponsored by Callie and Nick Zaborenko

Twas the Night Before Christmas

By Clement C. Moore

Actor: Bill Simmons

Release Date: Dec. 21

Sponsored by Don Knebel

Santa's Kwanzaa

By Garen Eileen Thomas & Guy Francis

Actor: Josiah McCruiston

Release Date: Dec. 26 (First day of Kwanzaa)

Sponsored by Kathy and Gary Anderson

A Peacock Among Pigeons

By Tyler Curry & Illustrated by Clarione Gutierrez

Actor: Ben Asaykwee

Release Date: Dec. 31 (New Year's Eve)

Snow

By Roy McKie & P.D. Eastman

Actor: Jolene Mentink Moffatt

Release Date: Jan. 8

Sponsored by:

Little Hoosier Materials Company

Nancy and Bill Hunt

ACTORS

Ben Asaykwee (A Peacock Among Pigeons) has been a storyteller inside his head since he was a tiny, itty-bitty baby. Most of those started with "Waaa" and ended with "Waaa" but as soon as he learned to talk, the stories came spilling out like a waterfall of rubies and diamonds (and some rocks and maybe even an odd potato). No one's been able to get him to shut up since. He makes up stories, writes stories, tells stories, sings stories, dances stories, and eats stories for breakfast with fava beans and a nice chianti. He has done this on most of the stages in the Indianapolis area and throughout the midwest whenever he's allowed to. Ben loves to use his imagination powers for good and loves teaching others to do the same. For a few more stories, visit Ben's online library at patreon.com/benasaykwee.

Jan Lucas (Snow) most recently appeared at The Phoenix Theatre in the 2019 holiday show Winston's Big Day playing a range of characters from Mrs. Claus to Charles Dickens. Other Phoenix appearances include Over the Tavern, the various joyful incarnations of Pure Prine, The Pill by playwright-in-residence Tom Horan, Apples in Winter and Summit Performance Indianapolis's production of Mary Jane. She has worked extensively at Indiana Repertory Theatre, most recently in Finding Home: Indiana at 200 and You Can't Take It With You. She and her husband, Tim Grimm, lead music-oriented tours to Ireland, Scotland, and The Netherlands and tour and perform music through much of Europe. Her memoir, My Beautiful Leukemia, is an account of her journey through leukemia and bone marrow transplant.

Youth Pastor/ Teaching Artist/ Actor, Josiah R. McCruiston (Santa's Kwanzaa) is excited to share this wonderful story with you all. He is currently the Youth Pastor at the Historic Witherspoon Presbyterian Church which holds the Rufus and Sussie Myers Children's Library and Book Collection of over 500 books for Black children. As a Teaching Artist, he works with local schools and churches to bring culturally enriched programming to each child he encounters. He is currently working toward his Master's in Education at Marian University and is a proud alum of the Asante Children's Theatre program which is now a part of the Asante Art Institute. He is a child at heart and in spirit and hopes you all have a beautiful Holiday Season.

Carlos Medina Maldonado (Frosty the Snowman) is an actor originally from Puerto Rico. He is currently pursuing an MFA in Performance and Pedagogy at Texas Tech University, in Lubbock, Texas. Phoenix credits include How to Use a Knife (Carlos), Golem of Havana (Arturo), and A Very Phoenix Xmas 12 (ensemble). Other credits include You Can't Take It With You (Ed Carmichael), Elephant & Piggie's: We Are In A Play! (Elephant Gerald), and A Christmas Carol (Young Marley et al) at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Macbeth (Macbeth) for The Indianapolis Shakespeare Company Travelling Troupe, and Hayfever (Richard Greatham) at Texas Tech University. "I will always remember and love getting to play the most festive DJ in A Very Phoenix Xmas 12: DJ Kandy Kanezzzz! Every time the holidays roll around, I think fondly of those memories and that cast!"

Jolene Mentink Moffatt (Over the River & Through the Wood) is a mom of two and has spent HUNDREDS of hours over the past 20 years reading aloud with her kiddos. She was a part of Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre's Storytime where she got to read out loud with even more kiddos at libraries around the city and she has instructed Cathedral High School's Summer Theatre Camp. Jolene is an avid reader and especially likes reading OUT LOUD! Two of her favorite books she's discovered along the way are The One and Only Ivan and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. She hopes you'll also take the opportunity to read out loud every chance you get.

Bill Simmons (Twas the Night Before Christmas) is the artistic director of The Phoenix Theatre Cultural Centre. He made his professional directing debut with Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles and has since directed The Children, The Hotel Nepenthe, and the world premieres of Tom Horan's Typhoid Mary, Acid Dolphin Experiment and The Pill. As an actor, his Phoenix acting credits include Halftime with Don and Seminar. He was a resident artist at Emmy Award-winning actor Jeff Daniels' Purple Rose Theatre Company in Chelsea, Michigan where his credits include Our Town. He is a two-time recipient of the Arts Council of Indianapolis' Creative Renewal Fellowship. He has acted professionally for more than 20 years and teaches the Sanford Meisner acting technique at the Phoenix.

John Vessels (How the Grinch Stole Christmas!) LOVES kids' books! And he LOOOVVVEEESSS reading Dr. Seuss! In fact, he loves Dr. Seuss so much me played the Fish in The Cat in the Hat at the Booth Tarkington Civic Theater in Carmel in 2019 and 2020. John is excited to be taking part in a project for young (and the young at heart) audiences. He has been a very happy participant in children's and family theatre productions at Beef and Boards Dinner Theater, Booth Tarkington Civic Theater, Derby Dinner Playhouse in Clarksville, IN, Broadway Palm Dinner Theater in Fort Myers, FL, and Stage One Family Theater in Louisville, KY. John firmly believes when you read to a kid, you make a reader out of that kid!

Arianne Villareal (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer) is an Actor's Equity Association actor, singer, and writer based in Los Angeles. Most recently, she starred in The Tale of Turandot (Imagine Theatre, LA's children's theatre) and America Adjacent (Skylight Theatre). Before she ventured west, she lived and grew up in Indianapolis where she attended UIndy and worked on stages across the city. At the Phoenix, she appeared in A Very Phoenix X-Mas 9, The Pill, 4000 Miles, Bless Me Ultima, and Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. She hopped around as Trixie the Bunny in The Tortoise and the Hare at The Children's Museum (where she also worked in Dinosphere!). Since it doesn't snow in LA, she gets into the holiday spirit by listening to her collection of old holiday vinyl records while sipping on some hot chocolate (with marshmallows!!!).

Adrienne Reiswerg (Hanukkah Haiku) burst upon the local theatre scene in 1988, and, despite earnest pleas, has simply refused to leave. She has worked onstage, backstage and on the administrative staffs of the Phoenix, Civic, Footlite, IRT, T.O.T.S, Buck Creek, and others. A native New Yorker and a proud Butler Bulldog, Adrienne is proud to participate in this project as an Official Jewish Mother and Grandmother. She dedicates her reading to her parents and grandparents, her mini-me, Zoe Avalon, in Henderson, Nevada, and the baby boy coming this spring in Chicago! And, for the record, you may spell the holiday Haunkah, Hanukkah, Chanukah, Channukkah, or any way you like. It's a transliteration. There is no right or wrong! Wishing you all peace, happiness and hope, for the holidays and always.

Milicent Wright (The All I'll Ever Want Christmas Doll) has been captivating Indy audiences for years with her wide-ranging performances at the Indiana Repertory Theatre. She most recently appeared in the critically acclaimed The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963, the beloved annual presentation of A Christmas Carol and You Can't Take it With You. Milicent has dedicated much of her life to inspiring young people by introducing them to live theatre through performances, classes and bringing theatre artists into classrooms.



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