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Feature: The Phoenix Theatre Scene Is In Ascendance


Feature: The Phoenix Theatre Scene Is In Ascendance

Nearly 20 years ago, the Phoenix metropolitan area was described as "just beginning to realize the need to recognize and support arts and culture as an important contributor to a knowledge economy."

The finding in the 2013 Flinn Foundation report ~ A Place for Arts & Culture: A Maricopa County Overview ~ echoed similar pronouncements, before and since, about the imperative of public and private investments in the arts as a force that enriches quality of life and gives places meaning, identity, and economic opportunity.

The idea that the community was "just beginning" is an indication of how relatively young, albeit rapidly growing, the region was, compared to more established communities in the United States. Not surprisingly, the constraints to the future sustainability of the arts included issues of vision, infrastructure, financing, political support, diversity, and artistic excellence.

While some of these concerns remain and the arts confront new challenges to their business model, there is cause to celebrate.

The good news is that the arts community has evolved significantly and in a most positive way.

As it relates to the world of theatre in the Valley of the Sun, the trajectory of artistic excellence has soared and the reservoir of talent is as vibrant and flourishing as ever.
The Phoenix metropolitan area has become more than fertile ground for great artistry and for artists who choose to stay here and for artists and companies for whom the Phoenix area has become a springboard to national prominence and celebrity.
Consider the evidence:

The prominence of local talents making it on Broadway ~ James D. Gish (starring as Fiyero in WICKED at the Gershwin Theatre); Sam Primack as Evan in DEAR EVAN HANSEN at the Music Box Theatre), Casey Likes (as William Miller in ALMOST FAMOUS, THE MUSICAL).

The youngsters who have gone on to national fame as a result of their work at Valley Youth Theatre and other youth theatres in the area ~ Emma Stone, Jordin Sparks, Kimiko Glenn.

The emergence of The Phoenix Theatre Company as a nationally recognized venue for artistic incubation and innovation, given their amazing success with the off-Broadway production of ¡AMERICANO! ~ the compelling story of Tony Valdovinos, an American DREAMer

The universal recognition that Arizona Opera and Kristin Atwell Ford have achieved with the production of Craig Bohmler's Western opera based on Zane Grey's novel, RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE.

The matchless work of Childsplay ~ as "the national standard bearer for theatre for young audiences" ~ in promoting cultural equity and creating theatre that, in the words of its inspiring mission, "instills in young people an enduring awe, love, and respect for the medium."

The new and bold directions in diversity of play selection and casting by companies large and mid-sized ~ including Arizona Theatre Company, Southwest Shakespeare Company, and Stray Cat Theatre (as covered recently by Kerry Lengel in American Theatre magazine. Likewise, there are the initiatives of nascent groups like United Colours of Arizona Theatre, Ronin Theatre Company, and The Bridge Initiative ~each with deep commitments to further walk the talk of diversity and innovation.

Of course, the measure of the theatre community's emergence as a creative force to be reckoned with is not solely its prominence on a national scale. The quality and range of talent ~ and the courage to take on socially relevant and provocative themes ~ here is more than evident on the more modest but consistently impressive stages of Black Theatre Troupe, iTheatre Collaborative, and Theatre Artists Studio.

Yes, the creative energy in the Phoenix Metro area merits acknowledgement. There are more stories of theatre ascending to be told ~ and they will be in these pages of BroadwayWorld. The bottom line, however, is that, for all the extant challenges to the well-being of regional theatre, the region is endowed with a deep richness of talent and solid ground on which to flourish. Follow the links to learn more about this area's cultural creatives. More power to them!

Photo credit to BWW

From This Author - Herbert Paine

Herb Paine ~ Herb has served as Senior Contributing Editor and lead reviewer for BWW's Phoenix Metro Region since 2014. He has been acclaimed as BEST THEATRE CRITIC by PHOENIX magazin... (read more about this author)

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