Friday, April 17, 2009

Ken Page tells the Ken Page story onstage | ®

Ken Page tells the Ken Page story onstage ®:


Ken Page tells the Ken Page story onstage

By Kathleen Allen
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 04.17.2009

Ken Page's life could be a book.
And it may, someday. But right now he's wrapping up his life in "Page by Page," which Invisible Theatre brings to Tucson this weekend.

Page, an actor and singer, is just 55, but he's done a whole lotta living in those years.

"It basically traces my life from St. Louis and moving to New York and on to the years in Paris," said Page, talking on phone from New York, where he had just opened in "Happiness" at the Lincoln Center.

Ken Page originated the Broadway role of Old Deuteronomy in "Cats."
Courtesy of Invisible Theatre

Page was at the beginnings of some pretty amazing theatrical events: He made his Broadway debut in "The Wiz," an all-black version of "The Wizard of Oz"; he was in the original Broadway cast of "Cats," playing the central figure of Old Deuteronomy; he was Nicely-Nicely in the all-black revival of "Guys and Dolls"; and he provided the voice of the Oogie Boogie in Tim Burton's "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

As if that weren't enough, in 2000 he developed his cabaret and has been performing it, streamlining it and improving it since then.

Page had long been doing cabaret acts, but he said that wasn't what he wanted to do with "Page by Page."
"I wanted to find a compromise and educate the audience about myself, and about my life," he said.
"I've had these amazing things happen."

As it turns out, many of the songs he's sung in cabarets and shows weave nicely into his life.
He recalled opening night of "Ain't Misbehavin'," when the energy was high and everybody seemed to have a friend.

"I realized I always was by myself," he said. "At the end of the evening, I ended up sitting on the edge of my bed, alone."

The experience, to Page, echoed the title song of the play. He sang softly into the phone:
"No one to talk with / All by myself / No one to walk with / But I'm happy on the shelf . . ."
(A moment please: Having Ken Page sing to you over the phone is a thrilling experience that needs to be savored.)

He added another anecdote, this one from "Cats":

"At the same time as 'Cats,' the AIDS epidemic was taking hold," he said.
"Many, many people, including members of the cast, died. The song 'Memories,' then, meant something completely different. It began to be a narrative from my life."

"Page by Page" has him reading from a book, ostensibly containing the chapters of his life.
In truth, there is no book. But there could be before long.

"I have started on the book, but in a weird way it's not the time," he said.
It shouldn't be too difficult: "Page by Page" is the foundation of the book; he'll just have to fill it out.

And the book, like the show he's bringing to the Old Pueblo, will have the same message:
"You never know what's coming for you," Page said. "So just live. Embrace everything."

If you go
"Page by Page"
• Written by and starring: Ken Page.
• Presented by: Invisible Theatre.
• When: 8 p.m. Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday.
• Where: The Berger Performing Arts Center, 1200 W. Speedway.
• Tickets: $42; a half-hour before curtain, tickets are half-price, subject to availability.
• Reservations and information: 882-9721.
• Running time: 2 hours, with one intermission.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at or 573-4128.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Actor re-creates roles he's had, including as white characters

Actor re-creates roles he's had, including as white characters

Actor re-creates roles he's had, including as white characters
April 15, 2009

Tucson Citizen

The Chinese like to say it is bad luck to be born in interesting times.

But even though St. Louis native Ken Page, born in 1954, spent his life and his show business career surviving turbulent racial change, the assassination of several American leaders and the AIDS crisis, he turned the experience into a one-man performance of Broadway hits that has been called "lusty, life-affirming, yet also haunting."

In "Page by Page," actor Ken Page will reflect on his past performances, from high school theater to the role of Old Deuteronomy in "Cats."

The Broadway star has titled his singing autobiography "Page By Page," which he brings to the Berger Performing Arts Center for two performances this weekend, presented by Invisible Theatre.

"Page By Page"celebrates a barrier- busting life that began when he was an African-American teen playing the Jewish tradition-loving Tevye in a Catholic high school production of "Fiddler on the Roof."

When young Page played Horace Vandergelder in his high school production of "Hello, Dolly!" the casting made classroom history as the first interracial couple ever to appear on the school's stage.

In the early 1970s those were big steps, Page recalled, and he's always been very proud of taking them.

Coming of age when national political figures were being murdered for their beliefs, he bemoans the losses of "Martin, Malcolm, Medgar and both Kennedys." Social issues have continued to be important to this performer. In 1973 Page saw his first touring Broadway show, "Seasaw."

"I was mesmerized," he told one reporter. "Not only with the show but with the people in it. They were short, tall, Asian, black, white."

Just three years later Page was on Broadway himself, playing another white guy, Nicely-Nicely Johnson in an all-African American production of "Guys and Dolls." It is Nicely-Nicely, we remember, who sings the show-stopping "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat."

In 1977 Page had the transitional role of the Lion in the African-American adaptation of "The Wizard of Oz," known as "The Wiz." But the next year, Page truly blossomed, winning the Drama Desk Award for his portrayal of Fats Waller in "Ain't Misbehavin'."

There's lots more to "Page By Page," including his casting as Old Deuteronomy in the original production of "Cats" in 1982. Borrowing from that experience Page's show also includes "Memory," the signature song from "Cats," which he performs as a poignant remembrance of his peers lost in the AIDS plague.

"I haven't looked at the world in the same way since," he has said.

On the life-affirming side, Page also tells stories of our shared humanity and works through a 25-song list that includes "Summertime Love," "Bloody Mary," "Broadway Baby," "Ease on Down the Road," "Ferry Cross the Mersey" and "Honeysuckle Rose."

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Art program focuses on abilities, not disabilities | ®

Art program focuses on abilities, not disabilities ®

Tucson Region

Art program focuses on abilities, not disabilities
By Rhonda Bodfield
arizona daily star
Tucson, Arizona Published: 04.05.2009

Parents of special-education students rarely get to have those precious, scholastic coming-of-age moments, such as watching their children star in school recitals or pitch shutouts for their baseball teams.

If there's a meeting at school, it's often to focus on what their children can't do and how to make the best accommodations.

Susan Claassen works with members of Pastime Players, an art program that provides training in music, drama and dance to special-education students at Catalina Magnet High School. The program got its start in 1984.
KELLY PRESNELL / Arizona Daily Star

So there's something powerful about the annual Pastime Players performance, when parents get to see their children take the stage, regardless of mental or physical challenges, and showcase their ability to recite poetry or Shakespearean lines or to dance hip-hop or to sing "What a Wonderful World."

For Don Romano, it was an experience he had with four of his children, but never with the baby of the family, Danny, who has developmental disabilities.
Danny was a freshman at Catalina Magnet High School in 1990 when he was invited to participate in Pastime Players, said Romano, a 66-year-old bank executive. "I just thought, 'Great.' It was an activity that allowed for an experience that special individuals like Danny just weren't invited to do.

"The whole point of it is to concentrate on what people can do — to focus on their abilities, rather than their disabilities."

Pastime Player Manny Uzueta throws his hands to the sky as he sings during rehearsal for "The Me Inside of Me" at Catalina Magnet High School.
KELLY PRESNELL / Arizona Daily Star

The program got its start as a workshop in 1984 and has grown into an art program that provides training in music, drama and dance to special-education students at Catalina from the ages of 15 to 22. About half of the players are in high school. The rest are graduates who can't leave it behind.

Under the direction of Susan Claassen, the managing artistic director of the Invisible Theatre, students learn under the tutelage of artists twice a week. Their training culminates in a musical montage called "The Me Inside of Me," which encourages its audience to see that everyone has gifts to offer — if they aren't limited by expectations.

"I saw the arts not only as an integral part of the school day, but I also felt that it would liberate their abilities," said Claassen, the prophet of empowerment.

Long before "Yes we can" got contemporary traction as the rallying cry of the Obama hope campaign, her students shouted it in response to her questions.

"Sometimes people are limited in what they see," she'll intone. "They'll say, 'Oh, you can't do this or you can't do that.' When they say that to us, what do we say?"
In unison, 20 voices respond: "Yes we can!"

Claassen is unapologetic about setting the bar high. "We never want anyone to tell us we're less than whole. We never want people to say we're 'good for special ed.' We're good because we're great entertainers."
"Such Good Friends," a documentary on the Pastime Players, will be unveiled later this month. Viewers meet six of the players and their families.

They'll hear about parents whose new-baby bliss dissolved into tears when they learned of their child's challenges.

They'll meet pictures of courage.
Students who can't read memorize every line.
Students who can't move their feet use hand taps instead.
Some have survived more than two dozen surgeries.
At least one didn't survive.

Meg Hudman learned about the program at a Special Olympics event three years ago. She'd already graduated from school, so she came on as a teaching assistant.
"I help out the kids," she said. "Some of them can't talk, so I use my voice for them."
The 27-year-old's learning disability doesn't keep her from writing poems every year for the show. This year's focus is on heroism, she said, adding that her own personal heroes are her mother and Claassen.

"Susan was willing to take the time and show people that we may have a disability, but we're still as equal as anyone else," Hudman said. "At Catalina, the kids see us as equal, but in the world, we've still got a long way to go."

The Pastime Players have performed in Phoenix and in Orlando, Fla. A powerful moment for Claassen was when the students performed for elementary pupils, and, afterward, the children asked what the performers' disabilities were. It wasn't obvious to them.

Filmmaker Cyndee Wing is in the process of culling 100 hours of footage she's collected over five years. She hopes the film will spread from Tucson to festivals around the country. "This has the potential to go far and wide. It's a celebration of kids, but it's a reality check, too," she said.

The experience changed her own life, sending her back to school at 54 to be able to offer therapy to autistic students.

"I saw the need for families to have a vision for their children. These parents believe in their children, but getting others to believe in their children is a big challenge."
Her experience also has taught her more about gratitude.
"You can't help but be touched by a child who can barely walk or balance who is putting on tap shoes," she said.

"The next day, when you're moaning and complaining about your life, the vision of that child will come back to you and lift you. If they can work as hard as they do with the challenges they have, it makes you realize that you can certainly lift yourself up to your own challenges."

On StarNet: Visit the online edition of this story at to see a video showcasing the Pastime Players performance group.

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 806-7754 or

Friday, April 3, 2009

SUCH GOOD FRIENDS, A Documentary Chronicling The Invisible Theatre Of Tucson's Pastime Players To Be Shown 4/26

SUCH GOOD FRIENDS, A Documentary Chronicling The Invisible Theatre Of Tucson's Pastime Players To Be Shown 4/26

Thursday, April 2, 2009; Posted: 09:04 PM - by BWW News Desk

Such Good Friends is a documentary chronicling the Invisible Theatre of Tucson’s Pastime Players. For over 25 years, Susan Claassen, artistic director of the Invisible Theatre, has spearheaded this arts project. She, Gail Fitzhugh and a dedicated group of artists teach theatre, music and dance twice a week to exceptional education students. Verl, Danny, Beth, Janna, Meg and Jennifer have been members of this performance troupe. Their connections and ultimate friendship tells the story of two very different worlds coming together through the power of the arts.

Such Good Friends will be playing at the Loft Cinema (3233 E. Speedway Blvd. Tucson, AZ) on April 26, 2009 at 1:00pm (doors open at 12:30pm). Watch the Pastime Players walk down the red carpet at 12:45pm. Tickets cost $20.00 ($10.00 for students and groups of ten or more). For tickets or information call (520) 882-9721 (to charge by phone) or visit the Invisible Theatre lobby (1400 N. First Avenue).

The Steinway Piano Gallery Gala opening featuring Amanda McBroom in Concert with Michele Brourman will take place at the new Steinway Piano Gallery (3001 E. Skyline Dr. at Campbell
Tucson, AZ). Tickets cost $50.00 per person.

The Invisible Theatre's Pastime Player's Annual Show, The Me Inside of Me, is set to take place at the Catalina high school auditorium (3645 E. Pima, Tucson, AZ) on April 27 at 7:00pm. This event is free of charge.

In the documentary, we witness how they have changed the lives of the other individual participants and a community. We also see how this project has changed their lives. We meet their families and follow them as they embark on adulthood. We watch them as they make choices and struggle with the rigors of putting together their theatrical performance – The Me Inside of Me. Yet, it is much more than a film about a theatre project in an inner-city public school. It is an unforgettable journey from heart to art.

Each story is a triumph over the odds. Some make it to the final performance - others don’t. Some students make it in life - others don’t. Some are defined by their disability and others by their ability. Such Good Friends is what makes the difference.

In speaking about this project, Susan Claassen says “Project Pastime exemplifies an innovative program that proves the idea that when artists, teachers, administrators, funding agents, students and parents come together we really can make a difference! It has been my dream to make a film that showed the world that we are only limited by limited expectations - Expect the most and that is what you will get! When I contacted my longtime colleague and award-winning filmmaker, Cyndee Wing, she immediately came on board. As a direct result of working on this documentary, Cyndee went back to school and supplemented her Master’s Degree in Education in a post-graduate program and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. This program has been life-changing for everyone involved.”

This documentary is the culmination of five years of filming. Our most recent collaborators are Amanda McBroom and Michele Brourman. When asked why she would write the theme song for the film, Amanda replied, “First of all, I would follow Susan Claassen to the ends of the earth. I think she is an astounding force for good and for art on the planet. Being able to participate with the Pastime Players is good art! And inspiration. And hope. And most of all, it is an example of the major importance participating in theater plays in the lives of young people. It is imperative that theater be brought back into the schools to feed the imagination and creative inspiration of every student. Theater jump starts the confidence in all young people, especially these fabulous kids in the Pastime Players. I am honored to be included in the project!”

Harriet Tubman said “Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” It is the Invisible Theatre’s hope that this film will be an inspiration for other communities around the world to create similar projects and to reach for the stars."

Over a decade before the Presidential campaign of 2008, the Invisible Theatre’s Pastime Players adopted the motto “Yes, We Can!” to help motivate our public school Special Needs programming. During the Pastime Player’s inspiring musical performance, those three words come to life in a way that leaves no heart untouched and no soul unstirred!

The Invisible Theatre’s Pastime Players, under the direction of Susan Claassen, started as a workshop in 1984 and has grown into a prototype of innovative arts education programming that focuses on ability rather than dwelling on disability. The project is centered at the culturally diverse Catalina High School in the Tucson Unified School District. The students (aged 15-22) receive instruction from the artists of the Invisible Theatre in music, drama and dance. The year-long instruction culminates in the production of an original musical called The Me Inside of Me.

No wonder there are outstanding ovations at each performance! No wonder these students have gained the respect and admiration of their peers and esteemed professionals including everyone from Dame Cleo Laine and Sir John Dankworth to the award-winning actor, Kathleen Chalfant!

The Pastime Player’s Touring Troupe has performed throughout Arizona in such diverse venues as the state legislature, Raytheon Corporation, The City of Hope – National Spirit of Life Dinner and at the Senior Olympics Opening Ceremonies. Audiences have ranged in size from 20 to 5,000. The Pastime Players handled themselves brilliantly in each of these unique settings. The Pastime Players also help to educate a community about the special gifts we all have to share and showcase the best of America’s public education.

The Pastime Players exemplifies an innovative project that supports the concept that when artists, teachers, legislators, administrators, funding agents, students and parents come together as a community, we really can make a difference! We are only limited by limited expectations: Expect the most and we get the most!

Some consider what these young people have achieved as mere dreams, but as Eleanor Roosevelt said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams!”

The Pastime Players have proven her right.

The Invisible Theatre (IT) of Tucson, founded in 1971, is a non-profit 501©3 organization and is dedicated to producing quality theatre and arts education experiences for all facets of the community in an intimate setting that showcases local professional talent and guest artists. IT takes its name from the invisible energy that flows between a performer and audience, creating the magic of theatre. Film-IT productions is a part of the Invisible Theatre - Artistic Director, Susan Claassen and Associate Artistic Director, James Blair.

Cyndee is currently the director/camera/editor of Such Good Friends, working with Invisible Theatre’s Film-IT Productions. Cyndee has worked with the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center and Museum shooting interviews for their Cornerstone Project. Cyndee directed and edited the documentary film “Toka”, which premiered at the 1994 Arizona International Film Festival and won the Best Short Documentary award at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco in the same year. She served as director/editor for Morning Light Productions, a company that produced primarily Native American documentaries and educational videos (1994 to 2005). Cyndee was the editor for a 15 minute narrative film, “Trusting Souls” which won a Cine Golden Eagle and served as project director and editor for the film “Pride and the Power to Win”. This documentary was selected for screening at the Two Rivers Native Film and Video Festival, received a Certificate of Merit from the Chicago International Film Festival and has screened at numerous state and national educational conferences and film festivals. In 2001 Cyndee was producer and editor of the Discovery Channel documentary “Mastodon In Your Backyard”. She has been an adjunct faculty member for Pima College since 1985.

Amanda McBroom is an award-winning American singer, song-writer and cabaret performer. One of the songs she has written is the Golden Globe winning “The Rose,” which Bette Midler sang in the movie of the same name. She also wrote some of the songs in The Land Before Time film series with Michele Brourman. Amanda starred in the New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and European productions of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris, and made her Broadway debut in the Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields musical, Seesaw. She is the daughter of actor David Bruce.

The Loft Cinema is s a nonprofit, community-supported cinema that honors the vision of filmmakers, celebrates ideas and promotes the appreciation and understanding of the art of film. It is Tucson’s premiere venue for art films – independent, foreign, alternative and classic narrative films and documentaries.