Demonstrating inventive takes on old myths is par for the course at Great Arizona Puppet Theater, whose adaptation of Cinderella won the 2010 UNIMA-USA Citation of Excellence in puppetry. Behind the scenes, professional puppeteers guide the characters through kid-friendly narratives, both ancient and original. Their performances often include a timely moral that parents can discuss with children with the help of accompanying study guides, which encourage guests to analyze themes and ask questions such as "how can puppets talk if they have no brains?"
The puppet masters have more than 50 tales in their collective memory. They perform them in the historical, hand-painted theater space five days a week, as well as at area schools and functions. By crafting scripts that address Arizonian themes, including the conservation of endangered condors and figures in Native American folklore, they hope to educate and engage their young spectators. Guests can interact with the stories even further by adopting puppets from the onsite gift shop or by attending a private party, where they create their own hand puppets out of paper bags. Additionally, seasonal adult shows prove that puppetry can be as edgy as any other art form.
Carol Sottosanti inherited her love of hitting high notes and cutting rugs from her father, an opera singer who inspired her to pursue a degree in vocal performance from the University of Arizona. Naturally, Carol wanted her children to also experience the beauty and exhilaration of performing on stage, but she couldn't find a program that would grant her kids the proper exposure and practice they needed. Teaming up with other moms in the community, Carol organized a few small shows starring the neighborhood's charismatic children, and subsequently, Kids Unlimited was born. Since its inception in 1986, KU Studios still produces shows regularly, preparing their young performers with various classes in vocal performance, dance, and acting. Aspiring triple threats can dive into a wide variety of camps designed to hone singing and dancing skills, while promoting awareness of important topics such as bullying or the proliferation of mimes in Tucson. KU's outstanding performers earn their way into small-group ensembles that perform regularly throughout the community.
Mesa Arts Center curates artistic goings-on inside a sleek structure filled with four theaters, five art galleries, and 14 art studios. Graced by the likes of Yo-Yo Ma and Bill Cosby, the stages of the facility's theaters showcase a cultural cocktail of live music, Broadway, dance, and comedy performances. Grooming the next generation of artisans with the help of advanced equipment, seasoned instructors teach everything from acting and beading to woodworking and welding during art classes tailored to both kids and adults.
For inspiration, students and visitors can stroll through the galleries of the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum for glimpses at a revolving selection of contemporary art from international artists. Speckled with gardens, shapely architecture, and colorful lighting, the facility’s modern grounds welcome guests for everyday visits or annual events and festivals.
Luminous chandeliers float like paper lanterns above the lobby of Chandler Center for the Arts, welcoming guests entering through the towering glass facade. Inside, they find three halls?one larger auditorium, and two more intimate performance spaces?hosting a variety of musical and theatrical performances. Each theater is designed for optimal acoustics, ensuring audiences can hear every tuneful note, stage-whispered line, and breaking of the fourth wall. And the center showcases non-performing arts as well?the Exhibition Hall displays regularly rotating collections of sculptures and paintings.
For more than two decades, The Mystery Mansion Dinner Theater has kept diners guessing with ghoulishly goofy whodunits. The rotating repertoire includes Murder at Greystone Manor, which takes place on the set of Golden Age Hollywood director C.D. Weasel's latest production. Before filming can begin in earnest, starlet Clara Simpleton comes down with a bad case of cold feet and cold everything else. Femme fatale and back-up actress Jewel Precious seems the obvious suspect, but the stunningly punny characters know well how to hide their motivations behind a flurry of gags and one-liners. Murder at Bedside Manor takes place in a shockingly OSHA-noncompliant hospital staffed by such consummate professionals as Barb Bituate, Old Doctor Young, Young Doctor Young, and Nurse Scratchit. "Lame jokes, puns, goofy costumes, and thin plots are the stock in trade at the Mystery Mansion," noted Barbara Yost of the Arizona Republic, adding, "Patrons can't get enough.
Arizona’s most promising side-splitters share the stage with nationally renowned headliners at Speakeasy Comedy Club, a venue taking its atmospheric cues from a Prohibition-era nightspot. Shows on Friday and Saturday nights feature performers who have honed their anatomical knowledge of funny bones during televised appearances on Conan, Last Comic Standing, and HBO specials. Though the club discloses its password to a range of comics from diverse backgrounds, most performers eschew squeaky-clean comedy for a brand of dirty humor that appeals to the noir detectives who regularly lean on the venue's gray brick walls or occupy the back row’s plushy seats. A friendly wait staff supplies cocktails, signature margaritas, and other exquisite libations along with Mexican cuisine to soothe bellies aching from chortling fits.