Saturdays & serendipity

My plans for Saturday included attending Phoenix Theatre’s matinee performance of “Hairspray,” a musical that promotes equality on and beyond the dance floor.

I got downtown two hours early to drop Lizabeth off for a QSpeak gathering and decided to poke around what I’m coming to consider the most valuable piece of real estate in the Valley — the museum and theater complex at the corner of McDowell Rd. and 3rd St.

I haven’t any idea of its actual worth in dollars. But I do know that I’ve never set foot on the grounds without enjoying one or more valuable experiences with interesting people and engaging art.

Thankfully, I’d left time for spontaneity — and the serendipity that so often accompanies it.

While strolling amidst the newly planted flowers and bronze statues along the walkway from Phoenix Theatre to the Phoenix Art Museum, I saw a sign with an arrow pointing the way to “PhxArtKids,” a hands-on art activity for children ages 5-12.

I headed over to check it out — and the first person I met was ASU business major Isaac Willard, who was helping kids settle into a drawing activity. The room was lined with lifesize self-portraits by children made on brown paper bag type material — and the walls above were covered with pictures created by local school children who’d attended the museum’s “Cowboy Artists of America” exhibition.

Willard shared with me that he’s required to perform 25 hours of community service as part of a class in “responsible management.” I learned a great deal from our conversation and plan to share more of his insights in a future post.

I meandered into another room where two other ASU students and several art museum folks were supervising more than a dozen kids busy making treasure boxes and cigar box purses using lovely boxes someone was kind enough to donate for the occasion.

It made me wish I had Lizabeth and Jennifer along, because I remember how they loved these hands-on Phoenix Art Museum activities when they were in elementary school.

I was struck by the wealth of colorful art supplies in a myriad of textures, sizes and such — rolls and rolls of ribbon from seafoam green to bright magenta, fabric from tulle to felt, and all sorts of buttons and shapes for gluing onto these handsome boxes.

But more than that, I was struck by the tenor of the room. Parents and kids sat side by side, enjoying one another’s company. And though there were no screens, big or small, in sight — nobody looked bored. These kids were patient, creative, attentive, kind to others — all the things parents and teachers wish for.

And all they needed was a little down time, a quiet space with lots of open-ended art materials and the freedom to work at their own pace. No one who saw these children would even consider reducing arts funding for our schools.

This was a place of happiness, of hard work, of hope.

My next stop was the Phoenix Art Museum gift shop, where I shared with one of the employees that a recent birthday gift purchased there had been a big hit with the 18-year-old who now sports it (the gift was a scarf that looks like yellow crime scene tape).

I can’t say that I’ll ever be in a position to make a large financial contribution to the museum, but I am a longtime member and like to get a little something from the gift shop each time I go just to support the cause.

Saturday it was a “Walls” notebook with photos of assorted walls rather than blank pages. It never hurts to inject a bit of whimsy into the writing process.

I also took notes for an upcoming post on holiday gift ideas because I find that museum gift shops have the most unique offerings for the most diverse audience, often with something wonderful in every price range.

While walking back over to Phoenix Theatre, I ran into a fellow stage mom whose daughter also attends Arizona School for the Arts. Her daughter told me about an art event being organized by a student at Metropolitan Arts Institute, and I learned that the ASA glee/show choir will be performing Dec 1 at an event to mark 2010 World AIDS Day.

Soon I wandered towards Phoenix Theatre, where the head of ASA’s glee/show choir is performing the role of Corny Collins, and one of Childsplay’s many incredible actors is performing the role of Edna Turnblad.

I’ll be posting a review in the next day or two, but for now I’m happy to share that “Hairspray” easily makes my list of all time musical theater favorites from Arizona theater companies.

Simply put, you can’t stop the beat.

The final highlight of my day was talking with the many Girl Scouts who attended the performance with troop leaders, parents and grandparents. What a bright, energetic, smart group of young ladies. And yes, the young man with them was equally energetic and inspiring to be around.

I especially enjoyed chatting with a young lady who sings with the Phoenix Girls Chorus. She listened patiently as I recounted my days of chaperoning chorus camp when my daughter Jennifer was a choir member, and asked if I remembered the infamous “rice pudding” skit from talent night.

My Saturday of seredipity brought back cherished memories and reminded me again of the many riches the arts have brought to my own life and to the community.

I hope to enjoy many more of them — and encourage you to get out there and enjoy more spontaneous moments with your own family and friends.

— Lynn

Note: “Hairspray” is fun for all ages, and runs through Dec 12 at Phoenix Theatre. Click here to learn more.

Coming up: Big is beautiful; The “Grinch” sleighs into Tempe for “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” at ASU Gammage, Pondering 400 posts