There’s a new twist for the fifth iteration of Light Rail Plays, which Rising Youth Theatre will perform this weekend.
This time around, performances will take place on light rail station platforms, rather than on the trains. And the shows will happen at three locations, instead of solely on the Central Avenue rail line in Phoenix. Hence, they're calling this production The Platform Tour.
"It's portmanteau-style theater," says Xanthia Walker, who founded Rising Youth Theatre with Sarah Sullivan in 2011. "Performers will show up with suitcases, unpack them, and perform their plays."
Rising Youth Theatre specializes in creating original work that’s “centered on the stories and experiences of youth.” It's based at Phoenix Center for the Arts.
The Light Rail Plays pair professional actors with local youth. Actors work in various disciplines, including theater, music, dance, and poetry. Together these duos create five-minute plays for public performance.
Rising Youth Theatre launched Light Rail Plays in 2014, after receiving an Art Tank grant from Arizona Commission on the Arts. Art Tank grant recipients were awarded funding after artists pitched ideas for community members, whose votes helped determine the winners. The program was nixed due to reduced arts funding from the Arizona Legislature.
Through the years, Light Rail Plays have included several memorable performances, featuring some of Phoenix’s most talented artists. In 2014, choreographer Liliana Gomez and Za’Nea Jackson performed a chair dance against the backdrop of a massive piece of public art at the Central and Camelback light rail station.
Since then, Gomez has created Frida Kahlo-inspired dances for the Heard Museum, and co-founded Phoenix’s first BlakTina Dance Festival. This year, she’s co-curating the Light Rail Plays lineup, along with Walker. "Liliana is just one of the coolest artists I know," Walker says. "The work is always better when she's in the room."
Musicians joined the mix in 2015, and stilt performance took center stage in 2016. The most recent plays explored human connections, with themes including the perils of judging other people based on first impressions.
For several years, the Light Rail Plays took place on the trains and platforms between the Roosevelt Street and Camelback Road stations along Central Avenue.
But this time around, performances will happen exclusively on the platforms, and in three different locations, from Friday, December 8, and through Sunday, December 10.
Performers will travel by light rail to performance destinations, with suitcases full of props they'll use to perform once they arrive. Emcees will invite audience participation, but it's not required. Each performance will last about an hour, and audience members who need chairs are free to bring them along.
For Sophia Coffey, one of this year's youth performers, it's all about helping people discover theater outside of traditional settings. "I was attracted to the light rail plays because they make theater more accessible." But Coffey sees another plus to this particular performance settings. "The light rail attracts a diverse group of people," Coffey says.
This weekend’s locations are the Roosevelt Street and Central Avenue station in Phoenix, the Fifth Street and College Avenue station in Tempe, and the Main and Center streets station in Mesa.
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The Mesa stations sits adjacent to Mesa Arts Center, which is a presenting partner for this year’s plays. Other funders include the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, and the City of Tempe.
Although the performances are free, Rising Youth Theatre asks people to make reservations online. People who just happen to stumble on the performances can join the audience at any of the sites.
The Phoenix performances happen Friday at 6 and 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 7 p.m., and Sunday at 5:45 p.m. Tempe performances take place Saturday at 5 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 and 3:45 p.m. Mesa performances start at 1:45 and 3 p.m. on Saturday, and 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.
While you’re there, take some time to explore public art offerings along the light rail line – which include Todd McQueen's new Find Your Whimsy mural in Phoenix, Tad Savinar's Land Marks in Tempe, and Ron Helmick's Drawing Room in Mesa.