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Little theater her lifelong passion; it can be yours, too

By Melissa Hirschl

February 4, 2006

Making her debut as the new Tempe Little Theater Director, is Tempe resident Janis Webb, who has enjoyed a multi-faceted career consisting of stage managing, house managing and acting. A winner of the prestigious Arizoni Award for the play “Critic’s Choice,” last spring, Webb is now actively engaged in putting out her clarion call to everyone within earshot. Whether you’re a long time theater aficionado, seasoned thespian, or aspiring Clive Barnes, this Tempe resident is convinced your perfect part is waiting for you.

Love to ham it up? According to Webb, the upcoming March play, “Lend Me a Tenor” (a huge hit on Broadway and London’s East End) is still in need of three men and three women between 20-40, in addition to one man and one woman between 45-55. The two male leads needed for this fun and fast paced show will be required to sing, but relax…just briefly. Other less “larger than life” roles include costume designers, set decorators, stage helpers, ticket takers, and ushers. If you are seeking “hands-on” community involvement or a peek at life behind the curtains, this could be the ticket to a grand role.

“Community Theater is the lifeblood of theater,” says an emphatic Webb. “It is owned by the community and that’s what makes it so special. We’ll be able to use your gifts regardless of your skill level because there are so many things do to. Naturally we’re looking for people with experience but mostly we want people with enthusiasm and time to devote to the project.”

The theater location is smack in the middle of downtown Tempe, a Mecca of culture and dining experiences; an added bonus for volunteers. TLT is an all-volunteer non-profit theater company that puts on four plays a year; two musicals and usually one comedy and one drama. The theater, which originated 34 years ago, strives to use local talent as much as possible.

For those who take the director up on her call, there is always the chance of hitting the theater “jackpot” as well. After all, she did not get an automatic “Go to Director” card; instead she took a circuitous route after initially obtaining a Master of Fine Arts in acting and directing at the University of California at Irvine. Her first “real career” was that of a teacher, wife and mother. “I was a starving student for two years and I didn’t want to be a starving actress as well,” she laughs. “Acting can be brutal.”

Theater always held a fiery fascination for Webb though and she knew she couldn’t totally sever the ties to the profession that gave her so much joy. For that reason she has been blithely involved in theatre ever since graduating, although in ways that are less demanding. She has been involved in many professional repertoire theater companies as both an actress and stage manager in addition to being director. In her “other life”, she directs the infant program at Tempe’s Center for Habilitation, where she works with disabled people. Balancing a complex but satisfying life consisting of family, work, and theater is truly her calling.

Webb readily admits being a director is one of the most formidable challenges she has faced in her theater career. “I have to have a vision of who every character is supposed to be, in addition to deciding who walks where and when. I need to read the script a hundred times to get a true feeling of how everything is going to fit together. Acting is so much easier,” she says.

There are things about theater that Webb says will probably never change, such as the captivation that live theater has for people 50 and over. She attributes this trend to the fact that they grew up with it and want it to continue. The younger generation, in her opinion, is struggling to find a niche for the younger adults. “I think that local community theater is very important for older people since it is close to home and a lot more affordable than regular theater,” she explains.

As early as next fall, TLT actors will be entertaining all audiences in a very exciting venue – the sparking new Tempe Arts Center being built near the Rio Salado River. The new building will also house the Tempe Symphony, Desert Dance Theater, Tempe Community Chorus and Childsplay. In addition to being state-of-the art and expansive, the new center will face some challenges, according to Webb. For one, the ticket sales and snack sales will be taken over by the new center. For that reason, she acknowledges, it will be harder for the non-profit theater company to keep supplying local teen graduates with a yearly scholarship, a gesture they have been providing for many years. Theatre organizers are counting patrons endowments to continue the scholarship at this point.

For those not familiar with “Lend Me a Tenor,” critics describe it is a hilarious, expertly constructed, classical farce that capitalizes on mistaken identity and slapstick. Employing the stereotypes of the romantic, overly emotional Italian and the larger-than-life world of opera, it involves the follies of a small time opera company trying to accommodate a world class tenor.

If you’re anxious to awaken your spirit and unleash your theatrical creativity, contact Tempe Little Theater today. They are currently located at 132 E. 6 Street in downtown Tempe. (Northwest corner of Forest and 6 St.) Reservations: (480) 350-8388 or on website Auditions are February 13 and 15.

Performance dates for “Lend Me a Tenor” are at 8 p.m.  March 31, April 1, 7,8,14, and 15; 2p.m. on April 9. Reservations will be accepted starting March 10, 2006












































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