A familiar face is at the helm of a new theater in town.
Jim Gradillas – who has worked with the Mesa Arts Center, Valley Youth Theater, Phoenix Theater, Greasepaint Youth Theater, Theater Works, Creative Stages, and Musical Theater of Anthem – has launched a new theater for young people in Avondale.
The valley’s newest non-profit youth theater, West Valley Stages, has produced four shows since September.
For eight years, Gradillas ran the Acting Zone theater at Montessori in the Park in Goodyear. Then COVID-19 hit, and the school’s new format ruled out work for him and his wife, Michelle Marie. They therefore put their 30 years of experience in directing children.
Located at 1435 N. Eliseo C. Felix Jr Way in Avondale, they are building a new space nearby.
“We plan to be in that space for the majority of 2022,” Gradillas said. “We’ve created a really good space here with sound, lights and stage – and the community, family and kids seem to really like it.”
Since September, they have welcomed students from the Acting Zone and new faces. Gradillas said he is following the same model he did with this theater with mass-market shows and regular workshops. The shows are his adaptations of public domain works such as fairy tales or traditional stories.
“Like the ‘Wizard of Oz’ – we can keep it traditional but give it our own twist,” Gradillas said.
West Valley Stages is also planning to do his version of “Aladdin and the Magic Lamp,” an original “Sleeping Beauty” story and a play he wrote several years ago that compiles excerpts from plays by. Shakespeare with original versions.
Because West Valley Stages tells original stories, Gradillas said he can cast children in roles regardless of gender. Actors can also contribute their ideas.
“We have a lot of creative freedom,” Gradillas said. “Kids love this kind of creative process which is more fun for them. They can add their announcements and it’s more their play than Jim’s play that he wrote.
Throughout the rehearsals, the actors can adapt the script, perform tasks that are unique to them and reflect the creativity and personality of the young people.
So far, they’ve picked everyone who audition. With 20 to 50 cast members, there are usually multiple opportunities for them to perform in between distributions.
The West Valley Stages’ first show was an original play called “Mission Grimm Possible” about the Brothers Grimm. In the play, the iconic brothers leave fairy-tale land and travel to Hollywood, so the citizens there are left in disarray.
“It was fun to start with,” Gradillas said. “We did quite a parody on ‘Mission Impossible.’ The kids had a great time. They got to play these iconic characters but in a different light. For example, Cinderella is more of a Hollywood diva type of character and Prince Charming is a bit of a wimp and is trying to find himself. It’s fun to do these kinds of different tricks.
For children aged 7 to 18, West Valley Stages has designed a program that welcomes them into the world of theater. Ultimately, they hope to extend the program to young children when they have the resources.
In January, workshops are organized, including one for children who are new to the stage.
“We’ve added a workshop for those who really don’t know if they want to do it,” Gradillas said. “They can take this workshop for six weeks, see if they like it. If they want to audition, they can just go out there and go through the process to see how they like it.
He said he tries to make auditions stress-free by getting rid of traditional techniques. Rather than putting an actor alone on stage and reading a script, he turns it into a group activity.
“Everything is done with a group,” Gradillas said. “These are easy improvisations. I try to make them happy, to make it a more comfortable, easier-going and more creative process.
For those who don’t want to audition, he runs an introductory workshop to give them a taste of everything.
Workshops that start in January include:
• Production workshop: a nine-week workshop on Saturdays that ends with a production of “The Wizard of Oz”. It is for 8 to 13 year olds.
• Introduction to Drama: A six-week course that meets on Tuesdays, it is designed for new comedians ages 7-11 and is filled with drama games.
• Performing troupe: This six-week class meets on Wednesdays and offers training in improvisation and comedy skits. It will end with a performance. It is for 8 to 11 year olds.
• Performing troupe: This six-week class meets on Thursdays and is like the other, except for 12-17 year olds.
The price of the workshops ranges from $ 125 to $ 225.
In addition to acting, Gradillas said West Valley Stages allows students to work behind the scenes. Young people approach him about the scenography, lights and sound.
“We’re getting more interest on this side,” Gradillas said. “We have good lighting and sound equipment. I think all kids should do this at some point if they really want to get into acting. It’s a different perspective.
As West Valley Stages kicks off and gets deep into a construction project, Gradillas has said he welcomes donations of all sizes. The costs are $ 7,000 per month, with him and his wife primarily in volunteer roles. The parents also intervened to help with the tasks.
“We’re lucky to have a big space and we have good supporters and a good board of directors, but we have a whole other theater that’s going to be built. The contract alone will cost around $ 100,000, ”Gradillas said. “People volunteer their time, like me, my wife and some of the board members. Sometimes we just have to hang in there and do a show for free to make sure we stay in the right one.
As the world goes through the COVID-19 pandemic, Gradillas stressed that theater is needed for young people.
“Without theater, children not only miss an incredible artistic experience, but they lose the chance to experience an endless amount of learning opportunities,” Gradillas said. “With an exhibition that not only increases academic performance, but also encourages creativity, culture, communication, patience, self-esteem and imagination, theater is something that cannot be overlooked. “
West Valley Steps
1435 N. Eliseo C. Felix Jr. Chemin,
Suite A101, Avondale