Karen Rolston is used to East Valley Children’s Theatre getting a haul of honors at the Arizoni Awards. But Monday’s armful of kudos left the troupe’s artistic director speechless ... and exhausted from the many trips to the stage of Tempe Center for the Arts, home for the 20th annual awards for excellence in theater produced in Maricopa County.
By the ceremony’s end, Rolston and company tallied 10 honors for “The Goats Gruff,” a original play by Mesa playwright Cori Lynn Johnson. Besides being overwhelmed by the huge number of awards, including “the biggie” for best production, Rolston was taken aback that the accolades were for an original piece.
Theater directors are used to seeing awards go to big, splashy productions of well-known shows — usually with “Disney” in the title.
“I think the appeal of a show like “Goats Gruff” comes down to great dialogue. Cori just has a knack for witty, snappy dialogue that appeals to all ages. Both kids and adults really like her sense of humor,” says Rolston, who’s been with East Valley Children’s Theatre since 1997 after a 27-year teaching career in East Valley schools. In fact, Johnson is a former student who also acted with the troupe as a teen.
“About a decade or so ago, Karen encouraged me to write a play. So I came up with a twist on ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and called it ‘The Floating Princess,’ ” said Johnson.
East Valley Children’s Theatre staged it in 2002, and it won a best production Arizoni that year.
“Can you imagine my very first play getting that kind of attention? Here we are again getting the same award,” she said.
“The Floating Princess” has been produced not only all over the country, but even in Turkey. Its surprise success and the popularity of subsequent plays by Johnson has earned the children’s theater a reputation as a troupe that is friendly to new writers and young actors who want to do something other than stage the latest Disney product — youngsters such as Zoe Whiting, who took home an Arizoni for best actress in a major role.
Whiting was truly in awe of receiving such an high honor at the tender age of 11. “After all, I played the littlest goat. I really, really wasn’t expecting this award. But when you work with Karen and a director like Joel Cranson you learn everything about being on the stage. They put a generous amount of focus on dancing, and vocals, and on acting.”