In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, we’ve become very attached to our electronics – especially our cell phones. Desert Theatreworks in Palm Desert is putting on a production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone, which addresses that subject. The play will run from September 18 – 26.
During a recent interview, artistic director, Lance Phillips-Martinez, talked about the production and how it addresses the subject of being too attached to our cell phones.
“It’s a play written by Sarah Ruhl and it premiered around 2007,” Lance Phillips-Martinez said. “Since then, it’s had many productions across the country. Now we’re going to do it here and we’re really excited to be presenting it. In 2010 to 2012, it was very popular. This one to me resonates with modern technology and connection, what we lose when we use Facebook and text messages. The funny thing is we weren’t really using text messages that much in 2006. So Dead Man’s Cell Phone was ahead of the times in its day. It really addresses life, loss, love, the need to connect to someone, simplicity of paper, and when we were just able to write something and connect to someone in that way.”
Lance Phillips-Martinez said that the 2 hour play will have his own personal touch, such as transitions between scenes to make it seamless. The play will also feature a unique cast of people who are both older and young.
“The theatre company is in its 3rd year,” said Ron Phillips-Martinez, CEO of Desert Theatreworks. “We’ve done 2 seasons already and this will be our third. We’re a 501(c) non-profit organization, it’s grassroots community theatre. Lance and I believe in providing a space for artists to come and work and experience their craft, and we give them an environment to do that. Lance has over 30 years experience in theatre, and he’s our artistic director and director of all of our shows. He also mentors the actors and works with them one on one. We also believe in mixing all areas of the community together, so we have actors on the stage who are approaching their late 80s and even their early 90s to young kids who are 12 to 14 years old. So there’s different levels of experience.”
The advantages to a theatre company with various age groups pays off.
“With that, we hear through their interaction how the older folks learn from the younger folks and how the younger folks learn from the older folks,” said Ron Phillips-Martinez.
Plus there are people with real acting experience who are part of Desert Theatreworks’ productions.
“Some of them have been on Broadway, many of them, including myself, are equity actors, or retired like myself,” said Lance Phillips-Martinez. “We still want to be able to practice our craft and experience it again. You never really stop learning about your craft and you never stop thinking and feeling something in connection to your art. A painter never stops painting. That’s the beauty of an actor – they still do all those things and they still dream about what they could be doing. Why not offer them an environment like that? Many communities have theatres and produce community work, which is sometimes sub-par and gets a bad name, and we try to really establish the level of professionalism in a theatre environment.”
Desert Theatreworks has put on a variety of productions and try new plays each year. The reactions have been mostly positive.
“Last year we did Psycho Beach Party, which was a very campy, young show. Some of our audience members weren’t crazy about it and maybe it wasn’t their cup of tea, but they came back for The Miracle Worker. So we didn’t polarize them, but they realized the younger audience came to see that show and it wasn’t their thing. But a lot of our older customers loved it. So you just never know what you’re going to get and you won’t know unless you provide a variety.”
When I asked Lance Phillips-Martinez if he believed people had misconceptions of the theatre, he said that it definitely exists.
“I think that there are some people you’re not going to get in the theatre just because of stigma. Hopefully, by giving them a diverse group of actors and a diverse palette of productions, maybe they’ll go. Maybe someone who loves the movie version of Steel Magnolias will come see the play version and fall in love with theatre. You never know. I do think there are some connotations of theatre with some people. We let people bring their infants and trust people that they’ll take them outside if they start crying or screaming. We’re not snobs here in any way.”
Ron Phillips-Martinez said that their mission statement and policy of including diversity on the stage also extends to its audience.
“A lot of people have this idea that theatre is stuffy and it’s this very high brow thing. It doesn’t have to be. We invite infants, children, and everybody is welcome to come. It’s not intended to be high brow.”
There’s more great shows this season, and Lance Phillips-Martinez talked about the upcoming shows.
“We’re doing Steel Magnolias, we’re doing A Christmas Carol, and we’re doing Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor, which is one of his edgier shows, and we’re doing a musical of the board game Clue. Almost everyone has grown up with Clue, and this has 216 possible endings. Someone from the audience will pull a card and it’ll be one of the suspects, a room, or a weapon. We’re also doing Other Desert Cities too, a play about a Palm Springs family who are Republican with very liberal children.
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