Poster image for "Six Stories Tall."

From mermaids to monsters, 'Six Stories Tall' celebrates youth, urban culture

By

Sarah A. McCarty

It’s an adult world, and kids are just living in it.

But this weekend, on the Paul V. Galvin stage at Arizona State University, six short stories will explore just how young people can and do claim their own space — both physical and emotional.  

The School of Film, Dance and Theatre in ASU’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts presents these stories through theater, movement, hip-hop culture and music in its production of “Six Stories Tall.”

“It’s six vignettes about Latino and Latina youth,” said Chris Weise, one of the co-creative directors. “It’s all about them claiming space, finding strength, learning lessons.”

In the show, the audience sees through the eyes of these young characters, who often use fantasy and fairy tales — from mermaids and monsters to Batman and a world painted purple — to cope with tough, adult circumstances and find confidence.

“They carve out their own spot and it’s theirs, not the adults’,” Weise said, “and that’s super, super important.”

‘Something totally fresh’

“Six Stories Tall” is one of the first productions from the School of Film, Dance and Theatre that fully integrates both dance and theater.

“Interdisciplinarity is one of the several areas where ASU is leading,” said Lance Gharavi, artistic director of theatre in the school. “We’re a school of film, dance and theater, so of course we look for ways to fuse our creative energies, our histories, cultures and methods. ‘Six Stories Tall’ seemed a perfect place for theater and dance to meet and play together. Boundaries are made to be crossed. And exciting new things can result. I think we’re going to create something totally fresh here.” 

Weise, a graduate student in ASU’s theatre for youth program, and Melissa Britt, a dance professor in the school, are co-creative directors for the work.

“We share the directing responsibilities in everything,” Weise said. “She doesn’t just handle the dance aspects and I don’t just handle the theater aspects — we handle all of it equally as a unit.”

He said it was also important to make sure they were using movement as a narrative form. Learning to incorporate dance and movement into his work was something Angel Lopez, who studies theatre at ASU, found challenging and rewarding.  

“This is the first show where I play a character who doesn’t speak at all and it’s purely movement,” Lopez said. “My challenge now is taking all the things that I know from acting, all of the impulses that I would normally put into the language of the piece, and now putting it into my body.”

Hey Mr. DJ

Music also plays a large role in this production.

Nathaniel Hawkins, or DJ Panic, will provide the soundtrack.

“Panic and I have worked together for many years, since Urban Sol 2012 actually,” said Britt, who brought Hawkins on board. “Beyond being one of my favorite people to work with, Panic brings a steadiness, positive outlook and open mind to all that he does. I knew he would be the glue to all the moving parts that a production like this requires.”

Hawkins said a DJ within a production like “Six Stories Tall’ gives the show legs. “It’s not just a normal play,” he said. “I don’t want to use the word spectacle — it’s a collection of really dope things on their own coming together to make one big dope thing.”

Hawkins won’t just be playing music in the background. In some parts of the show, he actually gets to communicate with the characters through the music.

The audience can expect a range of songs from Hawkins.

“I’d like to think that my perceptive crates are deep enough that I will play something you’ve never heard of,” he said, but there will also be music the audience will recognize and find nostalgic.

In addition to getting help from Hawkins, a staple in the local hip-hop community, Weise also wanted to make sure the play reflected the Phoenix area. The playwright, Marco Ramirez, set the stories in Chicago. Weise actually contacted Ramirez to get permission to make a few adjustments. For instance, in the story “Lupe and the Red Line Monster,” a young girl uses her mad video game skills to face off against a monster in Chicago’s subway. In ASU’s production, Weise switches it up, creating a Light Rail Monster.

‘I hope they take away smiles’

Weise said young people are “the champions of the piece,” but this play is for everyone.

“It reminds you that there’s magic in the world,” Lopez said.

Hawkins hopes people feel that magic.

“First and foremost, I hope they take away smiles,” he said. “Anything and everything that I personally dive into, the end goal is almost always to invoke smiles, in one way or another.”

Hawkins also said the play has potential to break down walls between children and adults. “It has imagery and dialogue that will be hilarious to a child and an adult,” he said. “It will bring about conversation.”

Conversation is exactly what Weise wants. He said when he came to ASU, he wanted to create a piece that was all about getting adults and young people to have conversations. 

“I want people to take away just how powerful young people are and how much their ideas matter and how I truly believe that the more we listen to them, the better off our society and our world will be.”  

'Six Stories Tall' 

When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9­–10, 15–17; 2 p.m. Feb. 11, 18

Where: Paul V. Galvin Playhouse, ASU's Tempe campus

Admission: $16 for general admission; $12 for ASU faculty, staff and alumni; $12 for seniors; $8 for students. Purchase tickets online or call the Herberger Institute Box Office at 480-965-6447.