Turn Your Arizona On with Hub Kapp and the Wheels
At Saturday’s Festival 48!

By Mariah Fleming

Centennial Theatre Foundation Logo

There’s always been a lot more going on than meets the eye in Arizona culture. As Arizona celebrates becoming the 48th state on February 14th 1912, its centennial celebrations have been the perfect occasion to show off Arizona’s multi faceted culture and history. From historians to people in all genres of the arts, Arizona culture has been showcased statewide. And one Arizonan is determined to keep Arizona’s rich culture front and center, long after the centennial celebrations have ended.

Ben Tyler, an actor, director and playwright whose family goes back several generations in Arizona, was inspired two years ago by the upcoming Arizona Centennial to create an organization that would help Arizona culture thrive and continue to grow. So, Tyler thought it fitting to name his organization the Centennial Theatre Foundation. The Foundation exists to help Arizona playwrights get their plays produced.

The Centennial Theatre Foundation will promote Arizona by developing and helping fund new Arizona plays. Initially, the idea was to write ten plays covering ten decades in Arizona. “It kind of evolved over time and changed a lot.” Tyler said. The mission of the Centennial Theatre Foundation is “to create opportunities for Arizona's theatre companies and playwrights world wide, to collaboratively define Arizona through the medium of live theatre. Through funding and development, the Foundation's goal is to create a new body of work for the stage that reflects the unique, diverse qualities of Arizona and its people.”

Bill Thompson & Pat McMahon

Festival 48 is the kick off fundraiser for the Centennial Theatre Foundation. Happening on Saturday, February 18th, it’s a launch party with a twist. For one thing, Hub Kapp and the Wheels, the quirky and loveable band, hatched on the Wallace and Ladmo television show in its heyday, will be there! Wallace and Ladmo television show icons, Bill Thompson (“Wallace”) and Pat McMahon (“Gerald”) will be on hand to help launch the Foundation. The fundraiser will be a sort of variety show. On tap are theatrical presentations, music and special guest speakers. On top of that, event tickets include free wine and food.

As a talented playwright, Tyler has been lucky enough to have success with his shows. He helped write the nationally recognized play “Guv” when Evan Mecham was Arizona governor and he wrote “Mr. Conservative” about Barry Goldwater. Tyler, an alumnus of the Wallace and Ladmo TV show, penned the popular play The Wallace and Ladmo Show. Though the Wallace and Ladmo TV show has been off the air for decades, it is still loved for its inventive and hilarious take on the world. Tyler’s play premiered in 1999 and will be come to the stage again on March 15th.

Tyler’s plays have been a popular and critical success. And he’s figured out a way to use the royalties from his plays to help fund the Centennial Theatre Foundation. Tyler’s idea for the non-profit Centennial Theatre Foundation got wings when Tyler and CTF Board Member Gene Kadish put their heads together. They formed a board of directors and started figuring out how to get the whole thing started. The first order of business was having plays to produce in order to raise funds. That’s how Tyler’s plays, The Wallace and Ladmo Show and Mr. Conservative got into the mix.

”It seems a little self serving to start with plays I’ve already written” Tyler says, “but they happen to be what we had on hand and won’t cost us anything to produce because there are no royalty fees to pay; they already belong to me.” The money from all CTG productions thus far has gone back into the Foundation. “That we’ve got three theatre companies to work with us in producing two plays in our first year is a big step. It’s a lot more than I thought we could get accomplished off the bat!” he told me. Mr. Conservative is a production of the Arizona Jewish Theatre Company and will hit the stage again in the fall. The Wallace and Ladmo Show is a co production of Desert Foothills Theatre in Carefree and Actors Theatre of Phoenix. After the March 15th show, it will run again in June.

Ben Tyler

Tyler’s goal is to help Arizona playwrights get their work onstage, and if their plays are successful, to get them produced outside of Arizona by other theatre companies. “Then the plays will become kind of “good ambassadors” for Arizona around the country.” he explained. “We’re going to start opening the submissions for plays pretty soon,” Tyler said. “It’s open to anyone who wants to make a submission. I’m interested to find out what were going to see!” Tyler continued enthusiastically: “The tough part is getting people who are willing to read a bunch of plays and help separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s going to be a vetting process.” You can volunteer to help read the submissions through the Foundation website.

The Centennial Theatre Foundation will be an ongoing endeavor. Tyler explains: “My hope is when people see these three companies producing these plays and see that we’ve pitched in substantially with the budget financially, and that they work, and, hopefully, are successful, it will demonstrate what the model is for the foundation. People will see it works and say ‘yeah, ok it does work; I’d like to be part of it!’ ” Arizona has always been the palette Tyler has worked from. "I like history, Arizona history in particular.” he says. “I guess that's why I write about it. My hope is that the Foundation will be developing plays that are as diverse as Arizona."

Head on out this weekend to the “Festival 48” at 7pm and support the Centennial Theatre Foundation launch party. Tickets are $48 per couple or $28 per person. It’s Valentine’s Day week, so why not put your heart into the arts? It’s an inexpensive and entertaining way to wind up Arizona’s centennial. For details go to centennialtheatrefoundation.com