Our neck of the woods has a rich history of talented folks who can sing, dance and put on a good show.
So says Max McQueen, who covered the theater scene for the East Valley Tribune and Get Out from 1981-2003.
McQueen recently regaled me with tales of "the old days," when Mesa Musical Theater's annual summer Broadway show, led by legendary Westwood High School theater teacher Jay Dean Jones, was the "granddaddy" of East Valley theatrical productions.
"Downtown papers wouldn't cover anything in the East Valley. It was like, ‘Why bother going out to the hinterlands?' " he recalls. "It really blew my mind when I saw the quality. I was seeing high-quality community theater that a lot of people turned their nose at. A lot of the actors and people involved with these productions were from the old guard families of the East Valley that had been involved for two or three generations in the performing arts."
McQueen, who is still a voting member of the American Theatre Critics Association, says it's no different today.
"Almost all of them are volunteer. It's really a love of your community and love of the performing arts. People who are working on these things have full-time jobs and families, but they're doing it because they love it, and they've all really stepped things up to the next level because the audience demands it."
We'll get to see a bit of what he's talking about Sept. 10 at the Get Out Performing Arts Expo, when several theater, dance and music companies - amateur and professional, East Valley-centered and beyond - perform on stage. In the lobby, more groups will host info booths, where you can buy tickets to upcoming shows and inquire about opportunities to get involved.
The whole thing was McQueen's idea back in the late 1990s - a single event where audiences could connect with myriad entertainment outlets.
Otherwise, he says, "It can take five years, going from theater to theater, to get to know places."
With the closure of Tempe Little Theatre last week, and arts companies struggling to stay afloat as we all hold a little tighter to our pennies, the event is a good reminder of the arts available to us in our own backyard - some of them do-it-yourself operations made possible by our own neighbors, teachers, pastors, shopkeepers and friends.
"I've seen the theater, in the East Valley particularly, mature and then diversify, and they're still struggling with the same struggles of 30 years ago, which are always finances and venues," says McQueen, who now runs a Phoenix nonprofit that serves adults with developmental disabilities. "But there's no shortage of talent when it comes to actors, musicians and behind-the-scenes people."
The 12th annual Get Out Performing Arts Expo will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 10 at Mesa Arts Center. Admission is free. For information, visit www.eastvalleytribune.com/get_out/expo