Phantom Projects Tackles Tough Topics Through Live Theatre E-mail
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Entertainment & Arts
Tuesday, 01 December 2015 21:25

I was driving in my car the other day when my five year old asked me, "Mommy what does bombing mean?"

For once, my reply wasn't, "Where did you hear that from?"  Rather, I found myself turning off the news radio channel and tried to answer my son’s question.  Part of me felt my child had a right to know what a bombing was because he needs to know right from wrong, but the other part of me, like most parents, didn't want to discuss anything and change the subject altogether.  Truth be known, today's current events are sparking conversations, questions, and confusion from our children and as parents we may find ourselves in a predicament we simply are unfamiliar with.  We don't know the answers--- and you know what?  That's okay.

This is not the first time mankind is questioning the actions of some. Why is there suffering in the world?  What is the reason for such acrimony and discourse?  How do we begin to make peace with one another when the focus is often on our own differences?  When movies depict war, television blasts non-stop political banter and books take past events and put a modern "Hollywood spin" on conflict, what are parents left to tell their children?

This week, I had the pleasure of attending Phantom Projects production of Number the Stars, based on the book by Lois Lowry.  I read this book years ago as a sixth grader and now as a school librarian, it sits quietly on my book shelves only to be checked out occasionally.  In Number the Stars, ten-year old Annemarie Johansen goes about life in Denmark in 1943 with her best friend, Ellen Rosen.  Confused by the looming presence of German Nazi soldiers, Annemarie, Ellen, and Kirstie (Annemarie's younger sister), have so many questions for their parents, all of which can't be explained or the complete truth withheld from the young girls.  Soon, Ellen's parents are gone and Annemarie and Kirstie are told they must pretend Ellen is their sister.  The Johansen’s, with the help of their late daughter's fiancé, Peter and Uncle Henrik, assist in the escape of The Rosen’s and other Jews to Sweden.  At the doorstep of fear, Annemarie chooses bravery and soon discovers many others do as well.

Under the direction of Steve Cisneros, Number the Stars pulled together a cast of actors that excelled in their portrayal of Lowry's characters.  The young actors in this cast (Veronica McFarlane as Annemarie, Molly Malia Arii as Ellen, and Noelle Lidyoff as Kirsti) were extremely talented and believable. Their hard work and dedication (as well as the entire cast) was visible as they stay true to the character Lowry's created.  I was extremely pleased with this performance and am eager to see the additional productions from Phantom Projects under the direction of Cisneros.  It's not often a cast and director take a chance on a book that only a few may have heard of-- those of you that have read the story understand fully how brilliant it is to take this story to stage, especially in light of recent events.

I had a history teacher in high school and as much as I disliked him, it was only because he challenged us and wanted us to see how history often repeats itself. Looking back, I am truly thankful for him.  He helped us teenagers see that it only takes one person to change a million.  He taught us how to differentiate between opinion and fact, how to discern the truth from political rhetoric.  He arranged for a concentration camp survivor to share his experiences with us.  Vietnam veterans accounted their time during the war.  He made us read books about atrocity.  I hated all of it, and then soon realized thereafter, that it was my passion to know more.  I went on to graduate with my B.A. in history and a huge part of that was the inspiration of my history teacher, Mr. Michael Drago.  It's because of Mr. Drago (he insists I call him Mike but I can't bring myself to do that) I know I can tell my own children what is going on and it's still okay to answer some of their questions by saying, "I don't know."  And like the Johansen’s, I want my children to be brave through it all.

Phantom Projects Theatre Group was created by Steve Cisneros.  With the support of sponsors, Mr. Cisneros is able to bring to stage performances featuring young actors tackling issues of today as well as works of literature.  Additionally, shows are offered to school age children at lower costs to bring the arts to our youth and awareness of both modern and past events.  Sponsorship and season passes are available.  In February, Mr. Cisneros will be bringing Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird to stage.  In April, Bruce Gevirtzman's The Center of the Universe will tackle prejudice, tolerance, and bullying.  Additionally, The Young Artist Project celebrates its 10th anniversary in August.

This season Phantom Projects promises opportunities to open discussion with your children-- what a wonderful way to empower our youth and help in understanding the struggles of others.  Lessons will help them appreciate others own cultures and unique offerings to our society.  Moreover, use these stories to help you and your child understand how others overcome diversity.  I can't thank the culture of live theater enough-- how lucky we are to be residents of La Mirada!

Number the Stars was based on the book by Lois Lowry and adapted by Dr. Douglas W. Larache with assistance from Susan Elliott Larche and directed by Steve Cisneros.  Production Stage Manager:  Eric J. Bridges.  Assistant Stage Manager: Emily Rose Githens. Costume Designer:  Sarah Timm.  Set Designer: Veronica Hodur.  Marketing and Communications: Danielle Keaton. Set Construction: Kimberly Kearns, Garrett Engberg, Steve Carlock, Kyle Bassett, Andrew Cano.  Starring: Veronica McFarlane (Annemarie), Molly Malia Arii (Ellen), Noelle Lidyoff (Kirsti), Chrissie Carpenter (Mrs. Johansen), Patrick Birman (Mr. Johansen), Timothy Lang (Uncle Henrick), Max Herzfeld (Peter), Madelynn Fattibene (Mrs. Rosen), Gabriel Boyle (Nazi Soldier), and Anna Ready, Tracy McDaniel, Paris Langle, Emily Rose Githens, Kyle Bassett (Mourners).

For more information about Phantom Projects, visit

Through December Blog fans can receive a 35% discount to Phantom Projects' next three shows at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.



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