New Musical Theater Seeks to Enhance Tucson’s Vibrant Arts Scene | giving

Loni Nannini Special for the Arizona Daily Star

In Tucson’s continuing arts history, the new nonprofit Saguaro City Music Theater seeks to write the next chapter in musical theater through performance and education.

“We all have a story to tell, and musical theater is a story. The Saguaro City Music Theater is committed to bringing professional, high-level musical theater to the Tucson community,” said Drew Humphrey, artistic director of the theater and co-founder of the company with Charlie Ingram. “We want to engage audiences through musical theater to inspire diverse artistic opportunities and community engagement. Educationally, we are launching Saguaro City Studio Arts as a way to promote the longevity of musical theater by inspiring young people and creating an inclusive atmosphere of tuition-free educational opportunities.

It’s kind of a homecoming for Humphrey, who came to Tucson in college and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance from the University of Arizona. He returns after nearly 20 years in New York, where he built a career in professional musical theater that included performances in the Broadway production of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.”

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Humphrey said he was thrilled to be back and looked forward to enhancing Old Pueblo’s already vibrant arts culture by providing additional opportunities for aspiring musical theater artists as well as amateurs and professionals who might otherwise feel compelled to look elsewhere for professional theater opportunities.

“Tucson has a wonderful theater community and we look forward to providing another outlet – not replacing any outlet – to contribute to the rich environment of the arts community. We want to provide a place where people like us, children and other professionals in Tucson can develop their art forms in musical theater,” said Humphrey.

Humphrey is also enthusiastic about Saguaro City Studio Arts, which embraces a curriculum based on the concept that arts education should be accessible to all children. With the support of a $50,000 matching grant from the Kautz Family Foundation, Studio Arts’ “Clean Slate” program will offer free classes to students ages 7-17. Inclusive classes will appeal to children of all backgrounds and abilities.

“We believe there should be no barriers to accessing arts education for any child, regardless of ability or challenge, and we want to encourage children of all abilities, including those with special needs specials, come join us,” said Dena DiGiacinto, Director of Outreach and Education.

DiGiacinto, a graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York and a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant, has witnessed amazing results with inclusive theater environments. She said children with diagnosed conditions – including autism, spina bifida, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and hearing and visual impairments – work alongside children who may not have problems and the results are exceptional for everyone involved.

“It’s just a beautiful thing to see kids coming together as a team to learn about the art of musical theater in that environment. It’s naturally a place where people feel a sense of belonging and when you walk in , you can see everyone’s self-awareness and inhibitions left at the door,” DiGiacinto said.

This type of theater creates a unique sense of community, empathy and acceptance that spills over into other aspects of children’s lives, according to Humphrey.

Based on his own experiences and those of other artists he has worked with over the years, Humphrey also believes that musical theater provides a unique place for all children to tell stories.

“Everyone can share a common goal without having to compete. The goal is achieved through cooperation, so success is measured in cooperation and building a community team. … Drama is a valuable tool for helping children learn to work together and communicate. … This is 21st century skill building,” Humphrey said.

Ultimately, the inclusive educational programming will fuel a planned annual stage production for the professional musical theater company, which plans to produce four productions each year.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at ninch2@comcast.net

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