Arts and Culture | Local

Tucsonan promotes socially relevant theater, new venues

Sheldon Metz
Sheldon Metz

Sheldon Metz thought he was retiring from a big-time career as an event producer when he came to Tucson in 2007.  “Instead, I’m busier than ever,” says Metz, 69. “My doctor says that’s what keeps me going.”

Soon after Metz and his wife, Linda Schulman-Metz, arrived here, he jumped into the local theater scene. “I’ve directed more than 160 plays,” he told the AJP. “My first acting experience was starring in ‘Hansel and Gretel’ in Chicago when I was 6. I was always a performer. As a teenager I sang in a folk group. I loved being on stage. My first professional performance was in “Night of January 16” by Ayn Rand in 1961. I also worked as a clown in Chicago for three years.”

Metz graduated from the University of Chicago in 1962 at age 17. Raised Orthodox in Chicago, “I became Reform the day after my Bar Mitzvah,” says Metz. His professional career as an event producer in Los Angeles for such Motown acts as singer Mary Wells and The Temptations included planning large-scale political events, trade shows and conventions, from China to Mexico.

“I worked in film and television as a make-up artist, including three years with Orson Welles on commercials and industrial films,” notes Metz.  “I also worked with Natalie Wood, Michael Caine, Charlton Heston, Rock Hudson, John Belushi, Ronald Reagan and many more.”

In Tucson, Metz was involved with Beowulf Alley Theatre Company and Live Theatre Workshop before founding the Tucson Alliance for Dramatic Artists, known as TADA! in 2010, which produces original plays starring local actors. After reading plays from all over the world as part of its annual playwriting contest, TADA! members choose a play to stage.  This year, “Women and Guns” by New Jersey playwright Steve Gold will run Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 10 through 25, at the Temple of Music and Art Cabaret Theatre, 330 S. Scott Ave. The play portrays the life of a female U.S. Marine who returns from combat in Iraq, focusing on her ensuing battle with PTSD and its effects on her relationships.

Last year, “Emmet, Down in My Heart,” a play written by Claire Coss about the 1955 murder of an African-American teenager, Emmet Till, in Mississippi — for supposedly flirting with a white woman — was performed by TADA! actors. The play focuses on the life of Till’s mother following her son’s murder. The International Centre for Women Playwrights honored TADA! with one of its 50-50 Applause Awards for the number of plays it presents by women, or that deal with women’s issues. TADA! was one of 67 community theater recipients from nine countries.

“I try to direct plays that say something to an audience,” says Metz. “I believe that theater is meant to inform and educate, to make you feel and relate. It’s the best method of expressing and explaining social issues. This can be done through drama or comedy. Most of all, theater is meant to make people think. People often talk about the play, not the story. If people leave the theatre saying, “That was good,” or, “That was terrible,” nothing happens. I want playgoers to talk about the story and discuss their emotions, thoughts and their human experience.”

In addition to producing socially relevant plays, Metz has other big plans for Tucson theater. “Most theater in Tucson concentrates on downtown and mostly older people go,” he says. “I’m looking to create a performance venue for people living east of Swan [Road], for younger people, and for children. There are 387,000 people from Vail to the Foothills.”

TADA!, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, is currently negotiating for a spot to produce plays on the east side. “Look at Live Theater Workshop,” says Metz. “They’re always sold out and have only 95 seats. They do amazing work.” TADA! is also looking for a temporary location until the new site is ready in fall 2015.

“Thousands of talented playwrights are in Tucson,” notes Metz. “There’s so much talent here. We want to promote new playwrights and have a place for everyone to see plays.”

For more information, visit www.allian or call 722-9553. Tickets are $22; $18 for seniors and students; free for active military. The Jan. 9 preview  of “Women and Guns” will be half-price.