The Beginnings of the Academy Theatre
It all began on a typewriter.
The year was 1980. Angel Arredondo had a wild imagination writing stories of psychodrama and supernatural elements. He wrote fervently hitting the keys on a typewriter, creating a mild ruckus in his bedroom into the wee hours of morning. He would usually retire only when his mother would yell “Stop typing!” This veneration would eventually produce four written screenplays, a published book, thirty-three showcases, and ten full-length plays throughout the lifetime of the fervent playwright. Thirty years later the last works would eventually take stage at the Academy Theatre, a not-for-profit enterprise that would emerge as the small but dauntless arts community created by the would-be director Mr. Arredondo in the heart of Phoenix, Arizona.
The Arizona-born writer had also an inherent need to foster the intellectual and creative growth of juveniles. In his early teens he led a group of altar boys at St. William’s Catholic Church in Cashion, Arizona, creating a program that taught the principles and practices of altar serving in an era when preadolescence and high-schoolers were culturally minimized and disregarded by their elders and society of high ranking, simply by being young. He reinstated the Knights of the Altar program and appeared before the Parish Council requesting funding to carry out the program. Initially, his request was turned down but the persevering leader took initiative and approached the higher entity and eventually his request was granted after proving their ambition.
The ingenious and spiritual playwright embraced new life ventures as life progressed into the 1990s: marriage to his wife Karen and then a family of three. Testing the waters of entrepreneurship, he evoked two idiosyncratic opportunities: the launching of a graphic design business and later, a book publishing company.
And it didn't stop there.
Angel’s dream was calling him. The ardent theatre playwright had the itch to start an organization. Intuitively, it would be a creative outlet to appease his unrelenting, imaginative and fantastical mind… an organization that would muddle society’s conventional views of youth hood and raise young men into respectable adults, outwardly and inwardly, in the form of art.
To Angel, an unfavorable trend in modern American culture triggered the root of his soul. He witnessed a portion of society’s youth grow up aimlessly, lacking aspiration and inspiration to become something of great nobility and suffering a depression of an unclear cause. These beings of tender age were trapped in a social and political system that lacked the fostering of individual inventiveness, creativity, self-esteem and leadership skills… a system that favored athletics over the arts, standard academic policies over individualized attributes in multiple disciplines, and mature years over the fresh and inexperienced. Yet Arredondo did not place full blame at that commonplace. Instead, the lover-of-music-and-theatre recognized the need for the entrepreneurs and leaders of tomorrow to learn outside-the-box thinking and creative expression via a theatrical stage.
And that was when the Junior Drama Club was born….2004.
Six boys, a ten--by-twenty-foot tent, and ready to conquer the world… That is where it all started: in the backyard of the wife and director-boss. No microphones, no curtains, no props… yet; just nature’s warm Arizonan evenings, glittered with stars (literally and figuratively speaking). The motto “Nihil Obstat” (translated “Nothing stands in the way”) was then actualized. This Latin phrase would then be the heart and soul lived most proudly by the members of the Junior Drama Club, whose name would soon change, decided upon the 6 members, to the Junior Drama Club Academy (to include the fact that the club carried a curriculum much more than production,) the subsequent clubs, parents, volunteer board members, supporters, and the ceaseless, fighter-for-the-cause Angel Arredondo himself. Furthermore, the executive director would also enroll his only son, (twelve-years-old, at the time), into this academy venture, instilling the values that he so intended to give to this generation of the technology age. This theatre-under-a-tent would also conceive the philosophies, values, and principles of the JDCA; the club logo (designed by the father of one of the members), which resembles a mask portraying a combination of the comical and dramatic icons; and the club colors: blue, orange, and yellow, whose initial letters spell the acronym “BOY.”
Alas! A club where boys-training-to-become-young-men can learn how to act, mimic characters they've seen in television and movies, how to read lines, improvise, laugh at themselves, and sing current and timeless songs of the twentieth century from Frank Sinatra to the rock ballads of John Lennon! Not to mention learn a little ballroom dancing, from the paso-doble to single-time swing. (Yes, ballroom dancing.) This club would also help them discover their individual strengths and weaknesses, encourage the growth of their peers, learn the trade skills of the theatre arts, and most of all, break all the stereotypes of the roles of males in society, (as demonstrated by the board members Bob Gates and John Manier: builder and woodworker by trade yet also a dance instructor, and golf player yet professional singer, respectively.) It would also break down those ghastly fear boundaries that the theatrical stage most heinously emits! And to add frosting to the cake, the club would allow the young members to have the opportunity to take on the duties of the Junior Board of Officers, if elected, assuming the roles and responsibilities, (which they would publicly and mandatorily swear by,) of those similar to the adult board. (Wait… a club that teaches kids… responsibility?! This feature would make any parent swoon.)
The JDCA held their first play, entitled “Homey Ghost of the Cineplex” and sent the audience to their feet in applause. Armed with white collared shirts, ties and a fiery, “go-get ‘em” attitude, the Junior Drama Club Academy, for the first time, proved to the community and to themselves, that with hard work, abiding by the theatre principles, and having fun, they, too, have the ability to be an entertainer and give the world their best shot.
Three additional clubs (the Girls Drama Club Academy, Adult Drama Academy and the Summer Drama Academy) soon followed, as well as the leasing of the dwelling; a home to the ever-growing young talent... a structure whose previous occupant was a liquor store on 7th Avenue and Pierson. The theatre was now dubbed “The Academy Theatre.” It would soon bring countless plays, programs, live entertainment, bingo, karaoke and art shows to the stage.
However, no journey is trotted without a struggle.
The liquor-store-transformed-to-theatre was a bit minuscule. And like any building inhabited for its value and somewhat affordability, it had some issues: a kitchenette that lacked a sink, stained floor tiles, a cast room the size of a closet, and a bathroom that desperately needed remodeling, among other improvements… nonetheless, and with a lesser than shoe string budget, the building was ingeniously transformed into a quaint, cozy theatre with an ambiance of an opulent venue; but some how the Academy Theatre managed. Sure, it wasn't your grandiose Arizonan professional theatre or playhouse as those that grace downtown Phoenix, but it had one important trait: a lot of love from a little community.
And then there was labor… back-breaking at times. There were stage sets that needed to be built, torn down, and reused… details that needed attention to ensure a successful show… printing, designing, errands, phone calls, and follow-ups to be made… And the facility itself needed upkeep: air conditioning, plumbing, interior and grounds all needed constant maintenance.
Physical exhaustion and arduous labor are some words to describe the will and the work of the value-driven playwright Angel Arredondo, along with the help of his Board of Administrators: Bob Gates, set builder and dance choreographer, and John Manier, voice coach and fundraising assistant; both who had committed to the cause since the early beginnings of the Academy. His wife, the supporting staff (Board of Coordinators, Auxiliary Board, and Junior Board) along with the youth members and their parents, had also endured the trials and efforts as well.
And it didn't stop there… Oh no… We, the Academy Theatre live by “Nothing stands in the way!”
Cause-driven and fearless to ask for backing from its members, friends, supporters of the arts community, local non-profit organizations, corporations, and ultimately local and federal governments, the Academy Theatre would continue to spread the good word and fight to sustain itself as an organization that is selfless, benevolent and not driven by wealth nor capital acquisition.
Leaving behind what was once called “home” to the Academy Theatre and in search of a new one, this story is not the end, but only the beginning…
to continue to the present history being made, CLICK HERE.