Light Rail 2.0

Clowning Around: Ben and Crystal

by Allyson Yoder

If you asked me to make a list of things I don’t expect to see during a commute on the light rail, clowns on stilts might be on it. I guess you might say Crystal and Ben are taking the Light Rail Plays to new heights.


Crystal Cruz

What do you do when you’re not doing Light Rail plays? I’m a full-time performer and director. I run different circus performance troops and booking entertainment. I’ve done that for about ten years. Sometimes we produce our own shows, and a lot of times we get hired for different things, cultural festivals, club events, corporate events—anything that people want to celebrate or make cooler.

What did you do before that? Corporate. Boring.

So this is different than what you usually do? Not so much—I’ve done on-site cultural performances before, and I teach weekly classes on stilts for all ages. So that’s something I’m used to doing. The light rail, though, that’s a little different. I am used to street performance, though, so—getting yelled at by the guy who wanted to know where the Renaissance Festival was, because obviously we know, we’re on stilts! You know, that’s always the fun part about it, you never know what’s going to happen.

What got you interested in RYT? One of the lovely ladies of Rising Youth had put a shout out to some of the groups I follow asking if there are any Phoenix-based circus troups. So we met, talked about the project, it sounded like a lot of fun.

About their piece: This is my fun project for the quarter, with Ben. It’s interesting because it’s the first time I’ve kind of thrown in my Butoh background into a stilt piece. So, Butoh with clown funeraling. It’s a new twist.

What’s Butoh? It’s a type of physical movement more based on common day man than dancer, and it’s extremely emotional. Projecting all over the audience. Which is working—on Thursday, when everyone showed their pieces, they were laughing in all the right places.

Ben Collison

What do you do when you’re not doing Light Rail plays? I go to school at Vista Verde Middle School. Yeah, we actually teach the drama club at our school. We teach our peers, and younger—7th and 8th graders.

How did you get involved with RYT? On an audition website, we saw that they were doing a show, so me and my friend auditioned and we got in, and just kept going with it until now.

So you’ve been passionate about theater for a while. “Yes, a long time. I first got involved when I was five, at Valley Youth Theater, and then Phoenix theater summer camps, and then here last year…and here again.”

Why do you love theater so much? Well, I like to become a different person, because I feel completely different. And to experience something else than what you’re used to is awesome.

How is Light Rail Plays different than what you’ve done before? Well it’s different because we’re outside, and there are people everywhere, and there are random people, so you really get to spread it without just buying tickets and sitting in one place. They get to experience it around everywhere, which is really cool.

Have there been any surprises? Well, when we were rehearsing outside, there was a guy yelling… which was weird. But other than that, it’s been pretty calm. And it’s been surprising to learn stilts! It’s fun—it’s easier now than it was the first day, but it’s fun.

Why should people come see the Light Rail Plays? Because they’re awesome! Everyone’s so good, and they’re all really cool productions.



“Try Something New” Ryan and Ian

by Allyson Yoder

Ian Christiansen and Ryan Bernedino are at home in the theatre. Beyond performing in numerous shows around the valley, Ryan helps run the theatre club at his school, and Ian is a drama teacher. But for both of them, the Light Rail Plays are something new, raising themes of adaptation and how we respond to the unexpected.


Ryan Bernedino

What do you do when not doing Light Rail Plays? I go to Vista Verde Middle School, which is far away from here. I live about 35 minutes away, so I have a long commute to get here.

Does your school have a theatre program? “No, not really. So me and my friend Ben are actually running our own drama club after school. Our teacher asked if we were interested in running it last year, so we said yeah and we actually have eighteen people signed up right now. We also have the choir teacher come in, and we have half of it lean towards music, and then the other half we play theatre games that are educational in terms of how to use the body and all that.”

How long have you been involved with RYT? “About a year. I auditioned for “Shipwrecked” and got into that. I jump around with a lot of theatre companies. I’ve done Teatro Bravo, Rising Youth Theatre, Fountain Hills Theater, I just do whatever play I see and want to do.”

What is it you like so much about theatre? “Well, I’m not very good at sports, so that’s never been an option. And this is just a lot more fun, because you can make people feel emotions that they don’t usually feel. I love being in control of people like that.”

Has anything surprised you so far, compared to other things you’ve done? “I was surprised when I got on the train, and I realized how much we’d have to change each performance, and adapt, just to make it go right. Just because people are sitting in different spots, so you can’t have set choreography, and times always run differently, so you have to adjust that too.”

What is it like to work with Ian? Ian’s cool. I’d never met him before, which is weird, because I knew almost everyone else here. He’s really cool. He’s definitely my type of person, because he has a sense of humor. Which I like, because I usually make jokes that… some people would probably be offended by! But yeah—he’s cool!”

Ian Christiansen

What do you do when you’re not doing Light Rail Plays? “I’m a theatre teacher and storytelling teacher at Arizona School for the Arts, and I’m also a professional actor, so I’m in shows around town. And I also have a small terrarium business on the side.”

What exactly is a terrarium? “A terrarium is a small microgarden contained in usually a lidded vessel that has its own environment inside. So, it’s an easy to maintain garden that you can keep inside.”

What makes Light Rail Plays different than other productions you’ve done? “Well, one thing is, the audience is going to be different every time. The geography is going to be different every time, because you don’t know what space is going to be filled that might not have been before. I’ve never performed on a moving vehicle before, so that whole atmosphere changes. And, I haven’t done mass performance in a while, so I’m really glad to be doing that again.”

Talk about your piece: “Our piece is called “Unpacking,” and it’s about a father and son who are relocating after there’s been a loss in the family. We’ve lost the mom. And so we have to make kind of this uncomfortable move. So since the light rail has a transient quality too…we thought we’d explore the idea of a family having to make a new beginning. And so it’s about the difficulties of changing your environment; it’s about how much the father and son need each other; and it’s about being willing to try something new. We don’t completely resolve the problem—it’s not, like, puppy dogs and rainbows at the end. But, we at least find some common ground where we’re both trying.”

What has surprised you? “They put me with someone smarter than me! Cause Ryan’s a little whip. And what’s also surprising to me is that there’s so much nonverbal and physical stuff, as opposed to spelling everything out. I really think that’s refreshing.”

On youth driven theatre: “I think most of the stories deal with the element of youth, and being a young person, in some capacity. Or, using the vivaciousness of a young person performing. It’s not necessarily always about being young, but it’s about the imagination and vitality that’s brought to it because you’re using young adults.”



Breaking Down Stereotypes

by Allyson Yoder

Julia Cannon and Brinley Nassise are infectious laughers. So it’s fitting that, for the light rail plays, they have created a comedy—a caricature that pokes holes in some common stereotypes about the light rail. If this is your first time riding the train, they want you to know: you’re going to be okay!

julia and brinley






Julia Cannon

What do you when you’re not doing Light Rail Plays? “You mean like my real job? I work in software development to build databases for nonprofits and foundations. Outside of RYT, I don’t have a theatre practice right now. I studied theatre in college, and I’ve done other productions around the Valley, but right now RYT is the only thing outside of my 9-to-5.”

How did you get involved with RYT? “Well, I stalked them! No, I specifically went out looking for groups that were doing Theatre of the Oppressed, one of the styles that I was really excited about. Through my previous job, I met one of the former theatre faculty at ASA, and they told me about Xanthia and Sarah and what they’re doing, and then I found them, and told them I wanted to learn more about what they do. My first production with them was “Finding Family,” the first show of their second season.”

How is the experience on Light Rail Plays different? “Well, in “Finding Family” we were working with a shelter that accommodated undocumented, unaccompanied youth. We were going to their facilities and working specifically with them to create stories around their experiences and their journey to the U.S…and then there was a playwright who put it all together and created a script. So even though we created it, the words and blocking were more like traditional theatre in that it was given to us…as opposed to this, where we’re creating everything from scratch.”

So, from scratch—how have you done that? What’s your process been like?  “For our particular piece, the discussions we had in the room before we went out to the light rail was extremely informative too. Sarah and Xanthia had asked the group, generally, you know, what are the rules of the light rail, and what kinds of people are on the light rail, and what disrupts the functions of the light rail? And things like that. So we kind of got this before and after comparison of what people typically thought of and what they expected and what the stereotypes were. We went into this with the idea that people on the light rail are unfriendly, people on the light rail don’t talk to each other…so we devised this experiment to determine if those assumptions were true…and it turns out from our experiment that they aren’t.”

What’s one thing that has surprised you? “Well, I don’t want to say that this whole process was easy, but it was still easier than I expected! I think we came up with something that we are really proud of, and really excited to do, in a very short amount of time. And that was surprising.”


Brinley Nassise

What do you do when you’re not doing Light Rail Plays? “I have school obviously at Scottsdale Christian Academy (8th grade). And I hang out with friends, I like to go see movies, and read, and write. I like fiction mostly, my dad’s an author, so that’s where I get it. My favorite book is either The Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer.

How did you get involved in RYT? When I was 8 I did this theater class at Phoenix Center for the Arts, and my mom got an email when I was ten, and it was about Rising Youth Theatre’s first play, and it was Summer Beginning, and I was in that. It was really fun, and that’s, I think, what got me into acting, when I started doing it outside of school, and I really liked it. I was also in a play called Woman and Girl, that was directed by Xanthia, and that was just a two-person show.”

Do you think you’ll continue with theater? “Yeah, definitely. It’s really fun, and it lets you be creative and meet a lot of new people, and experience new things.”

Can you talk more about the experiment you and Julia did on the light rail? “We each talked to five different people, and we tried to start a conversation. And we were seeing whether they would continue the conversation, or respond and then stop it, or not have a conversation at all. And I got that four out of five people were friendly and they would continue the conversation, and one didn’t at all. I was surprised at how wrong all the stereotypes of the light rail were.”

Had you ever ridden the light rail before? “Once or twice, but not a lot.”

What something you’ll take away from this experience? “Memories, definitely. And just the whole thing… I’ve never done something like this, where it’s actually on a moving train. That’s really new and fun and cool. Normally you’d just be on a stage with an audience there, but on the light rail it’s people you don’t know, and you can’t expect their reactions, and you can’t know what’s going to happen, and you can’t know, with the movement, if you’re gonna fall or something… and I think that makes it more fun.”

If you could tell a stranger one thing about the Light Rail Plays, what would it be? “That it’s not like anything else that you would expect for a play. It’s something completely new, and completely different, and something that would be really intriguing for them to see.”

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 “Like Peanut Butter and Jelly”

by Allyson Yoder

Watching Anthony and Juan perform in rehearsals, I am struck by their powerful kinetic energy and ability to create a complex, charged scene using pure movement. It’s obvious the two have learned to collaborate “like peanut butter and jelly” from their ability to tackle serious themes with great energy and a dose of humor. – Allyson Yoder











Anthony Kelly “AKellz”

What do you do when you’re not doing Light Rail Plays? “I dance with Epik Dance Company and Electro Academy, a dance crew out here. (With Epik) I’m doing residencies at schools, so right now I’m working at Westwood, that’s in Mesa, and we’re setting work on them—where they’re creating material based on what’s recyclable and working with sustainability. It’s a collaboration. I also do the Be Kind People Project, that’s a character development program….that incorporates dance.”

How is this experience different than working with RYT on Disengaged? “Disengaged was written already, and I didn’t have anything to do with the creative process on that. But this is basically…we get paired up with somebody, and then we make something from scratch. So we go out, we survey the field, which is the light rail, and then we talk about some commonalities that we have as people, and what we’re seeing in other people, and how we relate to the light rail.”

On working with his partner, Juan: “Juan was in Disengaged, and I had a couple scenes with him. He was my son in that show. [But with Light Rail Plays], we’re making something that I think is pretty unique, and it’s just us two. Our visions collaborating like peanut butter and jelly—a sandwich, if you will.

Their concept: “We’re working on the idea of people getting on the light rail, and although the light rail is going to a destination, we still don’t necessarilyl know where we’re going in life. A lot of people are confined to the light rail. When we did interviews, a lot of people were like, yeah this is how I get from point A to point B. They don’t necessarily take it by choice, they take it because they have to… And they are confined to it, and they don’t know anything else except where the light rail goes: this far east and this far westbound, but they don’t know anything outside of that. So Juan’s character is trying to get to college, to a school that’s out of state, BUT…. He sees a friend, an “old friend” who is going to try to lure him back into some bad habits. I’m not going to give the ending away, but let’s just say he has a struggle trying to figure out what’s important, and he may or may not end up stuck on the light rail like everyone else.”

Using movement to tell a story: “There’s only 3 or 4 words, max. We noticed that on the light rail speech can get sucked in, to the sound of the air conditioning, the doors, the sounds of people talking. But with movement, and the way we’re doing it, it’s not ordinary. People aren’t used to seeing people do movement… especially the way that we’re doing it. It will definitely send its message across.”

What he’ll take away: “One thing I’m going to take away will be how to collaborate better. You never know who you’re going to work with…everybody has a different story. So how do we work with someone and meet them halfway, how do we find strengths, and then build off of those?”


Juan Carlos Rodriguez

What do you do when you’re not doing Light Rail Plays? “When I’m not doing Light Rail Plays, I either play video games, get on Facebook and message people, or hang out with my friends. I went to school at Genesis Academy, but I finished in January, so I’m just waiting for May to walk. I got all my credits and passed all my AIMS, so I’m graduating early.”

How did you get involved with Rising Youth Theater? “Through Genesis Academy. RYT went there as a drama group after school. People basically went to get out of fifth hour, but I just wanted to join and I ended up liking it. So I got involved with Disengaged. I played Daniel. It was a fun experience, an unforgettable experience.”

What’s different about Light Rail Plays? “In a play, people know the beginning, middle and end. But on the light rail, it’s literally out of nowhere. In theatre, they’re expecting it, but on the light rail, it’s unexpected.”

The concept behind their piece: “It’s a silent story, where we don’t talk, we just do actions. But basically, two friends happen to catch each other on the light rail. My character goes through this constant struggle…. My character used to be involved with drugs, but finally got out of it. And Anthony’s character sucks me back in.”

How did people respond when you tried it out on the Light Rail? “Some people were just sitting there watching, and towards the end, when we got off, all we heard was clapping. So they liked it!”

On working with his partner, Anthony: “Anthony’s a cool guy, and I kind of knew I was gonna be his partner, because me and him are both kind of wild and crazy. He’s just a really cool partner to work with. When we have these talks, when it’s just me and him, we both can agree on stuff, and disagree on stuff, and not get too angry about it.”

What do you want to tell people about Light Rail Plays? “Come check us out! Me and my partner are going to be between Camelback and Central, and Osborne and Central.”

Light Rail Puppeteers: Paula and Teresa

by Allyson Yoder

Paula and Teresa spent Saturday’s rehearsal getting messy. They spoke with me as they were crafting an original paper mache puppet who will be a feature character in their play. Although their hands and shirts were covered in paste, they were still ready to share about RYT, an experiment on the light rail, and the art and magic of puppetry.

Light Rail Puppeteers Paula and Theresa (2)








Paula Alvarado

When she’s not doing the light rail plays: “I go to school at Genesis Academy in Phoenix. And I like music, I love going to concerts.”

How she got involved with RYT: “I did Disengaged with RYT, and then they came to our school and told us we could sign up to do Light Rail Plays, and I signed up on the internet, and then they sent me an email saying I was going to be an actor. I was so happy, and I was excited about it too.”

How is working on the Light Rail Plays different than Disengaged? “This is different because on Disengaged, the play was already written, and they told us how to move and everything. And here we have to do it all ourselves, we’re more independent. It feels cool—I feel responsible.”

Something that has surprised her so far: “I have never worked with puppets before. I didn’t know they would be that fun and creative.”

What is it like to work with puppets? “You can use your imagination, and do any type of puppet you would like. I like using my imagination, so that’s the fun of it, and you can talk with it… I think it’s pretty fun. I’m learning that they’re not that hard to make, and each of them has a personality, and a type of voice.”

The cast for Light Rail Plays: “I think people are really respectful here. I think people are really nice and welcoming. I feel awesome. I feelthey’re awesome!”



When she’s not doing the light rail plays: “I just actually got a job at Childsplay as the engaging teacher’s coordinator, and I graduated with a Ph.D. from ASU in April.

On getting involved with RYT: “I had been wanting to get involved with this company since they started. I’ve seen almost all the shows that they’ve done, so I’ve seen some of the kids grow up. I also worked on Disengaged as a set designer and costume designer. I’m super excited [for the Light Rail Plays] because I’m not necessarily an actor—I perform, but I’m more of a director, puppeteer, I like to work with my hands, but I’m also thrilled to be performing again.”

How their piece has evolved: “At first we started off with a piece that was a little mean. Paula’s character was kind of picking on my character. And then after we went on our scavenger hunt, and we did our experiment, where each of us decided to smile at five different people and then write down their reaction, and we were kind of surprised that hardly anyone smiled back at us, I think that’s when our story changed into something sweeter, or kinder. So Paula’s character now is not trying to antagonize my character as much as she is trying to connect with my character, and make my character smile, because my character is very grumpy and unhappy with life. Each different puppet that she’ll bring out is a different attempt to make the old man smile.”

Why work with puppets? “I’ve been puppeteering since high school. I love puppets themselves in that they can represent things that human actors can’t. And I think…there’s something wonderfully childlike or innocent about puppets. There’s something about puppets that turns everyone into a child. And I love the range that puppets have, they can be, you know, like Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, or crazy creatures that can be terribly, horribly scary.  So despite the fact that they’re not human, they have an otherworldly quality and yet there’s something essentially human about them.”

The magic of puppets: “I think a lot of shyer performers—I was very shy in high school, and I got to hide behind my puppet, and really explore character through my puppet, and I didn’t have to be me, alone onstage. And when I work with young people, with puppets, I find that that’s a very liberating aspect of puppets, that when they have that barrier between them and the audience, they can really let themselves go.”

Light Rail Puppeteers Paula and Theresa

Light Rail Puppeteers Paula and Theresa (3)