PHX Theater Guru Saar
Honored As He Says Goodbye
Retiring Childsplay Art Director David Saar Reflects On The Theatre, Child Advocacy And The 35th Annual Governor’s Arts Awards
David Saar, the current but retiring artistic director and founder of Childsplay.
By Stephanie Sparer
Modern Times Magazine
March 11, 2016 — David Saar, the current but retiring artistic director and founder of Childsplay, will be honored for his lifetime of work when he receives the 2016 Shelley Award at a March 23 reception for the 35th annual Governor’s Arts Awards at the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown Hotel. Saar is known internationally for changing the milieu of theatre for young adults with his production company, Childsplay, and the belief that children, just like their parents, need to experience high quality theatre.
Saar will be the first non-business person to win the award. “It’s very meaningful to me,” Saar said, “because it’s all about advocacy and that’s what I do, I advocate for the children.”
Saar’s goal within theatre is bring young people a safe place to exchange ideas. He wants children to know that even though their shared experiences aren’t going to be the same, their experiences are all valid. “Theatre is that safe place for kids,” he notes, “It’s an opportunity to experience as a group and explore ideas in a safe way.” In short, theatre can help shape someone’s life. “It’s remarkable to have a kid’s thoughts and experiences validated,” he said.
“The theatre is a place to talk about shared experiences,” said Saar, who came to Arizona for graduate school in 1974 and began Childsplay with his classmates soon after graduating in 1977. “The world [kids are] in today is very different from the world I grew up in.”
Saar, amazingly, didn’t grow up dreaming of working in theatre. An army brat, he spent his early childhood moving from one place to another until his family finally settled in Minnesota. In ninth grade he saw a children’s play that “awakened the fire.” He had never even seen a live play before that.
Saar would go on to bring Childsplay to hundreds of schools a year, spreading the magic of theatre to classrooms all over the state of Arizona. Perhaps his most famous production, and certainly the one closest to his heart, is The Yellow Boat, an acclaimed play based on the true story of Saar’s son, Benjamin, who was born with congenital hemophilia and died in 1987 at the age of 8 of AIDS-related complications.
“The Yellow Boat introduced the theatre to a wider audience and, for me, working partners,” Saar said. “I found like-minded people around the country and that was a great experience.” The play has since been retold all over the world and earned many honors including The Kennedy Center New Vision/New Voices Distinguished Play Award.
“The Yellow Boat was really part of that thought that kids have a place at the table and at the conversation,” Saar stressed.
His last production as artistic director for Childsplay will be a retelling of Peter Pan written by his soon-to-be successor, Dwayne Hartford. Saar will be directing and says it’s a story about Peter Pan in the future. “It’s about memory, it’s about loss, but also there are pirates and ninjas,” Saar said.
“I’m coming full circle,” he said, explaining that he started his career playing Captain Hook in a play at Gammage. But Saar admits he probably won’t ever retire. “I don’t want to say this is the last collab. I won’t say it is, actually. It’s just my last as artistic director.”
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