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Arts & Power

When it comes to the arts, wielding true power goes beyond money and moxie. It means forging ahead while others doubt and stepping in when you’re most needed. Meet the Orange County players who are doing just that, and putting the region’s culture conscience first.

Charles Maple went from the football field to the dance studio and is now responsible for training the next generation of talented toes.

 

Abbe Levine is at the peak of her career as a writer and a teacher, and she thrives on interaction with students and other artists.

 

Brian Prince finds reward in showcasing the works of up-and-coming artists at his PÄS Gallery in Fullerton.

 

Christopher Konecki and Dana Jazayeri get their culture fix finding places for one-night-only shows where budding artists can hang their paintings.

 

Julie Tosh’s storytelling has won her accolades from other professionals-and from audiences with whom her stories have struck a chord.

 

Tamiko Washington is the creative brains behind programs aimed at advancing the careers of up-and-coming storytellers.

 

The Playwright
She began her career as a teacher and had all the credentials for it—a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in dramatic writing. But what Julie Tosh (julietosh.com) was most passionate about was her work as a playwright. She quit teaching in 2007 to pursue it full time and, after that, added screenwriter to her resume. Her children’s plays are now performed all over the country through Samuel French Publishing. One of her contemporary works, Skirt, won critical acclaim at OC-centric: Orange County’s New Play Festival. Tosh also has had readings in Canada and won critics’ praise for her screenplay Program Rose. She’s a two-time recipient of the Shubert Foundation Fellowship, and last year was a Djerassi resident artist through the San Francisco Film Society. Her latest project is her own film adaptation that has been optioned for production in Hollywood, and she is writing a libretto for an opera for young audiences, set for production in 2015. Beyond that, she does book-to-screen adaptations for a publishing company. It all began, she says, with her fifth-grade class: “I started adapting books into plays for them to read or perform in class. I also wrote a few plays of my own.” While she loves the solitude of writing—“to create a piece that resonates with me”—she also enjoys working with others in a production, “to find the best way to deliver the story.” Tosh recalls the moment she knew she’d chosen the right career path. She’d co-written a musical about bullying for elementary school students, and a mother approached her in tears and spoke of her own experience being bullied, then thanked Tosh. “When a story I’ve written can connect to someone in that way, I know I’ve done my job,” she says. “I remember that exchange every time I dig into the thorny part of the work to find the heart of it.”

The Humble Advocate
The PÄS Gallery (2pas.org) in downtown Fullerton opened five years ago with the goal of becoming an art supply store, but it since has evolved into one of the most vibrant centers of art exhibition in Orange County. Yet its founder, Brian Prince, downplays his own role as an art-world leader. “I’m not here to be a power force,” he says. “I’m here for the artist.” A graduate of Cal State Fullerton, he fell in love with graphic design during his six months studying in London. He held a variety of jobs in design and advertising, then entered a master’s program. But before completing it, he took a monthlong West Coast road trip with his wife, Kristy, in 2009. Their turnaround in Seattle, he says, changed everything: “It was that journey and the wonderfully artistic experiences there that influenced the birth of Project Art School in brick and mortar. In the heat of an economic recession, we signed the lease to a little retail spot.” (It later moved into a space on Santa Fe, between Malden and Highland avenues.) They share their warehouse with Violethour Studio and the Hibbleton Gallery to create what they all call the Magoski Arts Colony. A new name is in the gallery’s future, but it will still showcase up-and-coming talents and is an essential stop during Fullerton’s monthly downtown Art Walk. But Prince insists he’s happiest in the background. “I thrive on designing space, experiencing community happening naturally and being backstage in an artist’s success,” he says. “I’ve witnessed the power of art my entire life.”

The Professor
She began as an actress, appearing in everything from TV commercials to movies to Shakespeare, and her own one-woman show, Harriet Ann Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. But Tamiko Washington’s other passions have been in teaching and directing. She earned a bachelor’s in theater from Alliant International University in San Diego and a master’s in acting from UC Irvine. Today, she is an associate professor of theater at Chapman University’s College of Performing Arts. She founded OC-centric: Orange County’s New Play Festival (occentric.weebly.com) two years ago with campus performances of works by local artists. She’s also the force behind American Noh Theatre, a type of stage performance inspired by Japanese theater. She will direct two of its plays in February. “The Noh Theatre of Japan and its stylized movements of the feet and hands are the origins by which Tadashi Suzuki reinvented how actors recreate the illusion of reality,” she explains. As part of the L.A. Women’s Shakespeare Festival, she was honored with the prestigious Margaret Hartford Award. She’s won Kennedy Center honors for excellence in teaching and kept busy this year directing two plays with the Actors Circle Ensemble, which she also helped found. “What excites me about theater is the endless way in which stories can be told in collaboration with... designers,” she says. “I always want to remain teachable, strive for excellence and perform for something greater than myself while creating thought-provoking theater.”

The Mentor
Football may seem an unlikely transition to a life in ballet. But Charles Maple, a leading name in ballet instruction, took up the dance genre to help strengthen a knee after he was sidelined while playing tight end. He never went back to the pigskin. “It was athletic and poetic, and I wasn’t getting knocked around like in football,” he muses. He grew up in Pasadena but joined the School of American Ballet in New York at age 18. That led to 10 years with the American Ballet Theatre, where Maple became a soloist, traveled the world, and worked with great choreographers such as Mikhail Baryshnikov and Lucia Chase. “Baryshnikov was such a charismatic performer, it naturally rubbed off on the rest of us,” Maple recalls. Then came a lengthy stint with the internationally known Ballet Basel in Switzerland. “It was an amazing life,” Maple says. “We were young, traveling to great cities, making people happy.” He returned to Southern California in 1995, and found himself in demand for master classes and teaching summer intensives at the American Ballet Theatre. When Ballet Pacifica closed in 2007, he took over its 13,000-square-foot set of studios in Irvine and opened Maple Conservatory of Dance (mapleconservatory.com) with Kathy Crade. “We started with only a few students, but now we’re up to 250,” he says. “We start them at age 4 with pre-ballet. Serious training begins at 7 or 8. It really takes about 10 years to develop a professional dancer.” Many students have gone on to join acclaimed dance troupes, including American Ballet Theatre. As for the future of Maple? “We want to be known as more than just a regional conservatory.”

The Puppet Master
She’s taught creative writing, screenwriting and playwriting at the Orange County School of the Arts in Santa Ana (ocsarts.net) for nine years, but her students know that when Abbe Levine’s not helping them hone their skills, she’s busy practicing what she teaches-and making quite a name for herself. She’s optioned a screenplay for TV’s Hallmark Channel. Her plays have been produced at OC Pavilion and on college campuses. One of her works, Puppets, was a semifinalist for the prestigious Samuel Goldwyn WritingAwards at UCLA. She’s also involved with the Ruskin Group Theatre in Santa Monica and Fell Swoop Playwrights in Los Angeles. The Hollywood Fringe Festival premiered one of her collaborative works, The Miss Julie Project, this past summer, and she’s working with fellow writers on a new play for the next one. “Fell Swoop has really introduced me to my newest passions: collaboration and self-empowerment,” she notes. She “tripped” into teaching almost by accident, when OCSA needed someone to lead a screenwriting class. She recently was promoted to co-director of its Creative Writing Conservatory. “My students inspire my writing, and I discover new ideas and opinions during classroom discussions.” And she emphasizes the importance of collaboration to her students. “You can’t do it alone,” she says. “And I wouldn’t want to.”

The Pop-Up Producers
Dana Jazayeri, who owns the As Issued Art + Design (asissued.com) bookstore in Costa Mesa, is a nonartist whose world is art. His friend Christopher Konecki is a San Diego artist who shares Jazayeri’s passion for providing showcases for burgeoning local talent. Together they have created Space-. They find empty warehouse space, then convert it to a one-night gallery where up-and-coming artists can sell their work. They call it a pop-up art show-a festive evening with floor-to-ceiling art, music and good food. Konecki had already produced something similar in San Diego. Their latest event, Space-SNA, held in September during the Santa Ana Art Walk (the letters following the hyphen denote the city where the show occurs), featured 26 SoCal artists whose works sold to an overflow crowd. “Our footprint is small, but our response is large,” says Jazayeri. “We comp the artists’ supplies and allow them the opportunity to sell their work at 100 percent of the proceeds.” While Konecki is the artist of the pair, Jazayeri says he began fostering a deep appreciation for art at a very young age: “I was engrossed in the San Francisco art scene. When teens were buying video games, I was collecting art.” What excites both of them right now is preparing for their next Space- project. “The best part of the pop-up shows is not the opening night,” Konecki notes. “It’s the experience working with a large collection of creative individuals. Hanging out, prepping the art, building and sweating, and the long nights—I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”