ArtStream production 2018

Nick Kramp as news editor Zack Zimmerman and Andrew Hogan as Buddy the Intern in “WXYZ: Spelling Out the News So You Don’t Have To,” produced by ArtStream. (Photo by Liz Demaree)

WXYZ-TV is a place even more wacky than your typical big-city TV newsroom.

One of the co-anchors has been missing in action for days. The stormchasers are always five steps behind Mother Nature. The two sports guys constantly bet on the outcome of games while on the air. And the weathercaster – Sunny Raines – always seems to provide a wildly inaccurate forecast.

(Well, that last one does seem like some local TV newsrooms. But we digress.)

Into this dysfunctional mix is thrown a new reporter, a well-meaning hayseed from the Midwest who has a hard time keeping pace with the shenanigans occurring all around her – until a return to her hometown gives her the break of a lifetime.

Such is the premise of “WXYZ: Spelling Out the News So You Don’t Have To,” the second half of a news twin-bill of productions by ArtStream, providing an outlet for performers from around the metropolitan area with intellectual disabilities to team with mentors in staging full-length, original one-act musical productions. The Northern Virginia contingent’s spring productions opened March 15 at the Nannie Lee Center in Alexandria.

“Exciting things are happening,” said Paul Murray, the organization’s treasurer. His daughter, Chelsea Murray, appears in the night’s other production, “Must Love Music,” the story of a 1960s pop band stranded and almost forgotten on a desert isle.

One of the unique features of ArtStream is that members of the cast and crew – from young adults to seniors – are involved in the creation of productions from the very start.

“The passion of ArtStream’s actors, directors and designers is present from the rehearsal rooms to the stage,” noted board chairman Franklin Myers.

In the case of “WXYZ,” “after a few weeks of deliberation, we narrowed it down to a show about a newsroom,” said director Elizabeth Cronin. “But it couldn’t be just any newsroom; we had to make this one special.”

(One of the “WXYZ” cast members was away for the first weekend’s productions; Frank Stephens, who has had guest-starring spots in TV and movies, was in Geneva, Switzerland, addressing in the United Nations’ Human Rights Council on the issue of disabilities. Stephens, who also is an author and advocate, will return for the second week’s worth of productions.)

For the mentors, who help direct the movements of performers on stage and ride to the rescue when an occasional line is forgotten or stumbled over, the program seems to be a labor of love.

“ArtStream is the coolest thing I’ve ever been involved in,” said Jon Paul Frederick, a student at Centreville High School who has served as an on-stage mentor (this year as one of the hapless stormcatchers) for four seasons. He performs on stage with his uncle, Jonathan Frederick.

Carolyn Ricks, who directed “Must Love Music,” noted the whimsical nature of her troupe’s production, which almost has a “Midsummer Night’s Dream” vibe to it, with guardian angels looking out for the best interests of the characters.

The show “is a reminder that ‘good’ is more than skin deep, and that happily-ever-after can be for everyone if you open your heart,” Ricks wrote in production notes.

Founded in 2005 and based in Maryland, ArtStream has continued to expand its footprint with productions and classes in Northern Virginia. New initiatives have opened recently in Reston and Oakton, Murray said.

In recent years, Northern Virginia productions were presented at Gunston Arts Center in Arlington. This year, through a partnership with the Kelley Cares Foundation, shows moved slightly south, to Alexandria.

The two-show productions continue March 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and March 24 at 2:30 p.m. For tickets and information, see the Web site at www.art-stream.org.

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