Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods has authored a play to be performed this weekend, July 23 and 24.

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods has authored a play to be performed this weekend, July 23 and 24.

Yesterday, I had coffee with a friend whose life goal is to locate paid work that allows him to do whatever the heck he wants to do. The fact that he is successful at it, and that he is a lawyer, makes me all the more envious. For he has found ways to minimize the daily-grind parts of the legal profession and to maximize the collaborative, business-building, soul-nourishing parts of his career.

Well, screw him.

Of course, I don’t mean that. I really am very happy for him, and for that small subset of others who manage to make their avocation their vocation, who move their most creative work to center stage.

And the stage is where you’ll find the work of another such creative guy, Grant Woods.

I have previously praised the drive of former Arizona Attorney General Woods to nourish his musical and theatrical impulses. You can read about a few of them, here, here, and here.

This weekend, his playwright chops will be on display. “The Things We Do” is Grant’s play, which will be performed this Saturday and Sunday, July 23 and 24. It will be featured at TheaterWorks in Peoria as part of a New Works Festival. Here is how it’s described:

“A very clever and very real comedy telling the story of Bill, Sarah, Ted and Alice, a group of not-so-young professionals discovering once the kids are grown, you may find yourself searching for very different things in life. Follow their journey as they discover the intricacies of modern love and the myriad ways humans deal with the complexity of our associations.”

Tickets and more information on all the plays are here.

And be sure to read another news story about Grant’s writing life here.

Theaterworks new works festival 2016 Grant Woods-page0001

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Arizona Corporate Counsel Awaards logo

Next Thursday, an annual awards banquet will honor exemplary corporate counsel. In a calendar year filled with awards dinners, this one is always a great ticket.

Former Arizona Attorney General will be the keynote speaker at the Jan. 14, 2016, banquet honoring the winners of the Arizona Corporate Counsel Awards.

Former Arizona Attorney General will be the keynote speaker at the Jan. 14, 2016, banquet honoring the winners of the Arizona Corporate Counsel Awards.

I’ve written before about the Arizona Corporate Counsel Awards, notable for great venues, short speeches, and a keynote by former Attorney General Grant Woods that kicks ass and takes names. Get there if you can, or hear the jokes secondhand the next day by your colleagues who know where to spend their free time.

The event details are posted here, and as of today, it says the event is sold out. But keep checking (or call in a favor if you’ve got one). It’s worth the effort.

Among the event’s aspects that intrigue me is its new location, for it will be held at the Camby Hotel in Phoenix. If you don’t know the Camby, that’s because it’s brand new and a relaunch of the longtime Ritz-Carlton in the Biltmore area. I’m curious to see what kind of modern and urbane touches the “Autograph Collection Hotel” group brings to the property.

My curiosity led me to click on images of the hotel rooms. And there, on a bathroom wall, is an image that may be a subtle ploy to help attorneys feel at home: a toy shark aloft and clipped to a clothesline. Against the gray sky, the shark soars, unrepentant and free.

Fly, corporate counsel. Fly!

Camby_Accomodations_Bathroom shark 2

Shark gracing the walls of a Camby bathroom.

Anyway, I hope to see you there. Have a great—and predator-free—weekend.

Grant Woods The Project logo

In “The Project,” Grant Woods aims to support the arts and repair a state’s image.

Interested in seeing—and hearing—Arizona in a new light? You may want to attend a September concert.

The impetus for the concert and a related CD is partially an expression of a love for the arts, as expressed by Grant Woods—a former Arizona Attorney General and current columnist in Arizona Attorney Magazine. His newest musical initiative is called The Project, and it’s described here.

The Arizona Republic’s Ed Masley did a great interview with and story about Grant and his newest project; you can read it in today’s newspaper.

Aiming to improve the state’s tarnished image—and to engage the songwriter part of his brain—Woods gathered a group of remarkable musicians and performers to launch a CD and hold a benefit concert (there is some overlap in who’s on the CD and who will perform in concert). The concert will benefit Arizona School for the Arts (disclosure: One of our daughters attends there, and our older daughter graduated from there.)

The first thing to know: I’m told the concert will be a hot ticket, and so you should consider buying for the September 18 show early rather than late. Tickets are on sale here.

Former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods (left) works on a song with guitarist Michael Nitro at 3 Leaf Recording in Phoenix on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. (Photo: Michael Schennum/Ariz. Republic)

Former Arizona attorney general Grant Woods (left) works on a song with guitarist Michael Nitro at 3 Leaf Recording in Phoenix on Tuesday, May 19, 2015. (Photo: Michael Schennum/Ariz. Republic)

Second: Called “The Project,” the CD became available on May 14, and was described by the producers:

The Project, a collaboration of Arizona musical all-stars performing 10 of Woods’ original songs, will be released today. Performers on The Project, each of whom volunteered his or her time, include Nils Lofgren of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Gin Blossoms guitarist Scott Johnson, Lawrence Zubia of the Pistoleros, Al Ortiz, Francine Reed and Ray Herndon (both touring with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band), Michael Nitro, Alice Tatum, Walt Richardson, Blaine Long, Mindy Harris and Hans Olson.

More detail is here.

Finally, because we’re visual thinkers, enjoy this video about the making of The Project. It’s always nice to get behind the music.

Grant Woods delivers the keynote address at the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Camelback Inn, Jan. 15, 2015.

Grant Woods delivers the keynote address at the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Camelback Inn, Jan. 15, 2015.

What makes a lawyer event more enjoyable? When organizers can dial down the lawyerliness. (Yes, I just coined a word. Sue me.)

That ability to create an event dedicated to lawyers but also committed to battling sleepiness is what has made the annual corporate counsel awards dinner such a great ticket.

This year’s event was on January 15, at the Camelback Inn, and I have a few theories as to why they achieve goodness when others may not.

First, it’s put on by a magazine. True, the sponsor is the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. But helping to run the show are magazine types.

No, not Arizona Attorney. (Sigh.) Instead, the folks at AZ Business Magazine have been tapped to steer the evening. And they’ve managed to make the vessel a fleet-bowed skiff rather than a slow-moving ocean liner (or, even worse, a Titanic).

There’s just something—I don’t know—impatient about magazine people. We want to get to the nut of the issue, the meat of the matter. And so the magazine staff (including the emcee–editor-in-chief Michael Gossie) and others from AZBigMedia (note to self: Steal that name) goosed the evening along, never allowing it to come to rest as many legal events do.

Second, the honorees are some of the best corporate counsel around. So when the winner is announced (or even the finalists), the business-attuned audience nods with recognition. These are the companies that weathered storms, established beachheads, reached the summits. And they did all that with excellent legal teams. (The winners’ names and companies will appear in a subsequent post.)

So there’s that. And then there’s the keynote.

When I heard keynote speaker Grant Woods a year ago, I laughed my keister off (like everyone else in the room), and I assumed it would be his last appearance at the annual event. Why is that? Well, Grant pulled no punches in his hilarious political monologue. And legal events—especially among risk-averse corporate counsel, I’m sorry to say—are highly adept at pulling punches. Yes, Grant was a crowd-pleaser. But was he an event-organizer pleaser? I guessed the answer was no.

How pleased I am that I was wrong. Grant again was the speaker, arriving this time in jeans and an unbuttoned blue shirt.

Well, if he comes next year in a robe and slippers, the AAC should still welcome him.

As there is a mixed audience for this blog—some of whom may be a tad thin-skinned—I won’t pass on all of Grant’s gems. But here are a few:

Q: What’s the difference between an Arizona state legislator and God?

A: God doesn’t think he’s an Arizona state legislator.

But no, don’t worry, Grant’s items were not all rim shots. He offered political observations created out of a lifetime of Arizona living, law practice, and public service.

Since he was in high school, he noted, no Arizona governor has entered office and left it “normally.” Whether to head off to a better job or running out the door ahead of impeachment proceedings, our chief execs have been a colorful lot.

Grant focused his time and talents on three noteworthy items: the presidential race, Sen. John McCain, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. But along the way, he had skewers available for others. Among them:

  • Newly elected schools chief Diane Douglas (“She hid in her house for the last week and a half of the campaign so she wouldn’t be interviewed. She won!”)
  • Former Maricopa County Sheriff Dick Godbehere, who led a helicopter raid not only outside the county line but into Mexico itself. The retired lawn-mower repairman kept in his office a prized possession of what he claimed to be ancient artifacts—including a sculpture of an automobile (think about it).
  • Sometime- and often presidential candidate Mitt Romney (who mused in amazement that it is possible to FedEx a horse—something never imagined by anyone in my humble neighborhood).

Through it all, the audience—of many political stripes, I would guess—was laughing as they never can do in boardrooms. But ultimately, Grant offered the AAC audience a moment of high seriousness.

“There are smart, compassionate and innovative lawyers in our state,” Woods said, pointing to members of the audience. “I salute you, and I am proud to be part of your profession.”

Grant Woods addresses a packed room at the Camelback Inn for the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Jan. 15, 2015.

Grant Woods addresses a packed room at the Camelback Inn for the Arizona Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel annual dinner, Jan. 15, 2015.

“All of you worked really hard to achieve what you have,” he ended. “I’m proud to be a lawyer, and I’m proud of our fellow lawyers.”

Well done, ACC and AZBigMedia. As just one guy who occasionally gets sleepy at lawyer events, I urge you to get Grant to sign on for another year.

"I'm just a bill" is a pretty humble thing for a powerful opinion-shaper to say. gif

“I’m just a bill” is a pretty humble thing for a powerful opinion-shaper to say.

A few days ago, I mentioned an association leader’s written response to breaking legal events. Today, I share my own takeaways to the same events, as I wrote in my April editor’s column.

Like Whitney Cunningham, I did not directly address the Arizona bill titled SB1062. Instead, I marveled at the community engagement—on both sides of the issue—that the proposed law brought to life.

SB 1062 open for business sign_opt

Always open for dialogue and discussion

I titled my column “The Civics Brain Stirs,” which opened:

“The notion that we are a nation(state) of laws may never have been more apparent than in February, as Arizona was held in the grip of a controversial bill sent from the Legislature to the Governor. As she wrestled with her decision of what to do with SB 1062 (which she ultimately vetoed), we in the state got a front-row seat to civics and remarkable political drama.”

“In an age dominated by sound bites and Xbox, it is amazing how often people will set down the joystick to engage with each other on difficult elements of law and public policy. Here are four things that occurred to me as events unfolded.”

To read those four things—and the entire column—go here.

And for a more pointed commentary on events, read Grant Woods’ column on our back-page “Last Word.”

I'm just a bill veto

8 play by Dustin Lance Black in AZAs I sidled my way last night past the crowds into the Herberger Theater in downtown Phoenix, I must admit I was skeptical. An entire play constructed mainly of a trial transcript? Really?

Anyone who has been to a trial or two knows you would need a genius writer to make that come together into dramatic arts. And so the play “8” had one: Dustin Lance Black had whittled a trial into an evening that was provocative, funny and compelling.

I mentioned the play last Friday, and I was pleased that my family and I were able to attend. “8” tells the story of the trial over the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage.

Black drew on his mondo skills to shape a play comprised almost entirely of the trial transcript. There are a few moments that are tough sledding, especially, I imagine, for the many nonlawyers in the house. Arguing over the standard of review is often a game-changer in a case, but it’s an oddly shaped building block in crafting compelling theater.

Performers in the play 8, Herberger Center Theatre, Phoenix, May 7, 2013

Performers in the play 8, Herberger Center Theatre, Phoenix, May 7, 2013

There are only a few of those moments, though. The craft and the words selected were amazing. And what consistently impressed was the quality of the performances. Non-actors almost all, the cast delivered a rousing and entirely convincing play.

I know that one actor–director was cast, to fabulous results. Ron May is the founder and artistic director of Stray Cat Theatre, and his rendition of a witness was wow-inspiring. Cast as David Blankenhorn, May encapsulated eloquently the ideologue who had never been challenged to defend his beliefs before he sat in a witness chair. As he is cross-examined by David Boies of Bush v. Gore fame (played superbly by lawyer and Phoenix Councilman Tom Simplot), bluster turns to anger turns to frustration turns to near-total capitulation. As the steam escapes from Blankenhorn’s pompous world view, the state’s case deflates before the audience’s eyes. If there’s one thing we know, it’s more Ron May, please.

View from Balcony, Row EE (hint: buy tickets earlier).

View from Balcony, Row EE (hint: buy tickets earlier).

The strong performing continued with the attorneys. Amazing work was delivered by Grant Woods (as Ted Olson), Nicole France Stanton (as plaintiff Sandy Stier), Terry Goddard (as trial Judge Vaughn Walker), and Bill Sheppard.

A marvelous moment occurred after the play and during a brief audience-question session. One man (whom I couldn’t see from the nosebleed section) rose to praise Grant Woods. The speaker said that when he was a young Assistant Attorney General 23 years ago, he had serious concerns about being a gay man in the large public agency. But he said that Woods had told him that all he would ever be judged on in that office was merit, the quality of his work. That compelling memory led to a standing ovation for the former Attorney General, which grew to include his own fellow performers.

(Years ago, I had the chance to appear on the Herberger stage in a father–daughter performance with our wonderfully ever-patient Willa. I thought I had turned in a pretty good show. But then I saw Grant Woods get a well-deserved standing ovation, so I think I’m done.)

Grant Woods gets a standing ovation, Herberger Theatre Center, May 7, 2013.

Grant Woods gets a standing ovation, Herberger Theatre Center, May 7, 2013.

My family and I greatly enjoyed the show. And I must add what especially struck me (caution: lawyer moment approaching):

It was remarkable to see, via the true-to-life transcripts, the power that an actual trial may have. In an age when trials are rarer and rarer and they are derided as the ultimate failure of negotiated resolution, it’s worth remembering that truth often peeks out of that ancient construct. Outside the courtroom, lying, puffery, bullying and rants may win the day. But seated in that witness chair, required to endure a series of simple questions, those resting on a crumbling foundation often founder. Except for the sociopathic, misstatements and worse cause discomfort and anxiety when one is required to raise a hand and utter an oath.

Not such a bad message to learn, for lawyers and nonlawyers alike.

Congratulations to all who participated.

8 the Play bare stage

8 play by Dustin Lance Black in AZAn Arizona production of a nationally recognized play will be staged next Tuesday, May 7, and include a cast of leading residents, including at least three attorneys. As of April 11, three local attorneys had agreed to perform: Bill Sheppard, Nicole Stanton and Grant Woods. Others who were slated include Cindy McCain.

The play, titled “8,” was written by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, and it “chronicles the historic federal trial challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage.” A ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court is expected in late June.

A play written about a court case? Well, it’s in good company (try To Kill a Mockingbird, Inherit the Wind and 12 Angry Men, for starters).

Tickets are $50 and $35 and can be purchased through the Arizona Theatre Company or Ticketmaster. As organizers say, “Following the performance, there will be a short discussion between Black, others and the audience on the issues presented in the trial.”

You can read more about the play here.

In a New York Times story, the writer described the play and his process:

“The play consists mostly of verbatim dialogue and statements from the trial transcript, [writer Dustin Lance] Black said, as well as his own observations from sitting in the courtroom most days and interviewing people on both sides of the case.”

“Roughly a dozen people from the trial are portrayed as characters, including Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, the lawyers for the two gay couples who sued California over the ban; Charles J. Cooper, the lead defense counsel; Kristin M. Perry and Sandra B. Stier, a lesbian couple who were among the plaintiffs; and the judge, Vaughn R. Walker of the Federal District Court for the Northern District of California.”

“Mr. Black, who won an Oscar in 2009 for his original screenplay about the life and assassination of Harvey Milk, a gay man on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, said he became determined to write the play after the United States Supreme Court blocked the trial judge’s plan to broadcast the hearings over the Internet.”

And here is how the producers describe the legally based play:

Dustin Lance Black Prop 8 play

Dustin Lance Black

“‘8’—a new play by Academy-award winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk, J. Edgar)—demystifies the debate around marriage equality by chronicling the landmark trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger (now Hollingsworth v. Perry). Learn about the historical context of marriage from expert testimony. See the human cost of discrimination. Uncover the arguments used to justify bans on marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Using the actual court transcripts from the landmark federal trial of California’s Prop. 8 and firsthand interviews, ‘8’ shows both sides of the debate in a moving 90-minute play.”

“The Arizona production of ‘8’ announced the addition of five leading Valley residents to the cast.  Local actor Damon Bolling, producer/singer David Burrola, former TV news anchor Marlene Galan, former State Representative Steve May and Phoenix attorney and arts advocate Bill Sheppard will join the previously announced cast members for the May 7 presentation of ‘8’ at the Herberger Theater Center in downtown Phoenix.”

“Previous cast members announced include Black, Tony-nominated Broadway actor Rory O’Malley, CNN and ESPN commentator LZ Granderson and LGBT activist and AIDS Memorial Quilt creator Cleve Jones. Arizonans in the cast include business and community leader Cindy McCain, attorney and Phoenix First Lady Nicole Stanton, radio and TV personality Pat McMahon, former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods, State Senator Jack Jackson Jr. and Phoenix City Councilman Tom Simplot.”

“‘8’ will be produced by the Arizona Theatre Company (ATC) and directed by Matthew Wiener, Producing Artistic Director of Actors Theatre-Phoenix. Former Tempe mayor and current San Francisco AIDS Foundation Chief Executive Officer Neil Giuliano is the executive producer.”

Again, here is the ticket information, through the Arizona Theatre Company or Ticketmaster.

Follow the Arizona production of “8” on Facebook.

Have a great weekend.