Leadership Advisory Committee
David Saar, Founder & Artistic Director Emeritus: Childsplay Theater
David Saar (Director) is Childsplay’s Founder and Artistic Director. He has directed and taught for Childsplay since the company was formed in 1977. Among the many productions he has directed for Childsplay, favorites include Still Life with Iris, A Year with Frog and Toad, Pero or the Mystery of the Night, Afternoon of the Elves, Cyrano and, always, the show he is currently working on! David also directed The Origins of Happiness in Latin for Arizona Theatre Company, Charlotte’s Web, The Yellow Boat and Tomás and the Library Lady for Seattle Children’s Theatre, and The BFG for the Chicago Theatre for Young Audiences.
In 1989 he received the Governor’s Arts Award for his contributions to the arts in Arizona, in 1991 he was the recipient of the national Winifred Ward Dare to Dream Fellowship, and in 1993 he received the Phoenix Futures Forum Dream Weavers Vision award. In 2002, he received the first Notable Achievement Award from the Herberger College of Fine Arts at ASU.
In March 2007, he was awarded the prestigious Thomas DeGaetani Award from the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT). In 2009, he was recognized for outstanding contributions to theatre in Arizona by the National Society of Arts and Letters, and in August 2010, he received the prestigious Medallion Award from The Children’s Theatre Foundation to honor artistic excellence and Childsplay’s national influence during its 33 year history.
Neil Birnbaum, Co-Founder & Director, Cuba Rhythm & Views
Neil Birnbaum’s life’s work has been committed to producing and presenting performances at the highest attainable artistic level. Originally from New York, he graduated from the School of Performing Arts and from Manhattan School of Music with a Bachelor of Music. Neil enjoyed a distinguished career as Principal Trumpet of the Honolulu Symphony and a member of the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. During his tenure, he was fortunate to have regularly worked under conducting giants such as Thomas Schippers, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, Maurice Abravanel, Erich Leinsdorf, Fausto Cleva, Karl Böhm, Leopold Ludwig and James Levine.
Jumping to the dark side in 1995, Neil embarked on a career in orchestra management, serving as executive of Riverside Philharmonic, Long Island Philharmonic and Florida Philharmonic before joining Northwest Sinfonietta (Seattle) in 2007. Under Neil’s leadership, Northwest Sinfonietta developed a reputation for innovation and excellence and has matured into a nationally recognized chamber orchestra.
He instituted a new forward-looking Artistic Partner leadership model, only the fifth orchestra in the world to do so. Pioneered by Academy of St Martin in the Fields and The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, this model, rather than depending on a permanent resident conductor, brings a rotating set of internationally acclaimed conductors to direct the concerts. Thus, the musicians are central to the orchestra’s artistic leadership, vesting them with control over their artistic future and responsibility for the quality of the performances.
The Sinfonietta’s position was firmly established in the cultural vanguard when the ensemble toured Cuba in both 2012 and 2013, only the second US orchestra to do so since the 1959 revolution. As a result of these achievements, Northwest Sinfonietta was the recipient of the 2015 Governor’s Arts and Heritage Award, and according to Governor Christine Gregoire, “Washington State’s cultural ambassador.”
Intoxicated by the creativity and artistry of Cuba’s arts scene, combined with the indomitable spirit of the Cuban people, Neil co-founded Cuba Rhythm and Views in 2014. Since then, he has curated numerous cultural exchanges for organizations such as Boulder Philharmonic, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Bremerton Symphony, Fayetteville (NC) Symphony, Northwest Sinfonietta (Seattle), Lakeshore Music (Tempe, AZ), Puerto Rico Symphony, Jazz Arts Group (Columbus, OH) among others. CR&V regularly produces high-level performances in Cuba with such organizations as Orquesta Cámara de La Habana, Sinfónica Nacional de Cuba and Cuarteto Aldo López-Gavilán.
Gail Fisher, President
National Society of Arts and Letters, Arizona Chapter
Gail Fisher is a retired English teacher, honored community volunteer and an award-winning freelance writer, journalist, and author. She is a past chair of the Tempe Library Advisory Board, Tempe Historical Museum Advisory Board, and the Tempe Arts and Culture Commission.
A driving force to make the Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA) become a reality in 2007, Gail founded the Friends of TCA and served as the first president, followed by many years on the board.
She initiated the popular “TCA Performance with a View” series in partnership with Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts. Gail also assists in the production of the “Hayden’s Ferry Chamber Music Series” performing at the TCA.
The 2007 National NSAL Conference was held at the TCA and the 2016 National NSAL Conference was held in Phoenix. Gail recently served two years as NSAL Recording Secretary on the National Board. A long-time member of NSAL AZ, she now serves as president.