While having lived in Prescott since 1997, Gail Mangham’s life is an Atlas Map that criss crosses the U.S. and overseas. Known as the Grande Dame of Prescott Theater, Gail has cultivated a theater persona and been a longtime force on the local theater scene as an actor, director and, most importantly, a supporter of the arts.

So, it was not unexpected when fellow theater colleague and playwright, Micki Shelton, asked for help in bringing her play, “La Posada,” to the Elks Opera House stage. During the conversation, Gail replied with a line from her current production of “Tea with ZaZa.”

“All I can give is my talent and effort, and I will give it freely,” Gail replied. And with that, the process of bringing Tea with Za Za back to the historic stage of the Elks Theater and Performing Arts Center began, and all proceeds from the performance will go toward bringing La Posada to the stage in 2024.

The one-woman show pays homage to Florence “ZaZa” Roberts, who opened the Elks Opera House on Feb. 20, 1905, now with Mangham playing the role of Roberts.

Written by local playwright and Elk’s Theater historian, Parker Anderson, the show is a culmination of the work of a variety of local theater personalities.

The process of bringing the story to the stage began in 2003, with Anderson spending a day in a San Francisco library reviewing microfiche to begin evolving the story to life. Over time, the play was presented at the Blue Rose Theater at Sharlot Hall in 2006, and in 2010 reworked and presented at the Elks for its grand reopening, again featuring Mangham as Roberts.

Roberts’ life was filled with as much drama as one can imagine, and the production delves into her losses, loves, and triumphs both on stage and off.

“Marta of the Lowlands” was the production on opening night at the Elks in 1905 and drew 900 attendees to see the then-Dame of Theater, Florence Roberts. On Sunday, Feb. 19, 2023, Tea with ZaZa will be presented in the Elks’ third-floor Crystal ballroom at 3 p.m.

Mangham herself has led quite the life of a scholastic spouse and thespian. It was her husband’s position as Prescott College president that brought the couple to town.<br />

Originally from Texas, Gail still carries the soft sophisticated accent that draws you in and subtly commands attention.<br />

Gail, with a degree in English and French, began her thespian career later in life than one would expect.

An educational leadership position for her husband took the family to Saudi Arabia. It was while living on the Arabian / American company compound with more than 22 different nationalities represented, that Gail found her passion for theater.

“While my degree was in English and French, I was never really good at speaking French. I learned that what I enjoyed about French is the persona that was created while speaking. Thus, acting,” Gail said.

While in Saudi Arabia, Gail attended a theater workshop and the experience changed her life. She was soon asked to participate in a variety of productions through acting, directing and more.

“It was the blind leading the blind at the time,” Gail said. She then made the decision to return to her alma mater, the University of Texas, for one semester. “When I went back, for the semester, I was able to create a custom semester in theater that included directing, acting, set design and more,” she said. “It was the most productive and beneficial time in my life and I completed my Master of Fine Arts at that time.”

Upon her return to Saudi Arabia, Gail approached her new passion with energy and enthusiasm from her newly gained knowledge.

“It was a unique experience of living in a foreign country while celebrating American holidays, having a Boy Scout troop and what we perceive as ‘normal’ activities.”

It is perhaps this experience as with all that adds to the sophisticated and cosmopolitan touches Gail brings to each performance.

Back in Prescott, Gail taught at Prescott College, offered acting classes, and sat on the Elks Preservation Board, even having managed it for a year prior to its current transfer.

Just as the story of Florence Roberts and ZaZa has evolved, so has Gail and the way she presents the piece. “It’s been 17 years since I performed as ZaZa, and along the way, I’ve grown and become more comfortable with myself and with the story,” Gail said.

“Every time I play the role, I discover something new either about the character, or the way I play it.”

So it is with life.

Tea with Za Za: Sunday at 3 p.m. Feb. 19. Tickets are $20 and must be pre-purchased: ci.ovariontix.com/36295/production/1148035.

Barry Barbe owns the El Gato Azul and Torme restaurants in Prescott, and is the energy and insight behind the Prescott Palette. He also has a radio show, the Prescott Palette, on KQNA 1130 AM, Saturdays at noon. Email: Prespalette@gmail.com.

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