Best Of :: People & Places
If culturally minded people remember anything about Valentine's weekend 2014, it will be this: That was the weekend Stray Cat Theatre brought us The Whale. Samuel D. Hunter's story about a morbidly obese man seeking redemption at the end of his life featured a career-making performance by actor Damon Dering, trussed up in a fat suit as the beleaguered title character, Charlie. Dering's artful performance steered clear of scenery chewing and revealed the fragility behind a dying man's histrionics — all with the help of director Ron May, who handled expertly the highs and lows of a play that's neither comedy nor drama. On Eric Beeck's drearily smart set, which provided pages of background on the dismal grayness of Charlie's life, a fine supporting cast (particularly a darkly comic Michelle Chin as Charlie's mean-spirited teenaged daughter) managed not to be eclipsed by Johanna Carlisle, who turned up with a giant performance, late in the second act of this, the very best play of last season.
There's an old joke: What's the difference between Phoenix and yogurt? Yogurt has culture. No more, friends. No more. Old is the operative word here, because in the past decade this city has turned a well-earned reputation on its ear. Don't believe us? Flip through the pages of this year's issue of Best of Phoenix — the pages are exploding with art, music, food, shopping, sports and, yes, culture.
With his temporary installation piece Familiar Glass with Theatrical Spectacle with Transparent Illusion and Artselfie, Phoenix artist Daniel Funkhouser not only engaged the work's viewers, he created something of an Instagram sensation. As part of the spring 2014 ARTELPHX event, Funkhouser created a piece that, when looked at with 3D glasses, served as a funhouse mirror. Standing to face it, the viewer sees frames within frames within frames that end at a seemingly far-off point where they can see themselves. Encouraged to take selfies while both looking at and becoming part of the work, Phoenicians took to Facebook and Instagram to make Funkhouser's Artselfie into one of the most viewed new works by a Phoenix artist this year.
Artist James B. Hunt is the best kind of disrupter. In addition to his hilarious, satirical music and culture reporting for www.tempeart.com — which has earned the ire of some local music press and confused local musicians — Hunt made national headlines this year by hiding art throughout Tempe and Phoenix, stashing his otherworldly portraits in alleys, behind dumpsters, and in trees. He posts clues about the art's whereabouts on his social media sites, allowing finders to "earn" his art rather than buy it. It's all about the "secret Phoenix" Hunt wants to foster and help keep alive, making the very streets of the city his gallery.
Considering its billing as the world's largest independent hotel art installation, we weren't sure at first what to make of ARTELPHX. But after attending the recurring event, which places both fine artwork and performance pieces throughout The Clarendon Hotel in the spring and fall, we have to say it's become one of the most anticipated happenings in Phoenix. At each edition, a roster of 20-plus artists in varying media create installations inside hotel rooms, stage poolside performances, and surprise viewers at nearly every turn over a three-day showing. Mary Shindell, Lauren Strohacker, and Nathaniel Lewis are among those who have displayed pieces, while performers have included members of Dulce Dance Company and CONDER/dance. Being immersed in art is a rare thing, and even rarer is an event that generates real excitement. ARTELPHX excels on both levels, thanks to a welcoming atmosphere and a diverse display of the city's art.
When it comes to handcrafting our own creative knickknacks, most of us are in DIY denial. Fortunately, there's one night of the year when Martha Stewart wannabes and Pinterest pariahs can holster their sad glue guns and hand themselves over to the professionals. In the midst of the holiday season, talented makers of all media gather in Medlock Plaza, at the corner of Camelback and Central, to sell one-of-a-kind jewelry, clothing, candles, toys, accessories, and more. Put aside your notions of patchouli oil perfumes and poorly knit sweaters because Frances boutique owner and Crafeteria founder Georganne Bryant holds her handmade merchandise to a much higher standard. Mark your calendars and avoid the mainstream department stores because you're buying custom gifts done right this December.