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Hormel New Works Festival at Phoenix Theatre

For theater so new you have to be careful not to touch its soft spot, Phoenix Theatre's annual Hormel New Works Festival is a safe bet. It's also one of those rare occasions that the development of art is as much fun for the audience as it is for the artists.

Though the festival's first week of performances is already past, there's enough coming up to make your head spin -- and for the middle of July, that's kind of special as well.

Last weekend, audiences enjoyed a staged reading of a new one-act by the frequently produced Rich Orloff: Tropical Heat, "loosely adapted from" Somerset Maugham's Miss Sadie Thompson, a novella that also inspired the rather more serious 1932 Joan Crawford film Rain. Reykjavik, a funky "hypergendered" romantic comedy by Philip Dawkins, was presented by an ensemble that included powerhouse local actors David Vining and Mike Lawler.

It's too late to catch those shows if you haven't already -- same for the staged readings of The ASU Centennial Project, a collection of works that will be fully produced in October to honor 100 years of Arizona statehood and the diversity of human experience that's made up the past century in our sprawling Southwestern wonderland.

But the schedule of festival events for Friday, July 22, through Sunday, July 24, is every bit as jam-packed with excitement, culminating in the third annual 24-Hour Theatre Project on Sunday night. (Disclosure: Along with a dozen or so other actors, writers, and directors -- including some really good ones -- I'm participating in 24HTP this year. It was so much fun to watch last year that wild horses could not keep me away.)

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Between now and then, catch In the Penal Colony playwright Christian Krauspe's new play, Dinner on the Inside, featuring David Weiss and Damon Dering (who, along with Eric Chapman, tend to run Nearly Naked Theatre but can't avoid taking to the stage from time to time), along with the amazing Johanna Carlisle. Or drop in on The Penis Eulogy by Daniel Cahill, about the mixed blessings of living through cancer with no more boners.

There's more background, including photos, videos, and interviews, on the festival blog. The full schedule's here; for tickets to individual events, $9 to $10, click here or call 602-254-2151.

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