BEST REASON TO WALK THE STREETS OF SCOTTSDALE IN THE DEAD OF SUMMER

Thursday Night Artwalk in July

Scottsdale's artwalk is still a booming tourist business in the nicer months, but where local coolios are concerned, it's become the too-pretty stepsister of First and even Third Fridays. And yes, it's tough to park and fight the rush of snowbirds on Thursday evenings in January and February, which is why we like to hit the streets of Scottsdale in July. Yes, July. Check the Web site for exact details so you don't land on an odd night, but on one Thursday in July, the place positively pops. We headed to Lisa Sette Gallery for her 20th anniversary show on July 5 and managed to catch up with just about every Phoenix artist we know. Now, some of them (Matthew Moore, Gregory Sale) had pieces in the show — an amazing collection of Sette's new and old favorites — but most were just there to hobnob. Which, let's face it, is what a good artwalk is all about, too.
Even if you have a backyard pool to dip the kids in hourly, summertime is not a fun time, in these parts. That's why we're so grateful that someone in the Harkins family came up with the idea for a summer movie series. For $7, you get a pass to 10 movies, one a week for the whole summer. Kid snacks are cheap, and the A/C is free. This past summer, the roster included Curious George, Charlotte's Web, Over the Hedge, Ice Age: The Meltdown, Open Season, Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, Happy Feet, Barnyard, Nanny McPhee and Everyone's Hero, showing on big screens across the Valley.

We're pretty sure no one will say anything if you show up without a kid in tow. Hey, Happy Feet wasn't bad! Pass the popcorn.

We can't wait for October 19. Not just because there's a slight chance that, by then, temperatures will have dipped below 100 degrees. (Usually, around here, it's boiling hot 'til Halloween, when the temperature drops 50 degrees in a day, forcing all the kids to cover their costumes with heavy winter coats.)

No, we're excited for this year's Roosevelt Row Harvest Festival. Like many things in downtown Phoenix, the festival is still in its infancy. But we have high hopes — partly because Greg Esser, to whom we like to refer behind his back as "the city's real mayor," is involved, but mostly because we love nothing more than a street fair. Probably because we remember our elementary school days, when the school carnival (ours was lovingly known as the Hopi Hullabaloo) was as good as it got.

Greg, do us a favor. Along with the live music, the crafty vendors and the so-bad-for-you-it's-good street food, could you have a lollipop tree, just for old time's sake? And maybe a cakewalk? Oh, okay, we'll settle for a beer garden and pumpkin bowling.

BEST PLACE TO WALK OFF THANKSGIVING DINNER

ZooLights

Phoenix Zoo
Every Thanksgiving, the Phoenix Zoo kicks off several weeks of enchanted evenings with the opening night of ZooLights. The event, a quintessential "Phoenix thing," raises funds for wildlife conservation and children's programming at the zoo, and it's a nice, quiet way to decompress one more time before the holiday frenzy.

The landscaping and lagoons are charming. The light displays are ooh-inspiring. There's stuff for the whole family to enjoy, like camel rides, animal presentations, and a carousel (and, of course, the gift shop). And it's a lot of walking — or at least it feels like it after all those yams. Break out your cute sweater and hat and think of it as an Easter parade . . . in the dark . . . and without Judy Garland. You'll probably have made room for hot cocoa and a fresh, cinnamon-y churro by the time you're done. And on Black Friday? Sleep in. You've earned it.

BEST PLACE FOR JEWS TO GET TRASHED ON CHRISTMAS EVE

Mazelpalooza

If you're a WASP, you have a pretty good idea about where you'll be on the night before Christmas, but you've probably never given much thought to what your non-Christian pals will be doing. Don't bothuh, bubalah — they're doing fine. A coalition of Jewish singles organizations led by Tribe sponsors this annual hoedown, which features off-the-hook drinking, dancing, and elbow-rubbing with fellow "Hebes who want to hang." (Hey, they said it, not us.)

Sure sounds better than unwrapping that umpteenth pair of tube socks from Aunt Catherine and Uncle Jack. Oy, can the goyim come, too?

David Chuchla, the enigmatic dude behind this annual display, is one of those silent do-gooders who'd rather let their munificence do the talking. (In other words, he doesn't return phone calls.) We can't fathom why he spends so much time — and so much of his own moolah — erecting this gargantuan ode to joy, which is located in a private residence and open to the public for three weeks each December.

The spirit-choked abode features eight rooms dolled up with individual themes, an ice cave packed with animatronic figures, 40-odd decked-out trees, and 50,000 lights.

So what's in it for him? There's no commercialization, no product tie-ins. Could it be that we Scrooges have got it wrong? Could there really be a Santa Claus? Nah. But Chuchla's house looks cool at Christmastime.

Vampires are soooooo cool. Always have been, always will be. But they've been getting even more lovin' of late. In Underworld, sexy Kate Beckinsale had us drinking tomato juice by the gallon to quench our blood lust. Wesley Snipes made us wish we were undead ninjas in Blade. Best-selling Valley author Stephenie Meyer had us reaching for the Scotties with Twilight and New Moon, her rain-drenched novels about the star-crossed love affair between a Rico Suave vamp and a sweet-as-syrup waif.

Lisa Starry's Scorpius troupe adds to the bloody-good fun with its annual "Nutcracker of Halloween." The toothy tale relates the story of a chaste young woman who falls in with a bad crowd, stumbling into a secret ceremony akin to the opera-house feeding frenzy in Interview With the Vampire. Starry's vision is pretty creepy, but the show's done with a light touch that even vampophobes will appreciate.

Tempe Center for the Arts
Phoenix has so many theater companies, it's hard to know where to start. So take our advice, and start at birth (well, maybe around 4 or 5) with Childsplay. The Valley's professional children's company has been around for 30 years, serving up dozens of kid-friendly plays and musicals that never pander to their audiences. Which is why parents and children alike love the likes of Goodnight Moon, Seussical and this season's upcoming Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Not to mention the company's super-talented troupe of regulars that includes Debra K. Stevens, Jon Gentry, and the incomparable Katie McFadzen. The heck with amusement parks and water slides — take the kids to a Childsplay show, where you'll have at least as much fun as your little charges.
True, Phoenix is home to only a handful of professional theater companies. Thus, Actors Theatre is on a short list of troupes with access to bigger budgets, better venues, and better performers. No matter, because what truly sets this company apart, time and again, is its choice of material.

For more than two decades, AT has wowed us with material that other companies pass up, as anyone who saw their awe-inspiring production of The Pillowman late last season can attest. This season, AT is bringing us the equally provocative The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh, as well as Heather Raffo's 9 Parts of Desire and the world premire of Speak Spanish to Me, a commissioned piece by Bernardo Solano about a young love affair at Arizona State University.

Who else but Actors Theatre would bring us such a diverse, risky season? No one.

Okay, so their Night of the Iguana sucked like mad. Yet Nearly Naked continues to offer not only some of the highest-quality productions in town, but some of the most daring, least-often-produced material Phoenix has ever seen, as well. What's more, Damon Dering and the other stalwarts at Nearly Naked, which is now a resident company at Phoenix Theatre, continue to surprise theatergoers with plays that seem out of this often-impish troupe's element. The Who's Tommy seemed mighty tame for these guys; after all, it had played Gammage in its squeaky-clean road company version a few years before. But Nearly Naked showed us a groovy, grunged-up production that would have made Pete Townshend and his pub-crawling pals proud. Even their awful Night of the Iguana was sort of subversive, reminding us what "alternative theater" used to look like 40 years ago. We like what it looks like today, especially when we see it at Nearly Naked.

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