Childsplay

Whether it's their beautifully mounted productions at the still-sparkling new Tempe Center for the Arts, or the classes they teach year-round (including weeklong summer programs) at their nearby Tempe facility, Childsplay is a class act. When it comes to instruction, perfection is not the goal — a welcome relief in this all-too-pushy, test-obsessed culture. Kids can take classes with real life actors, then come to a show and see them perform onstage. That's what we call community theater at its finest!

His sabbatical leave during the summer of 2004 led to a crisis in David Barker's life. Like many artists, Barker, a professor of theater in the Herberger College of the Arts best known for his mime performances, turned that crisis into art. Dodging Bullets details the day that Barker's brother-in-law opened fire on him and his sister, the gunman's wife. The bullet intended for Barker missed him, but his sister was hit in the chest. It's a testament to Barker's skill as a playwright and performer that he made this tragic tale — which he's preparing for a remount, we hope very soon — both amusing and enlightening.

Lisa Starry gets it.

The artistic director/choreographer for Phoenix's 10-year-old, 20-member-strong Scorpius collective understands that the terms "modern dance" and "interpretive dance" are buzz-kills in a society with a crippled economy and a stunted attention span. That's why Starry gives hesitant Gen Xers and Yers — the folks with the disposable incomes — what they want. And that's a little pop-culture sugar to help the medicine, er, contemporary dance go down.

One of Starry's core influences is Cirque du Soleil. A Vampire Tale, her annual "Nutcracker of Halloween," predated Twilight mania. In general, Starry says her inspiration comes from the movies rather than other choreographers (and those who've seen A Vampire Tale know it's much closer in spirit to Interview with the Vampire than Bella Swan).

"My dream was always to entertain, and that's what is working for Scorpius," she says. We're glad.

Harkins Camelview 5

Though there's still some lingering heat, the summer blockbuster season is over, meaning we can avoid overwhelming explosions, manic car chases, and one-note comedies. That's why Harkins Camelview 5 is our haven year-round. Anytime we want to escape the typical celluloid tedium, we can settle into the last theater that the chain's founder, Dwight "Red" Harkins, opened himself. Camelview has quite the menu of foreign and independent films (even with masquerading major studios dipping their toes in the art-film pool), which keeps us coming back — especially now, when more thoughtful fare vies to be remembered by Oscar voters.

When IFC and the Sundance Channel don't quench your thirst for non-traditional cinema, No Festival Required is your mighty-mite hero. The monthly indie and art film showcase started in 2002, taking up the mantle of microcinema that Jeff Cochran left behind. Microcinema refers only to size of the venues, because No Festival Required has always featured works that are bold, daring, and cutting edge in content and technique. In addition to monthly screenings at Space 55, NFR domo Steve Weiss has helped organize and market screenings and film events at Deus Ex Machina, Chandler Cinemas, and the Phoenix Art Museum.

Tempe Center for the Arts

As the saying goes, less is more and Ignite Phoenix, the quarterly series of bite-size lectures, epitomizes the axiom. Modeled after the first Ignite event, held in Seattle in 2006, anyone can submit a presentation on anything — as long as it can be completed within five minutes. The hallmark of Ignite Phoenix is the variety of subjects that have made it to the podium, including the picayune (a rant about the uselessness of stressing out) and the profound (a lecture about algae-based green fuels). The result has set the Valley's Twitter-dwelling tech, biz, creative community aflame.

Musicians seem drawn to using public transit systems as a backdrop for performances. We've seen many a street rat busking in NYC and D.C. subways while strumming their acoustic gee-tars. Maybe it's the captive audience or Americana's deep-rooted bonds shared by trains and tunes. Either way, we figured that once the Valley's light-rail system launched last December, it wouldn't be too long until we heard live music at stations. The folks behind the Train Tracks did us one better and have been booking Phoenix indie acts to play unplugged versions of their songs on light-rail cars since February. Conjured up by a cabal of CenPho left-brain types (including Inside Creative Minds filmmaker Tray Goodman and Modified Arts/Stinkweeds' Kimber Lanning) the weekly online video series records acoustic performances by such local scene favorites as Courtney Marie Andrews, Yourchestra, and Sugar Thieves during rush hour. It's similar to London's Black Cab Sessions (albeit not in a back of a taxi), in which everything's done in one take. Every three months, those who get the best response are invited to compete in a quarterly First Friday battle of the bands at the Phoenix Art Museum. The winner will get stage time at next year's Tempe Musical Festival. Sounds good to us, as long as they don't ask us for spare change.

A year ago, Metro light rail won Best Anticipated Ride and, so far, it's lived up to the hype. The light rail has essentially opened up a city within a city, and Rail Life has become its vital guide. The Web site is dedicated to all things related to the light rail, from service changes to transportation meetings. On the social side, the site offers a staggering listing of local bars and restaurants on the line. Rail Life even manages to keep tabs on all the big events and housing in the light-rail neighborhoods, all while keeping the info navigable.

Central Phoenix life moves so fast that the phrase "CenPho" has started to sound normal to even the old guard who use "the 602" and "PHX" as terms of endearment. CenPho TV's weekly video podcast moves just as quickly, with Dave Brookhouser and Jacqui Johnson leading a whirlwind tour — less than five minutes — of the major civic, music, and cultural events in town. Dave "Bully" Bjorn offers additional support in keeping people informed. The self-produced effort has come a long way since its early days, but the podcast-capping bloopers are a reminder of the inherent fun of a labor of love.

The Internet is either the best invention ever (YouTube, Etsy, www.catsinsinks.com) or the worst (MySpace, Yoga Kitty, that page with Chewbacca singing "Silent Night"). A Phoenix-based Web site that's definitely hovering around awesome status is binary-chaos.net, an all-local affiliation of creative types and their video art. The Pete Petrisko-run URL features videos starring local artists such as Dena Johnson, Babs McDonald, and Andrew Jemsek. Programs are wide-ranging, like the snarky Doc Sterno Wise Advice and the once-popular onstage-turned-video-podcast Uncle Sku's Clubhouse. Don't dig watching videos online? No worries, because the short flicks are sometimes shown on the big screen at places like the Firehouse and Hidden House.

Best Of Phoenix®

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