Best In-the-Works Radio Station 2014 | 102.9 FM | People & Places | Phoenix

When we heard Phoenix's airwaves would soon be home to a new community station, you better bet we were all ears. Though 102.9 FM is currently static, the frequency is also filled with possibilities. A full schedule of programming is expected to launch in August 2015, and a few shows could be on the air as soon as early 2015. But before that happens, the fine folks launching this station are pounding pavement, engaging the public, and hosting events around Phoenix to figure out what exactly the community wants in a radio station — be it indie rock and live DJs or in-depth arts and culture coverage — what stories they want to tell, and what stories they want to hear. Stay tuned.

When Scorpius Dance Theatre presented A Vampire Tale for the 10th year in a row, we couldn't take our eyes off Gavin Sisson. Between completely selling his role as a creepy vampire to moving with unparalleled energy and leading the troupe in its aerial work with silks draped from the ceiling and spinning and twisting around, we imagined how much more we'd dig the production if he were to play the male lead, a vampire king named Viktor. Turns out, we're not the only ones who couldn't take our eyes off Sisson, who has been with the company since 2011 and works as its assistant director. Scorpius announced that he'll take on that lead role come October. And we'll be there to watch him take the production to new, probably terrifying heights.

Martha never looked this good — at least, she hasn't for a very long time. Emma bills itself "for the modern domestic goddess" — and it's clear the magazine is targeting the Stewart-inclined millennial. Smart thinking.

From how to make fork pompoms to how to make a faux bob, with beautiful holiday vignettes and Phoenix-based features like GROWop boutique and a caramel corn hot dog from Short Leash, this is a magazine with staying power and we can't wait to see where the editors take Emma next.

Phoenix may not have open-air theaters like London or Shakespeare in the Park like New York City, but, as it turns out, the desert makes an even more interesting performance art venue. Performance in the Borderlands is an ASU initiative that has been responsible for the curation of all kinds of performance pieces that deal with issues of borders, politics, and identity. This past year, the initiative brought two notable pieces to the Deer Valley Rock Center, where performers found themselves interacting directly with the Arizona landscape. Performance in the Borderlands also is responsible for a series of banned-play readings that regularly take place at the Phoenix Hostel and Cultural Center. With the ever-mounting prominence of border politics in Arizona, Performance in the Borderlands provides the perfect way to explore these intense issues: through art.

It's amazing to think that Jon Gentry, one of our longtime most dependable stage players, made his Arizona Theatre Company debut this year in that company's production of Jules Verne's classic Around the World in 80 Days. In Mark Brown's adaptation directed by Childsplay's David P. Saar, Gentry's Passeportout, manservant to wacky adventurer Phileas Fogg, was a revelation. The actor's talent for physical comedy got a workout; Gentry wowed ATC audiences by literally climbing the 80 Days set in scenes in which he saved damsels in distress and rescued passengers from a runaway train. Gentry's quieter moments featured his distinctive voice and turn of phrase, and all of it reminded us that this actor's actor is among our very best.

Tracy Letts' epic, relentlessly dismal yet moving and entertaining August: Osage County won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. And in last year's Mesa Encore Theatre production, Shari Watts takes local honors for her performance in the lead. She assayed the role of Violet with a heartbreaking resignation that never quite masked her pain. Vi is one of the nastiest, most unpleasant characters in contemporary drama, and while Letts has given her cancer and a crappy childhood to help the audience (and her family) tolerate her, Watts was able to sell Vi's raging pill habit and torrent of insults anyway, because she was just that good.

Best Performance by a Child Actor in a Professional Production

Riley Glick in Ruthless! The Musical

Packed from end to end with faultless performances, Phoenix Theatre's Ruthless! The Musical was a stunner. Joel Paley's book and lyrics — about a little girl who'll do anything to play the lead in the school musical — provided a convulsion of nudging and winking at anyone up on their backstage stories. But a cast made up mostly of Phoenix Theatre veterans (including Debby Rosenthal, whose send-up of Mama Rose as a clueless stage mother who winds up a star was a scream, and Rusty Ferracane, in a glittery black skirt and eyelashes out to there, singing about stardom) nearly vanished from sight whenever little Riley Glick appeared onstage, singing and stomping about as 9-year-old Tina. Glick's way with a scene-stealing brat was surpassed only by hearing her shout an expletive early in Act Two. And her ballet combination wasn't bad, either.

Even if Ron May, founder of Stray Cat Theatre and recent star of the one-person show The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, had only brought us his company's production of The Whale last season, that would have been enough to snag him our undying gratitude and admiration. In that play, about an obese man at the end of his rather sad life, May kept a fine cast from chewing scenery and helped lead actor Damon Dering create a career-making performance. But May, who handles frantic comedies with the same grace as he does murky melodramas, also worked his directorial magic last season on the extremely tricky The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, making a small, dark comedy set in the world of semi-pro boxing into something everyone could love. This month, May is directing Tarell Alvin McCraney's The Brothers Size, so here's to another year of dynamic direction from our own Mister May.

He's a talented actor and a well-loved theater educator, to be sure. But we're proudest of Dwayne Hartford's remarkable body of work as a playwright. Hartford, the associate artist and playwright in residence at Childsplay, only began writing in 2000, yet his work, often developed through Childsplay's Whiteman New Plays Program, has been consistently engaging, thought-provoking, and even controversial. His plays — which often tour the country after making their debuts in the Valley — have earned accolades far and wide. His Eric and Elliot received the Distinguished Play award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education in 2005; The Imaginators was produced and aired by local PBS affiliate KAET; and Hartford's adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities was developed through the National Endowment for the Arts and NYU's New Plays for Young Audiences program. Season before last, his The Color of Stars knocked us out with its frank commentary on America's wartime attitudes, and this last season he continued his winning streak with an adaptation of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, based on Kate DiCamillo's popular novel, that was both heartwarming and heart-wrenching. We hear that this talented playwright is busy at work on an adaptation of a classic and long-loved children's story, and we can't wait to see what he does with it.


Okay, so they dared to torture us last season with the roller-disco monstrosity Xanadu. But the state's professional theater, also brought us a stunning production of Jon Robin Baitz's Other Desert Cities and David Ives' Tony-nominated Venus in Fur, beautifully acted by Michael Tisdale and Gillian Williams and expertly directed by Shana Cooper. This is the sort of fine theater art we've come to expect from our big-budget professional theater, and they have rarely let us down. Sadly, this year ATC brings us the departure of artistic director David Ira Goldstein, who truly revolutionized the company with co-productions with estimable playhouses in other parts of the country and with his stylish taste in plays and musicals.

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