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.
At first, it seemed the name of CONDER/dance's yearly contemporary dance festival was a little presumptuous, but groundbreaking actually is a good description of the impressive choreography we saw in this year's celebration. Breaking Ground was started in 2007 to showcase new choreographers from around the world, but these days CONDER/dance makes a special effort to highlight local talent as well. During this year's performances at Tempe Center for the Arts, visitors were greeted by pre-show, site-specific dances staged throughout the lobby, adding a new level of intimacy for audience members. There were two separate Breaking Ground programs for the main stage event, with 17 total artists featured over the course of the weekend. The pieces left us feeling excited about the future of contemporary dance (no small feat, to be sure).
Technicolor us impressed. In its 14th year, the Phoenix Film Festival brought to Harkins Scottsdale 101 nearly 200 films from emerging and established filmmakers. Over the course of a week, world-class (and critically acclaimed) flicks including Gillian Robespierre's abortion rom-com Obvious Child, Clark Gregg's Trust Me, and Steven Knight's Tom Hardy vehicle, Locke. Perhaps more impressive were this year's selections of local films. Both documentarian Randy Murray's The Joe Show, an upsetting exploration of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's media savvy, and Kiernan Thompson's comedy Broken Leg sold out screenings. Great movies, butts in seats, and the chance to talk with filmmakers about their vision . . . What more could Valley cinephiles ask for?
Presented by New Times and Stateside Presents, Viva PHX felt like the downtown we've always imagined, with big names like Pinback, the Neighbourhood, Yacht, Z-Trip, and Arizona acts like Sergio Mendoza y La Orkesta, Dry River Yacht Club, Playboy Manbaby, Cherie Cherie, and more playing at downtown venues such as Crescent Ballroom, Bar Smith, CitySpace, Last Exit Live, Hotel San Carlos, and more. It wasn't just a concert; it was an event that felt like South by Southwest. It was a sprawling, massive middle finger in the air toward anyone who says "Phoenix isn't a music town." And it'll be back in 2015.
Long before standing onstage and telling stories became the next big thing, South Mountain Community College was making a name for itself in the ancient art of storytelling. Storytelling is more complex than simply memorizing a script; no two performances are the same, and the tradition is steeped in the humanities and how we all get along (or don't). Led by director Liz Warren, an internationally acclaimed storyteller in her own right, the institute is a great place to take a basic class or even study for an academic certificate.
It seems every time we turn around, there's a new food festival going down around town. At some point, they all start to blend together into a sea of tiny plates, wine samples, and chef demonstrations. And inevitably, by the end of the festival season, the one that stands out is Devoured. Not only does this event gather the city's top chefs, but each participating restaurant puts forth an effort you just don't see at other events.
This year at the two-day event held at Phoenix Art Museum, we tasted all manner of delicacies, from oysters and truffles to so much foie gras that we thought we would burst. And don't even get us started on the wine. There were so many local wineries pouring samples that we had to pop into a cooking demonstration just to sober up. In fact, our only recommendation for next year's event would be to add nap rooms where guests can take a rest. Pipe dream? Maybe, but if the trend took off anywhere, it would be at Devoured.
You didn't have to be a beer fanatic to enjoy this year's inaugural Real, Wild, and Woody Beer Festival — but if you are, you'll have no trouble understanding what made it a knockout success. Organized by the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild, this event gathered all the state's top breweries for a throwdown of epic proportions. Nearby brew houses brought a specialty cask or barrel-aged brew, which they released only at the event. It was a showcase of beers unlike any you've ever tasted before and which you're unlikely to have the chance to ever taste again. Add the fact that the festival went down indoors during the middle of summer — as opposed to during the busy fall and spring event seasons — and you've really won our hearts.