Top Ten Ways to Take In a Show
Grab your best gal or guy and hit the town! There's nothing quite like spending the evening taking in a show. Whether you're in the mood for something low key, avant garde or just plain fun, you can see the kind of show you're after in Phoenix. Here are Phoenix's Top Ten Ways to Take In a Show.
Phoenix Film Festival
Once a year in April the Phoenix Film Festival showcases the best independent local films in Phoenix.
The Festival has been named one of the “25 Coolest Film Festivals” by MovieMaker Magazine. Eight days long, the festival showcases more than 150 films each year and draws well over 22,000 people!
One of the nicest things about the festival is that you can do it your way. Buy individual tickets if you like, but I recommend the passes. You don't need to splurge on the best ones (unless you want to!) because even the flex passes, which let you see any four shows, are great. They are really a deal, and poring over the catalog deciding which films you'll choose is definitely part of the entertainment. What's more, there are often “Groupon” type deals on Phoenix Film Festival passes.
The first year I went was, I think, 2003. That would have been the third year of the Festival, and even then it was a real powerhouse of an experience. I first heard of it because the original Program Director, Greg Hall, is the son of one of my mother's best friends. (That's so very Phoenix; we are still the biggest small town around.) There was a huge variety of shows to choose from when I went. I remember crying at a drama screening, feeling outraged watching a documentary, and laughing like a crazy person at still another.
If you really love film and want to get involved in this local arts offering, consider volunteering. In exchange for 24 volunteer hours you'll get a Festival tee shirt and a full pass so you can go to all events and films!
The Festival runs all eight days in one new, cushy multiplex; at the time of this writing the Harkins Scottsdale and 101 houses the Festival. This is not a for-profit venture, though; the Phoenix Film Festival is a 501c(3) nonprofit organization. You'll be so glad you checked out the Phoenix Film Festival; it's one of our very unique things to do about town.
Phoenix Film Festival http://www.phoenixfilmfestival.com/
Phoenix Film Foundation http://www.phxfilm.com/
The Black Theatre Troupe
You may be surprised to learn that Phoenix's own Black Theatre Troupe has been around for 43 years now, but it's true. That's an impressive record of energetic, captivating productions that reflect a city that is definitely multicultural. If you haven't taken advantage of this local treasure, you need to. Right away. Seriously.
The BTT began in 1969 as a haven for local black performers, youth and artists and filled a void in our community. The theatre's grassroots origins have never been forgotten; the BTT still embraces the true community theatre experience and offers a high-quality youth theatre program called the Metropolitan Youth Ensemble and Academy. This program offers multi-ethnic youth the chance to perform and develop their skills and personalities in a healthy, safe environment.
The BTT is the only African-American theatre in the Four Corners region, and it is really the only place in Phoenix where the spotlight is wholly on the wildly diverse African-American experience. The Troupe prides itself on taking on projects that relate directly back not only to the arts but also to social and political issues that penetrate the community at the deepest levels.
At the time of this writing, the Black Theatre Troupe is preparing to unveil an impressive new performance space downtown. The result of a bond election—and lots of very hard work—this space represents not only the culture is houses but also the vote of confidence that the city and the people gave it.
My favorite production from the BTT—so far—was The Coming of the Hurricane. This drama, set in the Reconstruction-era South, there was not a single average or forgettable performance throughout the show. Strong, compelling actors brought this story of an underdog hero, former Union soldier and slave Crixus, into my gut, and at times my throat. The play climaxed as Crixus met John “Hurricane” Blaine, depicted as a racist with wounded Confederate pride, in ring. The match up, although very physical, was most brutal on the heart. This is the standard for the BTT: shows that stay with you on topics that matter.
Join the Black Theatre Troupe in their new space beginning in early 2013: BTT's Performing Arts Center located at 1333 East Washington is in Downtown Phoenix.
Black Theatre Troupe http://www.blacktheatretroupe.org/btt/Home.html
Probably my very favorite place to watch a movie out in Phoenix is the Film Bar experience. Completely unique even in this city which now features around five places to have a fancy, 21 and over movie-watching experience, Film Bar brings together the best of our local Phoenix color and the hip, indie art film house of any big American city.
Film Bar does actually have a bar, and you can hang out there without any movie-watching obligation. The place is like an urban hole in the wall lounge bar glued to a movie theater. Both halves of the place have a retro feel to them, sporting the original colored tiling at the outside of the building and vintage emerald green seats in the small theater. There is also a row of hightop tables at the back of the theater for those at least as focused on libations as celluloid.
On any given weekend night you can watch any (or all) of three different films in this “microtheater” which seats 70. Focusing on independent, foreign and art films both new and classic, the theater also showcases the films of local artists. The atmosphere is relaxed and there are deliberately substantial breaks between films that allow the patrons to belly up to the bar and enjoy. The bar serves 25 different craft beers and 12 varieties of wine in an atmosphere that has a distinctly Moroccan feel to it. Not just a place for film, the bar also boasts music acts and DJs.
As I write this piece Film Bar is only in its second year, but managed to win three Best of Phoenix awards this time around (Best Neighborhood Bar, Downtown Phoenix, Best Independent Movie Theater, and Best Weekly Dance Night). If you are in the mood for some not-standard-Hollywood-issue film and a funky place to watch it, Film Bar will not disappoint.
Film Bar is on Roosevelt Row, downtown, at 815 N. 2nd Street which is right at McKinley.
Film Bar http://www.thefilmbarphx.com/
Arizona Theatre Company
The Arizona Theatre Company is known as the official “State Theater of Arizona.” ATC is a professional regional theater company that serves both Tucson and Phoenix, making it the only two-city resident theater in the nation. ATC was founded in Tucson in 1966 and went on to attain professional theater status as well as membership in the League of Resident Theaters (LORT) in 1972.
Currently in its 46th season, Arizona Theatre Company works hard to bring both a fresh, unique variety of shows to Phoenix and also to ensure that production values across the board are excellent. From modern comedies to classic musicals to edgy dramas, the ATC probably has the most varied theatrical offerings in the state.
ATC takes its commitment to being the State Theater seriously; it provides educational opportunities, access initiatives and outreach programs throughout the state. For example, Phoenix teachers can take advantage of ATC's Lesson Plans program as well as the Master Classes service. Lesson Plans provides enrichment materials for every ATC production to teachers throughout the Valley; thus the act of attending an ATC production is transformed into a well-rounded educational experience for Valley school children. Similarly, Master Classes turns the tables and brings ATC professionals into school classrooms throughout the Valley at a substantially discounted rate so that theater production can be brought to life for children as they participate and learn.
ATC's Phoenix shows number six to eight annually. Each season you can expect at least one contemporary, critically-acclaimed drama, at least one solid comedy, and a truly inspired and varied selection. Here in Phoenix the ATC performs at the Herberger Theater; this venue is one of the state's best and is relatively intimate, with nary a bad seat in the house. Arizona Theatre Company continues to provide one of the city's best places to take in a show.
The Herberger Theater is located amid ample parking areas at 222 E. Monroe in downtown Phoenix.
Arizona Theatre Company http://www.arizonatheatre.org/
Herberger Theatre http://www.herbergertheater.org/
Films at the Phoenix Art Museum
This one may be a surprise to you, but I promise you that taking in a film at the art museum is not only one of our city's best afternoons but also one of the best ways to see a show. I'll cop to the fact that there aren't any concessions (and I'll also cop to loving a huge vat of greasy theater popcorn), but it's worth it to have this experience.
Just a few years ago the Phoenix Art Museum got a very nice new projector. It increases the image size of 4:3 aspect ratio films (the universal video format of the twentieth century) and with 16:9 aspect ratio films (the HD universal) it blows up the picture so it fills the screen without any sacrifice in detail or quality; the sound is also excellent. In short, any professional-quality piece screened here is going to look and sound incredible.
More of a draw than that, though, are the thoughtful, compelling films the museum offers. In the past year alone the Phoenix Art Museum has screened films from at least 10 countries other than the U.S., including “Chi-hwa-seon,” a South Korean film about an artist in a time of political turmoil, and “A pessoa para o que nasce,” a Brazilian documentary about three blind sisters who live and work as street performers. The museum also shows mainstream films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and special event films including the Cine Latino series in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month. Often the screenings are followed by truly interesting lectures and discussions with experts that add more than you can imagine to each show.
All museum film showings are free and first come, first served, and I recommend leaving yourself extra time. This is one of my favorite ways to see a show in Phoenix, and one of my favorite things to do, period.
The Phoenix Art Museum is located on the northeast corner of McDowell Road and Central Avenue. There is free parking behind it.
Phoenix Art Museum http://phxart.org/events/index.php
Stray Cat Theatre
Stray Cat Theatre was born in 2001. It is the theatrical venture in Phoenix that has as its sole mission being the most provocative, indie, creative space for the most contemporary, original work it can find. Does this mean every single production is completely wonderful? No. But it does mean that there's always something fresh happening because of STC, and that alone is a huge boon for our city.
At least once yearly STC produces a completely original, unpublished work. This dedication to bringing unknown works into the spotlight is some of the best of what STC brings to Phoenix. Stray Cat Theatre also manages to offend nearly everyone sooner or later, and frankly, that's a plus. You can't put on edgy theater without breaking some eggs, you know? That's what they're good at.
And, even if you are too dedicated to classic theater to be very comfortable with experimental stuff, you will have to give the technical team and stage management the highest possible marks. STC consistently excels in these departments.
Stray Cat Theatre is definitely worth your time. It is this kind of indie, experimental version of the arts that helps to keep the entire cultural scene challenging and fresh. My advice to you is, if you are a first-timer, choose a show that seems like something you might enjoy, and go with an open mind. (These may seem obvious points to you, but believe me, I've heard people complain about a play just as they explain to me, “I knew I'd hate it,” and I think this really diminishes the value of their criticism!)
Check it out. Take a chance, Phoenix. You'll be glad you did.
Stray Cat Theatre http://phoenix.showup.com/event/detail/441647463/Punkplay http://www.straycattheatre.org/season
Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival
The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival has as its mission the presentation of great films with Jewish themes to the entire Phoenix area. The GPJFF is the result of the merger between the Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, which had about 13 seasons under its belt at the time of the merger, and the East Valley Jewish Film Festival, which was six or seven seasons old at the time. The Festival has continually achieved its goal of presenting a wide of array of films that reflect many Jewish cultural themes and increasing awareness of Jewish culture throughout the Valley.
As with any Festival with ethnic or cultural themes, it is important to note that the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival is truly for all audiences. It is a common misconception (sometimes even amongst Jews) that a Jewish film festival will basically just focus on Holocaust, Israeli and religious films, but this is definitely not the case.
Some standouts from the past few years include “Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg,” a light-hearted documentary by Aviva Kempner that tells the story of Gertrude Berg, who enjoyed 1950s television fame on her show, “The Goldbergs.” Other hits include the romantic comedy, “Oh What a Mess,” and the fabulous English documentary, “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, ” which is narrated by Dustin Hoffman. A fascinating depiction of America's Pasttime, you don't have to love baseball or be Jewish to find this show compelling.
A 501c(3) nonprofit organization, the GPJFF reaches further into the community with its Films in the Schools program. This community outreach effort is in its fourth year. Thus far Films in the Schools has brought films from the GPJFF to more than 3,500 public schools and 35 Jewish day schools. The goal of this venture is using the medium of film to teach tolerance to children in the Greater Phoenix Area.
The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival takes place each February in three venues: Scottsdale's Harkins Camelview 5, Chandler's Harkins Crossroads 12 and Peoria's Harkins Arrowhead 18.
Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival http://www.gpjff.org/
Actors Theatre of Phoenix
The Actors Theatre of Phoenix has been around for nearly 27 years. In that time it has proven itself a valuable voice in the art community and community at large. It has also brought a unique set of productions to the Valley and its focus on the actor as the central tool for storytelling has a lot to do with this record.
Known for producing Off-Broadway gems and new works by up and coming playwrights, the Actors Theatre of Phoenix has also graced the Valley with classics like Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and, of course, their yearly production of A Christmas Carol which is now a Phoenix classic. More often, though, the ATP has brought us new and exciting works like The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow and Dead Man's Cell Phone, an innovative repurposing of bane of the theater, the cell phone. ATC also focuses on locally significant works and pieces that speak to Phoenix's multiculturalism. Some examples of this are the early production of John Leguizamo's Spic-O Rama and Ben Tyler's The Wallace and Ladmo Show which brought a dose of nostalgia as well as some thoughtful looks at Phoenix life.
Economic challenges in recent years have demanded even more creativity from the Actors Theatre of Phoenix; in order to keep the theater going and high quality shows in production, ATP has tried new strategies for bringing in money. For example, to help produce Dead Man's Cell Phone, ATP used the Kickstarter program you may have seen on places like Facebook. Kickstarter allows the user to send friends requests to help fund a project; it's like grassroots meets Internet. Anyway, ATP has been especially adept at getting its work funded in unique ways.
One of the best things we can all do to ensure that we continue to see this high-quality array of theatrical offerings from the Actors Theatre of Phoenix (like with all of our other struggling arts picks!) is to go out and take in a show with them.
Actors Theatre of Phoenix http://actorstheatrephx.org/
Formerly the Phoenix Little Theatre, Phoenix Theatre is the oldest arts institution in the state of Arizona and the only professional theater in the Valley that provides shows for all age ranges. This theater is such an important part of our history here in Phoenix, and today many natives don't even know about it.
When I was growing up here in Phoenix in the 1970s, one of my all-time favorite activities was going to see a show at The Cookie Company: that's Phoenix Theatre's Cookie Company, thank you. Back then you could go see a children's show sometime during the day, and each young theater-goer would get a chocolate chip cookie and a box of milk. These days the wonderful Cookie Company is presented for school and other group tours and field trips, so hopefully many more children are enjoying it (although I confess to a feeling of sadness that I can't just pick up and go see a show there with my daughter).
On the mainstage the PT produces current Broadway hits like Spamalot, classics like La Cage Aux Folles and Our Town, and new work such as Love Makes the World Go 'Round. Productions are high-quality and feature attention to detail in all areas. PT also produces exciting new work every year with its New Works Festival; this exciting program allows local audiences to see innovative works with contemporary themes. A great example of this is Smugglers by José Záraté, a tale of families and rival drug cartels.
PT also puts amazing programs on that include and enrich the community. Just one example of the PT community outreach effort is Books Alive, an after-school program that encourages young readers to explore and share literature while developing critical thinking skills. Another wonderful PT program is the Teen Playwrighting Camp, which is part of the New Works Festival.
Phoenix Theatre is located just east of the Phoenix Art Museum on McDowell Road just east of Central Avenue.
Dive In Movies at Gainey Ranch
Finally, it's just not summertime in Phoenix until you just want to do everything in the pool. Unfortunately, most things can't happen poolside. But at Scottsdale's Gainey Ranch you can have dinner next to the pool and a movie IN the pool! That's the Dive In Movie experience and even though it may sound silly, it's a great summer way to take in a show.
The Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa at Gainey Ranch boasts TEN swimming pools that include waterfalls, gondola rides, and a three story water slide. There's also an adults-only pool for those of you not so into the whole screaming kids splashing you thing. But the most fun, to me, is watching the Dive In Movies on summer and spring break nights.
Gainey Ranch only lets guests use the pools, but during the summertime the rates drop as low as they ever do, and it may just be worth it if you have a group to book a room for a day and night of poolside fun.
Just swimming in the Gainey Ranch pool at night is appealing, the dramatic lighting and lovely grounds guarantee a beautiful sight. You can eat casual far by the pool including burgers and sandwiches courtesy of the poolside restaurant Water Garden. But once a week during spring breaks, and on Saturday nights during the summer, the pool has an added draw: a Dive In Movie projected on a wall by the pool. The resort accommodates families so don't expect to see “The Shining” or anything like that, but you can expect to see mainstream all-ages hits.
And if you want to round out your bikini-clad dinner and a movie outing, you can also do the gondola rides on the lake, or just buy a s’mores kit for around $10 from Southwest Bistro and make your own dessert over one of the fire pits. Romance isn't dead at the Dive In.
Gainey Ranch http://scottsdale.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels-scottsdale/activities/pool/index.jsp