CRITICS' PICKS ‌ Culture, Arts & Entertainment 

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Best New Art Walk
Upper King Street Design Walk
October 2005
The French Quarter Art Walk will always hold a special place in our too-broke-to-buy-but-love-to-look, free-wine-and-cheese-lovin' hearts, but the hottest new ticket for peninsular freeloaders is without a doubt the Upper King Design Walk. There are no measly grapes and Costco soda crackers here; the practicality (note we didn't say affordability) of the housewares at places like Dwelling, Haute Design, King Street Antique Mall, Read Brothers, and others is juxtaposed with diverse and delectable noshes from acclaimed Upper King-area eateries like Chai's, Coast, Five Loaves Café, Fish, and 39 Rue de Jean. The last walk, held in October, featured beverages ranging from the traditional red and white wine to champagne to, in a stroke of originality, Red Bull and vodka at B'zar. The next design walk is scheduled for the end of April, just in time to blow that tax return money -- or not, as the case may be. --Sara Miller

Best New Small Works Artist
Gary Grier in Small Works, April 2005
Robert Lange Studios, 151 East Bay St. Downtown 805-8052
P. Diddy would be giddy. Grier, whose first client was none other than the Puffmeister, has been making his mark on the Charleston art scene with still life and figurative work. He made a big impression in Small Works, the Robert Lange Studios exhibition, and also has oils hung at the Wells Gallery and various spaces in his home city of Savannah. His lightness of touch, prolific output, and experimentation with different subjects makes him an artist to watch, whatever the size of his work. —Nick Smith

Best Short-Lived Real World Gig
Kevin Hanley at Redux Contemporary Art Center
136 St. Philip St. Downtown 722-0697
It was only so long before Chord and Pedal patriarch Kevin Hanley bumped heads with the board of directors at Redux Contemporary Art Center. The music promoter landed the job of first full-time executive director at the progressive visual art center early in 2005, handling exhibits selected by the board and prepped by his part-time predecessor, Bob Snead. There were some good results, including a freak show tie-in with the Halsey's Alive Inside exhibition for Piccolo Spoleto (any exhibition that includes a mummified mermaid is all right in our book), and certainly no shortage of live music concerts on the tiny Redux stage. Yet Hanley resigned from his post after his first self-originated event, the Sawaguzo! festival, citing differences of opinion over choices for future shows. In hindsight, maybe tapping a musician and self-confessed champion of autonomy like Hanley for a visual arts-related administrative nine-to-fiver in a little office for long hours and low pay wasn't a natural slam dunk. Who coulda guessed? —Nick Smith

Best Psycho Pop Art
Caleb Weintraub's Pop Goesthe Apocalypse, Spring 2005
Redux Contemporary Art Center, 136 St. Philip St. Downtown
Citing Mad Magazine, the Garbage Pail Kids, and the fascinating fakery of WWF wrestling as his influences, Indiana-based Caleb Weintraub depicted a dark future in Pop Goes the Apocalypse, a memorable kindergarten crop of social satire. For four weeks, Redux was filled with paintings of wailing babies playing Russian roulette, pregnant preteens, and a kiddie-filled strip joint, with lots of bubble-gum colored blood throughout. Under normal circumstances, such tableaux would be about as welcome as a wanker at a wake, but Weintraub's light, cartoonish touch was deft enough to let him get away with murder, so to speak. With his accompanying wry comments on lax parenting and video game violence, Weintraub's psycho pop art made its points with unsettling verve. —Nick Smith

Best Way to Demolish a Neighborhood
De(Re)Construct, April 2005
Mixson Avenue, North Charleston
For last April's collaborative installation show De(Re)Construct, a score of Charleston area artists transformed 13 houses just before they were to be destroyed, turning the houses into works of art in the brief window between asbestos removal and demolition. At one time the historic John C. Calhoun Homes site -- 43 acres in the southwest part of the Park Circle area -- boasted 202 white, one-story wood-frame structures, mostly duplexes, built in 1941 for shipbuilders during the war. But I'On Group, the Mixson Avenue developer, asked artists to turn the abandoned, gutted homes into brief site-specific installations prior to being leveled. There was some remarkable creativity on display: a few artists shared homes, others had entire buildings all to themselves. An evening visit to the site had the feel of trick-or-treating, with visitors wandering from house to house. The runaway favorite: Folly Beach artist Carl Janes turned half of one duplex into a "Ghost House," capturing a moment in time by stringing up clothes to represent invisible people and playing recordings of household noises like showers running and food cooking. It's the best way we've yet seen of starting a neighborhood anew. Now, if we could just do the same thing with the Mazyck-Wraggborough NIMBYs... --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Use of Art
South Carolina Heart Gallery
www.scheartgallery.org(800) 922-1518
It started years ago, with an adoption caseworker in New Mexico bemoaning the uninspired "mug shots" that accompanied each child's case file. Since that time, photographers have donated their time and talent to capture on film the unique personality, or "heart," of children in traditionally hard-to-place categories (ethnic, sibling groups, kids with mental or physical impairments). South Carolina established its own Heart Gallery last year, gathering volunteer shutterbugs and arranging gallery showings. We even had three portraits selected late last year to appear in the National Heart Gallery at Union Station in New York City and the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. We really got a kick out of the most recent site selected for a photo shoot -- our own Children's Museum of the Lowcountry on Ann Street. More important, the kids got a kick out of being there, and they're what the S.C. Heart Gallery is all about. --Jason A. Zwiker

Best East-Meets-West
Sawaguzo!, Oct. 27-Nov. 5, 2005
Redux Contemporary Art Center In late Oct. '05, the Sawaguzo! festival -- organized by Kevin Hanley and other smarties at Redux Contemporary Arts Center -- kicked off a week-long celebration of Japanese-themed visual art, music, film, cuisine, and culture. The seven-day festival kicked off Sawaguzo!'s centerpiece, a month-long exhibition of new work by three Japanese-born contemporary artists, Aya Kakeda, Miwa Koizumi, and Fumiha Tanaka, which remained on view through November. The festival featured Japanese, Asian-American, and Asian-inspired musical acts such as DMBQ, Green Milk from the Planet Orange, Yukari Yucca, Shinji Masuko, and Shellshag who mingled and jammed with such local music groups as Genrevolta, Maniquinn, and others. A two-night "Japanese Horror Film Fest" packed with Japan's goriest, strangest films by directors like Takeshi Miike added mightily to the vibe. --T. Ballard Lesemann

click to enlarge Best Theatre Company (Theatre 99) owners the Have Nots! have established a beachhead at 280 Meeting Street
  • Best Theatre Company (Theatre 99) owners the Have Nots! have established a beachhead at 280 Meeting Street

Best Lecture Interrupted by Godzilla
Aya Kakeda, Fumiha Tanaka, and Miwa Koizumi, October 2005
Simons Center for the Arts, 54 St. Philip St. Downtown
All college lecture formats need a shake-up now and again. What better to do that than a 100-meter-tall radioactive dinosaur? As part of Redux Contemporary Art Center's Sawaguzo! festival (see above), three giggling Japanese artists gave a talk at CofC's Simons Center for the Arts. To wrap up the event, they ran screaming from the college in the shadow of Godzilla, projected on one wall of the lecture room while images of the Earth loomed on another. Maybe the monster was after Miwa Koizumi's edible art -- tastier than any Toho Studio extra. --Nick Smith

Best Way to Get Up Close and Personal With Fine Art
Charleston Fine Art Dealers Association's Plein Air Affair, Nov. 2005
Washington Park, Downtown
Some 25 artists from 12 of the city's most illustrious galleries descend upon sleepy Washington Park each November to give the cognoscenti a peek at raw talent in the CFADA's annual Plein Air Affair. Canvases of all sizes come alive as the morning unfolds while collectors stand mesmerized by every brushstroke. The artists happily interact with the bystanders and answer questions about technique and palette choices, which makes for a wholly interactive art demonstration. The paintings created during the Plein Air Affair are all put up for auction that evening, and the money raised benefits Charleston County High School Art Programs. —Ida Becker

Best New Gallery
53 Cannon St. Gallery
53 Cannon St. Downtown 853-2004
Yes, Lese Corrigan's new gallery/studio is a welcome addition to the downtown art scene, and Robert M. Hicklin Jr.'s Gallery at Freshfields is worth a drive to the tail end of Johns Island. But in those venues you can't have a bite to eat with the artist in his kitchen while simultaneously viewing his work and, on occasion, the objects that inspired him. With his daughter Currie working as director, representational artist William McCullough has transformed a house into a significant gallery where art abounds in bedrooms, bathrooms, and hallways. Its location and the success of its group exhibitions have proven that a gallery doesn't have to be in the French Quarter to find a following. Add some imaginative shows that have given a fresh twist to nudes, landscapes, and still-life themes, and the results are worth writing home about. —Nick Smith

Best Hotel Lobby Art
The Sanctuary
1 Sanctuary Beach Dr. Kiawah Island 683-1234
It's an intriguing idea -- get Karen Larson Turner, an acclaimed artist with a year-round studio in Charleston, to paint huge, 28-foot-high murals of marsh scenes in muted, earthy tones. But leave humongous holes in the art to make room for doorways and stairwells. It's a testament to Turner's work that it still manages to evoke wide open spaces while being hemmed in by the innards of a busy hotel. Despite the compromised aesthetics, the artist's massive murals still make Kiawah's ostentatious Sanctuary a thing of beauty on the inside, creating a space where you can sit and admire the outdoor scenery even when a storm hits. (And you can peruse Turner's smaller works at the Wells Gallery just a few feet down the hallway.) --Nick Smith

Best Eclectic Art Show
Different Artists, Different Mediums, Dec. 2005
1964 Ashley River Road West Ashley
Brenda Cook didn't want the old 96 Wave offices in West Ashley to go to waste, so in December she rounded up 18 artists to fill the 3,000-square-foot space with paintings, installations, sculptures, and posters for Different Artists, Different Mediums. Such an eclectic mix of minds — from sound installation artist Philip White to Piccolo poster girl Bea Aaronson — could have led to a mess of a show. But with each artist in a separate, self-curated space and Cook overseeing the project, the end result was the efficient, multilayered kind of show you might find in New York, without the associated attitude. The place got so jam-packed that some art couldn't even be displayed; Cook's examples of New York art, along with flyers and photos, were stuffed in drawers, to the delight of extra-curious visitors. Most important of all, there wasn't just a single special event (usually reserved for an exhibition's opening reception) — there were lots, held every Saturday throughout December. The performance art at these occasions provided an excuse, as if any were needed, to party every weekend. —Nick Smith

Best Institutional Art Show
Beyond Representation: Abstract Art in the South, Spring 2005
Gibbes Museum of Art, 135 Meeting St. Downtown
For those of the opinion that any bumpkin with a paintbrush can create great abstract art, Beyond Representation must have come as a shock. From the eye-catching Corrie McCallum banner to subtle contributions from Michael Tyzack and Edward Jennings, the show was a greatest hits compilation of non-representational pieces. This collection was put together by chief curator Angela Mack with the highest respect for the form, helping viewers track abstract art's progress through the 20th century and showing off the form's potential when it's done right. Works by Henri Matisse and Joan Miro were accompanied by down-home pieces from Eva Carter, Brian Rutenberg, and Red Grooms. With all kinds of media and moods covered, this feast sated the appetite without spoiling the palette. —Nick Smith

click to enlarge Best reminder to stock up on Colt .45: Billy Dee Williams
  • Best reminder to stock up on Colt .45: Billy Dee Williams

Best Reminder to Stock Up on Colt .45
Billy Dee Williams, Oct./Nov. 2005
Richard James Galleries, 231 King St. Downtown 577-9122
To most of us, Billy Dee Williams is a smooth-talkin' space scoundrel, grinning malt liquor pitchman, and the best Batman villain who never was. But the actor that Tim Burton originally cast as Two Face showed another side when he exhibited his original paintings at the Richard James Galleries, using airbrushed acrylics to create fantastic versions of sportsmen, musicians, and dream realms. With shades of Edward Hopper, M.C. Escher, and Thomas Hart Benton, the art was as charming as the man himself — humble, laid back, and very, very cool. —Nick Smith

Best Name Change
The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
54 St. Philip St. Downtown 953-5680
Last fall, the progressive-minded exhibition space long known as the William Halsey Gallery, located in the College of Charleston's Simons Center for the Arts, underwent a smart name change. The newly-christened Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art is still the same place it's always been -- one of the precious few outposts in town for genuinely contemporary exhibitions of artwork from around the world -- but the new name better points up what the Halsey is. Which is less a gallery than what director and senior curator Mark Sloan calls a modern, European-style kunsthalle: a site for explosive, innovative, temporary exhibits that make brief but big impressions. The new name also better reflects the range of activities and programs the Halsey offers to artists and the community, engaged as it is in the broader issues surrounding international contemporary art. The name will sound even better once the Halsey finally opens its doors in the soon-to-be-constructed new Marion and Wayland H. Cato Jr. Center for the Arts next door. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Place to Channel Professor Henry Higgins
The Friends of the Library's Book Fest
Gaillard Exhibition Hall, 77 Calhoun St. Downtown 805-6801
Where else can a dozen provocative titles be scored for pennies on the dollar? With over 60,000 books to choose from, odds are everyone can find at least one literary gem at the Friends' annual BookFest. And while you might have known the fall event is a good place to pick up beatnik titles and coffee table treasures, we'll bet you didn't know the sale raises upwards of $80,000 for the Friends, which funds a variety of initiatives, including the purchase of new books for children in the Headstart program. R.I.F. = Reading is Fantabulous. --Ida Becker

Best News for Local Writers
The Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts
When the Humanities Center at Rutledge and Carolina streets booted out its few full-time tenants and closed up shop a few weeks ago, many folks feared the worst. But it looks as though the former church may soon become the permanent home of the Lowcountry Initiative for the Literary Arts, a project created by local writers for local writers. The Initiative, known by the friendly acronym LILA, will be a place where scribes can do what they do best, and much more besides. It will include classrooms, writing studios, book club rooms, reading rooms, study desks, computer labs, a library, and, if all goes as hoped, a huge performance space in the building's second-floor theatre. It's a welcome plan for an underused facility -- and the fact that it's located in Charleston's up-and-coming West Side is particularly groovy. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Ironic Literary Moment
Author Charlie Geer's Book Signing
Local author and lit professor Charlie Geer earned praise locally and abroad for his colorful novel Outbound: The Curious Secession of Latter-Day Charleston -- a wild-eyed, tongue-in-cheek tale about native Charlestonians ("those born right the first time") who find themselves floating adrift into the Atlantic after the lower peninsula breaks away from the mainland. In it, he mercilessly skewers Charleston bluebloods (among many others). Upon its release last spring, Geer hit the obligatory circuit of promotional events and book signings -- one of which took place in his family's side yard just off The Battery, where, ironically, he signed autographs for the very Charlestonians he lampooned in the book. The best part: they didn't have a clue. --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Freshman Fiction Effort
Beth Webb Hart's Grace at Low Tide
Local author Beth Webb Hart's agent shopped her first novel around to lots of publishing houses, but few cared for the book's ending. Her main character's luckless situation doesn't substantially improve -- although the young protagonist undergoes an inner change that comes to her through divine grace. When a Christian publisher finally picked up the title, Grace at Low Tide, Hart's ship came in. Since the book's release last July, it's sold well over 10,000 copies, and in December Hart signed an additional four-book contract with the publisher, Westbow Press of Thomas Nelson, Inc. Hart's expecting her second novel, Adelaide Piper, to be released in June. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Sophomore Fiction Effort
Sue Monk Kidd's The Mermaid Chair
Local girl Sue Monk Kidd made one of the book world's most stratospheric debuts with her 2003 novel The Secret Life of Bees, which Penguin launched with an initial print run of 400,000. After almost 30 additional printings, Kidd had a total of nearly four million copies in print and 113 consecutive weeks on the trade paperback charts. Bees was chosen as the 2004 BookSense Paperback Book of the Year and one of Good Morning America's "Read This!" Book Club picks. Not bad for a first time at bat. Her second novel, The Mermaid Chair, debuted last spring at No. 2 on the New York Times Bestseller List and hit No. 1 in June. Since then, it's sold more than 850,000 copies, and was finally released last month in paperback. It's now being adapted into a Lifetime movie and it won the 2005 Quills Book Award for General Fiction. Who said anything about a sophomore slump? --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Intelligently Lascivious Read
Blair Tindall's Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music
Charlestonians first met Blair Tindall last May when she stepped into the shoes of the late Robert T. Jones as The Post and Courier's Spoleto Overview columnist. Tindall is a conservatory-trained oboist who spent 20-some years as a struggling professional musician in New York. She's also a Stanford University journalism graduate. Her first book, Mozart in the Jungle: Sex, Drugs, and Classical Music, hit stores just a couple of weeks after Spoleto ended last summer, and the semi-memoir turned out to be an excellent way to get to know Tindall better. Much, much better. The book's essentially an indictment of the bloated classical music industry and its institutional foundations, using Tindall's own experience inside it as an illustrative case in point. While the book contains lots of facts and numbers and plenty of well-researched critical analysis, one of the most commonly cited figures is Tindall's -- in various states of undress and mild debauchery. And they say classical music is boring. --Patrick Sharbaugh

click to enlarge The symphonys Out of the Box Series proved to be the Best New Outreach Idea of the year
  • The symphonys Out of the Box Series proved to be the Best New Outreach Idea of the year

Best Stand-up Comedy in a Rock Club Moment
Todd Barry at the Village Tavern, May 3, 2005
Dealing with an attentive full-house and a few scraggly hecklers, perpetually worried-looking New York-based comedian Todd Barry performed an unusually lively set at the Village Tavern last May. Barry, quick and polite with the crowd, made the unusual situation work. He killed with every line, singled out a pair of tattooed indie slackers huddled by the front of the stage, and poked fun at the decor of the venue itself, calling it the "Bennigan's of the punk club circuit ... with a great grilled cheese sandwich dish featured on the specials board." —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Ongoing Effort to Land on All Six Feet
The Have Nots! and Theatre 99
280 Meeting St. Downtown 853-6687
After abandoning their first home on Cumberland Street when rising rent forced them out two and a half years ago, local comedy trio The Have Nots! took their umbrella performance company, Theatre 99, to the American Theater on King as a temporary squat. Then, last spring, Timmy, Brandy, and Greg were elated when they finally found a permanent home at 280 Meeting St., a huge cavern of a room above The Bicycle Shoppe. Elation promptly turned to dismay when they learned Ansonborough residents were mobilizing to oppose their effort and that, in addition, they were going to need a zoning variance to accommodate parking requirements. Supporters came out of the woodwork for the variance meeting, Ansonborough folks ultimately took a neutral stand on the theatre, and the variance was approved. But no sooner was the incident behind them than the trio realized they'd need to install a $20,000 fire exit and stairwell. Done and done. Nine months later, the new Theatre 99 is an unmitigated success. Just don't mention the $20,000 wheelchair lift they still have to install... --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Way to Get a New Music Fix Outside of Spoleto
The New Music Collective
Nathan Koci, Philip White, and Ron Wiltrout are trained musicians who have chosen to take a different path than most people their age. Not for them are the screaming, thrashing crowds of local rock clubs, nor do they have any interest in donning their dress blacks and taking up residence in a symphonic orchestra. Instead, they've created a chamber group that focuses on the musical regions where the two genres overlap -- what's known in classical corners as "new music." It's the kind of stuff that Spoleto associate director John Kennedy sticks in his Music in Time series: weird, wonderful, eccentric, and wholly outside the canon of the classical "greats." Koci, White, and Wiltrout have a churning pool of other local musicians they work with, and they often perform their own original compositions in addition to those of masters like Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen, and others. If there's a local group who's doing for music what Redux is for visual art and PURE is for theatre, the NMC is it. —Patrick Sharbaugh

Best New Outreach Idea
The Charleston Symphony Orchestra's Out of the Box Series
In an era when orchestras across the country are struggling just to retain existing members -- let alone bring in new subscribers -- the Charleston Symphony is one of many organizations facing a difficult situation. They deserve a hand for thinking outside of the box, though, and that's exactly the point of their new Out of the Box performance series. Last fall, the CSO organized an original short film competition around five short music selections from their repertoire. In October, they screened the four silent films submitted (all of them noteworthy in their own fashion), with the orchestra accompanying each. The event was a huge hit, particularly with the young professional set that's proven so elusive. A second event in late November paired improv comedians The Have Nots! with the CSO for an improv opera entitled The Marriage of ... Carmen?. It's anyone's guess whether the efforts will actually translate into an uptick in season memberships, but at least the musicians seem to be enjoying themselves. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best New Outdoor Music Event
Music Under the Oaks, Oct 2005
The Cistern, 66 George St. Downtown
Once upon a time, there was little chance of hearing music at the College of Charleston's atmospheric Cistern at George and St. Philip streets unless you bought tickets to a Spoleto jazz performance -- or wandered past a humming, headphone-wearing CofC student on the grassy lawn. That ended on a Saturday last October when the School of the Arts presented Music Under the Oaks, a midafternoon concert featuring the College of Charleston Orchestra performing Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Haydn in the open air. Admission was free, refreshments were available, and the place was packed with sprawling picnickers and musicians. Missed the first one? Catch version 2.0 on April 2 at 4 p.m. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Place to Get a Brush with Royalty
Patrick's Pub and Grill
1377 Ashley River Dr. West Ashley571-3435
At Patrick's, the queens reign supreme. (Snap!) Vivaque Dubois, Nomi Devereaux, Jazmyn Devereaux, Dabiana Diamond, Hanna D'vos, and Lady Kassandra are among local royalty and, honey, don't they know it. Their Saturday night Ladies of Illusion show represents hours of rehearsals, and it's solid gold entertainment. Every so often, they put a little extra polish on their crowns and host a show-stopping charity benefit, so keep an eye on the schedule and practice your curtsy. --Ida Becker

Best Idea for the Old Trolley Barn
A center for progressive arts
The City's lately been considering what to do with the old Trolley Barn at 665 Meeting Street it recently acquired from the state D.O.T. They want to make certain that any use to which the 16,000-square-foot space is put benefits the surrounding community on upper Meeting Street, and of course city residents in general. Our own favorite idea: a multipurpose progressive arts center. With exhibition space, performance space, office space and studio space for artists, there'd still be room in the massive facility for ping-pong. The benefit to artists, residents, and the community is self-evident, and Charleston's in sore need of a few good new performance spaces. If you see Charleston Civic Design Center director Michael Maher, tell him you love the idea. —Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Time to Be an Arts Administrator in Search of Work
Right Now
Help wanted: a half dozen downtown arts organizations seeking qualified administrative types. Salary commensurate with experience (but don't expect much). Since last spring, a whole host of local arts orgs lost critical team members and, with only a few exceptions, are still trying to replace them. Spoleto Festival USA has been seeking a new marketing and public relations director since June; Redux Contemporary Art Center needs to fill its executive director chair, and Footlight Theatre likewise needs a new E.D. The Gibbes Museum of Art finally found a replacement for Betsy Fleming in new director Todd Smith, who starts in the position today, incidentally -- and a top priority for him will be hiring a marketing and PR director to replace Kelly Linton, as well as a special events coordinator to replace ex-Gibbes Girl Annie Panno. With the CofC's Todd McNerney taking over as chair of the college's Theatre Department, he's unavailable this spring to coordinate Piccolo Spoleto's theatre series, as he's done from time immemorial (though we hear there's a sub in the bullpen). It's a seller's market, if you're selling arts management skills. --Patrick Sharbaugh

click to enlarge Best House Band/Best Cover Band Plane Jane cover the rock n roll lifestyle too, pictured here with some groupies inside A Star Limo (Best Limo Service)
  • Best House Band/Best Cover Band Plane Jane cover the rock n roll lifestyle too, pictured here with some groupies inside A Star Limo (Best Limo Service)

Best Idea for Performance Spaces
Alliance for the Performing Arts
Gaillard Auditorium is an outdated warthog of a venue with terrible acoustics. At 2,800 seats, it's too cavernous to host top-notch symphony or opera productions. Yet it fills those seats several dozen times each year, between performances from Spoleto Festival and the Charleston Concert Association. Meanwhile, a half dozen small arts organizations are seeking permanent homes and performance venues. What to do? Local arts advocate Nella Barkley created the ad hoc group known as the Alliance for the Performing Arts last spring as a response to what she and many others saw as a need for better and more appropriate performance venues in town -- both large and small. The group, working with the city and several renowned consultants, expects to create a master venue plan and generate some cross-organization collaborations. If nothing else, it's been a success for getting every performing arts organization in town into a single room for networking and conversation on a few occasions -- which can't be anything but a good thing. As for new performance venues, see "Best Idea for the Old Trolley Barn." —Patrick Sharbaugh

Best New Arts Angel
The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation
It's no exaggeration to suggest that the Donnelley Foundation is in the process of completely transforming Charleston's cultural landscape. In the past three years, the Chicago philanthropic organization has become a huge presence in the Charleston arts community, among performing and visual arts organizations in every corner of the city. With a bankroll of $140 million and a mission that specifically calls for investment in the artistic community of the South Carolina Lowcountry, the Donnelley Foundation's making the kind of impact on Charleston artists and audiences that we haven't seen since the arrival of the Spoleto Festival in 1977. And the Donnelley has taken an unusually proactive approach to the concept of "support" that's as much about beefing up administrative and organizational strength as it is about doling out the cash. In fiscal year 2005, the foundation had some 15 local organizations in its books, to the tune of $457,500. They include the Chamber Music Society of Charleston, the Gibbes Museum of Art, the Charleston Artists Guild, the Charleston Concert Association, the Charleston Symphony Orchestra, the CofC's Halsey Institute and Avery Research Center, Drayton Hall, Footlight Theatre, the Flowertown Players in Summerville, Mepkin Abbey, Redux Contemporary Art Center, the S.C. Historical Society, and Charleston Ballet Theatre. Chicago, it seems, is our kind of town. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best New Movie Star
Mike Purro
South Windermere Cinemas, 94 Folly Road West Ashley 556-1073
Mike Purro, the 40-year-old owner and manager of the South Windermere Cinemas on Folly Road, died from a heart attack in 2005. A great supporter of local filmmaking and indie movies, he actively encouraged short film screenings and premieres, low ticket prices, and a relaxed, fun atmosphere in his two-screen cinema. His passion for independent film was as strong as his frustration with Hollywood distribution methods; his website still includes his no-nonsense request that a neighboring art house cinema "shits or gets off the pot" and stops withholding options to screen films. That's the kind of guy he was, suffering neither fools nor distributors gladly, with a self-styled dedication to independent art. His family's continued running of the theatre is an appropriate legacy. --Nick Smith

Best One-Day, New-Agey Feel-good Film Series
Unity Spirit Film Festival
Unity Church of Charleston, 2535 Leeds Ave. North Charleston. 566-0600
In February, Unity Church of Charleston — known for being one of the friendliest congregations in the city — invited the public to stop by to watch some movies that embody the spirit of, well, unity. It was an all-day event, with homemade health food for sale and all proceeds benefiting the church. Films ranged from Pay It Forward to The Last of His Tribe, about the last free-ranging Native American who's forced to enter modern society. A highlight was The Indigo Evolution, a documentary that purports the existence of "Indigo children," extremely advanced youngsters with incredible abilities. It all made for a relaxing day filled with thought-provoking films, food, and fellowship. — Anna Claire Hodge

Best News For the Local Film Industry
S.C. Film Industry Tax Incentives
In 1999, South Carolina saw an estimated $115 million total economic impact from the motion picture industry. In 2002, the State of Louisiana passed into law the most generous tax incentive package for film production companies in North America. The following year in South Carolina, movie producers spent less than $8 million, while Louisiana raked in 23 times that figure. In the face of a massive exodus of professional talent and money, S.C. legislators finally got busy last May and passed our own version of film industry bait: the bill increased an existing wage tax rebate from 5 percent to 15 percent (capped at $10 million), increased a goods and services tax rebate from 7 percent to 15 percent, and increased the cap from 13 percent of the Admissions Tax Collection (about $3 million) to 26 percent (about $6 million). The upshot: South Carolina is now in line with some of the most competitive tax incentive programs offered by any state in the nation. Unfortunately, almost a year later, many other states have done exactly the same thing. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best A/V Club Graduate
Kevin Crothers
If you've noticed the steady increase in interesting events happening at the Charleston County Public Library, the dedicated man to thank is media specialist and A/V department head dude Kevin Crothers. Crothers, a lifelong musician and general A/V guru, actively works to bring culture to his corner of our small town through the monthly Film Movement series, in which independent, art-house films are shown on the big screen in the Main Library's auditorium, and his ongoing efforts to promote local music during Piccolo Spoleto through his Local Blend series, in which a diverse lineup of local bands perform in the auditorium at times that work for all age groups. Perhaps best of all, each live musical performance at the library is captured on digital audio and video equipment and put on the library's website for future enjoyment. Not to mention the mountains of new CDs and DVDs Crothers has brought into the library's collection. Bravo, Kevin, and thanks for keeping your inner A/V geek entertained and entertaining for us all. --Sara Miller

Best Rock 'n' Roll Douchebag Moment
Ryan Adams at the N. Charleston Performing Arts Center
5001 Coliseum Dr. N. Charleston
Singer/guitarist Ryan Adams spent two days staggering around town before his band's show at the N. Charleston Performing Arts Center last June — long enough for him to find and read New York-based music writer Mike Conklin's assessment of him in the City Paper music section: "He's pretty much rewritten the rule book on how to be a douchebag rock star — canoodling with celebrities, insulting his fans, and let's not forget the incident with the angry voice-mails on Chicago music critic Jim DeRogatis' answering machine after the renowned rock scribe published a negative review of Adams' live show." Adams angrily phoned the City Paper office, ended up on the line with an editor, and spouted off at length about the unfairness of such accusations. Eventually, he calmed down enough to invite the staff to the show with backstage passes. Later, during the show, Adams spent some of his stage time regaling the bewildered crowd with his uncanny insight into journalistic standards and practices. Wow! This guy's smart! —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Old-School Concert
Kool & The Gang, July 16, 2005
Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina, 20 Patriots Point Road Mt. Pleasant
During the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge opening celebrations in July, old-school funk-pop ensemble Kool & The Gang played a surprisingly rousing set of classics on the outside stage at the Charleston Harbor Resort & Marina. The setting was a bit rough: sticky summer weather, overpriced beer and food, under-mowed concert grounds, and overly-tight security, but opening song "She's Fresh" was a loud, four-on-the-floor kickoff to what would become one of the top outdoor concerts of the year. Get down on it, fo' sho'. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Use of a High School Band
Dennis DeYoung, Oct. 26, 2005
N. Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum Drive N. Charleston
While some high-schoolers get out there and go for the gold on the playing fields or in the academic halls, others collaborate with certifiable rock gods. Such was the case for the young musicians of the Wando High School concert band, who were hired on to collaborate with the vocalist Dennis DeYoung (of Styx fame) for an extravagant onstage performance in October, including grandiose renditions of such classic FM hits as "Lady," "Come Sail Away," "Grand Illusion," "Best of Times," and "Mr. Roboto." —T. Ballard Lesemann

click to enlarge La Bella Dormente nel Bosco provided the Best Puppetry of the Spoleto 2005 season
  • La Bella Dormente nel Bosco provided the Best Puppetry of the Spoleto 2005 season

Best Venue for Hippies and Jam Bands
The 'New' Pour House
1977 Maybank Hwy. James Island 571-4343
Adjacent to the newly-opened El Bohio Cuban restaurant, this groovy rock club successfully made the move from its tiny digs on Savannah Highway to a much bigger room just a few blocks off Folly Road on Maybank Highway. Since officially reopening in early September, the club has established itself as a major live music venue in town, drawing a variety of bluesy, jam-based rock and jazz acts from all over. Guitarist Graham Whorley and many other local musicians play here on a weekly basis. Some of the bigger-name Jambase.com acts draw so many that parking spills over the highway into The Terrace's lot. Proprietors Alex and Vanessa Harris should be proud. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Johnny Cash Imitation
Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits
Coastal Carolina Fair, Oct. 2005
Peter Noone, longtime grinning frontman for British Invasion group Herman's Hermits, sang a remarkably close rendition of the Man in Black's "Folsom Prison" when the Hermits performed at the Coastal Carolina Fair in October — an odd but admirable feat for a giggly soprano with a Manc brogue. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Second Best Johnny Cash Imitation
Arleigh Hertzler of the Defilers
Arleigh Hertzler, guitarist and lead singer for local trio The Defilers, regularly conjures the Cash spirit, applying a low-rumbling, gurgly vibrato to the lyrics with determination through every Defilers show. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Gathering of Rockabilly Rockers
The Rogue 66 Festival, Sept. 3, 2005
Kick'n Horse Entertainment Complex, Awendaw
So many tats and pompadours haven't assembled in one place since they filmed The Wild One in '53. The first (and likely only, considering what it netted) Rogue 66 Festival, billed as "a rock 'n' roll weekend of Southern revelry," took place over two days and nights in September at the sprawling Kickn' Horse Entertainment Complex out in Awendaw. Organized by Rock Star Entertainment, two dozen local and visiting rockabilly, punk, and hard rock bands (including Hank Williams III) played on the outdoor stage while a full-on motorcycle showcase arranged by the folks at American Biker filled the yards around the main tavern. They pulled it off, save for a few beer-fueled scuffles. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Album For Children from a Local Band
Tajar Tracks by Sol Driven Train
The guys in local ensemble Sol Driven Train are well-known among fans for their musical versatility. But local fans can be forgiven if they didn't expect them to release a kid's sing-a-long album titled Tajar Tracks last fall. Most of the members of the Charleston roots-groove band spent the summer working with a few dozen teenagers at Camp Gwynn Valley in Brevard, N.C. During their stay, they recorded a top-quality collection of original, upbeat, family-friendly tunes featuring vocal performances from camp kids as well as piano work from longtime camp staffer Debbie Debord. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Local Band Rebirth
The Fire Apes
www.thefireapes.com
On Oct. 15, the new-and-improved version of The Fire Apes — led by singer, guitarist, and main songwriter John Seymour — officially reintroduced themselves to Charleston with a big comeback show at Cumberland's. Replete with a massive light and fog show and a new lineup — drummer Tommy Hamer (formerly of Astrojet), bassist Julian Volpe (a longtime Fire Apes collaborator), and keyboardist Matt Bivins (recently of Jump). They dazzled the crowd as if it were the old days, and carried on triumphantly into '06.—T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Local Band Resurfacing
The Killer Whales, Sept. 23 & 24, 2005
Bert's Island Characters, Sullivan's Island
As the Killer Whales, lead singer and guitarist David Bethany, bassist Jim Blakeslee, and drummer Murphy Pitts were one of Charleston's busiest and most original bands in the mid-1980s, playing an accented hybrid of rock, new-wave, and vintage frat-rock a la Motown. In one of their rare reunion shows, they blew the tiles off the roof at Bert's during a two-night stint last spring. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Bourgeois Music Event
'Blues Bash By the Sea,' June 26, 2005
Kiawah Island
Last June, Gary "Shrimp City Slim" Erwin — organizer of the annual Lowcountry Blues Bash —brought some authentic live blues to an exclusive audience at Night Heron Park and the oh-so-tony Rivercourse Club. The irony was almost palpable. No report on whether anyone passed the Grey Poupon. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Local Musician Done Good
Clay Ross
After graduating from CofC in '98, jazz guitarist Clay Ross made his mark on the local jazz scene and eventually relocated to N.Y.C., where he formed his own combo, released a solo album titled The Random Puller, collaborated in the studio and on the road with Beat the Donkey (led by percussionist Cyro Baptista), and became a "U.S. Jazz Ambassador" for Uncle Sam, selected by the U.S. State Department to tour non-Western regions of the world. Good job, kid — ya done good. —T. Ballard Lesemann

Best '80s Flashback
Morris Day and the Time, Sept. 4, 2005
North Charleston Performing Arts Center, 5001 Coliseum Drive, N. Charleston
It was the closest we could get last year to being extras in Purple Rain, as well as a chance for some plucky patrons to do "The Bird" on stage with The Time. Attendance was a little low, but we wouldn't have guessed it from the boisterous performance from Jay and Silent Bob's favorite band, or the enthusiastic response they got. Atlanta resident and Time frontman Morris Day sang all the '80s hits expected of him, including "Jungle Love" and "777-9311," with his energetic sidekick Jerome Benton stepping into the audience and using the plentiful extra space to build a strong rapport with the crowd. --Nick Smith

Best Alternate Music Venue
Warehouse Bowl
The ass end of James Island
At a moment when Charleston seems otherwise void of good ol' down-and-dirty rock clubs where it's OK to sweat, swear, and slam around with your fellow revelers, the James Island Skate Park has proven itself a damn fine alternative venue with exuberant shows from local bands like Motormouth Mabel and Genrevolta and out-of-towners like The Sex Slaves, from New York City. The "bar" consists of a keg or four stashed underneath the huge wooden skate bowl, where skateboarders drop precariously in and out as those just there for the tunes weave their way through the skaters perched on the edge awaiting their turns. There are no frilly rock-club amenities here -- like bathrooms, seating areas, or red wine -- and it's a good idea to keep an eye out for wayward skateboards flying out of the bowl, but, hey, a little danger makes everything more fun. And doesn't everyone enjoy a nice outdoor leak once in a while? --Sara Miller

Best Musical Society
Folly Beach Bluegrass Society
Café Suzanne, 4 Center St., Folly Beach 588-2101
Serving as a west-side headquarters for Charleston's bluegrass and mountain music scene, the Folly Beach Bluegrass Society hosts an open, weekly bluegrass and folk music session on Thursdays evenings at Café Suzanne on Folly Beach (and occasionally at Bowens Island and T.J. & Tommy's Guitar Bar). Acoustic pickers, singers, and songwriters can plug into the Society's web site -- ww.follybluegrass.org -- for updates on concerts and events, their lively message board, the Bluegrass Junkie newsletter, and links to local acts such as Common Ground and Blue Plantation and visiting bluegrass acts such as Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Hot Buttered String Band. Yee-haw! --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Open Drum Circle
Marion Square, Downtown
It's one thing to see and hear a troupe like the Adande Drum & Dance Company pound out some complex rhythms; it's another to endure a half-dozen stoners tapping on tablas, bongos, and djembes in loose unison. They don't want for enthusiasm, though. In the late afternoons on weekends in Marion Square, a passer-by might actually catch a groove (or be annoyed by one). --T. Ballard Lesemann

Best Illegal Music Venue
Lighthouse Inlet Heritage Preserve
The north tip of Folly Beach
If you can get the permits (not likely) or get away with doing it on the sly, the concrete foundation off the road that cuts through the overgrown old Coast Guard base at the north end of Folly Beach — now a preserve with the Heritage Trust Program administered by the Charleston County Parks and Rec. Dept. — is an ass-kicking good place for a punk show, which we discovered early last year when the Southeastern Anarchist Conference went down in Charleston. Ah, the many delights of an early spring night with brisk ocean breezes, homemade wine, warm cheap beer, crusty punk music, and legions of dirty punks smashing their bodies together under a floodlight powered by growling generator (biodiesel, unfortunately, wasn't available). —Benjamin Schlau

Best Appearance by a Local Military School in a Music Video
The Citadel in Dave Matthews Band's "American Baby" Video
Okay, so it's for only the briefest of moments. But they're in there. Try watching without blinking. —Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Onstage Fellatio
Mabou Mines Doll House, May 26, 2005
Spoleto Festival USA
It's not every day you go to a play at the Dock Street Theatre and catch a six-foot-tall woman simulating fellatio on a three-foot-tall adult male actor. Even during Spoleto's run of Mabou Mines DollHouse at last spring's festival, it wasn't every day audiences could catch it -- or even every performance. Lee Breuer, the director of Spoleto's centerpiece theatre event and all-round touchstone of contention, created huge buzz around his avant-garde adaptation of Chekhov's A Doll's House, with his unconventional casting and staging choices, the myriad alterations it underwent over the course of the festival -- with fellatio scene and without, plus or minus 45 minutes and a second intermission, naked lead actress vs. non-naked lead actress, all depending on the night one was there. As a result, the polarized critical and audience reactions to it were enough to make one long for the genteel civility of the last presidential election. —Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Onstage Head
Don Giovanni, May 29, 2005
Spoleto Festival USA
Spoleto's record-setting three operas last year included a $500,000 Don Giovanni that completely transformed the abandoned Memminger Auditorium into a rolling hillside dotted with cherry trees with spring, summer, and autumn foliage, a pair of water-filled pools, and a seating arrangement that eliminated all the chairs in favor of three clusters of stadium-style seating in the corners and along the sides of the stage. It also included not just one but two giant heads. In one corner, a massive crumbling noggin lay on its side in a small brook, as if fallen from a colossal statue. (It was based on the head of Michaelangelo's "David," incidentally.) Then at the play's end, when DG faces down the terrifying spirit of the man he killed at the play's beginning, another huge, stegosaurus-sized head slowly rises out of the floor, dripping leaves and soil, spitting flames and eventually consuming the opera's namesake as he's dragged into hell. That's what you call production value. —Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Proposed Reuse of a Church
Wraggborough Theatre Space
22 Elizabeth St. Downtown
In January, Charleston Stage Company founder and producer Julian Wiles announced that he'd finally figured out where his 28-year-old theatre company will go when its current home, the Dock Street Theatre, goes under the knife for a two-year facelift in spring 2007. He's hoping to retrofit the New Tabernacle Fourth Baptist Church, at the corner of Charlotte and Elizabeth Streets in Mazyck-Wraggborough, as a temporary site for their mainstage productions during the renovations, afterward turning it into a permanent facility. The neighbors were slow to react, but when they did it was with a vengeance. A zoning board variance meeting on Feb. 21 was overflowing with advocates and detractors, but officials bumped the issue to a later date for further consideration. Residents mostly complained about the feared effect a full-time theatre company could have on their residential neighborhood. Perhaps understandable, but it also smacks of kneejerk NIMBYism. After all, how many of us would kill to trade residences with someone who lives in the French Quarter downtown -- home to both the Dock Street Theatre and Footlight Theatre? --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Non-Use of a Historic Theatre
Urban Outfitters
371 King St. Downtown. 720-5293
In the end, those hoping to preserve the Garden Theatre at 371 King St. couldn't make it happen. The historic 1920s-era theatre, which began as a Jazz-Age movie cinema, was all but gutted last fall in the name of the further mallification of King Street. It's now merely a shell housing another soulless retail chain store -- Urban Outfitters, in this case. Virtually all that remains of the historic theatre, besides the brick walls (which were concealed behind plaster walls in the original structure) are the once-hidden staircase black residents took to their segregated seats in the balcony, and the proscenium arch that once cradled the stage -- now the site of dressing rooms and gum-smacking retail sales clerks. The most ironic slap in the face: tote bags that read "Save the Garden Theater -- Urban Outfitters." --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Set Squeezed Onto a Small Stage
The Village Repertory Company's A Little Night Music, Nov. 2005
The Village Playhouse, 730 Coleman Blvd. Mt. Pleasant
It was a challenge to top the Village Repertory Co.'s previous Steven Sondheim production, 2005's Into the Woods, in which actors sat in tree boughs and used the height of the Playhouse to great effect. But November's A Little Night Music did just that, expanding even further. A fold-out bed, a forest, rich furnishings, and a musical quintet helped to create the sense of a larger stage in this ingenious show. Playhouse founders Dave Reinwald and Keely Enright teamed up with the musical's director, Maida Libkin of the coproducing Company Company, to design the charming set, which was always fascinating but never detracted from the on-stage action. --Nick Smith

Best cause of Post-Christmas Stress Disorder
Theatre /verv/'s The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, Dec. 2005
Bar 145, Downtown
Theatre /verv/ offered up a truly different piece of Christmas fare last December. In Jeff Goode's play The Eight: Reindeer Monologues, Santa raped his way across the North Pole and left his violated reindeer with visions of more than just sugarplums spinning around in their heads. After hearing all about Santa and Mrs. Claus' penchant for booze, sexual depravity, and violence, we were left with an unhealthy fear of all things secular associated with Christmas (hey, who was behind this play after all?). When next Christmas rolls around and we see the first storefront Santa, with his beady little eyes and knowing smile, with his finger against his nose reminding us to keep the secret, we'll cover our cornholes and run screaming for the hills. --Jennifer Corley

Best Play Soundtrack
PURE Theatre's Spinning Into Butter, Sept. 2005
PURE Theatre, 701 East Bay St. Downtown
Franklin Ashley knows how to tap into the youthful, brutal, exciting essence of a piece of theatre. Ask anyone who saw PURE Theatre's production of Rebecca Gilman's Pulitzer-Prize-nominated play Spinning Into Butter, about racism in a stuffy Ivy-League setting, and most likely one of the things that will come up is how they used hip-hop music in the production. Didn't think 50 Cent and Eminem belonged in a play? Think again. Ashley, who directed the production, skillfully highlighted weighty issues in an MTV context by scoring the escalating action of the play to music that turned from a jazz standards version of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to gangsta rap. --Jennifer Corley

Best New Acting Temps
Crystin Gilmore and Zack Knudson
Charleston Stage Company, 135 Church St. Downtown
As a bubbly singer in Beehive!, a fortune teller in The Skin of Our Teeth, or as a minor player in other recent Charleston Stage Co. productions, Crystin Gilmore has stolen our hearts with her warm smile, terrific singing voice, and committed acting. She should be used even more. Zack Knudson, aside from his adept acting, has brought some wonderful sound design to Charleston Stage's productions. These two have injected a new, bright energy to the company's performances, and we'll miss them when they leave at the end of the season. --Jennifer Corley

Best Misunderstood Play
Charleston Stage Company's The Skin of our Teeth, Oct./Nov. 2005
Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St. Downtown.
Charleston Stage's production of Thornton Wilder's 1942 play The Skin of Our Teeth was a risk for the company -- possibly even the kind they'd be tempted not to take again. That would be a shame, though. Wilder's tragicomedy dealing with the human condition in all its glorious sadness, cyclical nature, and hopefulness was one that apparently proved too much for some audiences. Instead of being welcomed as a different kind of play from what patrons were used to seeing, Skin was walked out on, and Charleston Stage even received calls of complaint. It's one thing to simply dislike a play, but quite another to be so reactive. Clearly some people missed the point -- not only of the play, but of the entire theatergoing experience as well. Which was unfortunate. --Jennifer Corley

Best Theatre for After- Partying
The Village Playhouse
730 Coleman Blvd. Mt Pleasant. 856-1579
Even though downtown theatres are in close proximity to nearby eating and drinking establishments (and Theatre /verv/ performed inside Bar 145 until that bar went out of business last fall), The Village Playhouse in Mt. Pleasant has long provided the nicest atmosphere for a relaxed night of theatre-going following by booze-induced discussion-having. If patrons haven't gotten their fill of alcohol at the bar inside the cabaret-style playhouse itself, they've been able to amble across the parking lot and confab about the experience with their pals at The Lagerhead Tavern -- that is until the Tavern closed six weeks ago. Word has it the watering hole will be reopening in a week or so under new management as Fiddler's Green Pub. We hope so. Together, the theatre and the bar make for one great "theatre night" package. --Jennifer Corley

Best Spirit Award
Gene Glave
You have to love Gene Glave. She's like a one-person theatre cheerleading team. You've probably seen her -- she's a fixture at The Village Playhouse. But this curly-haired senior thespian can also be spotted at other theatres around town (she had a role in the ill-fated The Skin of Our Teeth, in which she played an usher hilariously struck with stage fright). You can usually hear her before you see her, even if she's not on stage. Her wild, contagious laugh travels across a room in an instant, and you can feel energy coming off her as if she were a radioactive plutonium rod. She can display serious dramatic chops (especially in VP's Collected Stories), but she injects lovableness, spirit, and humor into all her roles. No matter what role she's playing or how serious it is, no matter if she's on stage or in the audience, we feel Ms. Glave's presence powerfully in Charleston. --Jennifer Corley

Best CofC Mainstage Play
C.O.T.O. (Chocolate on the Outside), October 2005
Emmett Robinson Theatre, 54 St. Philip St. Downtown
April Turner's play C.O.T.O., while dealing specifically with African-American experiences, proved a challenging work to all races and individuals as it confronted the audience with how they look at others and themselves. Skillful acting, engaging direction, and influential design provided a well-rounded production of Turner's tight script, which placed big themes in the context of individual bickering. C.O.T.O. raised many questions: What does it mean to be black? What does it do to categorize and pigeonhole other people? How do you remain an individual yet fit in? And the play left you to think about how you'd answer and if you'll change the way you think and act. The College of Charleston's theatre department really showed their stuff on this one. --Jennifer Corley

Best Theatrical Diversity
PURE Theatre
701 East Bay St. Downtown 723-4444
From two-person casts in talking-head plays, to racial dramas, to avant-garde pieces and movement theatre, PURE Theatre presents the most diverse slate of offerings in town -- from cast members and performance styles to the plays themselves. In the past season alone, Rebecca Gilman's Spinning Into Butter, Caryl Churchill's thought-provoking A Number, Craig Lucas' schizophrenic Reckless, Neil LaBute's brutal This is How it Goes, and, most recently, John Paulsen's movement-based performance Doolymoog, have provided a hodge-podge of entertaining plays in a variety of styles, cast sizes, and cast members. Up next: an Irish play, Martin McDonough's The Lonesome West. The folks at PURE Theatre seem more interested in serving up themes than in spoonfeeding audiences predictable fare at their intimate Cigar Factory home, and that risk is admirable. Combine it all with great talent, and PURE has a winning formula on its hands. --Jennifer Corley

Best Audience Warm-up
Hazelle Goodman, June 3, 2005
Spoleto Festival USA
Actress Hazelle Goodman could easily have worked as a warm-up for a late-night talk show host or a stand-up comedian in a parallel universe. During the Spoleto run of her solo show On Edge, she could sense audience trepidation like a dog smells fear, and she pounced on it accordingly: with humor. Even though the production was held in CofC's Emmett Robinson Theatre, it was still intimate, with even the pit seats available and up-close to her. She eased the audience into her show by smooth-talking, winning over the ladies and the men, sometimes with jokes that verged on the hip-hop version of men-are-from-Mars variety, but were funny nonetheless. She had the audience in stitches before she even "officially" began her show, or at least the meat of it -- her remarkable characterizations of various people "on edge" in America. She found a winning way to make the audience comfortable and ready for her performance -- just like the best comedians do. --Jennifer Corley

Best Impressive Theatrical Athleticism
Wu Hsing-Kuo in Contemporary Legend Theatre's Kingdom of Desire
Spoleto Festival USA, June 2, 2005
Wu Hsing-Kuo, artistic director of Contemporary Legend Theatre in Taipei, Taiwan, wowed audiences during Spoleto in his company's sumptuous production of Kingdom of Desire. His unique adaptation of Macbeth used the grandiose battle techniques and acrobatics found in the Beijing Opera style, merging the two (arguably greatest) Eastern and Western theatrical traditions. While many in the cast displayed the amazing skill and commitment that comes with the performers' lifelong dedication to their craft, Wu Hsing-Kuo's particular gasp-worthy feat occurred during his climactic death scene, as he was being turned into a human pincushion by dozens of the advancing army's archers. He did a jaw-dropping backflip off a two-story set piece and landed on his feet -- while wearing an elaborate 40-pound costume. Banzai indeed. --Jennifer Corley

Best Way to Ruin a Spoleto Performance
Leave Your Cellphone On
The opening performance of Amajuba: Like Doves We Rise at Emmett Robinson Theatre on June 7 had the audience under a spell with the five actors' real-life stories of living in Apartheid-era South Africa as children. That was, until someone's cellphone began to ring. It was right about when actress Bongeka Mpongwana was recreating a traumatic scene from her childhood, with three gang thugs pinning her to the ground and an automatic pistol shoved down her throat. At that moment a phone began ringing -- and ringing and ringing. To say it destroyed the production is an understatement. And nobody in the audience missed the irony. These actors' stories were about growing up abandoned, eating ants and insects for want of any other food throughout their childhood, suffering rape and torture, watching everyone they know die at the hand of another human being. And this thoughtless jerkoff was living in the wealthiest nation in history, with everything he could possibly want, and he couldn't even be bothered to turn off his cellphone before they told us their story. Congratulations to the winner of the Biggest Douchebag of Spoleto award this year. --Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Puppetry
La Bella Dormente nel Bosco, May 28, 2005
Spoleto Festival USA
The festival's second biggest operatic success last spring— just behind the sold-out, superlative-slathered production of Don Giovanni at Memminger Auditorium — was director and puppeteer Basil Twist's outrageously entertaining take on Ottorino Respighi's La bella dormente nel bosco ("Sleeping Beauty in the Woods"). Twist's puppets, nearly all of them life-sized, made the classic tale a work of magic, with the singers standing to one side while audiences watched the puppeteers operate the remarkable creations on the Dock Street Theatre stage. Twist's puppets were a marvel. Sleeping Beauty's tale was familiar to most members of the audience, but what his production brought to the story was much greater than the tale itself. The life-sized puppets did things you wouldn't believe marionettes could do. Often we saw the puppeteers themselves, either manipulating the strings of the marionettes or, more directly, moving the arms, legs and head of a puppet (whether person, cat or singing spindle). At times, the stage was so thick with strings it looked like rain. At one point we counted no fewer than 26 puppets cavorting across the stage. That's a lot of puppets, my friend. And every one of them was magic. —Patrick Sharbaugh

Best Spoleto Theme
Sex, sex and more sex
Spoleto Festival USA 2005
Last year was one of the more sexually provocative festivals in recent memory. There were nearly-naked midgets and fornication galore on the Dock Street stage for Mabou Mines Dollhouse (not only did it involve dwarfs and extra-tall women but solo sex and, during at least one performance anyway, an oral version too). Don Giovanni was chock full of lascivious behavior, still more skin, and a trunk full of Polaroid-style pornography that got scattered across the floor of Memminger Auditorium. If that wasn't enough prurience for festival-goers, they could pop into Belle Muse Gallery on Wentworth Street for a group exhibit of erotic art or check out the work of Lucas Causey at the Humanities Center show Curious Tales, which wasn't salacious per se, but there was no shortage of giant phalluses on the walls, either. (Hey, we're not judging here, just observing.) --Patrick Sharbaugh


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