Fall Arts Critics' Picks 

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 Consider this your official warning: Your schedule is about to get very, very full. From Redux to the Footlight Players to Theatre 99, local arts organizations have a lot planned for the next few months. These Critics' Picks represent some of the highlights of the fall season, including an ode to Edgar Allan Poe at the Dock Street, a subversive mermaid exhibit at City Gallery, and a rocking collection of photography at the Gibbes.

Mermaids and Merwomen in Black Folklore: A Fiber Arts Exhibition
Aug. 28-Oct. 28
City Gallery at Waterfront Park
citygalleryatwaterfrontpark.com

You might not expect a fiber arts exhibition focused on mermaids to be described as subversive, but that's exactly how curator Cookie Washington summarizes the show, which opens this week at City Gallery. The legend of African merfolk began centuries ago on the western part of the continent, eventually fusing with European mermaid myths. African slaves brought their traditions and beliefs regarding water deities to the U.S., and African-based merfolk-related faiths still thrive, with artists revitalizing the traditions through their work. The exhibit includes works from African-American fiber artists like Edward Bostic, Arianne King Comer, Michael Cummings, Myra Brown Green, and Patricia Montgomery. An accompanying catalog will include poetry from Kurtis Lamkin, Akua Lezli Hope, Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie, Marjory Heath Wentworth, and Will Moredock. "This exhibition is for mermaids to come out of the realm of Disney-ana cuteness," Washington says, "and for people to learn that in many African cultures, the worship of mermaids and water spirits pre-dates the worship of Jesus Christ by over 2,000 years. I want people to be amazed, amused, delighted by the glorious art in this show, but I also want them to learn something." —Erica Jackson Curran

Charleston Dance Festival
Sept. 10-15
Various locations
charlestondancefestival.com

The Charleston Dance Alliance and Dancefx are teaming up to host the inaugural Charleston Dance Festival. "Charleston has a festival for every other type of performance-based art, so we feel like this is the next step for the dance community," says festival organizer Sara Bennett. The festival includes nightly performances at the Memminger Auditorium including a Hip-Hop Battle and an Improv Jam featuring Entropy Ensemble. Wrapping up the week, a Performance Showcase will take place at the Sottile Theatre on Sept. 15. In addition, there will be more than 15 master classes taught by professional dancers from the Washington Ballet, Columbia City Jazz, the Charleston Ballet Theatre, and Dancefx Charleston, among others. "Most of these instructors are close friends, so we trust the impact they are going to have on this festival and Charleston's dance community," Bennett says. "So far, people have been very supportive of the event. I think the dance community is really looking for more right now, so we're expecting a great festival." —Evan Berke

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The Impresario
Sept. 14
Sottile Theatre
chambermusiccharleston.org

If you think you don't like opera, this is the show for you. Mozart's compositions are a perfect introduction to classical music for those with no knowledge of it, and the same is true of his operas. There's slapstick humor, sex jokes, ridiculously overblown characters — it's just a damn good time. The Impresario, which Chamber Music Charleston is presenting as part of the annual Mozart in the South Festival, has yet another draw for opera virgins: it's short. Since operas are not easy productions to stage, especially for small arts organizations like Chamber Music Charleston, the group knew they'd have to work a little magic. "We decided to update it, locate it in Charleston in the 1940s and perform it as a radio hour," says Sandra Nikolajevs, president and artistic director of Chamber Music Charleston. "All of the action happens right on stage, the musicians are on stage and reacting to what's happening ... and after the little catfight, that's when the actual radio hour begins. It really gives you an inside look at what a radio hour is like, what it takes to create one." Once The Impresario whets your appetite, you'll probably find yourself wanting more, so keep your weekend open: There's a Little Mozart Circus on Saturday, which will showcase the area's musical education opportunities, and a Finale Concert featuring Mozart's Piano Quartet in G Minor on Sunday. —Elizabeth Pandolfi

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity
Sept. 14-Oct. 6
PURE Theatre
puretheatre.org

A 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist, Kristoffer Diaz's The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity is like The Wrestler if the The Wrestler was funny. Actually, it's nothing like The Wrestler. Directed by PURE co-founder Sharon Graci and starring PURE core ensemble member Michael Smallwood, this comedy tackles racism as much as it does the professional wrestling world. Chad Deity is the man, kind of like The Rock was back in the day, while Mace is left to make Deity look good, no matter how good Mace is himself. Sick of playing second fiddle, Mace finds a brash Indian American Brooklyner to be his partner, but their boss wants them to play terrorists. The production also won the 2011 Obie Award for Best New American Play and was declared Best Play of 2011 by New York Times. Mostly, we're just excited to see Smallwood, a City Paper contributor, go shirtless. —Susan Cohen

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Sound and Vision: Monumental Rock and Roll Photography
Sept. 21-Dec. 30
The Gibbes Museum of Art
gibbesmuseum.org

The Gibbes Museum is tapping into its inner rock star this fall with Sound and Vision: Monumental Rock and Roll Photography. The exhibit, which opens Sept. 21, features photographs of iconic performers from the last five decades in the world of rock 'n' roll, blues, and hip-hop. "There are about 20 photographers represented in the exhibit," says Gibbes Curator of Exhibitions Pam Wall. "These photographers either went on tour with these musicians, or just got lucky at one point and were able to photograph them." The exhibition originated at the Columbus Museum in Georgia, and the Gibbes hopes to attract a new, younger demographic with the photographs. "This is definitely an exhibit everyone can enjoy," Wall says. "There are a lot of recognizable images for people of all generations, with photos of artists like Jay-Z, Kurt Cobain, Elvis, and Tupac." —EB

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The Unchained Tour
Sept. 21
Charleston Music Hall
theunchainedtour.org

What do you get when you throw a bunch of literary heavyweights on an old blue schoolbus and send them on a heart-shaped route across the South? The Unchained Tour, which is going all the way from Johnson City, Tenn. to Savannah, Ga. and back around again. Focused on promoting independent bookstores as well as the art of storytelling, the tour includes English author Neil Gaiman (Coraline), Peter Aguero (The Moth NYC, The BTK Band), and Edgar Oliver (playwright, recent Spoleto performer). One more presenter is TBA, and local musicians Rachel Kate and Joel T. Hamilton will perform as well. —EJC

A Question of Color
Sept. 21-Oct. 7
Footlight Players Theatre
footlightplayers.net

In A Question of Color, playwright Michael Bettencourt tells an early-20th-century love story that, like so many in American history, is made painfully complicated by laws maintaining racial segregation. You see, John loves Susan, and Susan loves John, but John is white, and Susan is black. The play tells the story of John and Susan's illegal marriage and its repercussions in a small town in the North Carolina piedmont. David Hallatt, a regular in the Charleston theatrical scene, will direct a two-week run of the play at the Footlight Players starting Sept. 21. The production will feature Bettencourt's lyrical dialogue as well as sections of a capella singing as John and Susan navigate the political injustices of their time with the help of Aunt Becky, who helps them set up a household. —Paul Bowers

Corporate Juggernaut Tour 2012
Sept. 28
Theatre 99
corporatejuggernaut.com

Nashville might be best known for its music, but apparently there are some pretty funny people there as well. The Corporate Juggernaut is a big part of the Music City's comedy scene, and now they're spreading the laughs with a tour across the Southeast. A blend of stand-up, storytelling, and a few surprises, the show is anchored by Gary Fletcher, James Austin Johnson, and John Thornton Jr. In the past they've performed with comics like Rory Scovel and Nate Bargatze (both Charleston Comedy Festival alums), and for this tour Jane Borden is tagging along. A native of N.C., Borden is a humorist and author who's also performed at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. —EJC

Love, Loss and What I Wore
Oct. 11-28
The Village Rep on Woolfe
villageplayhouse.com

At the risk of sounding sexist, we think it's safe to say that clothes mean a bit more to women than they do to men. Prom dresses, wedding dresses, the pair of shoes that cost half a first paycheck ... in some ways, going through a woman's closet is like going through her life. That at least is the premise of Love, Loss and What I Wore, Nora and Delia Ephron's stage adaptation of the book of the same name. The show is the season opener for The Village Playhouse, and will inaugurate their first season in their brand new theater. "Part of what I wanted to do when we opened the season in this new space was to showcase the room and the theater itself," says Keely Enright, Village Playhouse's producing director. "This is a kind of minimal show with a simple set ... people can come in and really experience the playhouse." Love, Loss and What I Wore uses clothing and accessories as ways to enter into the lives of different women, telling their stories in a series of vignettes. As one would expect from anything Nora Ephron touched, there's a healthy blend of humor, sadness, and that warmhearted mushiness that she was so expert at carrying off. "It's very fun, very unique," says Enright. So what will you be wearing? —EP

Subtle Imperfections by Mark Hosford and Janice Jakielski
Oct. 12-Nov. 24
Redux Contemporary Art Center
reduxstudios.org

Get ready to say goodbye to Colin Quashie's plantation Monopoly board, because it's about to be replaced by something new from Mark Hosford, a leader in the world of modern screenprinting. The Missouri native is teaming up with Massachusetts artist Janice Jakeilski for Subtle Imperfections, an exhibit that explores personal relationships through play. "We chose to do both of these artists together because they both deal with play and hard issues, but their message comes across as child-like and innocent," says Redux Executive Director Janie Askew. "Their work makes hard things easier to deal with and will balance each other well." Askew first met Hosford while attending an intensive printmaking workshop that he was teaching. "I chose him because I thought his work would transfer well. We also teach screenprinting classes here, so we figured he could help teach our artists." We're still not sure what the new mural will look like, but expect to see some intricate Rorschach-style works and vibrant screenprints influenced by comics, sci-fi, and street art from Hosford inside the gallery. Jakeilski will offer a collection of wearable props that act as a sort of social experiment. —EB

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Pulse Dome Project: Art and Design by Don ZanFagna
Oct. 19-Dec. 8
Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art
halsey.cofc.edu

What if you could grow your own house? That mind-boggling idea was first explored by artist and architect Dan ZanFagna decades ago. Mark Sloan, executive director at the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art, says a persistent concern and idea of ZanFagna's over the course of his long and very interesting career was that humankind is living in disharmony with the environment. "He wanted to create something that would allow us to sustain ourselves," Sloan says. By studying patterns that develop in nature, ancient civilizations like the Mayans and the Egyptians, and even insects like bees, he came to develop the idea of a "pulse dome," or a structure that was not just a shelter but a source of energy for the people living inside of it. Think about that concept for a second. What if, instead of greening our buildings and maximizing energy savings, we came up with a whole new approach to building that turned our homes into living, sustainable organisms?

ZanFagna retired to the Lowcountry several years ago, and during the move here his nephew and niece (Everett and Joanna White, who own an art gallery on Sullivan's) discovered boxes and boxes and boxes of notebooks, artworks, and even pieces that had been displayed in the Whitney Museum among ZanFagna's things. They soon realized that they had quite a collection on their hands. They approached Sloan to see if he was interested in an exhibit; his interest was particularly piqued by the pulse domes. In addition to hundreds of notebooks exploring his ideas, ZanFagna accumulated sketches, drawings, collages, photographs, writings, and 3-D models of his pulse domes, more than 50 of which will be on exhibit at the Halsey this fall. It'll be a fascinating look into the brilliant mind of a man who turned his back on the fame and fickleness of the art world and sidestepped into architecture where he could spend his time wrestling with big ideas. The exhibit will include a film component and some sort of built aspect that will come from David Pastre's class at the Clemson Architecture School. What that will be has yet to be determined, but it's just another reason this exhibit should be particularly interesting. —Stephanie Barna

Nevermore
Oct. 19-Nov. 4
Dock Street Theatre
charlestonstage.com

Edgar Allan Poe didn't spend a whole lot of time in the Lowcountry, but he certainly made his mark. The master of macabre did a short stint at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island in 1827, and though his military career didn't last long, he wrote several famous works set on the island, including "The Gold Bug," "The Balloon Hoax," and "The Oblong Box." Charleston Stage Founder and Producing Director Julian Wiles taps into that local connection with his original play Nevermore, which looks at Poe's mysterious death and disappearance. Expect to see scenes from classic haunting tales like The Pit and the Pendulum and The Masque of the Red Death. —EJC

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YALLFest
Nov. 10
Various locations
yallfest.org

How do we know YA fiction is super hot right now? Because when YALLFest announced its 2012 lineup, MTV was the first to report on it. The teen-focused literary genre is a huge money-maker, and somehow Charleston became the hub for one of YA's biggest events. Local indie bookstore Blue Bicycle Books — specifically its owner Jonathan Sanchez — is at the root of it all. He teamed up with YA authors Margaret Stohl and Kami Garcia (authors of the Beautiful Creatures series) to create the event two years ago, and it quickly took on a life of its own. The 2012 installation features 44 (and counting) of the country's top YA authors, including 25 New York Times bestsellers — people like Cassandra Clare (City of Bones), Kathy Reichs (Bones), Pseudonymous Bosch (The Name of this Book is Secret), Katie Crouch (The Magnolia League), and Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles). This year's festival will also expand into middle grade (grades 2-6) and crossover (adult) genres. The event includes signings, panels, and workshops, and the grand finale is the YA Smackdown, which brings all of the participating authors on stage to compete in storytelling games. —EJC

Vivaldi and Piazzolla: Four Seasons
Nov. 10
Dock Street Theatre
charlestonsymphony.org

Charleston isn't so great at the whole four seasons thing — we pretty much only have two — but the Charleston Symphony Orchestra's performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Piazzolla's Four Seasons of Buenos Aires can at least help us imagine what it would be like having a defined spring, summer, fall, and winter. The concert features CSO Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker and his mentor Herbert Greenberg on violin, echoing the theme of influence and inspiration created by the musical pairing. Just as Piazzolla, a 20th century Argentine composer, was inspired by Vivaldi's 18th century work, so Bekker was inspired by his teacher. Bekker says Greenberg, and his other teacher Nelli Shkolnikova "are the most important people that I admire," and he is always excited and honored to share the stage with those who helped shape his musical sensibilities. The juxtaposition of these two complementary, but distinctly different, pieces will be both a fascinating experience for music aficionados and a fun evening for those who just want to hear beautiful music. —EP

Wanda Sykes
Oct. 12
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
northcharlestoncoliseumpac.com

Mitt Romney fans, take shelter. Charleston is about to be hit with the legendary Wanda Sykes.

While Sykes began her professional career as a not-so-funny procurement officer in the National Security Agency, she eventually made her way to the world of comedy, where she's won an American Comedy Award for "Outstanding Female Stand Up Comic" in addition to several Emmy awards. Known for her bold and cutting banter, Sykes has starred in everything from her own HBO special, I'ma be Me, to shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm to kids movies like Ice Age: Continental Drift. And she's not just funny. Her jokes often hint toward her other role as an active member in both the LGBT community and the American political scene at large. In 2009 she was even featured at the White House Correspondent dinner, making her the first African-American woman and the first openly gay person to perform as a comedian at the White House. Sykes roasted several of the attendees and even accused Rush Limbaugh of being a hijacker on 9/11. Sykes' past shows have covered wide-ranging topics, from aging and American Idol to racist dolphins and something she calls the "Department of Personal Shopping." Since much of her humor is amplified by her tough, mean-muggin' delivery, don't miss your chance to experience one of her hilarious tirades in person. —Libby Conwell

Southeast Zine Fest
Oct. 20
Redux Contemporary Art Center
southeastzinefest.com

A couple of local lady-journos are hosting a Zine Fest this fall, and even if you're not sure what a zine is, you're still invited. "A lot of people don't even know what a zine is, so I hope we can familiarize more people with really badass DIY publishing," says co-founder Margaret Pilaski, whose day-job is the national editor at Skirt magazine. "A zine can be anything — a confessional, a guide, a manifesta, a collection of anonymous stories — so this is an event anyone can participate in." Pilarski's joined by City Paper staff writer Susan Cohen, who initially came up with the idea after 52.5 Records, one of the only local places to get zines, closed. They're hoping to draw zine makers, readers, and distributors from throughout the Southeast with a packed schedule of lectures, workshops, demos, live music, food trucks, and more. College of Charleston professor and City Paper contributor Alison Piepmeier, author of Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism, will serve as the keynote speaker for the event. More speakers will be announced as the schedule is finalized, along with a Kickstarter account for the event. —Erica Jackson Curran

Found Footage Festival
Sept. 14
Theatre 99
theatre99.com

It's hard to categorize the Found Footage Festival. Obviously, it's film based: Nick Prueher and Joe Pickett have gone through thousands of hours of VHS footage (YouTube is a no-no in their personal mantra), finding the stuff that's "unintentionally funny" and putting it together for the live show. But these guys also have an extensive comedy background — Preuher has worked for The Colbert Report and The Late Show with David Letterman, while Pickett has The Onion on his resume. Their Theatre 99 screening is one stop on a 50-state tour. "Think America's Funniest Home Videos meets Mystery Science Theatre 3000," says Theatre 99's Brandy Sullivan. "I saw their show during Charleston Comedy Festival a few years ago and was amazed by the crazy and hilarious video clips — pre-DVD YouTube era — they had uncovered, and their commentary is the icing on the cake." —Susan Cohen

Drivers Wanted
Nov. 15
Recital Hall, Simons Center for the Arts
halsey.cofc.edu

The Halsey's not all art shows and gallery talks — they also set up some pretty impressive film programming each year, which is all a part of the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers. The events bring in small indie movies and their filmmakers, offering a Q&A opportunity with audience members. One of the highlights of this season's offerings is Drivers Wanted, a short documentary by Joshua Z. Weinstein, whose resume includes work on Morgan Spurlock's Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope and Frontline. The film follows Eric, a Chinese immigrant who gets a job as a cab driver in New York City to support his family, despite knowing little English and little about the Big Apple's streets. And like all Southern Circuit screenings, Weinstein will be on hand for comments and questions. —Susan Cohen

Legally Blonde
Aug. 31-Sept. 23
Dock Street Theatre
charlestonstage.com

Charleston Stage is having a blonde moment this season with a production of Legally Blonde, the Musical. Adapted from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer production starring Reese Witherspoon, the musical features a lot more than bubble-gum pop — expect to hear classical, reggae, pop, and everything in between. But although there's a lot more singing and dancing than there was on the silver screen, we've been assured the plot sticks close to the original. "It's definitely like the movie," says Charleston Stage's Beth Curley. "It's a journey [for Elle Woods] to discover herself and find the truth about herself, what her role is, what her mission is ... it's a feel-good show." With a cast of 28, Legally Blonde, the Musical stars one of last season's resident guest actors, Vanessa Moyen, as Elle Woods. Also for the production, Charleston Stage is teaming up with Pet Helpers by enlisting two of its dogs to play Elle's furry friend. Bruiser, who is not yet adopted, will be showcased in hopes that he will be adopted after the show. —DeAnna Kerley

Complete Schedules: Theater, Visual Arts Openings, Film + Radio, Exhibits, Concerts + Recitals, Dance, Comedy, Books + Poetry, Auditions

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