Deborah Henson-Conant: Critically adored harpist-singer Deborah Henson-Conant has become famous in jazz and classical circles because she treats her instrument of choice like everything but a harp. She pounds it, plucks it, caresses it, massages it, and does everything short of establishing onstage carnal knowledge with it a la Tori Amos and her piano bench. This is a cheeky way of saying Henson-Conant coaxes the purest soul from her harp while she explores the Asian, African, and American folk melodies she's studied like an obsessive professor for much of her life. Henson-Conant officially describes herself as a jazz artist, and that's the most immediate influence in her music, especially the original compositions, but there's a whole lotta different kinds of water flowing under her performances' bridges. She leads "America's Orchestra," the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, on its international tour that stops in Fort Worth. The show kicks off at 8 p.m. in the Tarrant County Convention Center Theater, Fort Worth. For ticket info call (512) 477-6060.
Howard Cruse: The most acclaimed graphic novel since Maus, Stuck Rubber Baby is gay cartoonist Howard Cruse's attempt to find parallels between his own experiences growing up in the multiracial, civil rights-era South and the somewhat more secretive process (at least then) of accepting his homosexuality. Stuck Rubber Baby has been heralded by literary critics and publishing insiders as the comic book for people who hate comic books, a somewhat indelicate way of saying it's not a comic book at all, but another hybrid in the slow, unpredictable development in the fascinating graphic-novel medium. Cruse has been compared to William Faulkner, James Baldwin, Flannery O'Connor, and others, which must be flattering (and a little scary) for a guy who grew up on Marvel Comics. He appears to chat and sign Stuck Rubber Baby at 7 p.m. at Keith's Books & Comics, 5736 E. Mockingbird. Call 827-3060.
3 Violent Plays: It's refreshing to see the producers of a play be so up-front about what they're trying to accomplish with a particular work, especially when there's so much sniping about the amount of sex and violence in mass media today. (More! more! more! we say, keeping in mind screenwriter Richard Walter's observation that, "To criticize a story for being too violent or too sexy is like criticizing a river for flowing downward. Conflict and passion are the basic forces of any successful dramatic work.") 3 Violent Plays is the bluntly titled trio of one-acts presented by the Addison-based Thin Dime Theater Company, all original scripts (or adaptations) by North Texas writers. Les Branson's Joey is a dramatization of the biography with the same name about New York mobster Joey Gallo; Dead Wait is actor/playwright Taylor Hayden's caged-animal glimpse at two escaped convicts hiding in a farmhouse; and Natalie Gaupp's Liquidation looks at the bloody toes and fingers of corporate climbers. Performances happen Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. through August 18 at Swiss Avenue Theater Center, 2700 Swiss Ave. Tickets are $8-$10. Call 357-5450.
Joe's Apartment: "I think roaches are truly heroic creatures because they're survivors," says writer-director John Payson, making his feature debut with Joe's Apartment. "All they do is eat, have fun, and hang out." These are qualities shared by the twentysomething generation, if you believe the hype, and the marketing folks at MTV and Geffen Pictures definitely do. That's the age group being aggressively targeted for Joe's Apartment, the flagship motion picture from MTV Productions. John Payson was a supervising producer on the groundbreaking music-television program Liquid Television, which proves that the channel can offer more to posterity than Singled Out and The Real World. Joe's Apartment is an 80-minute version of Payson's smashingly entertaining 1992 short of the same name about a hapless New Yorker whose love life is thwarted by the best intentions of a few thousand surprise cheerleaders--the roaches in his apartment. This PG-13 film opens in Dallas theaters today. For info call 263-4145.
NTP Visual Art Exhibition 1996: Although it may not have intended it at the start, The City of Dallas' Office of Cultural Affairs has helped bridge a serious economic-cultural apartheid by establishing its Neighborhood Touring Program. The access of well-heeled white folks to theater, live music, and visual arts isn't much more limited in Dallas than in most major American cities--our class wounds just seem to stand out in sharper relief. The Neighborhood Touring Program has created a city-funded forum for musicians, poets, storytellers, painters, etc. to travel into all sections of the city and strut their stuff. The Bath House Cultural Center closes its three-week exhibition of the program's visual artists, entitled NTP Visual Art Exhibition 1996, with a reception for the artists from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The complaint about high ticket prices slapped on the arts is a legitimate one; thank our city mothers and fathers by supporting this kind of stuff with your presence. The Bath House Cultural Center is located at 521 E. Lawther on the east side of White Rock Lake. It's free. Call 670-8749.
Psychic Fair: You can't help but be a little nervous by the Southern Ba Baptist Convention's decision to boycott Walt Disney for its corporate policies toward same-sex relationships. Not because the boycott has been particularly effective (it has been, in fact, a calamitous disaster so far), but because other tradition-minded organizations that deal in afterlife explanations might decide to stonewall institutions that "support" lifestyles they find abhorrent. Like the Dallas Psychic Fair, which may not be as old as the Baptist Church but is still the oldest of its kind in the city. Surely there's nothing more abhorrent to a tarot-card reader than some wet-rag Protestant who wiggles a disapproving finger at anyone whose spiritual route doesn't make a pit stop at the King James filling station. Can we expect a human chain of moon-goddess worshippers blocking the entrance at Wal-Mart because that conservative chain pulled T-shirts suggesting the next U.S. president should be a woman? Will Christian crooner Carman's next sold-out arena show suffer a mysterious sound-system failure shortly after a Balch Springs dining room full of ticked-off psychics share a harmonic convergence and a few Budweisers? We fear the snowball effect. The Dallas Psychic Fair happens noon-6 p.m. at the Dallas Park Central Hotel, LBJ and Coit. Tickets are $7-$10. Call 241-4876.
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The Shots Show: Contrary to popular opinion, talent alone doesn't take you to the top of the heap in the international art world. There's as much nepotism, cronyism, schmoozing, networking, blatant favoritism, class snobbery, and other bullstuff behind just getting your work showcased in a respected place as there is in any life-draining corporate hellhole. The most successful, critically acclaimed artists aren't necessarily the best in their fields--often they're just the most driven, or the luckiest to have been able to afford an Ivy League degree. Ten years ago, Kentucky-based photographer Daniel Price started Shots magazine because he was painfully aware of the politicking behind both artistic and journalistic photography. He wanted to start a forum for photographers that was based, as much as possible, on the merits of the work submitted to him, not where the photographer attended school. Shots has since moved to Dallas, been taken over by Robert Owen, and earned an international reputation as an informal, doggedly personal showcase for unknowns and up-and-comers. The Afterimage Gallery hosts a retrospective of some of the more striking pictures published in the magazine during the past decade. The show runs through August 31 at the Afterimage Gallery, 2828 Routh St. in The Quadrangle. It's free. Call 871-9140.
Actors Offstage: Big Cities/Short Stories: Historically, when literary critics have used the phrase "local color," they've almost exclusively discussed the voice brought to American writing by ruralists, as if all big cities are the same or you must have chickens running around in your front yard to capture the American experience. Borders Books has assembled some of Dallas' best actors to read stories written by authors associated with Las Vegas, New Orleans, Chicago, Memphis, New York City, San Fransisco, and Los Angeles. The Undermain Theatre's Jeremy Schwartz reads from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson; Classic Theatre Company's Constance Gold samples A Creole Mystery by Lafcadio Hearn; The Undermain's Rhonda Boutte reads both Fred Fisher's Chicago and In the Dark by Langston Hughes; The Undermain's Tim Vahle presents Mark Childress' Tender; Undermain artistic director Raphael Perry reads Jack Webb's The Badge; once-again-from-Undermain Laurel Hoitsma traverses A Jewish Geography by Leslie Brody; and ubiquitous Sally Nyusten outlines The Rules of the Game by Amy Tan. The readings kick off at 7:30 p.m. at Borders Books & Music, Preston at Royal. They're free, but come early to get a good spot. Call 363-1977.
Much Ado About Nothing: The average age of the 23 actors cast in the Junior Players' production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing is around 17, which seems just strapping enough to survive the heat that all those poor old fogies performing for the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas have endured throughout July. That incessant buzzing you hear may not be mosquitoes, or sound-system distortion, but the crazy hormones of these thespians as they wrap their embryonic talents around some of the most passionate language ever written for the English stage. Of course, Much Ado About Nothing is pretty tame stuff by Shakespearean-comic standards. (Imagine having to send the kiddies home with parental-consent cards so they could wax bawdy in front of hundreds of strangers in The Taming of the Shrew.) There's nothing like the excitement of seeing a baby face light up in midmonologue with the sudden realization of his or her own talent. Junior Players productions are notorious showcases for vibrant debuts. Much Ado About Nothing runs from July 30 through August 4 every evening at 8:15 p.m. in Samuell Grand Park, 6200 E. Grand Ave. It's free, but donations are gratefully accepted. 526-4076.
Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus: For those of us not traumatized at an early age by the Dada-esque sight of 20 clowns stepping out of an impossibly tiny car (or terrified by that recent 20/20 expose on circus-animal rampages), the 125th anniversary of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is the most thrilling kind of history lesson around--a piece of a legendary little world that has remained intact during some shattering changes in the bigger world. And hurray to Ringling Brothers and company for keeping the ticket prices (relatively) accessible in an age of soaring entertainment costs:The $8.50 is only slightly more expensive than a movie these days, and you can't get giddy off the fumes of elephant dung at a Sony multiplex (at least not the one in our neighborhood). We'd contest some of the hype surrounding this year's 125th celebration, like calling David Larible "The World's Most Loveable Clown"--Krusty could take fancy pants Larible down in two rounds--but few pieces of Americana are as baroquely beautiful as the Ringling Brothers spectacle. Performances happen July 31 through August 11 every night with weekend matinees at Reunion Arena, 111 Sports Ave. Tickets are $8.50-$13.50. Call 750-4661.