Starting in March at the WaterTower Theatre in Addison and extending into late October at the Samuell Grand Amphitheatre, the Shakespeare Festival of Dallas is inching toward becoming what everybody wishes it could be--a year-round celebration of Elizabethan theater. But the two best months, for our money, are still June and July, when the festival is doing hard-core Bard for the masses out on the blankets in the grass at Samuell Grand Park in East Dallas. Acting, directing and all-around production values in recent years have been of ever better quality. And there's nothing better, when the sun finally falls on a white-hot Dallas summer day, than a good bottle of wine, a few friends and The Winter's Tale.
With such great booking, the Gypsy Tea Room doesn't really need to pander to the local scene. The Deep Ellum mainstay's larger ballroom is the perfect mid-level venue for touring acts such as Ryan Adams, The Roots and Robert Plant, who want to sell a thousand tickets and still consider their concerts "intimate," while the smaller "tea room" gives up-and-coming indie stars like The Raveonettes, Aesop Rock and Death From Above 1979 plenty of space along with a quality sound system. Those national shows could pay the bills by themselves, but it's the club's concessions to local promotions, like monthly Final Friday hip-hop events and Spune Productions' singer-songwriter socials, that prove the club isn't just looking to make a buck. These Gypsies care about the scene. No sound system or sightline can top that fact.

Readers' Pick
Gypsy Tea Room
Uptown Players
Once again, it's all about the all-gay all-the-time Uptown Players. With this summer's sold-out run of Del Shores' Southern Baptist Sissies, this theater group earned enough money (and a little more) to pay off its debts and fund the rest of its season. That's how strong the following has become for this troupe, whose mission is to do theater that reflects "contemporary and alternative lifestyle themes." Attracting the top actors and directors in town, Uptown has such a good reputation that out-of-town playwrights often fly in to see productions of their plays--and end up telling Uptown producers Jeff Rane and Craig Lynch that their little company has outdone the New York or L.A. versions. Andrew Lippa came in to check out The Wild Party. Playwright Shores was so impressed with their staging of Sissies that he promptly hired one of the actors, Emerson Collins, to take over a main role in the Los Angeles revival in 2006. Founded in 2001, Uptown Players get more ambitious every season.

Readers' Pick
Uptown Players
Most people assume the only place a person can grab a beer in Dallas while playing an arcade game (read: not Golden Tee or one of those touch-screen mini-machines) is Dave & Buster's, but Exposition Park's Bar of Soap gives drinking gamers a shot at some fine cabinets without forcing them to wear khaki shorts. Racing, shooting, pinball, Pac-Man and air hockey are on tap in the bar's laundry room, so whether you want to kill time while finishing a load of whites or kill terrorists on the Gunblade: New York machine, electronic diversions are only a quarter slot away at the BoS. Even better, there's no Dance Dance Revolution cabinet--that's the last game you want to play after a few rounds, anyway.
If you like Broadway musicals but not enough to actually sleep on the Great White Way to score a ticket, Dallas Summer Musicals and the Broadway Contemporary Series are for you. They bring the best of Broadway (or at least the touring versions of it) to Fair Park year-round, mixing old favorites such as Annie Get Your Gun and the hottest tickets (of last season or the season before), including, this season, The Producers and Wicked, the splashy Broadway smash about the witches of Oz (onstage October 6 through October 23). Sure, instead of Natasha Richardson or Jennifer Jason Leigh, you get Cabaret starring Lea Thompson (yup, Howard the Duck's Lea Thompson) and Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby (actually, she was pretty good flying around in those green tights), but tickets are affordable, with seats ranging from $11 to $74.
Fallout Lounge
Most open mike nights are painful affairs. You bring your guitar and your songs, and everyone else brings their best Dave Matthews impersonations. Not at the Fallout, where the open mike draws everyone from talented unknowns with great record collections to established local talents. Local scenester Tania Rivas founded Open Mike Mondays in April 2004 but has since handed over hosting duties to Jeb Hagan, who faithfully enforces the most important rule of Open Mike Mondays--thou shalt not ask the audience for money.
For seven summers the Bath House has played host to a lively festival of experimental works by some of the area's boldest young theater companies and best new playwrights. Limited to one-hour performances, Theatre Quorum, Commedia dell' Carte, WingSpan and others present new plays in rotating rep for several weeks. At times there are performances happening simultaneously inside and out at the Bath House, the most action this venue sees all year. This year's FIT was the best yet, drawing large crowds of theatergoers eager to sample the wares of small theater groups who are trying to build followings. As a showcase for new talent, it's the sort of cutting-edge event that's creating national buzz about the bounty of innovative young theater professionals calling Dallas home.
Business in the front, party in the back seems to be a popular theme at our favorite annual event, which boasts almost as many mullets as it does turkey legs. A good place to start your hunt is the automobile building, but just about anywhere else in Fair Park is excellent mullet habitat as well. They'll be damn near everywhere--at the pig races, in the front row at the Cowboy Troy concert, behind you in the fried Snickers line and definitely watching the knife demonstrations in the Embarcadero. And if you somehow arrive on a slow day, don't fret, as the Midway and its short/long-tressed Carnies are only a short walk away. Luckily for you the Fair has plenty of excellent cuisine, because all that mullet-watching can give you a man-sized hankering for something battered and fried.
Porn premiered last summer at the MAC to packed houses and, ah, a less than ecstatic review from our theater critic. But tastes differ. We liked it. And we're not the only ones. Porn's running this fall at Art Centre Theatre in Plano. The show's a great one for a date, preferably a first, as was our case when we saw it. A 70-minute exploration of all that is different between men and women who have sex on their minds, Porn for Puritans is funny enough to have a man slapping his knee--and his date's. This is crucial, this accidental touch. It loosens both parties' nerves. And because the play deals with sex, viewers will inevitably talk about it afterward (the show, that is...and, well, yes, by extension, sex.) There is no better topic to discuss on a first date--particularly if it goes well.
Technically, it's illegal to panhandle at intersections in Dallas. But, if you must, there's no better place than the corner of North Hampton and I-30. Here you'll find traffic lights to ensure a captive audience, several cheap tacos stands nearby for begging fuel and a scenic vista the homeowners at White Rock Lake could envy. Your hillside retreat will afford you breathtaking views of downtown and Texas Stadium, better air quality than your counterparts in the concrete canyons and the added bonus of being able to spot the cops coming from a mile away. And with all that to inspire you, you'll finally come up with that catchy slogan you need for your cardboard sign.

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