Easily the best-kept secret in the tony local opera enclave is the annual vocal competition for up-and-coming singers sponsored by The Dallas Opera Guild. Usually held in mid- to late March at Gooch Auditorium at UT Southwestern Medical Center, the competition was founded nearly 20 years ago to aid in the development of young opera singers. The auditions are open to all Texas residents between the ages of 18 and 30, and the awards are funded entirely through contributions garnered by Guild members. An afternoon preliminary round of auditions narrows the field to a top 10 who return in the evening to sing two arias. The level of singing ranges from satisfactory to sublime, and the repertoire represents all eras of operatic literature. A snooty blue-ribbon panel of judges makes the final calls, but one of the most fiercely contested battles is for the People's Choice Award which gives mere mortals the opportunity to participate. First-place winner in 2006 was the elegant Takesha Mesh Kizart, a 2003 UNT grad. But bringing down the house was youngster Steven LaBrie, 18, who sang with polish and panache beyond his years. As if enjoying the artistry of these exciting young singers isn't excuse enough to show up, a champagne and dessert reception is held after the singing is over. This event is free and open to the public. Bravo!
Bend Studio
Be sure to wear clean socks if you're planning to attend the Intimate Evening Concert Series at Bend Studio. The place is a yoga studio by day, and you'll be asked to remove your shoes at the door. That's intimate, for sure, but being that close to the feet of 80-plus strangers is worth it. Shows at Bend are small, smoke-free affairs and an excellent alternative to the loud, crowded venues you would normally have to brave in order to see singer-songwriters such as Trish Murphy and Charlie Sexton. The series is the brainchild of Bend owner and yoga instructor Ally David. And besides being advertised by mostly word-of-mouth in the beginning, the first shows were a success, and now Bend offers a full schedule with weekly events. Way to go, Ally. Color us impressed.
KD Studio doesn't just teach actors how to hit their marks and not bump into the furniture. It's a place to study acting as craft and profession. Seriously. For 26 years, KD Studio has been training professional actors for stage, film and television and is one of the few accredited, degree-granting conservatories outside of New York or Los Angeles. The training is based on the proven philosophy of "learning by doing." Students act and produce short scenes for film and stage. The goal is to learn real skills for the real world. KD's acting workshops are designed for beginning actors, as well as those with performing experience. The programs are intense and hands-on and range in length from weekend-long special workshops to 15-month-long conservatory programs. How do you get to Broadway? Practice, practice, practiceand train, train, train. Students at KD get lessons from the impressive staff that includes veteran actors T.A. Taylor and John Davies in the acting division and longtime pros Michael Serrecchia and Mark Mullono in musical theater. Notable alumni include George Eads of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and Julio Cedillo, who co-starred opposite Tommy Lee Jones in the award-winning movie The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.
Brooklyn Jazz Cafe
Admittedly, Monday nights at Amsterdam Bar are where jazz hounds can find the best bop/fusion performances in town, but a single weekly night does not a jazz club make. In that respect, Brooklyn already deserved the nod for best jazz club at their old Bishop Arts location; regulars such as Martha Burks and guests such as Montrose added a certifiable level of funk and fun to the otherwise stale smooth jazz genre, and the ambiance and crowd struck the right balance of sophisticated and loose. But you couldn't turn 5 degrees at the old, tiny shack without spilling a martini on someone in the tight crowd, so the new location's huge floor space (and additional outdoor patio) are a welcome boost to the club's five nights a week of lovely singers and funky musicians. Come for drinks, come for food or come to be seen, but definitely stick around for the show.
We wish this was a category with fierce competition, thanks to a Dallas scene loaded with a rich tapestry of blues hands who've lived through thunder and fire, surviving to tell their tales in raspy, hard-nosed song. But this isn't Mississippi, so we'll settle for at least one club getting it right, and the booking and atmosphere at Deep Ellum Blues has yet to be beaten by the rest of the blue-eyed soulsters around town. When the busiest bluesman in Dallas, Hash Brown, isn't holding court for his Thursday night residency, the best players from Dallas, Austin and all over the South make the best of the worst, including utter badasses such as Watermelon Slim and Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones.
They say you gotta have a gimmick in showbiz. Well, a gimmick and an agent. The Horne Agency is a full-service, SAG-franchised talent agency representing adults and children in movies, television, commercials, industrials, radio, print and live performances. The agency, owned by co-founder Suzanne Horne, is a member of AFTRA/Screen Actor's Guild, Women in Film, Texas Association of Film/Tape Professionals and STAGE. She's known to be picky about whom she signs, but once you're in her fold she will go to the mat for you every time. It is as typical to see her at a far-flung suburban theater catching one of her actors in a low-profile stage show as it is to see her at a grungy art house faithfully watching one of her own in a low-rent indie film. That's loyalty, which is what many on her roster will tell you is one of her most outstanding attributes. Turn on your television and you'll see Horne Agency talent all over the place. Look, there's Bill Jenkins, Doug Miller, Cara Statham Serber and Denise Lee doing roles in national ad campaigns and TV series. Suzanne Horne gets the job done by getting actors jobs.
RL's Blues Palace
If you come to R.L.'s expecting a hard shot of the blues, blame the namesake, R.L. Griffin Jr., for your moment of disappointment. Minutes later, you'll blame him and his incredible house band for a damn good time, anyway. Despite the house's name, there aren't any blues tunes at this Palace; rather, it's a haven for Motown-era soul covers, open only on weekends to a capacity audience pretty much every night. Show up early to get dibs on table seating and bring a group (not to mention bottles of liquor, since the joint's BYOB), and you'll see why the house fetches a consistent crowd. Griffin's band, complete with a series of talented, rotating singers, is too busy having fun--and sounding mighty fine doing just that--to worry about the "blues" tag on the door.
Sure, their productions are terrific. Producer-actress Sue Birch and her loverly casts get giggly with British bedroom farces and raise the roof with shows such as the sexed-up Shakespeare they did last season. But adding to the big fun at Theatre Britain's stagings at Trinity River Arts Center are the delicious British intermish noshes. Brought over from the British Emporium in Grapevine, the snacks include English tooth-rotters such as Maltesers, Flake, Crunchies, Mars Bars, Cadbury's Buttons, Smarties, Wine Gums, Refreshers, Fruit Pastilles, Fruit Gums and<\f>Walkers Crisps (Plain, Salt & Vinegar, Cheese & Onion). So good are the edibles, sometimes the crunching threatens to drown out all Act 2 dialogue. But go ahead, munch away through Macbeth. Those salty crisps are worth the Thane of Cawdor's nasty looks.
The Cavern
Spune Productions has done the impossible, turning a small club on the meat-market strip of Lower Greenville into a truly viable music venue. In fact, Spune's booking prowess has landed countless crowd-drawing indie-rock acts from Man Man to Devendra Banhart...which has become a problem. The tiny room has only enough space for a few dozen patrons, and the stage is already crowded with musicians. Still, the club favors unknown acts, so some of the best bands are still subject to small crowds, and patrons can always escape the mass of bodies by going upstairs to see DJs spin the newest and most obscure tracks this side of Suede. At any rate, Dallasites are still coming out in droves to test their claustrophobia and see the finest in local and national rock, so Spune must be doing something right.
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Andy+Hanson
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For years this has been the fossil farm of Dallas theater, the place where old plays, old actors and even older subscribers go to take naps. But this year, something happened at this dusty little theater-in-the-square. They woke up and started casting young, attractive, exciting-to-watch actors such as Lynn Blackburn, Ashley Wood, Gary Floyd and David Brown. Artistic director Jac Alder threw some real heat into the season (and made some money) with a hit extended run of The Full Monty. Yep, the boys took it all off in the movie-turned-musical, and the senior citizens who make up the fan base at T3 had to make room for a new crowd of theatergoers who'd just discovered this venue based on the good word-of-mouth (and nice reviews) for that show. This season has some fresh, challenging productions on the boards at T3, including Tennessee Williams' rarely done Vieux Carr (through October 15), Michael Frayn's critically praised Democracy (opening January 4) and Tony Kushner's Tony-winning musical Caroline, or Change (May). Between those they're also squeezing in The Odd Couple (April). Sometimes a nap can be refreshing.

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