Best Young Actress 2009 | Morgan Justiss | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

This graduate of Wylie High School and UT-Arlington ('08) burst onto the Dallas theater scene this year in Echo Theatre's remarkable production of The Nibroc Trilogy. Justiss starred opposite Ian Sinclair in the three plays: Last Train to Nibroc, See Rock City and Gulf View Drive. "When I was cast, I knew we were going to do all three plays, but I didn't realize that we were going to do them all within three weeks," the red-haired actress says. "Then I calmed down and said to myself, 'OK, this is good, get yourself pumped.'" She followed up with a turn as a waitress near the gas pumps of Ellsworth Schave's new play, Under a Texaco Canopy, at the Festival of Independent Theatres. We look forward to more shows that stretch this tall actress' talent in new directions.

Web extra: Founder and producer Tim Shane leads a video tour of the no-frills Dallas Hub Theater.

Dallas Theater Center can spend $400,000 to mount a single production. Contemporary Theatre of Dallas spends up to $40,000.

Budget for a really big show at Dallas Hub Theater? $40.

"In most cases, we're actually at zero for the budget," Hub founder and producer Tim Shane says. "New directors will come here and say, 'We need this kind of paint,' and I'll go, 'Do we really need to spend that 15 dollars?'"

The Hub, a two-stage, 100-seat space on Canton Street in Deep Ellum, puts on 25 productions a year and rents its stages for 25 other low-budget shows by fledgling companies such as Level Ground Arts or Upstart Productions. Most major Dallas theaters schedule only six to 10 productions a season. The Hub keeps humming nearly year-round with main-stage shows, late-night comedies, dinner theater parties and the annual Dallas Fringe Festival. Shane recently launched Cyber Fest, an online new play showcase that had playwrights around the globe beaming in readings of their scripts via Skype.

Almost everything the Hub does, it does on the fly. Shane doesn't sell season tickets because he's never sure month to month what shows he'll be able to afford to produce. He routinely recycles scenery and has no shame about begging Theatre Three or the SMU drama department to loan out or donate used costumes. The Hub's actors, some of them high school and college students, work for a small cut of the box office take, typically topping out at about $75 apiece for an entire three-week run. And unlike other theaters, The Hub doesn't allow actors to comp in friends and family for performances. Everybody buys a ticket. This is a no-frills, low-thrills theater that recently turned to Shakespeare (in abbreviated versions) because the scripts come royalty-free and bookings by school groups help fill the coffers.

"We're using the same set for Romeo and Juliet and Othello," Shane says. "Whenever we build something, we try to think of two or three more shows we can use it for."

A Chicago-born former academic, Shane recently took a corporate day job but he spends every night and weekend at his theater. He earns no salary from The Hub, which he opened in 2005 after producin

g low-budget shows in other spaces. "From a business point of view, The Hub doesn't make any sense," he says. "It is a money pit. But I always wanted to be an artistic director, to have full creative control of a theater. I feel like I'm building toward something."

Shane says his inspiration for The Hub came from the book Sam Mendes at the Donmar: Stepping Into Freedom, which chronicles director Mendes' creation of London's now-legendary Donmar Warehouse. Mendes, best known as a filmmaker (American Beauty) and as husband of actress Kate Winslet, walked by a boarded-up building in 1990 and decided it would make a great venue for independent, experimental theater productions. Mendes ran it as artistic director for 10 years, launching new works by Tom Stoppard and other major playwrights and sending numerous shows, including Frost/Nixon and an acclaimed revival of Guys and Dolls, to award-winning runs in London's West End and on Broadway.

So far, The Hub can claim only modest success as an incubator of new talent, mostly by helping to boost other theaters' interest in exciting young Dallas actors. Jeff Swearingen has played a variety of roles in Hub shows, including the lead in Hamlet and the part of Maverick in Top Gun: The Musical. This summer Swearingen starred at the New York International Fringe Fest in The Boxer, a show that started in Dallas, though not at The Hub.

"I do hope The Hub has its day in the sun someday," Swearingen says. "The place has courage and spunk to be holding on this long. If someone truly cares about the Dallas theater scene, institutions like this can't be left to die. I have a lot of admiration for all of the artists who experienced growing pains with The Hub."

Shane says his dream is for his theater to evolve into the Second City of the Southwest. Second City is the Chicago proving ground for comic actors and comedy writers. Among its hundreds of successful showbiz alumni are Tina Fey, Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert.

"Dallas needs a place for artists to develop their craft before they're discovered," Shane says. "That happens in fringe spaces like ours."

First-time playwrights are welcomed at The Hub as long as they're willing to forgo royalties to get scripts on their feet. Writer Charlotte Miller premiered her drama Traumnovela there and then took it to New York and Barcelona."

We can take risks on new shows that theaters that have large budgets can't," Shane says. "We can try and fail miserably and be able to bounce back. The inverse of that is if too many things are failing at the same time here, we're in trouble."

Over the summer, Shane battled a balky air-conditioning system (he finally got one donated). There have been plumbing problems, and during the production of Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, the building reeked. The source of the odor turned out to be a plate of barbecue someone had wrapped in a towel and left to molder in the hot prop room for a couple of months. "We now have rules in our contracts about cleaning up backstage," Shane says.

Aesthetics are never a high priority at The Hub, whose dreary ambience local critics have compared to an abandoned coal mine and a serial killer's crawlspace. Shane doesn't take offense. "Everything in this theater is a piece of another theater that they were throwing out," he says. The larger stage is from Pocket Sandwich Theatre. There are bits of the defunct Pegasus Theatre in The Hub. The seats came from an old vaudeville house in Virginia, whose owner offered them to Shane for free. Shane made the drive with a rickety trailer, unbolted each seat himself and drove them back to Dallas through blizzard conditions.

The Hub keeps expenses low because its overhead is high: $12,000 a month rent on the 11,000-square-foot building. That's a good deal as Deep Ellum real estate goes, but a lot for a theater getting by on $15 and $20 tickets. "Month by month it's a miracle that we make it," Shane says. "I'm always a nervous wreck, but something always happens to get us where we need to be."

On his wish list: insulation, more a/c and stage lights that don't suck so much power. "On certain light cues, we have to turn the air-conditioning off," he says.

He may be the Rodney Dangerfield of Dallas theater producers, but Tim Shane is determined to make The Hub a theater worthy of respect. Right now, though, he's got roof leaks to patch and rat traps to check. "I always said I wanted to be an artistic director," he says with a heavy sigh. "But now I'm a plumber and a maintenance man most of the time. You can't have an ego at all in this place. I like to say I'm the chief executive artistic producer- abbreviated, that spells out CHEAP." Elaine Liner

Other Winning Culture Suggestions From Our Readers

Best Visual Artist
Ron Radwanski

Best Public Sculpture
The Traveling Man
DART station in Deep Ellum

Best Radio Morning Show
Kidd Kraddick

Other Winning Scenes Suggestions From Our Readers

Best Place for a Kids Party
Pump It Up
9201 Forest Lane, No. 100

Web extra: Video of DJ Drop at a Definition DJs meet-up.

Before a team on MTV's America's Best Dance Crew tackled B-Hamp's "Do the Ricky Bobby," before Shaq and Lebron performed their best takes on the GS Boyz' "Stanky Legg" at the 2009 NBA All-Star Game, and even before The New York Times reviewed the debut release from Dorrough and announced that the national hip-hop party has "landed in Dallas," there was a meeting.

And it was at such a meeting—or rather at a series of such meetings—where DJ Drop, along with the 30 other DJs who work for his Dallas-based Definition DJs collective, essentially launched the craze for what would eventually become the defining national hip-hop trend of 2009: This, you see, was the year that Dallas finally made good on its potential to become the next big hip-hop hub of the South.

And Dallas did so, well, because of Drop, to a degree. And because, oh yeah, of those meetings.

See, it's at these meeting where Drop and his fellow DJs, with their nightly bird's-eye-view of area dance floors, discuss the trends they see, the changes in tastes that they're noticing among the crowds, comparing notes on crowd reactions and sharing observations on the latest up-and-coming dance moves. It's at these meetings where the Definition DJs carefully listen to and dissect as many new artists' songs as they can. 'Cause here's the thing: It's at these meetings—little-known outside the innermost circles of the hip-hop community till, well, right now—where DJ Drop, weeks in advance, starts putting into motion the process that, weeks later, finds Dallas-area talents popping up on the national radar, looking like fresh-faced overnight success stories.

It's a more dedicated—and complicated—process than the cause would seem to merit. But, of course, there's a reason for all this rhyming.

"We talked about the 'Stanky Legg,'" Drop says while readying his staff for yet another one of these meetings, held somewhat inconspicuously at the Ice Barr on Commerce Street downtown. "Before it blew up, we were speaking on that record. Two weeks later, it was on the radio."

That's not just a coincidence either, ensures the 33-year-old Drop, born Charles Robinson. It's all part of what's become the pretty standard practice for aspiring hip-hop artists in the region: Cut a record, then go get feedback from Drop and his Definition crew. If they like it, they'll try it out in the nightclubs (the smaller ones first) and see how the crowds respond. If the crowds respond well, the tracks get placed into rotation at the bigger clubs. And, if the bigger clubs respond well, that's when radio comes knocking.

Translation: If you wanna be the next Dorrough—who, for better or worse, with his smash hit "Ice Cream Paint Job," has become the face of the Dallas hip-hop scene—you wanna be in with Drop.

It's simple: "If we [approve of] a record," Drop says, "we put it into power-drive."Putting a song into "power-drive," is simple enough too: If a song's got the potential to be a smash, Drop's DJs—the entire collective—will relentlessly play a record that gets a good club reaction. Radio jocks then, picking up on those trends and wanting to keep up with the songs the audiences are eating up on area dance floors, start to do the same over the airwaves.

"Dallas DJs are just standing up for Dallas music," Drop says, matter of factly. "The songs can be popular, but if we don't co-sign it, it won't blow up."

If Drop's boast sounds a little conceited, well, maybe it is. But KBFB-97.9 FM The Beat program director John Candelaria puts it all in perspective: When his station runs its weekly tests on its listener demographics, results show local artists scoring as highly as national mainstays like Kanye West and Jay-Z. And the radio jocks and fans alike are first learning about these artists and their new songs in the same fashion—through the clubs.

And there have been plenty of new artists popping up in the past calendar year: Aside from mainstays such as Tum Tum, Big Tuck and Play-N-Skillz, we have recently seen the rise of newer artists such as Lil Wil, Fat Pimp, Fat B, Trai D, Big Hoodboss, Paper Chaserz—and plenty more.

"With all those guys," Drop says, "we were a major part of breaking those artists."Given the process behind breaking them, it's easy to see why. Kind of turns the whole thing into a science, really.

"It's been great," Drop says. "Dallas is getting its due, but there's a lot more to come. The only thing people have seen is the dance and club music. Thing is, we're still in the first phase of it all. Wait till people hear everything else that's about to come out. This is just the start.

"If anyone would know for sure, it's him. Y'know, 'cause of the process.And those darn meetings.

-Pete Freedman

Once again, Mama's Party gets the big ovation as the most consistently entertaining musical theater showcase. The spotlight here is on the big belters, singers who not only hit the back row with a note but send it soaring out the back door and into the next county. Now in a new venue, the big stage at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, the weekly talent show hosted by "Mama" Amy Stevenson (a fine belter herself) or one of her buddies invites local cabaret singers, musical theater performers and others to shout-sing show tunes for a couple of hours. Over the summer, the stars of Broadway touring companies of A Chorus Line, Legally Blonde The Musical and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang dropped by to show off their belting abilities. Most nights, the take at the door (there's a $5 cover) goes to a charity such as Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. Contemporary's full bar adds to the speakeasy atmosphere. And if it's too crowded to get in? Stand on the sidewalk. You'll hear every voice.

You can't help falling in love with Domingo "The Best Voice of Elvis." He's alarmingly captivating. He's incredibly friendly (he wants to be your Facebook friend). He's an accomplished Elvis impersonator. Honestly, that term seems derogatory—Domingo may perform the works of Elvis in the style of Elvis, but he is his own man, after all. Domingo has claimed rank in the top five world finalists in Tupelo, Mississippi's Best of Elvis Competition. He performs at least four nights a week in various local restaurants, but his La Parillada performances are close to legendary, and it's not the chips and salsa talking. Scarf a-flutter and hand gripping microphone, Domingo will serenade your soul. And because he is the best Latino Elvis we know, who loves his fans of all ages, we'll keep fingers crossed he avoids a toilet-related fatality, though the hope for a duet with an Ann-Margret impersonator remains strong.

This exquisite collection of modern and ancient paintings, carvings and artifacts from China, Japan, India and Southeast Asia is the perfect weekday or weekend activity. The two-story gallery is free to enter and loaded with ways to occupy your time. A recent exhibition of Japanese snuff bottles from the late 19th century captivated us while we examined each bottle's intricate handwork. The space is small but nonetheless carefully organized and packed with treasures and is always a relaxing experience.

The aptly named Upstart Productions debuted last season with a blazing staging of Suzan-Lori Parks' Topdog/Underdog and followed with a gripping look at post-adolescent angst with Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth. This season, producer Josh Glover and crew will dedicate themselves to the plays of Eric Bogosian. First, Talk Radio (October 28-November 22), directed by Regan Adair. Then they'll recreate a 7-Eleven inside the Green Zone theater for subUrbia, Bogosian's gritty take on aimless youth. Upstart's mission is "to usher in the next generation of theater artists." After an impressive first year on the Dallas scene, they seem well on their way.

Catherine Downes

Om...Om...Om...Cosmic Cafe has successfully created a spiritually inspired oasis in a land of concrete and strip malls. From the moment you turn off Oak Lawn and into the driveway of the restaurant, you notice your surroundings have changed. Everywhere you look you see relics of Eastern spirituality: Hindu gods; Buddhas; fountains; and vivid colors of blue, pink and yellow. The music is subtle with the sounds of distant chants and chimes moving through each tune. After enjoying a vegetarian lunch from the chakra-inspired menu, sneak upstairs to one of the three meditation rooms. Catch the sound of the wind chimes and drift off for a few minutes before heading back to the office. You will feel recharged.

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