She can be a fiery vixen or a bubbly comedienne. Or, in the case of her recent starring role in the hit comedy Five Women Wearing the Same Dress at Contemporary Theatre of Dallas, both in one play. Emily Scott Banks launched her acting career in 2002 after studying the Meisner method with acting teacher Terry Martin (his class is a must for serious thesps). In shows at WaterTower Theatre, Stage West, CTD and Echo, where she recently played the author George Eliot in A Most Dangerous Woman, she's grown into one of this area's most interesting, versatile, dangerously talented theater stars.
There are concert promoters who do what they do for a living, and then there's Parade Of Flesh's John Iskander, a DISD middle-school math teacher who counts himself as little more than a music fan. But that's what makes him such a good promoter: He only books bands that he loves. Since he has a broad musical palate, ranging from metal to indie-rock, that means he has a show at least once a week. This year, highlights include Those Darlin's and Why?, but his biggest event this year was the third annual Bro-Fest, a music festival that featured some of the world's best up-and-coming indie-rock and metal acts.
The Kessler Theater
Mike Brooks
For decades, people have traveled northbound over the Trinity River to hear live music in Dallas, and rarely was it the opposite. But in 2010, the year Edwin Cabaniss reopened the 70-year-old Kessler Theater in North Oak Cliff, all that started to change. The shows being booked at The Kessler rivaled and often trumped shows happening elsewhere in town. The key ingredient was in hiring one of the founding fathers of Deep Ellum, Jeff Liles, to manage the place. Thanks to his booking, a healthy mix of local bands and legendary national artists including the likes of St. Vincent have graced the stage, as well as some reunited Dallas rock alumni like Chomsky, Earl Harvin and Mike Dillon.
Their 2008 self-titled debut went criminally unheralded by most, but, somehow, True Widow's first disc still caught the ears of the people over at New York City-based Kemado Records, who quickly snatched up the group and agreed to release their 2011 mouthful of a follow-up. The second True Widow release isn't much different from the first; it once again moves about as quick as molasses, but scores major points for its loud volume and aesthetic — a sound that the band calls stonegaze because it lies, as you'd expect from the name, just about smack dab between shoegaze and stoner rock. But it is a slightly more focused effort, and maybe a more focus-grouped one too. After taking a backseat throughout much of the band's debut, save for the must-hear "Duelist," bassist Nikki Estill is given a bigger vocal role on the newer effort, her angelic pipes cast in more of a secondary lead role to that of guitarist Dan Phillips. The move was a smart one — the juxtaposition of her sweet vocals to the band's heavy sound and Phillips' own gritty pipes is stunning. Really, though, the band is at its best when all members, including drummer Tim Starks, are cast in equal roles, with Phillips and Estill harmonizing over Starks' restrained beats and with their own instruments filling the holes as need be. Too often, bands that are reliant on excessive volume tend to come off sounding rather harsh; True Widow, especially on their second release, have a remarkable talent for making loud sound beautiful.
This year and last have been especially good for local indie folk darling Sarah Jaffe, who was born in Red Oak, found her audience in Dallas and perfected her craft in Denton. It's been a steady climb, but one that took a steep upward turn following the April 2010 release of her sophomore album, Suburban Nature, which found the performer earning praise from outlets as wide-ranging and varied as Paste and USA Today. Front to back, it's a strong, revealing release from the 25-year-old, but the album's unquestioned highlight is "Clementine," a song that Jaffe says she wrote as something of a throwaway — a means to fill out her once rather short live performance set. These days,"Clementine" has become about as unavoidable as a local song can be; it's in frequent rotation on KKXT-FM 91.7 KXT, as well as in Starbucks coffeehouses around the country. That much is understandable enough; "Clementine" is a really pretty song. But it becomes an especially impressive track when heard repeatedly. That's when Jaffe's rather self-loathing lyrical content shines through. "I wish my name was Clementine," she sings in the song's chorus, claiming that such a name would afford her the chance to be "a little more delicate." It's a song about being self-aware, about growing up and choosing to accept or reject the person that you've become. As she performs it, Jaffe seems uncertain that she's becoming the person she wants to be. On the listeners, it has the opposite effect. To them, it's clear that Jaffe's just fine exactly as she is.
When it opened this summer, Ro2 Art Uptown seemingly filled the art-scene lull that usually comes with the hot weather. Mother and son owners Susan Roth Romans and Jordan Roth expanded their reach from their downtown gallery space and promised exciting exhibitions featuring new talent, and did they deliver. Earlier this month, the Uptown gallery hosted An Evening of Arts and Jewels in conjunction with Fashion's Night Out, and the most recent exhibition features works from local artists Kathy Robinson Hays, husband Terry Hays and newcomer Val Curry. It doesn't hurt that the West Village gallery is situated within a stone's throw of popular retail and dining destinations, plus the inviting space is open seven days a week for aficionados who need a daily dose of art.
The newest member of Dallas Theater Center's elite Brierley Resident Acting Company also is the co-founder and current artistic director of Second Thought Theater, which just ended its seventh and strongest season. A handsome, lanky, angular leading man, Steven Walters played Prince Hal in DTC's action-packed Henry IV last year and opened this fall's DTC season as the romantic Ferdinand in Shakespeare's The Tempest. In between, he donned nerd glasses for Second Thought's manic one-man show Thom Pain (based on nothing) and had supporting roles on TV's Chase and Friday Night Lights. He also writes plays and has sold a screenplay for indie production this fall, but Walters made the decision last year to move back from Los Angeles to anchor his career in Dallas. Bravo.
At age 8, Matt Tolentino, a kid in East Dallas, became enchanted by the great Adrian Rollini, an early 20th century jazz instrumentalist best known for his bass sax in the speakeasy era just before the advent of big band swing music. Lucky for Dallas, Tolentino never came out from under Rollini's magic spell. Now in his mid-20s, Tolentino is proprietor of the city's coolest, quirkiest, retro jazz group, the Singapore Slingers, a full 18-piece orchestra with five strings, four reeds, three brass, five rhythm players and, of course, tah dah! ... Tolentino on the bass saxophone. They play the Pocket Sandwich, the Kessler, Sons of Hermann and a host of venues around town. Google Matt Tolentino or Singapore Slingers for dates.
We're not ashamed to admit we're biased when it comes to the Video Association of Dallas' 24 Hour Video Race. With the advent of the Mixmaster, the Dallas Observer arts and culture blog, we finally got up the guts to enter the annual contest. Regardless of the award outcome (third in our division, high five!), we persevered from midnight to midnight, staying awake (sorta), eating (an obscene amount of) packaged snack food, achieving levels of insanity in which creating meat helmets seemed totally logical and, ultimately, accomplishing the task of writing, shooting, editing and scoring a five-minute film in 24 hours (naturally) based on a theme, prop, location and line of dialogue given to us as the challenge began. The VAD staff was funny, patient and supportive with an "emergency" hotline (for those techy questions easily solved had sleep been possible). If building bonds through sleep deprivation and/or seeing your work in a real video festival is a goal, well the former is a definite and the Dallas Video Fest this year features a screening of winners. Your first 24 Hour Video Race is certainly "a day to remember."
Dallas International Film Festival, March 31 to April 10 this year, offered more than 200 films to choose from. USA Film Festival, April 27 to May 1, supplied film lovers with nearly two dozen more. For one month, that may seem like a lot of celluloid (or whatever filmmakers are using these days) ground to cover and a lot of time spent in dark theaters' seats with strangers, but take into account that not only do most attendees love approximately three-fourths of the movies they see (based on our own unscientific surveying between films), both festivals also provide a good number of celebrity asses in the seats. From directors to screenwriters to stars, both festivals bring in the famous, the soon-to-be and the should-be for Q&As, panels, chi-chi red carpets and more. Better still: If you questioned going to the movies solo, you won't anymore with all the "I'll watch your seat if you watch mine" buddies you make spending up to 12 hours per day landing in the same screenings. April should really be called Dallas Film Lovers' Month.

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