Best Local Playwright 2015 | Jeff Swearingen | Best of Dallas® 2020 | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Dallas | Dallas Observer

He often starts with a title: A School Bus Named Desire. Then writer-director Jeff Swearingen creates an ingenious homage to the original play, but with the twist of using children and teens as characters. As the co-founder and director of all-youth Fun House Theatre and Film, Swearingen has wowed critics and audiences with his smart Mamet spoof, Daffodil Girls (a Glengarry satire about the cutthroat world of Scout cookie sales); his holiday-themed take on Albee called Yes, Virginia Woolf, There Is a Santa Claus; and the pie-throwing Game of Thrones, Jr. His best might be Stiff, a showbiz farce that had a Sweet Smell of Success in its plot about a theater critic whose untimely death threatens an opening night. If one of Swearingen's brilliant little comedies-with-kids is opening, we're there.

What's more do-it-yourself than not having a fixed address? Local artist Arthur Peña flipped the script on the DIY venue model by doing away with the actual venue (and the overhead) to set up a roving DIY space, Vice Palace. Peña has always liked things weird (witness a George Quartz show or Dezi 5's crucifixion), but his best and battiest trick yet may be the new, city of Dallas-funded Vice Palace cassette label, for which he recorded live shows at Aqua Lab Studios to release as one-off tapes. Peña proves you can do anything with enough imagination.

If Lower Greenville has increasingly come to resemble Uptown with its rooftop bars and valet parking, then at least one bar, and in particular one weekly music showcase, has been keeping the neighborhood's creative spirit intact. That bar is The Crown & Harp, and thanks to Stefan González, who curates the Outward Bound Mixtape Sessions each Monday, it's one of Dallas' most vital hubs for experimental and noise music. From free jazz to noise rock to one-man bands, Outward Bound's guiding principle is to toss rules out the window. Local music doesn't get more wild or inspired than this.

With this season's world premiere of Dallas playwright Jonathan Norton's moving drama Mississippi Goddamn, vickie washington (she likes it lower case) reminded us that she's one of the finest stage directors in North Texas. Expert at bringing new works like Norton's to stages at South Dallas Cultural Center, Jubilee Theatre and in her day job at Booker T. Washington School for the Performing and Visual Arts, washington says the future of Dallas theater is secure because there's so much talent here. Her group Reading the Writers is focused on "finding pieces that aren't on the beaten path and bringing them to life," she says. Sounds like a move in the right direction.

Hip-hop is booming right now in Dallas (just ask Noisey), but if you really want to know what makes the scene tick you have to go underground. No one in North Texas has a finger on the pulse of hip-hop, both local and touring, like the folks behind, who specialize in late-night, DIY after-parties. They set up camp at places like Ash Studios or random Airbnbs, and it's not uncommon to catch rappers such as Vic Mensa and Travi$ Scott mingling with the Outfit, TX or Blue, the Misfit at these packed parties. You might even catch a world premiere, such as when Scott debuted "Antidote" this summer.

Theatrical set designer Rodney Dobbs regularly makes something out of nothing. Starting with a bare stage, with some plywood, paint and lots of imagination, he can re-create 1960s Southern suburbia, as he did for the play Mississippi Goddamn, or go multilevel with fancy staircases and video screens for Uptown Players' glossy musical Catch Me If You Can. As a founder of low-budget Pocket Sandwich Theatre, Dobbs learned how to stretch a dollar while making visual magic. And he's used to backstage hazards. "It's not a finished set," he says, "until I've bled on it."

This should be a two-horse race. Where else in Dallas would you want to BYOB (or technically speaking, BYOL) other than Ships Lounge or R.L.'s Blues Palace? The answer is, "Nowhere, you idiot." Sadly, Ships' recent (though, God willing, temporary) closure means there can only be one, Highlander-style. R.L.'s is an utterly unique experience in Dallas. The club is only open for a few hours a week, and it's a slice of life that hearkens back to the juke joints and blues clubs of yore. So bring along some liquor, grab a bucket of ice and sit back and enjoy the Hen Dance.

The four-week summer round-up of one-hour shows by small local companies bounced back in a big way this year. Producing presenter David Meglino chose eight diverse productions filled with energetic talent eager to introduce audiences to fresh pieces of live theater. Top draws were The In-Laws' dreamlike new mini-musical Decline of Ballooning, DGDG's all-male dances-with-text Show about Men and WingSpan's lovely Shoe Confessions. Sold-out houses and big crowds at the after-show cabarets mean FIT has a following that'll keep it flying for years to come.

Best Moment on Dallas Before It Got Canceled Again

Judith Light Does a Line

Dallas the cable reboot got the boot this year after just two seasons, but dang, it had some dandy moments, even if the scripts about Alaskan fracking contracts and Mexican drug cartels were dumb. The addition of Emmy and Tony-winning actress Judith Light gave the TNT series a temporary boost of high drama. Playing evil brothel owner Judith Ryland, Light found the creamy nougat center of every scene she chewed up. The best single moment of the new Dallas had her sidling up to a handsome cowboy, sniffing a fat line of coke off his meaty hand and pausing to let it burn down her throat before she growled, "Mama like." Oh, Judith, you were the new J.R. and we liked you, Mama.

Say this much for Mark Cuban: He has a sense of humor. Or maybe he just doesn't give a damn. When the Free Loaders perform each week at the Standard Pour, band leader John Jay Myers makes the same joke: "If you like what you heard, put $100 in the tip jar," he says. "Unless you're Mark Cuban. Then put in $1,000." Lo and behold, one night last winter, Cuban — of Dancing With the Stars fame — was there, swing dancing his ass off for all the world to see. It may not have been a cash contribution, but it sure was priceless.

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