Because we're in the midst of Urban Tulsa's annual Best and Worst issue, I thought we could recap the year's best and worst art exhibitions and theatre performances.
To be honest, we're focusing mainly on the best. There were some low points in the season for sure, but, for the most part, the work performed and exhibited was really, really good. Like it is every year. Like we expect it to be. Like it's known to be.
If you realize, as we recap this year's events, that there are a few you've missed out on, take note. We've seen what will come in 2009. So, take note of which companies and galleries are producing the really stellar, really revolutionary work, and put them on your list to watch in 2009.
Best Theater Productions of the Year
Big Budget: Light Opera Oklahoma's Candide. The show, an operetta based on Voltaire's work by the same name, set to music by Leonard Bernstein, satirizes warfare, religion and hypocrisy. All that, played out by a precisely adept company and orchestra, made for one of the best shows of the year.
Low Budget: Heller Theater's Recent Tragic Events. Directed by Frank Gallagher, the play describes a few hours in two young Minnesotans' lives one day after September 11. What could have been a maudlin two hours at the theater was actually, surprisingly, both riotous and poignant. We credit that to good acting and good direction. And it's what we've come to expect from the folks at Heller.
No Budget: Just about everything performed at the Nightingale Theater is guaranteed to be produced on a shoestring budget and, at the same time, to be really, really good.
Worst Theater Productions of the Year: American Theatre Company's Honky Tonk Angels and Broken Arrow Community Playhouse's Same Time Next Year. Sorry, guys. Better luck next year.
Shows That Made Us Go "Huh?": Orasi Productions' "Graven Image"; the "Sex Workers Art Show" (in a good way); Evandrake Productions' Mr. Marmalade (in a good, albeit creepy, way).
People Who Made Us Proud to Be Oklahomans... Sort Of: Tracy Letts.
Letts' Pulitzer and Tony award-winning drama August: Osage County took Broadway by storm, proving that a play coming out of Oklahoma can be smart and provocative and not riddled with merry tunes about wind sweeping down the plain. This play, deserving of all of the merit it's received and perhaps more, could actually change the way people across the nation perceive Oklahomans. We hope, though, it's because they recognize the magnitude of talent that comes from our state and not because they think we're all suicidal drug addicts who come from dysfunctional homes.
Best Art Exhibitions of the Year: Oklahoma Visual Arts Coalition's "Art 365," exhibited simultaneously at Liggett Studios and at the University of Tulsa's Alexandre Hogue Gallery. Six projects by Oklahoma artists were chosen to each receive a $10,000 honorarium and a year of curatorial guidance, and the resulting exhibits were displayed in Tulsa and in Oklahoma City. We definitely think more artists should be given opportunities like this one. The resulting work was quite spectacular.
Worst Art Exhibitions of the Year: I walked by a new gallery the other night on Brookside called Shawn Sisneros Fine Art and displaying work by Sisneros, most of which looked like uninspired splatter paintings. Granted, I don't know much about this new space, other than what I saw last weekend, but there is something to be said for first impressions. Maybe something better is still yet to come.
Best Museum Exhibit: "The Object Project" at Philbrook Museum of Art. The exhibit involved 12 artists interpreting the same five objects, the results of which were beautifully varied and, in some cases, surprising. The diversity resulting in 12 different interpretations of the same five objects is what art is really all about. We'd love to see one of the local galleries take on a project similar to this using all local artists. (Hint, hint.)
Best Display of Exhibitionism Disguised as Art: Eye Candy Burlesque (God, we love these ladies) and the aforementioned "Sex Workers Art Show." The best part of both of these productions? That we can see them in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We take that as a good sign.
Success Well-Deserved: Nightingale Theater selling out its second run of Horsemeat Flea Circus' "Holiday Hootchie Kootchie." We hear that, even after extra chairs were dragged into the theater, a good number of audience members were left standing for the hour-long show. We think it had something to do with the hot chicks in pasties. That's certainly why we showed up.
Best One-Man Production Company: Choregus Productions. This year marked the second full season for the production company, run by dance and music aficionado Ken Tracy. Tracy's eclectic and diverse tastes are made evident by the shows he's chosen to bring to Tulsa. All of them have been unique and unlike anything else being done in or brought to the city.
Other Notable Events: Living Arts' New Genre Festival, the Blue Dome Arts Festival, Philbrook's Third Thursdays and Living Arts' Art of Play events, Tulsa Ballet's "Legends" and Tulsa Opera's La Boheme.
Other Things We Are Looking Forward to in 2009: Heller Theater's opening at a new location and changes at Living Arts, which include a new administrative director (the search is on), a new location and expansion of its performing and education programs. Can't wait to see what's in store.
2009: A Preview
Shows We Can't Wait to See: Tulsa Opera's Hansel and Gretel (Feb. 21, 27 and March 1), Celebrity Attractions' Wicked (July 15-Aug. 9) and American Theatre Company's Twelve Angry Men (Feb. 6-14).
Exhibitions We're Most Looking Forward To: "Transcend" (Feb. 5-19) at Living Arts/Liggett Studio, an exhibition of contemporary African American art in Oklahoma and "Seeing Ourselves" (Feb. 1-April 26) at Philbrook Museum, which features more than 150 iconic photographic masterpieces.
Biggest Deal of 2009: Opening of the Mathews Warehouse in the Brady Arts District as a home for the Eugene B. Adkins collection in Tulsa and the Arts and Humanity Council of Tulsa's Visual Arts Center.
Artists to Watch: Starr Hardgrove, who, with his Evandrake Productions and the formation of the Tulsa Creative Network, is proving himself a force to be reckoned with, as an actor, producer and director. Mark Lewis, whose work revolving around the Tallgrass Prairie not only impressed TAC Gallery patrons but is also hanging at the BOK Center. Jason Zaloudik--while the artist may be based in Oklahoma City, he's made quite an impression on Tulsans in 2008, and we have a feeling we'll be seeing much more from him in 2009.
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