The Arts and Other Highfalutin' Stuff

Actors, troubadours, campfire singers, cowboy poets & purty pictures (Please don’t  shoot the piano player!)

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Best OC Playwright No Longer Living in OC
Johnna Adams
Multiple winner of various OC Weekly awards and accolades, Adams has turned her back on California for the greener artistic pastures of the Big Apple. If her blogs are any indication, she has hit the Disneyfied Times Square concrete running: She attends numerous readings and plays; got a cool rejection letter from South Coast Repertory; has gone through the process of applying to New Dramatists; and has taken classes with playwrights as diverse as SCR-produced Christopher Shinn, Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel and avant-gardist Mac Wellman. She has also just started a new trilogy of plays. You can read about the process of an artist in development by making her your MySpace friend.

Best DIY Theater Program
Orange Coast College's Repertory
Orange Coast College
2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa
(714) 432-5072
Headed by brothers Alex and Rick Golson with David Scaglione and Cynthia Corley for more years than can actually be counted on two hands, all you need to do is simply plunk down the requisite unit fee, take the class and become totally immersed in the wonderful, back-breaking world of theater. Build a set with your bare hands and scavenged wood (plus a power tool or two)! Hang and gel lighting instruments! Direct a play—your choice! Edit sound! Learn how to operate a light or sound board! Costume actors in colorful retro clothing! Re-use props that have been part of hundreds of productions! Be privy to the myriad uses of flat black paint! Intimately understand the intricacies of running a snack bar! The Golsons and co. maintain just enough control to make things happen, but they allow their students to pass or fail on their own terms. Take the class enough times, and you'll know all you need to know to run a theater (Hunger Artists and Rude Guerrilla got their starts there).

Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.

Best University Theater Program
UC Irvine
Campus and West Peltason drives, Irvine
(949) 824-6614
Theater doesn't get better than this talented staff of professionals, headed by newly appointed theater chairman Eli Simon. These aren't tired, dusty academics: These folks teach, choreograph, write books, create new plays, write theater criticism and theory, direct all over the world, and program a mind-bogglingly diverse season. Not the same old same old of some university theater programs, but rather a healthy mix of classics, premieres, comedies, dramas and musicals, directed by both the staff and the students. You can see work by Tennessee Williams, Stephen Sondheim, Charles Mee, Naomi Iizuka, Shakespeare, Jean Anouilh and Cole Porter.

Best Non-Theatrical Theater Company
The Maverick Theater
110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton
(714) 526-7070
Maybe it's the drunken midnight karaoke on Saturdays, or the slinky femmes fatales gyrating to James Bond theme songs, or some fat fuck in a red suit squaring off with green Martians, or Stalag 17or A Few Good Men, or the unashamedly fan's-eye musical homage to Elvis, The King.Or maybe it's all of them. But the Maverick Theater in downtown Fullerton is the most un-theater theater in the county, trafficking in film and multimedia as much as Shakespeare and Neil Simon. Founder Brian Newell has opened up his two spaces—including his 1920s-speakeasy venue—to everyone and everything, from committed thespians and iconic light and set designers (hello, Jim Book!) to standup comedians and even the Fullerton Music Festival in September. If theaters want to remain relevant in an age of iPhones and high-def this and that, more should look at the model Newell and co. are building.

Best New Theater Troupe
The Breath of Fire Latina Theater Ensemble
El Centro Cultural de Mexico
310 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana
This Santa Ana troupe is unabashedly political, talented and eager to look under rocks most people would prefer untouched, as proven by its inaugural production last year of The Mexican O.C.Culled from interviews with longtime OC residents, the piece was (and is) a triumphant blend of agitprop and studious oral history, anuncompromising examination of some of the more unsavory examples of the prejudice toward migrants that has existed in this county since long before Proposition 187 and amnesty marches. Most recently, the troupe staged 9ine Digits Away From My Dream,another oral-history project about undocumented students in the United States seeking college degrees.

Best Theatrical Hat Trick
Brian Kojac
Single and double threats are no strangers to local stages. Lots of thespian-leaning types can act, write, direct, run a theater or some combination thereof. But when it comes to keeping more balls in the air than anyone, you can't overlook the founder of OC's most established storefront theater, Stages. As a performer, he's capable of carrying shows as varied as Henry Vto the intentionally ridiculous Bullshot Crummond.He's as comfortable directing an antique murder-mystery as he is Jesus Christ Superstar. And some 12 years after he launched Stages in a grimy industrial park in Anaheim, and presiding over its move to a much more highly visible spot in downtown Fullerton, the theater is still very alive and very kicking.

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