Best new multi-use performance venue
A few of Seattle's forward thinkers -headed by former Weekly founder/editor David Brewster- got together and said, "Hey, kids, let's put on a play! And a poetry reading! And a chamber music concert! And a choral sing-along! And a choreographer's workshop! And . . . !" Unveiled this spring, Town Hall (1119 Eighth at Seneca, 652-4255), a refurbished Christian Science church on the downtown slope of First Hill (a space long underused and barely noticed), is up and running. What this means: A midsize performance space located within spitting distance of downtown has arrived. Huge spaces, such as the Paramount, the 5th Avenue Theater, the Opera House, and Benaroya Hall (excluding its recital hall, a much-needed venue for smaller classical music groups), have never been options for many community-based performing arts groups, being too big and too expensive to rent. These groups were usually relegated to suburban church pews. For the audiences these midsize groups draw regularly, there was not an appropriate and-key factors-central location with good acoustics for a variety of arts. Another thumbs-up goes to the on-site parking and the No. 2 bus line outside the front door. Keep your ears pricked for upcoming events, ranging from a multitude of arts, educational events, and meetings. They also do private functions. Feel free to clap at any time. . . .
Best celebrity sighting indicating that Seattle is still Seattle
Local actor turned ER regular John Aylward, who was glimpsed on a weeknight a couple of months ago hanging out with several friends in the loud, smoky, but quintessentially Broadway bar, Ileen's. Aylward and his wife still own their Capitol Hill residence, though they spend most of the year in thrall to LA-land. Still, it's good to know that John's not too big a star to enjoy jostling elbows with the local Broadway rabble.
Best local playwright
Seattle's recognized far and wide as a writer's town. We're a major stop on most authors' book signings and have a significant amount of local talent that we can be proud of, from Sherman Alexie to Rebecca Brown to David Guterson. But while we've got some significant playwrights in residence as well, choosing a best from the ranks is a much more difficult proposition. Our most famous local playwright, for example, is August Wilson, but even now his vision is clearly on his hometown of Detroit and the landscape of his youth; it would be a stretch indeed to even call him a "Seattle playwright." Then there's the astonishingly prolific Steven Dietz, whose work has had a long-time home at A Contemporary Theater and is now being seen on regional stages across the country. But despite his enthusiasm for tackling any number of different subjects and provocative themes, there's a superficiality, a lightness to much of his writing that's repeatedly disappointing. We've got a few New York transplants like William Mastrosimone, who have unfortunately done little since escaping the Big Apple, and a whole host of fine writers like Bret Fetzer, Ki Gottberg, Dawson Nichols, Jeff Resta, and Y York, who've had work produced both locally and abroad but continue to pay their dues in the trenches of semi-obscurity. So at the risk of sounding Messianic, this year's award goes to the writer yet to come, an individual who can combine the thematic ambition of a Wilson with the versatility of a Dietz, the comedy of a Resta or a Vince Delaney with the social conscience of a York or a Drew Emery, and it would be nice if he or she had the musical facility of a Chris Jeffries as well. Any of these artists might be concluding the epic that will push them into this slot in the year to come, or perhaps some mute inglorious Milton labors even now pulling shots at an espresso stand. But we've got a sneaking suspicion that our arrival on the world stage is just around the
Best new-music trend
Composers' organizations! Local composers have never been chummier-in the past season or so, they've exhibited a mania for gathering, organizing, and sharing ideas both aesthetic and practical. Most encouragingly, the Washington Composers Forum has awakened after a couple of years' slumber. Its new director, Christopher Shainin, took over last February, establishing monthly (second Tuesdays) presentation/business meetings at Jack Straw Studios in the U District. Plans are afoot for public concerts of some sort this fall (call 789-3628 for more info). The Seattle Composers Alliance focuses on music for media, drawing the area's commercial composers; one membership requirement is that you make at least 50 percent of your income from composing (contact Hummie Mann at 442-2109 for info on upcoming workshops and seminars). The Composers and Improvisers Workshop will resume meetings in the fall for all musicians interested in improvisation (contact Lynette Westendorf at 525-2706). Another outlet for live performance, a sort of .new-music open-mike night, is the Seattle Composers Salon series recently started by Christian Asplund, with the latest in chamber music the last Friday of each month (contact firstname.lastname@example.org for details about the scheduled event on August 27). The Sonicabal is a free-form group of experimental, technology-friendly composers that meets monthly to discuss issues, organize shows, and share works for feedback (and occasionally works of feedback). The group is strictly nonhierarchical (as good a contact person as any is Chris DeLaurenti at 784-8077). Of a more traditionalist bent is the wryly named Cro-Magnon Club (287-1900), an association of "paper composers" that meets the second and fourth Sundays and Wednesdays at the Parlor Room in Pioneer Square for discussions and music readings. And keeping you abreast of all this is
The Tentacle, the tartly contentious and unabashedly idealistic monthly journal covering outsider music from Portland to Vancouver (available at the Northwest's better record stores and coffeehouses; the online version can be found at www.tentacle.org).
Best social dance trend that's not going anywhere
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing !" When it comes to social dancing, Ellington was right on. Sixty years later, a veritable tidal wave of swing dancing is sweeping through the nation. One bizarre rumor suggests that punk rockers were fed up with their increasingly mainstream appeal, so they decided to revert to something radical. You know-holding hands and moving to a beat. The good news: Swing dancing is fun, fun, fun, and very easy to learn. Our first lessons were almost a year ago at an event called Swingin' Summer at the Edmond Meany Hotel. The venue's art-deco renovations really got us, in a group of over 100 hopeful swingers, going. Several moves later, my partner and I were twirling the night away! (We dare anyone to resist the Savoy Swing Band.) A little Web research uncovers dozens of swing clubs out there, each with a flavor all its own. Regular venues include the Century Ballroom, the Fenix, Showbox, and Living Traditions.
Best arts scandal
At the beginning of last season, On the Boards hosted an open house to inaugurate their new theater. There were lots of speeches from politicians and donors, and the auditorium still had that new-car smell. Later in the year the smell had worn off and OTB was the site of another open house, with a different cast of characters, not of a mind to celebrate. In a well-meant but ham-handed move, OTB's board of directors proposed to replace artistic director Mark Murphy and managing director Sara Pasti with a to-be-named-later executive director, and the arts community was outraged. Rumors flew, the board was mum, petitions were signed-from the outside, the process seemed in danger of sinking the whole organization. After some fancy stepping by the board and Murphy, partly facilitated by Corporate Council for the Arts' Peter Donnelly, the administration at OTB is mending fences, but the articulate and heartfelt support expressed by the arts community for Murphy and the role of On the Boards made this a standout event for the year.
Best locally set movie
While 10 Things I Hate About You features some great shots of Gas Works Park, Lake Union, and Tacoma's Stadium High School, it was filmed during the hottest week of 1997, which means that every scene makes Seattle seem more like southern California. Under Heaven, by Seattle director Meg Richman, which expertly transposes Henry James' Wings of the Dove to modern-day Seattle, gives grittier views of the city, with several scenes taking place inside the Comet Tavern, on Pioneer Square sidewalks, and below Hammering Man. And while it doesn't show off our fair city in the film, Jonas Batt's 12-minute short, Balancing Pies , gets the prize for being the funniest. Showcased as part of the Northwest Shorts program at the 1999 Seattle International Film Festival, this comic gem stars Rodney Sherwood and features local funnywoman Peggy Platt as an overbearing mother. The film's biggest laughs come during a bizarre dream sequence in which the beleaguered Sherwood confronts his "inner pie"-a guy in a cherry pie costume who's queerer than a Fruit of the Looms spokesfruit-and reclaims his self-confidence and manhood.
Best local mystery writer
Seattle isn't known as a real-life crime capital, but its number of fictional felonies is skyrocketing. Earl Emerson and J.A. Jance top the ever-growing roster of local authors writing Seattle-based mysteries. However, the wordsmith to watch is G.M. Ford. He left a 20-year career teaching English to pen his first novel, Who In Hell is Wanda Fuca? (1995), and has since produced four more acclaimed stories about an underachieving but persistent Seattle private eye named Leo Waterman, the latest one being Last Ditch (1999). Funnier than many crime novelists and skilled at using Seattle-area settings without turning his tales into travelogues, the 53-year-old Ford doesn't think detective fiction is at all limiting. "I find the way people look at [the genre] to be limiting," he remarks, "as if there's some sort of formula into which one simply plugs characters and settings, and then turns the switch. Anything you can write about in an art novel can be written about in this genre." Ford has already finished his sixth Waterman adventure, The Deader, the Better, and is working on a thriller about a cross-country chase. "It's sort of Lethal Weapon with a female protagonist," he explains.
Best 'Phantom Menace' action figure
While Ewan McGregor is one of the most charming actors du jour, he was too restrained as the young Obi-wan Kenobi. Perhaps it was the forced American accent, or the monkish Jedi-Knight-in-training robes, or the redundant hairstyle-a rat tail plus a ponytail!-that confined the Scotsman's usual exuberance. Sadly, the plastic action figure doesn't look like the handsome actor at all-the face looks more like Arnold Palmer-and as we suspected, McGregor's famous johnny, which he revealed in full form in The Pillow Book and Velvet Goldmine, is conspicuously missing in the plastic version. With Obi-wan thus out of the contest, it could have been a toss-up between Darth Maul and Queen Amidala. Darth Maul takes the prize for being the coolest- looking dude in the film; he was more gothic than any member of KISS. The doll is faithful to the character and even has a stud in its left ear. But Queen Amidala , who changed costumes in every scene, comes in six versions, each with a different baroque outfit and headdress-which should provide hours of fun for any aspiring fashion designer. There's even one that comes with an extra head, with a hood attached to the face of the handmaid Padm鮠Strange.
Best coin-operated museum
Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, and see the greatest shoe on earth! When Danny Eskenazi was growing up in Seattle, he often visited his grandfather's downtown shoe store. For nearly 30 years, Isaac Eskenazi kept a pair of giant boots in the window. The shoes belonged to Robert Wadlow, an 8-foot-11-inch tall man who traveled on the lecture circuit in the 1930s and stopped in Seattle at the Pantages Theater. When Isaac relocated his store in the 1960s, the boots mysteriously disappeared. That started Danny on a lifelong search for these Holy Grails of Giant Shoes. To this day, he continues to search (there is a $1,000 reward for the return of Wadlow's boots), and along the way he has acquired an enviable collection of giant shoes. In 1997, he generously donated his collection to the new Giant Shoe Museum (Old Seattle Paperworks, 1501 Pike Pl, 623-2870; lower level of Pike Place Market), setting the hurdle higher for other Seattle philanthropists. The coin-op museum is a marvel, and the only one of its kind north of San Francisco. A dollar's worth of quarters will pay for all three of the peep shoe's exhibits. The painted facade is an homage to the tradition of lurid, colorful circus posters from the early 20th century. Sven Sundbaum, one of the Northwest's most respected sign artists, created the facade, cast the bronze eyepieces, and built the cabinets in which Seattle's Shoes of Mystery sit, shrouded by velvet curtains. The Giant Shoe Museum carries on the Seattle tradition of humorous, creative hucksterism. From Henry Yesler to Ivar, there's always been a secret stream of eccentricity running right below the surface of mild-mannered, financially responsible, Scandinavian Seattle. The museum is sponsored by the Society for the Preservation of Oversize Footwear, one of Seattle's most exclusive clubs. Danny said, "People are amazed by roadside attractions-like the Fremont Rocket, Hat and Boots, and the statue of Lenin. It's obvious that,
as a society, people need more local goofiness, more things that distract them from the daily grind. The Society's mission is simply to demand equal time. . . ."
Check out the rest of the critics' picks: clerks, beats, spots, wonks, geeks, and bites. Or, go to the 1999 Best of Seattle main page.