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PLAYING AROUND

COMEDY REVUE

MAD COWFORD

If you’ve never seen improv comedy, you might be prejudiced by that open mic night when some poor schmuck’s dick jokes fell flat, yet you felt obligated to laugh. Not so at Mad Cowford shows: The improv troupe draws consistent, high-energy crowds every weekend night to their Northstar Substation digs ($5 gets you in). A loyal audience returns week after week to participate in their sketches, scenes and games. The group celebrates eight years performing here with the comedy revue variety show Way Off Broadway. 8 p.m. July 19, Theatre Jacksonville, $20, theatrejax.com, madcowford.com.   More

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MUSICAL

THE WIZ

Dorothy takes a soulful journey in a local youth production of The Wiz, an African-American musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that fuses rock, gospel and soul. Students in the 100 Youth Voices musical theater program show off what they learned at Stage Aurora, an award-winning nonprofit theater company offering arts education programs to underserved students. This production is the centerpiece of Stage Aurora’s Black Arts Festival. 7 p.m. July 18 and 2 and 6 p.m. July 19 at Stage Aurora, Gateway Town Center, Northside, $15-$25, 765-7373, stageaurora.org.   More

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SWAMP RADIO

SUMMER PERFORMANCE

Swamp Radio has given new meaning to the phrase “live radio.” Performed before a live audience and available by podcast, the show focuses on the history, culture and flavors of Northeast Florida. Local poets, playwrights, storytellers and songwriters hit the road to share the area’s rich culture in the quarterly variety series. For its summer show, Summer in the Ancient City, Swamp Radio highlights the history of St. Augustine, with historian Wayne Wood and a performance by husband-and-wife folk duo The WillowWacks. 7:30 p.m. July 18 and 19, Flagler College’s Lewis Auditorium, $25 for adults, $20 for students.   More

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In a parallel tale of obsession and dying, 33 Variations’ plot focuses on one woman's journey to understand the motivation behind one of Beethoven’s last works.

The central character, Katherine Brandt (played by Sinda Nichols), is a musicologist who has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. She’s consumed with trying to make sense of Beethoven’s strange compulsion to put aside other pieces during his latter years, with failing health and the steady loss of his hearing, to write 33 separate variations of a waltz by a composer he originally felt was beneath him.

The 5 & Dime Theatre Company and director Lee Hamby produce 33 Variations, which was written by Moisés Kaufman (author of The Laramie Project) and received five Tony nominations after its 2009 Broadway debut. The play is staged July 18-20 and 25-27 at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.   More

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The Gateway Shopping Plaza, once a popular shopping hub on the Northside, is now a drab town center where the main attraction is Publix. But something inside the Gateway Mall is attracting an audience of its own.

Through the vision of founder Darryl Reuben Hall, Stage Aurora Theatrical Company has been bringing productions to the stage since 2001 and showcasing arts on the Northside.

Stage Aurora continues to make an impact in the community through its Black Arts Festival, now in its seventh year. The festival gives participants an opportunity to show their talents in a variety of art forms. This year’s festival features an Oceanus Tae Kwan Do exhibition in which students will display the teachings of Master Joseph E. Morgan, and a production of the Tony award-wining musical The Wiz featuring 100 Youth Voices. According to Anntoinette Jones, who works for Stage Aurora, the actors (who are mostly students between the ages of 6 and 18) have been working on the production for about two and a half months. She also says that the students won’t be the only ones who will be given the chance to display their talents. Kids of all ages are welcomed to show off their artistic ability to the Stage Aurora audience at the 2014 Youth Talent Explosion.

Though Stage Aurora offers local actors a chance to express themselves on stage, they have also hosted nationally recognized performers at past Black Arts Festivals. Jones says T'Keyah Crystal Keymah (from That’s So Raven), Tony Award winner Melba Moore and Ella Joyce (in a performance of A Rose Among Thorns) were three highlights from past festivals.

The Black Arts Festival spans the July 18-20 weekend, beginning with the Oceanus Tae Kwon Do exhibit on Friday and ending with the 2014 Youth Talent Explosion on Sunday. Performances of The Wiz are Friday and Saturday.   More

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Grammarians everywhere are rejoicing after "Weird Al" Yankovic dropped the music video for "Word Crimes" — a parody of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" — earlier this week. 

Joining the grammar police, Yankovic skewers the improper use of "fewer" and "less" as well as "its" and "it's." No one is safe, as he takes aim at Reddit, Twitter users and the doge meme. (Don't worry, he excuses dropping the Oxford comma.) The Weird One takes time to remind that he's a "cunning linguist" with a "big dictionary" (a reference to Thicke's video).

The animated video for "Word Crimes" was directed by Jarrett Heather, who spent more than 500 hours working on it, according to his blog.

While watching the video, you might beg for an extensive explanation of "there, their and they're." It never comes, but he's straightening people out on "literally," "irony" and "lightning/lightening," so who are we to complain?

"Word Crimes" was the second music video in a plan to release eight in eight days. The releases for Yankovic's new album, Mandatory Fun, began with "Tacky," his parody of Pharrell's "Happy."

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The Dave Matthews Band is playing the arena tonight, and the show’s been sold out for months (approximately 17.3 seconds after tickets went on sale, by our calculations). So either you’re going (we’re judging you), you wish you were going (judging), or you think there might be a better way to part with your hard-earned cash (we can be friends).

Looking for something else to do? Here are some non-DMB happenings around Northeast Florida tonight that are worth your while:

1. See Jenny Lewis at the Florida Theatre. She’s about the same age as the main dude from DMB, except cuter, and incredibly talented. And she’ll probably play some Rilo Kiley songs. (Ray LaMontagne plays, too.)

2. Check out the amateur comedy hour at the Comedy Zone in Mandarin. Watch other people purposely embarrass themselves, then feel better about yourself.

3. Karaoke at Club TSI: Keep the whiskey coming, head on stage and purposely butcher a DMB song. (It won’t be hard.)

4. Trivia Night at the Garage: Drink about five different IPAs and demonstrate how much smarter you are than everyone else.

5. Go to the Jax Jazz Collective CD Release concert and party at Underbelly: Jacksonville has a great jazz scene, but we don’t pay enough attention to it. Fix that.   More

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Every month, Northeast Florida residents hit downtown for First Wednesday Art Walk to see great art, witness performances and get acquainted with what's new. While most art walkers enjoyed the entertainment outside, artists and guests gathered inside Southlight Gallery for the opening of its Members' Choice and Reunion exhibits.

Southlight Gallery is celebrating its fifth anniversary as a downtown gallery that features a diverse collection of art. The gallery felt the best way to celebrate its progress was to give new artists a chance to display their work and to bring veteran artists back to the gallery.

Southlight sent an open call to artists for their July guest exhibit Members' Choice in which the artists could select pieces to submit to the gallery to be judged for first-, second- and third-place prizes. The juried winner, Jeffrey Luque, called it a huge honor to receive recognition for his work. Though there was no monetary prize involved, he said the bragging rights were worth more than cash. Luque, a Jacksonville native, says he’s glad that Jacksonville has such a diverse art scene. After moving to New Mexico for a few years, he noticed the art scene was a bit dry but Jacksonville is much more vibrant.

That’s exactly the kind of environment that Pam Zambetti, the gallery’s manager, tries to foster. She says that she seeks diversity in the art that is selected to hang in the gallery. To her it's very important that artists have the chance to express themselves and display the pieces they think best reflect themselves. The diversity of subjects and media isapparent in each room of the gallery. Some rooms feature sculptures, black and white photography and beautiful watercolor paintings with bright colors bleeding into each other to create vivid beach scenes.

Lois Newman, a veteran of Southlight, is responsible for a few of those watercolors. An avid surfer and swimmer, she paints on location (or en plein air) in Costa Rica …   More

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Fourteen-year-old Tori Jackson, who will be a high school freshman later this year, heard the Girls Rock Jacksonville message loud and clear.

“The moment I felt empowered was when one of the counselors told me, ‘This is your place.’ She said that we do not have to be nervous at camp, we can express ourselves, and girls rock!”

Girls Rock Jacksonville has been providing a safe space for girls to boost their confidence, express their musical creativity and rock their way through those awkward teenage years since 2012.

The camp — founded by Ace Canessa, Sarah Humphreys and local musician Summer Wood — offers girls the chance to learn to play an instrument, write their own lyrics and create a band to perform in a camp showcase. Two years later, the camp continues to grow and help give a voice to groups of girls every summer.

Aside from teaching girls how to play instruments, the goal of Girls Rock Jacksonville is to equip girls with self-confidence.

Though the camp’s name implies that rock is the main genre, Jackson says that’s not exactly the case. “Our genre was kind of all over the place. We had some rapping in our song, we had some indie rock sort of things and we also had some riot girl moments,” she laughs.

Sisters Yani and Lulu Ritchie also recall their camp experience fondly. Lulu, the drummer for Moonlit Shadows, remembers how easy it was to make friends and connect with her bandmates. She said, “during our practice band time we would just chill and then after 45 minutes we would actually talk about the songs and get to know each other more.” Yani of Yani and the Rosettes learned to play bass at the camp. Though she says she’d never really worked in groups before, she was able to improve her teamwork skills.

Canessa is looking to expand the Girls Rock Jacksonville camp into an after-school program. “In the past we’ve had a pilot once-a-month mentorship program,” she says. “But it never really quite got off …   More

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Daniel Austin will always remember his first time, and stars Amanda Morales and Carl Vorwerk will remember what might be their last for a Northeast Florida audience. The result is a can't-miss production of Venus in Fur, continuing through June 21 at Players by the Sea.

The first-time director collaborates with two actors about to pursue theater in New York on this sexy and mentally stimulating comedy. This should keep Jacksonville Beach's reputation as one of the nation's sexiest suburbs in play for years to come.

For all that talk about sex, the 100-minute comedy without an intermission truly excels in posing questions on pleasure, pain, power, domination, subjugation and freedom while keeping the audience off-balance in this audition-within-a-play work by David Ives.

In Venus in Fur, Thomas (Vorwerk) is at his wit's end after a day of auditioning a "panoply of outcasts" for the starring role of Vanda. The director is ready to go home when in walks an actress of the same name — the mystery doesn't end there. The role of power between director and aspiring actress sets the stage, then the game of seduction ramps it up. Thomas reveals that Venus in Fur is based on a work by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch; masochism is named after Sacher-Masoch, so you know where this is going or you think you do.

First, Vanda (Morales) must convince Thomas to let her read for it: "Anyway, this play is sure amazing. I mean, the parts of it I read. Pretty wild stuff." She's really convincing.

Austin takes major risks with a minimalistic set, a production that's more conceptional than its New York counterpart but with more tongue (you'll have to watch).

All those risks, and it's Morales and Vorwerk who need to whip it good. And they do.

Morales, a graduate of Indiana University (Bloomington) who plans to leave for New York in early July, delivers a commanding performance as the woman on top for most of this romp. She'll remind some of Julia …   More

 
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