Best Actress 2015 | Ann Marie Olson | Arts & Entertainment | South Florida

The greatest compliment to Ann Marie Olson's performance in Thinking Cap Theatre's Always... Patsy Cline is that I forgot I was watching Ann Marie Olson. This is what it means to disappear completely within a character, in this case this doomed singer who brought Nashville country music into the pop mainstream before perishing in a plane crash at age 30. With very little dialogue, Olson captured Patsy Cline's exuberant spirit and fundamental kindness — but what's more impressive was her pitch-perfect mastery of 27 Cline songs, from hits like "Crazy" and "Wa kin' After Midnight" to the more-obscure selections that would fill four-hour set lists at forgotten '50s honky-tonks. They're all a far cry from the traditional Broadway vocal arrangements Olson has conquered for Slow Burn Theatre, yet they seemed as comfortable leaving Olson's lips as church hymns to a reverend. If there were ever a local production that deserved its own cast album, it's this one.

There's something to be said for chewing the scenery, for playing the loudest notes so powerfully and incessantly that everything, for a brief time, disappears, until that one performance is all that remains. In her opening scene as Margaret White, Carrie's fundamentalist wacko mom in Slow Burn's Carrie: The Musical, Keelor consumed everything — the set, the music, the title character — with her unquenchable hysteria. You hated her character as much as you'd ever hated anyone on a stage in that moment, but you were transfixed. You couldn't help but marvel at her acidic delivery of every biblical condemnation aimed at her newly menstruating offspring, every physically abusive overreaction. She was — and there's no better word for it — possessed. Act II was something else, however; unlike Piper Laurie's one-note, batshit performance in the 1976 movie adaptation, Keelor's Margaret earned your pity and sympathy with the most moving number in the show, bringing the emotional house down just before Carrie's oppressors showered it in blood.

The year's winner for this category comes with some bittersweet sentiment. Just as the Theatre at Arts Garage's final show of the season, Uncertain Terms, was about to take its first bow, artistic director Lou Tyrrell announced that he would be leaving the company at the end of it. At least he followed an old show-biz manta: Leave 'em wanting more. Though it consisted of just three plays, Arts Garage's 2014-15 theater season was arguably its most accomplished and satisfying slate of plays yet, all written by female playwrights. The How and the Why, selected by Tyrrell but directed by consummate freelancer Margaret Ledford, explored issues of evolutionary biology in a brainy and demanding production; I and You tackled teenage angst and the timeless poetry of Walt Whitman while packing a metaphysical punch; and Uncertain Terms featured a quintet of South Florida's finest actors translating a challenging new work with aplomb. Each of these plays was drastically underattended, so it's no surprise Tyrrell would want to flee to a more hospitable venue. Whatever his future holds, his final season at Arts Garage will be a tough act to follow.

Jane Hart brings more than 20 years of solid expertise in the contemporary art world to her role, having worked at galleries in London, Los Angeles, NYC, and Miami. But more important, she brings with her a dash of sophistication, edginess, and fun. While other museums put on yet another Warhol retrospective or a survey of 17th-century judeo-pan-pacific pottery (zzzzzzz), she's throwing down a killer reception, hosting an interactive installation, or filling her rooms with weird and wondrous treasures. Last year, for instance, she featured an exhibit exploring the imagery on tarot cards; this summer, there's a show inspired by the hallucinogen LSD. Sri Prabha's work inspired by space and biology pushed brains to the limit; Agustina Woodgate's rugs made of stuffed animal skins gave everyone the feels. Lowbrow or highbrow, nearly every exhibition that Hart curates boasts a vision that's avant-garde and fantastic. That the spunky tastemaker is warm and mom-like is a bonus: If she believes in an emerging artist's work, she will help foster a budding career.

This once-mediocre cultural institution is well on its way to being noticed beyond South Florida, and that's thanks in large part to a rebranding, a renaming, and the direction of head curator Bonnie Clearwater, who has been at the helm for almost two years. She's brought in big-name exhibitions like Frida Kahlo and even had Julian Schnabel down from New York for a talk. She rounds out the big shows with smaller exhibits by up-and-comers like Zachary Fabri. Along with rising real estate prices, the evolution of the museum is another sign that Fort Lauderdale is on the up-and-up.

Readers' Choice: Museum of Discovery and Science

Bailey Contemporary Arts in Pompano Beach offers a space like no other in South Florida. Qualified artists can rent studios here for affordable rates: $205 to $415. The two-story building was a hotel when first erected in 1932, and now, renovated but still airy, it breathes inspiration at every turn. The space feels fresh and cozy in a way that connects folks. Be sure to check out the "Lyrics Lab: Poetry, Beats & Soul" event on Wednesdays, which Ian Caven hosts. Brave participants are backed up with live musicians, on drums and keyboards, to keep the beat going.

Readers' Choice: Norton Museum of Art

Monica McGivern

When you're looking for cutting-edge artists and museum-quality exhibitions with a touch of weird, check out anything curated by Bedlam Lorenz Assembly, a nonprofit alternative projects group. This innovative collective brings out South Florida's arguably most eccentric talent in cohesive exhibitions that wow. Did they really show porn during Art Fallout? Yes. Its "Third Annual Interest" 2015 exhibit showcased works by Broward's (and some of Miami's) best local artists: Leah Brown, Francesco Lo Castro, Guerra De La Paz, Christopher MacFarlane, Lisa Rockford, Peter Symons, Michelle Weinberg, and others.

Step to the right and see an interactive performance piece in FAT Village; walk a block north and see a show by designcentric architecture firm Glavovic Studio; head to Andrews Avenue to visit a major collection at the NSU Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale; stop and grab a cocktail at a drink cart. Art Fallout is the largest art walk in all of Fort Lauderdale. For one evening in mid-October (2015 will mark its sixth year), nearly every art and cultural institution in Fort Lauderdale is open and connected by trolleys that deliver visitors from one venue to another. The synergy is amazing. Thanks for organizing this, Girls' Club!

In terms of things to not do, trying to jump a shark is pretty high on the list.  But that doesn't mean you can't name your venue after the phrase, which apparently comes from a 1970s TV show. (Everybody said Happy Days started to suck after an episode in which the Fonz, wearing water skis, jumped over a shark.)  Despite that many people in the local scene call JTS "The Bubble" (its former name), owner Garo Gallo appears to be sticking to his guns with the name change.  The revamped venue hosts live music, performance artists, comedy nights, and more.  Some nights, there are cover charges, and other times, it's free. Beers come from a tap or in bottles. The space is not open on a regular schedule, so sign up for the FB page and get notifications if you wish to find out what surprise lurks tonight.

FAT Village generally gets all the credit in Fort Lauderdale.  The enclave of warehouses has trendy kids, fancy film equipment, people paying insane rents, and nice defined borders. But the FAT is part of a bigger area that includes the so-called MASS District (for Music and Arts South of Sunrise; this area incorporates Laser Wolf and Jump the Shark), the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District, and Midtown. During the Flagler Art Walk on the last Saturday of each month, you can hop on a trolley and visit Glavovic Studios, Girls' Club, the Guild 5 Forty Five, and more — including the cool kids in FAT V.

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