Local artists, entertainers and patrons were asked to talk about the best art and/or entertainment seen locally in the past year. Responses leaned theatrical, with "Hamlet," "Dance TV" and both a high school and college production getting mentions. Also: sneaky hideaways and visual arts both solo expeditions and the ever-growing mural scene.

Here are the picks.



"Hamlet," a make-it-or-break-it production by Wise Fool Theater was billed as spellbinding for the audience. (photo courtesy of Wise Fool Theater)
"Hamlet," a make-it-or-break-it production by Wise Fool Theater was billed as spellbinding for the audience. (photo courtesy of Wise Fool Theater)

'The horror, tragedy, and beauty of Shakespeare's words'

“One of the best theater experiences I had this past year was Wise Fool’s production of 'Hamlet.' From the gorgeous sets to the lush costumes, everything was visually appealing. The real magic, though, was in the performances. To take 400-year-old text and make it accessible to the audience in a way that can be understood by all is truly outstanding. Every actor knew what they were saying, and their intentions were clear. The humor, tragedy and beauty of Shakespeare’s words affected the entire audience and we were spellbound.”

KELLY FLORENCE and Meg Hafdahl of the podcast “Horror Rewind,” co-wrote “The Science of Monsters.” Wise Fool Theater’s production of “Hamlet” was staged in October.

"Take It With You," which won Best Podcast at Catalyst Content Festival in October, is among the picks for the best Arts & Entertainment for 2019. (2019 file / News Tribune)
"Take It With You," which won Best Podcast at Catalyst Content Festival in October, is among the picks for the best Arts & Entertainment for 2019. (2019 file / News Tribune)

Newbie finds 'vibrant arts scene'

“In moving to Duluth this year, I found a vibrant arts scene that was filled with unexpected surprises that made life fun and enjoyable year-round. Among them were the discovery of the incredible live podcast group 'Take It With You,' which performs monthly at the Zeitgeist. It was the night I looked forward to each month for an escape from reality so we could disappear into the fantastic world of the Old West that these professional storytellers created with their voices, music and wonderful talents. If you missed 'TIWY' this year, be sure to look them up for their next season!

"Another exciting project that launched somewhat quietly in 2019 but which has huge potential for 2020 and beyond is the street art muralists on Superior Street. One of their beautiful works is already up on the side of the Antique Store, but their grand plans for the rest of Superior Street are something I am very much looking forward to becoming a reality next year! Duluth is filled with so many tremendous artists, and this outdoor mural project will showcase it to the world.”

PHILIP GILPIN is the executive director of Catalyst Content Festival, which was held in Duluth for the first time in October. “Take It With You” recently finished its sixth season.

"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" got a nod for the 2019 Best of Arts & Entertainment. (photo by Brett Groehler, UMD)
"The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" got a nod for the 2019 Best of Arts & Entertainment. (photo by Brett Groehler, UMD)

'Shoplifters' and 'Spelling Bee' split

“My favorite piece of art I saw this year was either ‘Shoplifters’ at the Zinema or ‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ at UMD.

I loved ‘Shoplifters’ for too many reasons: the camera work, the acting, the story, the music, just all of the above.

I loved ‘Spelling Bee’ because of the energy. It was so fun, well directed, well acted, just overall awesome. Also, shout-out to my favorite co-star in ‘Fun Home,’ Anna Matthes! So fun to see her perform. She was stunning in every way.”

LANEY GOEI was one of three actors to play Alison Bechdel in Renegade Theater Company’s production of “Fun Home” at Teatro Zuccone. “Shoplifters,” the Japanese movie about a constructed family that relies on shoplifting to survive, played in January at Zinema 2. “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” played in October at the Marshall Performing Arts Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Shout-out to the tambourine dance

“My favorite artsy event of 2019 was ‘A Night at the Opera’ — the great collaboration between Lyric Opera of the North and the DSSO. ‘Greatest hits’ style concerts can be pretty cheesy, but this was wonderful. The music was varied enough to keep both the opera novices and seasoned veterans engaged, and Dirk Meyer's tambourine dance was everything. My sentimental reason for loving this concert so much was having the opportunity to watch Georgia Jacobson perform as a featured soloist. I've known Georgia since she was around 5 when I was studying voice with her mom, Ruth Jacobson — LOON's founder. Georgia has grown into an incredibly talented performer that would have made her mother so proud. Two of our regions top-notch arts organizations joining forces is good enough on its own, but that really put it over the top as my favorite event of the year.”

CHANI NINNEMAN's Wise Fool Theater had a make-it, break-it production of "Hamlet." Ultimately, the show will go on ... in a bit. Lyric Opera of the North and the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra's collaborative concert was in November.

Among the top picks for 2019 A&E: "Dance TV," an original production channeling the reality dance shows of yesteryear that played at the Brewer's Garage in October.
Among the top picks for 2019 A&E: "Dance TV," an original production channeling the reality dance shows of yesteryear that played at the Brewer's Garage in October.

Dance fever

“‘Dance TV’ by Christine Pfeiffer Stocke was my most memorable A&E moment. It was a musical play structured after a half hour television program. I’ve never been more energized as an audience member. Everyone was standing and dancing along. At the end the performers came out into the audience and an all night dance party began.”

LANCE KARASTI’s movie “Hyper Dark,” which played during Duluth Superior Festival, has layers of innovation in both the improvisational style and the way it was filmed. ‘Dance TV’ played in mid-October at the Brewers Garage, a campy backstage and centerstage look at a fictional televised dance show. Andy Frye co-wrote the show that was billed as a dance party starter.

The Black-eyed Snakes played an epic set during Homegrown Music Festival. (2019 file / News Tribune)
The Black-eyed Snakes played an epic set during Homegrown Music Festival. (2019 file / News Tribune)

'Music is very easy; it's already inside you'

"On the fourth day of Homegrown Music Festival, Black-eyed Snakes played the redeye show. People were yawning. People had to be to work in a few hours. People had already given a lot of energy to Mary Bue, Alamode, Toby Thomas Churchill. But the Black-eyed Snakes were relentless, just driving and driving and driving. I pushed my way into the middle of so many bodies, and I could feel something happening in — I’m not a doctor — but maybe my spleen. I closed my eyes and thought all those things about music.

When Alan Sparhawk said “Music is very easy; it’s already inside you,” it felt telepathic.

Then he offered people an out. It was OK to leave, Sparhawk said. He understood. But they were going to keep playing the blues-rock they’ve been playing all these years. There was a sing-along to “Get Right Church” followed by “Bo Diddley” and fan-fave “Devil’s in the Cornbread.”

It was 2:11 a.m. when the D’s-keepers finally turned on the lights.

CHRISTA LAWLER is a features reporter at the News Tribune. Homegrown Music Festival, an annual eight-day event, features artists with local ties.

Owner Eric Faust stands in the Duluth Coffee Company's new Roasteria on the corner of First Avenue East and Superior Street in downtown Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
Owner Eric Faust stands in the Duluth Coffee Company's new Roasteria on the corner of First Avenue East and Superior Street in downtown Duluth. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)

'Duluth's best-kept secret'

“The best local A&E thing I experienced last year was anything in Duluth Coffee Co.'s Roasteria, their cute little speakeasy taproom. It is open most Thursday nights, and additionally for art and music events. I saw one of The Low Forms' final shows there, when drummer Dave Frankenfeld played with three drumsticks in each hand and knocked the cymbals over. I saw Bob Monahan read hilarious poetry there. Also, art openings by Aaron Booth, Cam Rose and Tom Moriarty. Shhh: It is Duluth's best kept secret.”

JIM RICHARDSON, AKA Lake Superior Aquaman, was one of the fun-seekers who created the People’s Free Skate Rink about 400 meters out on the frozen lake this past winter. There were skating parties, fire dancers, music and more. The Duluth Coffee Co.’s Roasteria is on the corner of Superior St. and First Ave. E.

Nick VanLoh performs in Duluth East Theatre's production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time." (Facebook)
Nick VanLoh performs in Duluth East Theatre's production of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time." (Facebook)

Duluth East production 'just brilliant'

“One of the most surprising and beautiful pieces I saw this year was ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time’ by Duluth East High School. The innate skill of the lead, Nick VanLoh, was truly astonishing. The overall care that was taken to a very challenging show by co-directors Greg Jones and Peter Froehlingsdorf played beautifully, and was enhanced to great effect by the stage projections of the genius that is Daniel Benoit. Saying that it was ‘brilliant for kids of their age’ diminishes their accomplishment. It was just brilliant.”

BLAKE THOMAS and Co.’s podcast “Take It With You” won the award for Best Podcast during Catalyst Content Festival, held in Duluth for the first time in October. Duluth East’s production was staged this past spring.

LEFT: Terresa Moses (Davide Ballard Photography) RIGHT: Tommy Orange (Photo by Elena Seibert)
LEFT: Terresa Moses (Davide Ballard Photography) RIGHT: Tommy Orange (Photo by Elena Seibert)

Moses' 'Umbra' 'impressive an raw presence'

“Terresa Moses' ‘Umbra’ exhibit functioned as an impressive and raw presence in the Zeitgeist Atrium this November. I love the way she thinks, her clean design aesthetic and how the exhibit engaged viewers through words, visuals and tactile experiences. Terresa is an artist whom I feel like I can learn a lot from on so many levels, so I was happy to see her work in the spotlight.

I also recently got to attend the book signing for Tommy Orange's ‘There, There’ and enjoyed his insights on stage as much as I am enjoying reading his book.”

MOIRA VILLIARD has become one of the region’s most recognizable visual artists, with a series of sidewalk murals, the Chief Buffalo Mural at Gichi-ode Akiing, solo shows, awards and her work with children. Moses’ exhibition was about the intersectional experience of black womxn, boiled down to six themes: gaze, control, savior, (d)anger, burden and liberation. It opened in early November. Tommy Orange spoke at the College of St. Scholastica in December. The award-winning novel “There There” was read by the freshman as part of their Dignitas studies program.

More love for Moses, opera and more

Umbra by Terresa Moses hones in on the experiences of Black womxn. She uses her sophisticated eye for color and negative space to communicate common feelings of separateness as "the other." Her voice is strong, unapologetic, connecting and poignant. Here's hoping there will be more from Moses in the future.

Mozart's "Requiem in D Minor" brought together the University of Wisconsin-Superior's choruses, orchestra and local talent Vicki Fingalson, Sarah Lawrence, Jeffrey Madison and Cal Metts. This requiem mass has been close to my heart for some time, and to witness it in person with such potent execution was a highlight of the year.

This fall, Jonathan Thunder's multimedia installation Manifest'o at the Tweed was like nothing I'd ever experienced. I sat on a bench, watching the animated vignettes move past me on large screens representing three Anishinaabe stories — dreamlike, soothing and lovely.

MELINDA LAVINE is a features reporter at the News Tribune.