Best Of 2019

Best Paper Rocked by Scissors
Photo courtesy Kelly Joy Ladd

Kelly Joy Ladd

Orlando artist Kelly Joy Ladd has been on the scene for a few years, but in late 2018 she really came into her own. Her inclusion as one of four local artists in the Mennello Museum's "Our Orlando" annual put her work in front of new eyes that hadn't yet experienced the sensuous textures of Ladd's wall sculptures, in which cut paper can resemble fur, feathers, even ocean waves.

Best Brush With Oscar Fame
Photo By Dynamite Films

Junior Nyong'o at Orlando Shakes

Feb. 6-March 24, 2019

For someone who is only 24 years old, Junior Nyong'o has already shouldered a remarkable range of roles: scholar, soccer player, political scion, international social media sensation, sibling to a superstar. But in February 2019, he was most excited to talk about his newest title, "working actor," as he made his professional stage debut as the titular prince in Orlando Shakes' production of Hamlet. Based on reactions to his performance, we titled this award quite intentionally – yes, the Oscar-winning Lupita is his sister, but we are fairly sure that the Orlando Shakes stage gave birth to another award-winning acting career.

Best Passport to Your Own City
Illustration by Sean Walsh

The Local Wanderer

If you live in Orange County and you don't have a library card, you are seriously missing out. You can use your card to check out more than books (and ebooks, and audiobooks) – you can get free access to technology classes, stream hard-to-find art films and documentaries on Kanopy, even use the Mango language learning app, all for free. And now OCLS has outdone themselves with a new program called the Local Wanderer. It's a massive multi-partner gateway to museums, plays, concerts, even sporting events – and it's all free. You can reserve tickets to a show at Hard Rock Live or get free admission to the Morse Museum, gratis. The culture pass program is intended to eliminate financial barriers preventing people from experiencing local arts culture, providing Orange County families a means of entry to the world-class institutions that call Central Florida home. And it makes us damn proud of our library system.

Best We Told You So
Photo by Maria Jones

Kristen Arnett conquers the literary world

Kristen Arnett – our longtime pick for funniest local librarian on Twitter, and conductor of our favorite (maybe only) book release party in a 7-Eleven – released her debut novel, Mostly Dead Things (Tin House Books), in June of this year. The response to the novel – about a Florida lesbian taking over her family's taxidermy business after her father's suicide – has been nothing short of stellar. It's become a New York Times bestseller, been featured on summer reading lists in media outlets from Entertainment Weekly to Vanity Fair, and even got Arnett invited to appear on NPR and on PBS' Amanpour & Co. Arnett recently tweeted about signing a "bigass writing contract" in her car in front of her childhood home and was retweeted by none other than (presumable fan) Stephen Goddamn King. Arnett's charmingly understated response: "oh man thank you buddy." See, we told you so.

Best Local Zine
Zine images by Maisie Haney

Hawt & Popular

Hawt & Popular is one of the most soul-stirring and refreshing new zines on the scene, so you won't be needing any more Biore warming clay masks once you scope these pages. Founder Thomas Mack lassoes various local players to make each issue of a vibrant tome that's part fanzine, part anthology, part humor mag, all community. H&P recently threw a party to celebrate the release of their third issue, a raucous affair featuring Miami's Las Nubes and local comedian Heather Shaw hosting. We can't wait to see what they have up their sleeves next.

Best Dinner Theater
Photo by Jasmine Hirst

Lydia Lunch at Maxine's on Shine

Feb. 18, 2019

"Let me tell you about toxic femininity!" sneered Lydia Lunch as she unleashed her equal-parts-malevolent-and-titillating Verbal Burlesque performance on a dinnertime crowd at the intimate Maxine's. What followed was an incredible, confrontational, artful stream-of-consciousness rant from one of the most important figures in U.S. punk and No Wave, paired improbably with custom cocktails and dinner specials for the night. The personal and the political collided on this stage like a stick shift and a groin in J.G. Ballard's Crash, and of course, Lunch got up close and very personal with those seated closest to her. Choke it down, worms.

Best Full-body Communication
Photo courtesy Signing Shadows

Signing Shadows,

It's an admirable move when local theater companies include ASL interpreters at their shows so Deaf and hard of hearing audiences can enjoy them, too. But Signing Shadows is, as they say, a whole 'nother thing. They're capable of providing the traditional off-to-the-side sign-language interpretation you may have seen before, but where they excel is in "shadow interpretations": Their interpreters perform right alongside the actors onstage, providing a fully accessible and comprehensive communication of the role rather than a sort of ASL version of closed captioning. Their dedication to their craft is awesome, in both the currently popular and the original connotations of that word, and they thoroughly deserve to be recognized as one of the best things in Orlando.

Best Sneaking Culture Into the Subculture
Photo by Chris Belt is a 17-member chamber orchestra devoted to playing new music by living composers. Oh, and no big deal, but they're also "striving to build a more thoughtful, open and diverse society through contemporary classical music." So, you know, #goals. Founded by Natalie Grata and Beatriz Ramirez, both young woodwind-playing women, Alterity has presented more than a dozen concerts, become Timucua's first ensemble-in-residence, commissioned four new compositions, and shown hundreds of locals what classical music can be, if you drop your preconceived notions. And the spark of an idea took flame at a show at Will's Pub, a genesis story that's reflected in the youth of not just the composers whose work they interpret, but audiences as well. They bit off a lot when they launched this project, and they're clearly hungry for more. As are we.