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Bust a Gut

The 2011 Great Southwest Laff-Off

8 p.m., Thursday, through Feb. 3

Laffs Comedy Caffe

2900 E. Broadway Blvd.

323-8669;

www.laffstucson.com;

ttowntv.com/laffoff

Laffs Comedy Caffe is one of Tucson's hidden gems. Now in its 23rd year, Laffs is reportedly the oldest comedy club in the state.

"There's a long tradition of bringing out new talent," said Gary Hood, a comedian who helps run the club. He mentions some big names that have stood on the stage at Laffs, including Jerry Seinfeld and David Spade.

The Great Southwest Laff-Off is an old Laffs event that's making a comeback. Hood said that the club hasn't done it for quite a few years, but the folks at Laffs decided to bring it back this year.

There will be a total of four showdowns at the Laff-Off—held each Thursday in January. Six people per week (who advanced from auditions in November and December) compete against one another, and one person from each night is crowned the winner. On Feb. 3, the winners will compete for first place in the final Laff-Off; the winner will receive $300 and three paid bookings at Laffs.

The showdowns are judged by a panel of celebrity and community judges.

Hood said that one of the great things about the event is that it brings in people from all over the comedy world. He also said that he believes experiencing live comedy in a group, rather than at home on TV, is much more entertaining.

"It's way better than sitting on your couch watching Comedy Central and eating a bag of chips," said Hood. "You get to laugh together."

While the first showdown already happened on Jan. 6, you can catch the three remaining this month, and the final Laff-Off on Feb. 3.

Admission throughout January is free (though there is a two-item-purchase minimum). —A.G.


Uplift and Activate

The Free Freedom Song Sing-Along

2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 16

Temple Emanu-El

255 N. Country Club

623-1688

In these challenging times—especially in Tucson after last weekend's horrors—it's hard to stay positive.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is always a reminder that freedom is something we are still striving for today. The Civil Rights Movement is well known for its use of songs to stay positive, to keep fighting for justice and—most of all—to connect with one another.

Ted Warmbrand has been holding the Free Freedom Sing-Along for several years now, and he strongly believes in its significance. People of all ages are invited to Temple Emanu-El to sing along to famous freedom songs.

"Music has an important function," said Warmbrand, "not just to entertain, but to uplift and activate."

Warmbrand believes that there is an intrinsic power in music that creates love between people. "The songs help build peoples' courage in the face of a lot of hatred and denial," he said.

Warmbrand mentioned that people who marched with King often attend the event. He added that people sometimes share their stories, or talk about how they sang the songs differently, and what it was like to sing them during a time of such struggle.

The songs from this period are always relevant. Warmbrand said songs can change and become more meaningful over time.

This event provides an opportunity to reflect on ways we are all still fighting for freedom. "We don't know where we're going until we know where we've been," Warmbrand said. "It's not good to forget."

The event is open to all, and songbooks and instruments are not necessary. Donations are accepted, but not required. —A.G.


Senses and Stories

Stories That Soar! show by students from the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and Blind

6 p.m., next Thursday, Jan. 20

Berger Performing Arts Center

1200 W. Speedway Blvd.

975-9970;

www.storiesthatsoar.org

Kids love stories—but some kids have never been able to hear their parents read to them. Some have never been able to see the images in a picture book or read the words of a story on their own.

Yes, deaf and blind kids experience stories differently than other kids do.

Of course, they can write great stories, a point that Stories That Soar! will illustrate next Thursday, when the nonprofit literacy and performing-arts group will put on a show acting out tales conceived by students at the Arizona Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

Stories That Soar! makes live plays out of stories that kids submit to the group's mysterious, word-hungry Magic Box.

But this production will be unique, said the group's co-founder and artistic director, Sharon O'Brien.

"What was interesting for me about these stories is they were much richer in detail than usual," she said. "All kids write great stories, but I think (deaf and blind) kids pay more attention to certain details, giving their stories a rich sensory feel."

Since both deaf and blind kids will be at the show, the enactments will engage all five senses to entertain them. This should work perfectly with stories like one describing every detail of a UA basketball game—the smell of popcorn, the sound of sneakers on the court, the fans' cheers—except what a sighted person would see. Another story follows a deaf girl who escapes a monster's jaws by being absolutely quiet. (The noisy people get eaten.)

"This gives adults a very honest look into the minds and lives of children," said O'Brien.

Admission to the reception (6 p.m.) and performance (7 p.m.) is free. —A.M.


New Year's, Aztec Style

Performance by the Nahui Ollin Aztec Dancers

Noon, 2 and 4 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 15; 1 and 3 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 16

Old Town Artisans

201 N. Court Ave.

623-5787

The champagne has been drunk; the ball has dropped; and the countdown to midnight on Dec. 31 is long over.

In the Aztec culture, though, it's still time to celebrate the new year.

According to Eddie Gallego, owner of Old Town Artisans shop Tolteca Tlacuilo, in Mexico, it's time to prepare for planting season, which is associated with the new year. That means it's also time to pay homage to Atemoztli, an Aztec god of rain, fertility and water. Atemoztli can wield his power over the world's waters to provide life and sustenance in the coming year—but the water gods require constant worship. Thus, the Aztecs often held great ceremonies honoring the water gods, including Atemoztli.

Twice monthly, Old Town Artisans hosts beautiful and educational god-honoring dance performances by the Nahui Ollin Aztec Dancers, otherwise known as the Salinas family, whose core members are Luis and Roseanne Salinas and their son, Rico. Born in Mexico City, Luis has been dancing since he was young, and he's passed the dancing tradition to his son, who has also been drumming since he was 6 or 7. Now the drummer for the Nahui Ollin Dancers, he uses a huge, powerful log drum whose thundering accompanies the dancers' riveting movements.

In celebration of the new year, this week's dances will honor Atemoztli and will be prefaced by an enlightening talk about the dance's meaning and other interesting Aztec facts.

"I asked the dancers to talk to the audience and let them know what it's all about," said Gallego. "So many people have bad information on the Aztec culture. This will give people more of an awareness about one of the key cultures of this hemisphere."

The performances are free. —A.M.

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