COMBUSTION HAPPENS. According to Darren Clark of Damn Fabulous Productions, Tucson needs a spark.

"This town is so f'ing hot, but it's not on fire. It's time people got off their asses to do something."

Clark's method of scattering energy is Spark, a night of cabaret-style entertainment. Organizing the wealth of local talent in this town is not new for him--he's curated shows at MOCA, Hotel Congress and Panel Gallery at Vaudeville Cabaret. This one's a fund-raiser for TIHAN, the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network.

"They work with all kinds of social and religious organizations to help educate the public, but they also deal with some of the day-to-day stuff that affects people with HIV/AIDS," says Clark.

"It's not just a great organization, worthy of giving your money to. TIHAN battles the stereotype of AIDS, now entering its third decade. Yes, less people are dying, but new infections are on the rise. Why? There's this complacency, but we're also in a political environment that frowns upon intimacy.

"What TIHAN does, especially as an interfaith organization, is celebrate our collective truths rather than squabbling over our differences. If a man's dying, is it valid to argue about his lifestyle or is it more important to just feed him?" Clark asks.

Calling the fund-raiser Spark, Clark says, seemed like a positive step in jolting people out of their dismissive quagmire--whether due to the heat or the political climate.

"I want it to be a mix of mayhem and pleasure," quips Clark about the organic unfolding of the performances. "It's a cabaret in the true sense of the word. There's lounge rock, accordion playing, opera and plenty of other surprises. Not all of it takes place onstage. I really want to break out of that tradition."

Clark's avowed favorite for the night is the opera--arias that will be peppered throughout the evening with performances by Amy Street from Arizona Opera

"Opera is so removed from the sidewalk, from the public thoroughfare. Her duets are going to bust through that strict subset of the typical opera audience. There's something fabulous about standing 5 feet away from a professional singer with your fist around a pint of beer.

"Just imagine driving down Congress Street and seeing two women, bosom aplenty, belting out arias in front of Vaudeville?"

Inside the club, Clark has more surprises.

"Richard Siken from Sport Press is orchestrating a dozen writers to spread the good word. I can't tell you what they'll be doing," Clark whispers.

So how will we know? "You won't; that's part of the beauty of the evening."

The lineup of other performers is more straightforward. Jazz guitarist Matt Mitchell strums his stuff. Jared McKinley performs Eastern and Western Butoh dance. A video installation by Vikki Dempsey loops all night.

"Oh, and don't forget Alotta Whoremoan's," Clark remembers. "She's coming out of retirement for one night. What's so special about her drag show is that she actually sings her own music and incorporates theatrical elements. She's less pageantry and more cabaret."

The fund-raiser's big bucks, Clarks hopes, will come from the silent art auction, going on at Vaudeville for a week before the performances. A couple of artists from out of town have donated work as well as local folks.

"Olivier Mosset has offered a lithograph that sells for $1,000. Right now, the bidding's up to $95." Clark says the high-powered artist is happy to donate his work for a good cause.

Other artists include Robert Flynt, Ken Shorr, Matt Cotton, Carlin Dakar, Ada Lanier and Dougie Weber. Local musicians familiar to Vaudeville's stages also offer up their talents: There's Serge and Gary Bear, Al Foul, Amor, Petra del Bogter all performing live. DJ Butta Fly spins the records in between the acts. If you keep your ears open all night, what you'll hear is a mix of rockabilly, jazz guitar, operatic arias, accordion playing and plenty of heated rock and roll.

"The performances and art are not all insightful, but it's important to just bring folks together. If it makes you ask a question--either about the work or about HIV/AIDS--great. But it doesn't have to. It's enough to just be beautiful," explains Clark.

"Plus summer is a great time to do a cabaret, to stop people's yammering about how there's nothing to do in Tucson in August."

Spark ignites at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 9, at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St. Darren Clark says if you're not there by 9:30 p.m., you've missed the great stuff. Admission to the fund-raiser costs $5 and all the proceeds go to TIHAN.

Call 622-3535 with your questions.

--Joan Schuman