Let’s start off this week with a group that I’m not at all shy about hawking. I LOVE Know No Stranger, because they are rag-tag (like NUVO), fun-loving (like NUVO), goofballs (oh, not at all like NUVO), who put on great, low-budget and brilliant shows. So, here comes Optical Popsicle 3 at Earth House, a dazzling blitz of optical illusions, live music, dancing, shadows, puppetry and video. Optical Popsicle proves that inspired entertainment can be produced on a shoestring budget. The creative geniuses of Indy-based Know No Stranger are a spirited bunch who, above all, seek to “make people proud of where they are.” Expect abundant laughter and be prepared to interact with the performers. 8:30 p.m. Friday; 3:30 (their “classics” show) and 8:30 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $10, but you can do various weird things to get the price down.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Beauty and the Beast at CLOWES, since our sons were young in the film’s heyday, and boy did I watch it a few dozen times. Somehow I never grew tired of the male antagonist, Garston, singing “I use antlers in all of my DECorating!” Call me weird. Disney's musical production of Beauty and the Beast hits the Clowes Hall stage this week. The nationwide tour stars Indiana native and 2010 Ball State graduate Emily Behny as Belle, who shines in her first major Broadways role. As for the show itself, you can expect a performance that's true to the classic, complete with a cast of stellar voices and an equally talented pit. The extravagant set — designed by the original animated movie team — makes for a visual spectacle. To say it's a big production is an understatement; would Disney have it any other way? Various show times, through Sunday, Oct. 14, $41-$84.

Holiday shopping? Want to buy local? Sure you do! Then go to Studio Showcase Art Show at Crows Nest. High-quality art can be had for a minimal amount of cashola. Proof of this fact can be found this week in the Crows Nest neighborhood, where Studio Showcase will host a three-day exhibit of affordable art. The members of Studio Showcase — a co-op of Indiana artisans whose work includes textiles, jewelry, ceramics, photography, painting, glass and wood, gather once a year to show off and sell their newest creations in an open-house setting. This year’s show and sale takes place Oct. 14&15: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Visa and MasterCard accepted for art purchases. Free admission.

Also in visual art, check out Encaustic Paintings at Editions Limited Gallery: Editions Limited Gallery presents new encaustic paintings by Lynn Basa, a Chicago-based artist who has earned acclaim for her work in various visual media. Encaustic painting involves the use of hot beeswax and color pigments, making for unique and highly textural works of art. Basa’s “Great Circle Route,” a terrazzo mosaic piece, is featured prominently at Indianapolis International Airport. An opening night reception will be held on Friday from 5-9 p.m. and is one of 17 stops on the Broad Ripple Fall Gallery Tour. The exhibit continues through Nov. 5. Gallery hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m.-3p.m. Saturday. Free.

Like to laugh? I don’t. Kickstart your weekend with some hearty laughs thanks to the acerbic, bent and undeniably hilarious wit of Dave Attell. The Long Island native is perhaps best known as the host of Insomniac with Dave Attell, the Comedy Central show in which Attell would wander around cities late at night, cracking jokes as he visited clubs and interacted with locals. A veteran of the stand-up scene, Attell has earned a reputation for being a comic’s comic. He also boasts a loyal following, so expect a lively scene at his two-night, four-show engagement at Morty’s. 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets: $35.

We love the Cabaret, and here’s your chance to see Jason Robert Brown/Soshana Bean. Heralded singer/songwriter Jason Robert Brown teams up with vocalist Shoshana Bean for a two-night stand of musical theater favorites at The Cabaret at the Columbia Club. An accomplished pianist who’s often compared to Stephen Sondheim, Brown has applied his songwriting magic to numerous award-winning musicals, including The Last Five Years, Songs for a New World and Parade — the latter garnering a Tony for best musical score. Bean, an original cast member of Broadway’s Hairspray, rose to stage stardom after replacing Idina Menzel in the Elphaba role in Wicked. 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Tickets range from $35 to $55, with a $12 food/beverage minimum.

Here’s a great film that has done more to increase awareness and caution around fracking than any other single thing: Gasland. The technology of fracking, a process that involves releasing a highly pressurized fluid deep into the earth, has spurred a nationwide natural gas drilling boom. But is fracking safe? Filmmaker Josh Fox explores this question, and arrives at some unsettling answers, in the documentary Gasland. Criss-crossing the country, Fox follows a trail of lies and contamination. For example, Pennsylvanians near a drilling site discover that they’re suddenly able to light their drinking water on fire. To preview Gasland, go to www.gaslandthemovie.com. And to actually see the film, go to the Epworth United Methodist Church this Friday night at 7 p.m. Free.

On Saturday, you can get scared at the Indiana History Center with Disquieting, Disturbing and Dreadful Tales. Snuggle up under the stars and enjoy a bone-chilling night of frightful yarn-spinning. Storytelling Arts of Indiana hosts an evening of literary horror stories. Your attention will be seized by master storytellers Deborah Asante, Lou Ann Homan, Jim May and Sally Perkins, as well as the winners of Storyteller Arts’ Ghost Story Contest, Ken Oguss and Christian Painter. Dress warmly and bring a blanket, as the event will be held outside, alongside the canal at the Indiana History Center. The event is being billed as for mature audiences only, so leave the kids at home. 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $15 in advance; $20 at the door.

Here’s another favorite of mine: Cottage Home neighborhood’s annual Block Party. This is their 28th annual block party, and I swear I have been to most of ‘em. The Halloween-themed party features local artists, vendors and live music, along with the scrumptious fare of Duos and the freshly poured beers of Lockerbie Pub. There’s fun for the kids as well, with horse-drawn hayrides, face painting and an interactive presentation by critter experts Animalia. Attendees are encouraged to arrive in costume — the spookier the better. The funfest takes place just south of St. Clair St. on the city’s near eastside. 5-11 p.m. Free, though a $5 donation would be appreciated.

This looks fun: Natyamanjari at the Zionsville Performing Arts Center. Experience the joy and beauty of Indian dance without venturing far from home. Kalakshiti Performing Arts, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting the classical art and culture of India, hosts this must-attend afternoon affair for dance lovers. The event brings performers from across the nation to Zionsville to showcase the classical dance forms of India. Three dance companies are scheduled to perform, including Trinayan Dance Theater (from New York), Soorya (from Missouri) and Abhinaya Dance Company (from California). Snacks and beverages will be available for purchase. Seating begins at 4:00 p.m., and the performance starts at 4:30 p.m. Tickets: $15; free admission for kids under the age of 5.

On Sunday, you can catch Who Are These Doubters Anyway? at Center for Inquiry, 350 Canal Walk, Suite A. Ever wonder what those poll results on religion really mean? Whether, for example, those who claim to have “no religious preference” are truly atheists? Tom Flynn, the executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, offers up well-researched answers to these questions in an illustrated presentation that explores how sociologists and pollsters have measured religious belief and unbelief. Indy’s Center for Inquiry hosts the event. Flynn, who also works as the editor of Free Inquiry magazine, has authored such books as The Trouble with Christmas and The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief. 7 p.m. Free.

Finally, you can catch the National Acrobats of China at The Palladium: Witness spectacular acts of derring-do as the National Acrobats of China make a stop in Carmel during the company’s inaugural U.S. tour. The troupe’s performers mesmerize and awe with a blend of illusions, Chinese martial arts and high-flying acrobatics. Founded in 1950 by the government of the People’s Republic of China, the Beijing-based company combines tradition with innovation, with performers captivating audiences through displays of superhuman-like strength, coordination and flexibility. Add lively music and colorful costumes to the mix, and you have an event that promises to be an aural and visual delight. 7 p.m. Ticket prices vary from $15 to $100.


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