Spring planner: warming up to 10 fun things to do around Atlanta

Friday is the first day of spring, and those brave daffodils and other flora sprouting and blooming all around us have nothing on all the events and developments bursting into view on the metro area’s arts, entertainment and attractions scene. With Atlantans raring to get moving due to the warming weather, here are 10 notable events and developments to plan for …

Atlanta Film Festival

The Atlanta Film Festival opens with a splash Friday night, with James Franco in town for the sold-out opening-night screening of “I Am Michael,” in which he stars as a gay journalist-activist who goes straight on his way to becoming a pastor.

Franco’s unique star wattage aside, the fest is mainly about showcasing narrative features, documentaries and shorts made independent of the Hollywood studio mainstream, often on a shoestring. This year, it presents 150-plus titles over 10 days, mainly at the Plaza Theatre.

Saturday’s highlights include: “Old South,” a documentary about what happens when a University of Georgia fraternity that favors Confederate flags moves into a historically black Athens neighborhood (12:45 p.m.); and “Holbrook/Twain: An American Odyssey,” following now-90-year-old actor Hal Holbrook, who has performed a one-man Mark Twain show for six decades (8 p.m. at the Inn at Serenbe Pavilion).

Among Sunday’s highlights: “Blood, Sweat and Beer,” a documentary chronicling two new craft breweries in Maryland and Pennsylvania (noon, followed by a Food on Film Party, with samples of local brews, at 1:30 p.m. at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, $20 for both); and “The Firefly,” a Colombian film about the evolving relationship of two women after the sudden death of the man who was a brother/fiancee (7 p.m. at Woodruff Arts Center’s Hill Auditorium).

Through March 29. Tickets: $10 general admission. Plaza Theatre: 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave. N.E., Atlanta. www.atlantafilmfestival.com.

‘Man of La Mancha’

For five seasons, Serenbe Playhouse has presented theater in many outdoor locales around the Serenbe development in south Fulton County. It’s getting this year going earlier than usual, with its first spring staging, “Man of La Mancha” at the Labyrinth at Serenbe.

“Nothing will be what it seems with this production,” executive/artistic director Brian Clowdus has said of the show running March 26-April 11. “We want to pull the audiences into Cervantes’ hallucinations as much as his reality.”

The twisty paths of Serenbe’s natural labyrinth, a place customarily used for meditation and contemplation, will no doubt emphasize the mind-bending nature of Don Quixote’s misadventures.

$30, $25 students. 770-463-1110, www.serenbeplayhouse.com.

Zoo Atlanta’s Amphibian and Reptile Experience

Zoo Atlanta is putting finishing touches on its whimsically named Scaly Slimy Spectacular: The Amphibian and Reptile Experience, set to open April 2 in Grant Park.

Underneath a 45-foot-high glass dome, the $19 million, 14,000-square-foot showplace will display between 70 and 90 reptiles and amphibians at any one time, focusing on animals that are part of conservation programs and using fewer, larger displays to create a better sense of their surroundings. One of the stars will be a Cuban crocodile swimming in a 40-foot tank that can be viewed underwater.

$22.99, $17.99 ages 3-11. 800 Cherokee Ave., Atlanta. 404-624-5600, zooatlanta.org.

Bear on the Square Mountain Festival

Check out The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s extensive list of metro area festivals on March 27 in Go Guide, but sometimes it’s fun to turn the crafts-and-funnel-cakes experience to a day-trip adventure.

Consider the Bear on the Square Mountain Festival in the picturesque North Georgia town of Dahlonega, a little more than an hour north of I-285. It offers a thoughtfully organized celebration of Southern Appalachian culture on April 18-19.

There will be bluegrass and old-time music, arts and crafts and kids activities all around the historic square. Bear on the Square’s tale-spinning slate, organized by the Southern Order of Storytellers, has been designated the Southeastern Regional Spotlight Event this year by the National Storytelling Network.

Free. 706-348-1370, www.bearonthesquare.org.

Olmsted Plein Air Invitational

The inaugural Olmsted Plein Air Invitational will be held April 22-26 in the Olmsted Linear Park, the string-of-pearl-like green refuges dotting Ponce de Leon Avenue heading out of Poncey-Highland toward Decatur. Thirty of the country’s top open-air artists will vie for a portion of the $10,000 purse.

There will be ongoing complimentary tours, lectures and demonstrations as well as ticketed events where you mix and mingle with the painters. And, of course, art for sale.

9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Free. 404-377-5361, www.olmstedpleinair.com.

‘Spinning Tops’ outside the High

If you liked “Mi Casa, Your Casa,” the site-specific art installation that served as a setting for an array of free events on the Woodruff Arts Center’s Sifly Piazza last summer and fall, prepare for a new spin.

The High Museum of Art will host “Los Trompos” (“The Spinning Tops”), a second installation from Mexican designers Ignacio Cadena and Héctor Esrawe featuring more than 40 three-dimensional, larger-than-life tops/rides in a variety of colors and shapes, from April 24 through Nov. 29. Via a partnership with the Midtown Alliance, seven more Midtown sites will feature spinning tops.

As part of its Friday Night Lates series, a half-price deal with extended hours until 9 p.m., the High will present programs of music and other performances on the first and third Friday of the month during “Spinning Tops’” run.

Free. 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. www.high.org.

Nick Cave’s ‘Up Right Atlanta’

Commissioned by Flux Projects, leading American performance artist Nick Cave will premiere “Up Right Atlanta,” billed as a “call to arms, head and heart” for Cave “initiates,” at Ponce City Market (the former Sears, Roebuck & Co. distribution center). The six free performances are April 24-26.

Best known for his Soundsuits, wearable sculptures that come to life through movement, Cave is collaborating with choreographer T. Lang of Spelman College and T. Lang Dance. In this two-part performance, dancers are joined by actors and musicians as they make their way through the Ponce City Market central food hall.

4 and 7 p.m. April 24, 3 and 7 p.m. April 25, noon and 3 p.m. April 26. Free. To reserve: www.fluxprojects.org.

Atlanta Botanical’s ‘Light in the Garden’

With the coming of warm weather each year, the Atlanta Botanical Garden morphs into an “outdoor museum” dotted with art. This spring and summer’s exhibit, “Bruce Munro: Light in the Garden,” will be a nighttime experience, running May 2-Oct. 3.

A British artist famed for using light as an artistic medium, Munro will create six site-specific installations around the garden and its conservatories, some set to music. The largest installation, “Forest of Light,” will feature more than 30,000 flowerlike light stems blanketing Storza Woods — a display that visitors will be able to experience from the forest floor or from the Canopy Walk high above. Another installation, “Water Towers,” includes massive cylindrical sculptures made of thousands of lighted, water-filled 1-liter recyclable bottles.

6-11 p.m. Wednesdays-Sundays. Tickets: $22.95, $15.95 ages 3-12 on Fridays-Saturdays; $19.95, $13.95 children on Wednesdays-Thursdays and Sundays. 1345 Piedmont Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-876-5859, atlantabotanicalgarden.org.

If that’s not enough for one weekend, the satellite Atlanta Botanical Garden, Gainesville, featuring five acres of display gardens, a model train garden, a visitor center and a 2,000-seat amphitheater, also will open May 2. The 168-acre site was donated in 2002 by Lessie Smithgall and her late husband Charles, and $21 million went into first-phase development alone.

$8, $5 ages 3-12. 1911 Sweetbay Drive, Gainesville. 404-876-5859, www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org/visit/gainesville.

Rides at Six Flags, White Water

Kids, start taking your Dramamine now. You adults, too.

Six Flags Over Georgia opens two rides on May 22 in the amusement park’s Gotham City area guaranteed to challenge your equilibrium.

The seven-story Joker Chaos Coaster will take thrill seekers back and forth along the inside of a loop of track, then around and upside down. The train will pause at the top of the loop, leaving the brave briefly suspended upside down 72 feet in the air.

A somewhat calmer ride, billed as fun for the whole family, the Harley Quinn Spinsanity is the park’s version of a classic Tilt-A-Whirl. While innocent at first glance, it’s expected to deliver surprising power.

Meanwhile, Six Flags White Water is modifying its existing Cliffhanger attraction into a 10-story water slide called Dive Bomber, opening May 16. Sliders start by standing inside a clear capsule with a trap door. When it gives way, they will plummet down a steep drop at speeds exceeding 40 mph, then continue on the former Cliffhanger’s twists and turns.

Six Flags: 275 Riverside Parkway, Austell. 770-739-3400, www.sixflags.com. White Water: 250 Cobb Parkway N., Marietta. 770-948-9290, www.sixflags.com/whitewater.

Willems exhibit, musical at Woodruff

Starting in May, children’s book author-illustrator Mo Willems will be the subject of a High Museum of Art retrospective exhibition and have his children’s musical produced by the Alliance Theatre.

The High will present “Seriously Silly: A Decade of Art and Whimsy by Mo Willems,” featuring 100-plus works by Willems, from preliminary drawings to completed illustrations, open May 23 through Jan. 10, 2016.

Running May 27-June 21 at the Alliance, “Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical” is a one-act about a time when Daddy’s in charge and things go terribly, hilariously wrong.

The touring exhibit and musical will be a major facet of the Woodruff Art Center’s Toddler Takeover running May 29-31, an arts festival for ages up to 5.

1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. www.high.org, alliancetheatre.org.

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