Arts Eclectic

"It's about motherhood, it is about female sexuality and the veneration of women... particularly looking at how women are shaped and formed in patriarchal, hierarchal institutional environments, says Tryouts director Diana Lynn Small, who goes on to say that "it's totally unconventional and it breaks almost all the rules. And in many ways it's more of like a play poem... we looked at it like it's a theatrical painting."  Then she adds, "It's so wild and bonkers."

"It was a group process -- the seven of us sat down and worked on every aspect of it as a collective process," says Alexis Herrera of the show Rosita y Conchita. "So it's been really beautiful to see that from the beginning to now, here we are three years later, still going strong. And [the] show's still getting great response and we still love doing it."

There is a lot going on in CB Goodman's new play *some humans were harmed in the making of this show. It takes inspiration from Tony Robbins, PT Barnum, and the true story of the 1903 public execution of an elephant named Topsy; there's drag, there are puppets, and there's self-help testimony.

"There's a lot," says writer/director CB Goodman. "That's why we had to call it a drag-puppetry-self-help-testimony show about Topsy. We're using so many different forms. And I'm really interested in sort of bringing together... how can you do drag and how can you do puppetry and how can you have someone's life story play out in [something] like a big tent revival?"

The play began to take shape in Goodman's mind five years ago, when she read the book Topsy: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison by Michael Daly. "And ever since then, that book of Topsy's life and all of the elements that came together to allow her public execution just fascinated me," Goodman says. "And so I decided to take her life and map it onto humans and stage a play."

"I read this play once upon a time and fell in love with it," says Present Company artistic director Stephanie Carll about Kirk Lynn's Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra. "And new works has never been something that Present Company really had a foothold in. It's always been something that I've wanted to pursue." 

Lynn's play isn't brand new -- it's been produced in New York previously -- but it is making its regional debut with this production. Lynn's happy to see a staging of the show in his hometown. "I'm an Austin writer, and I think writing for an Austin company and Austin actors -- there's a buoyancy, I think, to this production," he says. "There's some heavy material at points throughout the play... [but] the majority of the play really has this buoyancy that keeps floating through it."

"This is a concert and a milonga," says Pooja Kumar of the upcoming event her production company Guardia Vieja is bringing to Austin. "Milonga is probably the word that's not as familiar to most people... it's a tango social, so there will be some social dancing -- you'll see some tango dancers who are going to be dancing to the music -- but we also want people to feel comfortable that it is a concert."

Henry Melton is no newcomer to comic or sci-fi conventions. He's a lifelong science fiction fan, and he's been going to cons for decades now. But starting about ten years ago, he's gone not as a fan but as an artist. That's around the time he started self-publishing his own sci-fi books, which he says fall roughly into two categories.

There are his several young adult adventures, which tend to feature young protagonists who "run up against something unusual," he says. "Time travel, teleportation, portals to other worlds, all that kind of fun stuff. And then they have to solve the problem [and] dig themselves out of trouble."

And then there's his "Project Saga," an ongoing series that's at nine books so far, with (probably) six more to go. That saga starts in present day Austin, and goes on to feature aliens, supernovae, the destruction of technology on earth, and humans who have been captured and moved off world. It's a pretty ambitious undertaking. 

"The world doesn't need another... how-to manual on how to be creative," says musician Darden Smith while discussing his new book The Habit of Noticing: Using Creativity to Make a Life (and a Living). "I think there's some really good ones out there, and I don't even know how to do it, so I don't know how to write it."

"The first one [was] 30 Dates, and then the next one was  30 Loves. and the next was 30 Trips," says artistic director Leng Wong about Lucky Chaos Productions' ongoing series of short plays. For their fourth entry in the '30 Somethings' series (and the first one since 2015), the company is looking at the subject of heroes and heroism.

Playwright Lisa B. Thompson wrote the play Monroe in the nineties, when she was still a graduate student. For years, the work went unproduced, largely because Thompson herself overlooked it, thinking of it, in her words, as "an early play... how good could it be?"

But that changed earlier this year when Thompson finally revisited the play, which is set in rural Louisiana during the Great Migration. "I had a good friend in California who kept saying to me, 'What about Monroe? Send it out! Send it out!,' and I'm glad I listened," Thompson says. 

Monroe became one of the winners of Austin Playhouse's 2018 New Play Festival, and was chosen by artistic director Lara Toner Haddock to open its 2018-2019 season. She's directing the world premiere production.

"For the past little-over-a-year, I've been inspired by this house that's the Smoot Mansion," says artist Valerie Fowler. "Now it's called the Flower Hill Foundation and it's a historic Austin home, right on West Sixth Street, that's becoming a museum."

"It's not personal experience for me," playwright Raul Garza says of his new work, There and Back. "But it's a story that's told from a personal point of view, as opposed to something about statistics or policy only."

With There and Back, Garza is attempting to give a human face to the story of immigration. "Obviously -- obviously if you could see and the group -- that's the background that I'm from, Mexican-American. But the experience that we see in the play is not one that I had directly. It's one I saw a lot growing up. It's one that a lot of us, especially from South Texas and Central Texas see in our everyday lives. But we never really get to look at it closely from the viewpoint of the person experiencing it firsthand."

Andy St. Martin

This weekend (and this weekend only), artist Andy St. Martin is showing a collection of new works at Prizer Arts & Letters. "The last year or two, I've decided to try and focus on working on paper," St. Martin says. "And I don't have to prepare that so much -- it's almost like making watercolors. You get the paper out [and] if you have the paint, you can go to work."

"On all fronts, I've been affected by gentrification," says Zell Miller III. "As a teacher who has a kid who lives in Kyle, or they live in Del Valle. ... I've got kids from Round Rock, man, because their families cannot afford rent anywhere in the city."

Miller, who's an educator by day and also a multifaceted writer and performer, has seen the effects of gentrification for years in Austin, and that worries him. 

"And I know that what tends to happen... when they begin to gentrify areas is that you get over-policing of a particular area, so then you have that issue going on," Miller says. "So all of those aspects caused me to write this show."

Jonathon Zemek Takes A Trip To 'Hillcrest'

Jul 20, 2018

"It came from a desire to be more collaborative," says Jonathon Zemek of his new multimedia project Hillcrest. "You know, [to] work with artists locally that I just adore. So that was kind of the fundamental root of it."  

Hillcrest started with a couple of songs that Zemek wrote after his former band Soul Track Mind came to an end. "The first couple of songs that were written... started to lend themselves more to this... enveloping story," Zemek says. Along with producer Matt Smith, Zemek developed that emerging story into the concept for a graphic novel that would accompany the new album.

"I hadn't painted in almost twenty years," says Robert Kane Herrera. "[For La Raza] was.. one of the last murals I ever painted." Together with fellow artist Oscar Cortez, Herrera created For La Raza in 1992. This year, the two were hired by Austin's Art in Public Places Program to restore the beloved eastside mural.

Twenty years ago, with a young but growing family, Herrera stopped painting to pursue steadier and better-paying work as electrician. Now that his kids are older, he's got a little more time in his schedule to get back to his artistic roots. "I get to be me again," he says. "Or at least who I thought I was."

"We initially came up with the idea just as a joke," says producer/performer Linzy Beltran, who created the female-led jazz and comedy show Jazz Kween with Sarah Marine and Jessica Pyrdsa. "We were like, 'Oh, we should be Jazz Queens' ... because Sarah's from New Orleans and Jess is a musician and I do a lot of comedy in town."

"It's the second in a trilogy of dances with Austin Aquatics," says Forklift Danceworks artistic director Allison Orr, speaking about this weekend's production of Dove Springs Swims. Last summer, Forklift partnered with the city's aquatics division to present Bartholomew Swims, and next summer they'll stage a third performance at a yet-to-be-named east Austin pool.

"This year's our sixtieth anniversary season, and that's terrific because we really get to celebrate all of the wonderful people and organizations and donors and volunteers that have all come together over the last sixty years to make us really Austin's favorite summer musical," says Zilker Theater Productions' artistic director, J. Robert Moore.

Errich Petersen

"Reina has this uncanny ability to mash together hard science and the most fantastical myths that you’ve ever heard of," says director Liz Fisher of Reina Hardy, the writer of the new play The Afterparty. "That seems like a really unlikely pairing, and yet through the sort of beautiful alchemy that only she can do, she creates these stories that are beautifully human and... universal in their themes -- these ideas of love, of loss, of moving on, of hope, with a whole lot of magic."

Austin's Nook Turner started the Jump On It Summer Music Festival way back in the '90s, when he was just a teenager. Twenty-one years later, the festival has grown larger and more ambitious than ever. The fest has always featured live music (including hip hop, jazz, and R&B) and an educational component, but this year they're expanding both of those efforts.

This weekend, Spectrum Theatre Company is presenting two staged readings of the new play Juneteenth Chronicles, by local playwright Abena Edwards. The play is drawn from the actual words of former slaves, who were interviewed in 1937 by the Federal Works Project Administration. Transcripts of those interviews now reside in the Library of Congress.

Artist Alfonso Huerta did not set out to become a printmaker. In fact, he resisted the idea as long as he could. He studied art in his native Mexico in the late 1990s, and focused on painting. But his focus eventually changed after he moved to Austin.

Austin dance company Performa/Dance will present its fourth full-length show, Artist and Muse., on June 1 and 2. The program will feature four dances, including two longform works and two shorter pieces.

"We're doing two works about female choreographers who are talking about female artists," says Performa/Dance artistic director Jennifer Hart. "I have choreographed a piece called Camille: A Story of Art and Love, and it's about Camille Claudel. She was a sculptor in the earlier 20th century, artist and muse of Auguste Rodin."

"Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attic were two staples of my nighttime reading," says Stephanie Carll of her childhood love of Shel Silverstein's popular books of kids' poetry. "As a kid, I tended toward... the darker humor, the more macabre. And so Shel's tone and really unique style stuck with me. And when I found out that he had adult stuff..."

Shel Silverstein is likely best remembered for his work for children, but he was also a well-known songwriter (he won a Grammy for writing Johnny Cash's hit "A Boy Named Sue") and a prolific writer of more adult material. That's the Shel Silverstein that's on display in the aptly titled An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein, a vaudeville-style collection of Silverstein's R-rated poems, songs, and skits that's currently being produced by Carll for Present Company.

"I saw the play with my best friend, and by the time it was over we were just clinging to each other, so emotionally rocked we didn't even know what had happened," says Cry It Out director Lily Wolff, recalling the first time she saw the play performed. "Every since that experience with it, I knew I wanted to do it and I knew I wanted to do it here."

Wolff asked Theatre en Bloc artistic director Jenny Lavery to read the script, and Lavery was quickly on board with the idea of producing (and acting in) Cry It Out

Michael Lee

"It's really a collaborative [project]," says artist Ethan Azarian of his latest outdoor mural. "The nice thing about it is, the kids are so... they're already artists. They're not afraid to make a mark. I really like working with young people, because I like the enthusiasm and I like the fact that they're just not afraid to make a mark. It's exciting for me -- I really enjoy the whole process."

"We wanted to do an improvised telenovela, but we wanted to take ourselves outside of stereotypical roles," says Latinauts producer and performer Lili Lopez. "We didn't want to be maids or pool boys or ..."

"Landscapers," fellow producer/performer Carlos LaRotta suggests.

"Landscapers. Nannies," Lopez continues. "We talked about it [and] asked ourselves how we can take it out of this world. And we took it out of this world."

Specifically, they took the concept off planet Earth entirely and into outerspace, creating the improv show Latinauts, which chronicles the comedic adventures of the Starship Edward James Olmos.

In his quarter century as a working musician in Austin, Oliver Rajamani has explored and performed music from all over the world. His musical interests and influences are remarkably varied -- he's performed with Willie Nelson, the Gypsy Kings, Eric Johnson, Dotschy Reinhardt, Edie Brickell, and many, many others.

In his latest project, he's exploring the common roots behind Flamenco music and the music of his home country of India.

"This is our second annual new play festival," says Austin Playhouse artistic director Lara Toner Haddock. "Last year it was a national search and we received almost 800 applicants, which was a little overwhelming... and we really didn't feel like we serving the playwrights. So this year we wanted to bring the focus in and really figure out a way to have an impact on the local community, so we made it a Texas-based festival."

It's not uncommon for Bonnie Cullum to create an ambitious undertaking at the Vortex. Cullum and her company have spent the past three decades trying to create something that will top whatever their previous show was. But their current piece, Performance Park, might hold the record as largest Vortex production for the foreseeable future.