Arts Eclectic

This weekend, A'Lante Flamenco will present Snapshots: New World Flamenco, the first installment of what they hope will become an ongoing series. For Snapshots, A'Lante (under the leadership of husband-and-wife creative team Olivia and Isai Chacón) has partnered with two guest artists to showcase what Olivia calls "an outsider's perspective of flamenco."

In 1985, famed sculptor Charles Umlauf and his wife Angeline donated their home, Charles' studio, and many sculptures to the city of Austin. Six years later, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden was opened next to Zilker Park. Now, as part of the museum's 25th anniversary, the Umluaf is giving visitors a way to get a unique view of the late sculptor's work process. 

Curator Katie Edwards hopes to one day open Charles Umlauf's actual studio to tours, but in the meantime, the museum is offering a preview of the studio, in the form of a stage-set-like reproduction. Created by designer Stephanie Busing, it's a pretty faithful reproduction of the studio in which Umlauf worked for years.  "It's very, very close, but we also had to make some choices as to what to exclude from it," she says. "We chose to make it a little bit shorter and more manageable, but otherwise, the layout is very, very close to his original studio and we used his original artifacts." So when you see cans of paint thinner and WD-40 on the shelf at the museum, you're seeing the actual cans (and tools and assorted personal items) that Umlauf owned and worked with in his studio.

Kaci Beeler and Curtis Luciani have been performing together for many years, mostly as an improv duo. Those years of experience working and creating characters together eventually led to the creation of their new play Subject to Control. "This is just an attempt to take what we've been doing and push it in a direction that's daker and more theatrical," Luciani says.

Playwright Elizabeth Doss has spent the past few years creating theater pieces about her family history. Hillcountry Underbelly was inspired by her own childhood in Central Texas, and in last year's Mast she crafted a tale based on the true life adventures of her maternal grandparents.

Now, for the third work in that loose trilogy,  she's reaching further back in time, all the way to her great-great-great-grandfather, Herman Melville. "It's, in a large part, tracing not just the life of Herman Melville but specifically my lineage up to him," she says, "so all that family are the characters in this play."

Before embarking on a long and successful career as a standup comedian, Lewis Black had another, less successful, career as a playwright. One of the plays he wrote during that time, One Slight Hitch, has recently seen a resurgence in popularity decades after its creation. After being performed at a handful of theaters across the country in recent months, it's now making its Austin premiere thanks to the folks at Paradox Players.

The fine arts festival Art City Austin has been a yearly event for well over six decades. Over the years, the name has changed (it was known as Fiesta for many years) and it's moved from location to location, but its core mission has remained intact: to showcase fine art from Austin and elsewhere in a block-party like atmosphere.

For this, the event's 66th year, it's moving back to its original location -- it'll be held at Palmer Events Center, the site of Austin's old City Coliseum, where Art City began in 1950 as Art Mart.

When Bale Creek Allen found his new art space, he hoped to take his time opening the gallery. He'd planned to open the space with an exhibition of his own work on April 22. That plan changed when David Thornberry (a mutual friend of Allen and artist/musician Daniel Johnston) got in touch looking for a venue for SXSW. Filmmaker Gabriel Sunday was looking for a place to show Hi, How Are You, his short about Johnston.

Though not a Texan herself, actress Holland Taylor was and is a big fan of the late governor Ann Richards. Finding herself greatly affected by Richards' death, Taylor decided she needed to pay tribute in some artistic way. Since her background is in film and television acting, Taylor originally thought she'd work with a writer to create a TV or movie project.

Mikayla Slimmer

Meg Mattingly and John Brewster have been hosting Backyard Story Night for three years now. It's a simple idea -- people come together and tell stories in a backyard. The storytellers aren't curated or vetted ahead of time, so Mattingly and Brewster are as surprised by  their stories as the rest of the audience. The only restriction put in place is a relatively laxly enforced five-minute time limit.

Nathan Wagoner

Microsessions, the creation of producer Paul Schomer, are designed to expose fans to new live music in an efficient and time-conscious way. Each event features five acts playing five sets simultaneously (but in different rooms or areas of one location). Audiences are divided into "pods" which move from room to room until they've experienced a short set from each of the featured musicians. He likes to refer to it as "speed dating for new music."

Schomer was inspired to create Microsessions after attending a house concert with an ever-expanding bill. "I went to go see a friend of mine play," he explains. "It was a double bill, and I got there and I realized that three more artists had been added. And before I knew it, it was almost midnight... and my friend still hadn't played." By the time he got home, he'd planned out a way to achieve something similar but in a shorter time frame. "And it may seem weird to approach something artistic with sort of an eye to making it more efficient, but that was the idea," he says.

This weekend, artists and performers across America and beyond will do what they do best with one shared goal in mind: to raise money for those affected by the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan. As part of the Hip Hop 4 Flint initiative, dozens of cities will hold simultaneous fundraisers on March 19, each hoping to raise at least $2000 to go toward the purchase of 500 water filtration systems to be given to Flint residents.

When Da'Shade Moonbeam was approached about organizing Austin's Hip Hop 4 Flint show, he at first wasn't sure he'd have time to spearhead the event. But after thinking about it, he asked himself "if the water were to go off here, or anything was to happen to our water, would I want somebody else in another part of the planet to be like 'I'm too busy to organize something to help Austin'?" Once he realized he had to do what he could to help the cause, Moonbeam was left with the daunting task of putting together a day-long hip hop show during SXSW. "It's crazy," he says, "but we're ready to go."

He's aiming for what he calls a "four elements hip hop show," which includes DJs, breakdancers, graffiti artists, and MCs. "It's gonna be more of a theatrical party vibe," Moonbeam says. "We're going to try to keep it around having fun, but we want to make sure we cover some of the social issues."

Ten years ago, writer and performer Zell Miller III was inspired by his then six-year-old son to create the one-man show My Child, My Child, My Alien Child. Several years later, he created a sequel about his second child, titled Oh...Sh*t...It's a Girl! Now that son is 16 and that daughter is eight, and Zell's ready to complete the trilogy with Oh Snap, My Alien Children Are Trying to Kill Me.

Express Yourself, the new show from ColdTowne Theater, began life as a parody of a specific genre of film: movies like Dangerous Minds, Finding Forester, and Freedom Writers, or what co-director Frank Netscher calls "white savior public school movies." 

Over the years, Justin Sherburn has composed new music for old movies, new movies, stage shows, puppet shows, and all sorts of other things. His latest work, Monolith, was written for Central Texas' favorite ancient dome of granite, Enchanted Rock.

Like many in the area, Sherburn has long been fascinated by Enchanted Rock. "It was one of the first things I knew about Austin," he says, "that there was this sort of mystical place outside Austin called Enchanted Rock." His interest in the place led him to not only compose music for it, but to start asking others about their connections to Enchanted Rock as well, "recording people's interviews and conversations about their experiences at Enchanted Rock."

Comedian Brian Gaar has been performing standup in Austin and around the country for years now, and as of a few months ago, he's also a late night TV host.

His show, ATX Uncensored(ish), has been airing since the end of September on the CW in Austin. What's the like? "After four months, I think we're still trying to figure that out," he laughs. "It's a late night comedy show, so it's very topical, and it's very focused on Austin."

This month, Austin will host the second annual OUTsider Festival. The fest, which will last five days, aims to celebrate the diverse nature of the LBGTQI creative community.

Granite sculptor Jesús Moroles was a large figure in the Texas arts community, well known for both his enormous  artworks and his enormous energy and generosity. Among his many awards, he received a United States National Medal of Arts in 2008. His untimely death in an automobile accident last year was a shock and a large blow to his friends at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden.

Since November, they've been hosting a tribute to Moroles, displaying many of his works. The exhibit, simply titled Jesús Moroles: A Tribute, was put together by two of Moroles' closest associates, his sister Suzanna and her husband Kurt Kangas, who was Moroles' right hand man. They've tried to put together a showing that would make the artist proud. "I think he would be pleased," Kangas says, adding "You know, doing this without him is difficult. It's very bittersweet, it is. But it's an honor also." 

This weekend, the Institution Theater will unveil the sixth installment in their "Jukebox Musical Project," which combines a historical period or event with the music of a popular entertainer with no apparent connection to that event.

The Institution's Asaf Ronen was inspired to create the project after seeing a youtube video created by actress Rachel Bloom using the music of Sugar Ray. "As is my wont," he remembers, "when I see someone else do something, I want to do something like it."

Inspired to create jukebox musicals that would combine "a historical event and an artist that shouldn't appear in that historical event," Ronen quickly noticed the flaw in his plan: creating a show based on history would necessitate doing some research, and as Ronen says, "I hate doing research. And I was like 'what writers do I know that would love to do this and are really strong writers?'."

Enter Courtney Hopkin, who says she loves researching. "One of my favorite things to do is just read long, boring books about historical events, so it really worked out for me."

FronteraFest Turns 23

Jan 16, 2016

FronteraFest has a been a staple of the Austin theater community for nearly a quarter of a century. As perhaps the premier fringe theater festival in the southwest USA, FronteraFest has given hundreds of artists an opportunity to present their works to an accepting audience.

Kenneth Gall Photography

For writer/actor Alex Garza, performing Abuelita's Christmas Carol has become a holiday tradition. It began nearly a decade ago, when he wrote the play as a tribute to his late grandmother. For that first performance, the show was a traditional play, with different actors playing the various characters and Garza taking on the title role, a character based on his grandmother.

After that run, though, he changed the play into a one-man show, playing characters based on his abuelita and several other members of his family as well (including himself -- the narrator character is based on Garza). "I really loved the play and it meant so much to me -- because it was about my grandmother and my family -- that I wanted to keep doing it," Garza says. 

This holiday season in Round Rock, Penfold Theatre Company is presenting a new but still pretty old-fashioned take on Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol.

This version of the story (adapted by Penfolds's Nathan Jerkins) takes place in a the fictional KPNF radio station sometime in the 1930s or '40s, where a group of actors are presenting a radio drama version of the familiar holiday tale. In keeping with radio play tradition, the actors will be playing multiple roles and creating their own sound effects live on stage.

One chilly and rainy night forty years ago, Bruce Willenzik, an employee at the Armadillo World Headquarters, was chatting with a young singer named Lucinda Williams when the topic turned to the artists who made their livings selling their wares outside on the Drag. As Willenzik remembers it, Williams remarked "It's too bad those artists don't have a warm dry place like this to sell in."

The history of La Pastorela dates back many centuries. The play has been performed during the Christmas season by amateur and professional artists, in theaters and churches, in Mexico and in Mexican communities since the middle part of the last millennia.

It's long been a tradition to stage La Pastorela in Austin, too. After financial difficulties kept ALTA (Austin Latino Theater Alliance) from being able to stage the play last year, director Rupert Reyes set to work to ensure it could return in 2015. His production company, Teatro Vivo, will be staging La Pastorela this holiday season at the Mexican American Cultural Center.

The Wimberley Players are currently presenting Other Desert Cities, by playwright Jon Robin Baitz. The play, which was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for drama, centers around a contentious family gathering on Christmas Eve.

The setting is the Palm Springs, California home of the Wyeth family; daughter Brooke (played here by Shelby Miller) returns home for the holidays after a six year absence. She's written a book a book about the family, and the way in which her family members (including mother Polly, played by Whitney Martlett) react to this news spurs the action of the play.

"It starts out as a family comedy," says director Tracy Arnold, "but we quickly discover the family's deep-rooted secrets and their conflicts that they've had from the past and that continue into the present."

Michael Lee

Brently Heilbron started performing standup comedy at the tender age of 14, which means he's now been in the business for close to a quarter century. So when he says that the current scene in Austin is "an incredible time in comedy that I haven't seen in years," he's speaking with a certain level of authority.

The burgeoning Austin scene has inspired Heilbron to find a way to serve as a sort of comedy curator, presenting local talent to a wider world. That inspiration led to the development of the upcoming television series "Standup Empire." Heilbron will serve as producer and host of the show, which he and director Mike Wilson hope will do for comedy what "Austin City Limits" has done for music.

Steve Rogers

As a story, Frankenstein feels like a pretty good fit for the folks of Trouble Puppet Theater Company. It's a classic tale, with monsters and dark imagery of the sort that Trouble Puppet excels at. It's also ripe for fresh interpretations, which Trouble Puppet always enjoys.

Ten years ago, improv performers Roy Janik, Kaci Beeler, Kareem Badr, and Valerie Ward compiled a list of 300 possible troupe names, rejected them all, and then ended up calling themselves Parallelogramophonograph almost as a joke.

"Picking a name is the hardest park of being in a band or an improv troupe," Janik explains. "Once you pick an amazing name  that's super-easy to google and spell, like Parallelogramophonograph, it's a piece of cake."

Founded in 2005, the Umlauf Prize is a yearly award bestowed upon a deserving UT Austin graduate student in Art. After a several-year hiatus, the prize was reinstated in 2014 and continues this year with, for the first time, two winners.

On October 30 and 31, Wizard World Comic Con returns to Austin, and it'll feature all the stuff you expect in such an event. There will be plenty of special guests, mostly familiar faces from geek-friendly and/or genre movies and TV shows (including Evil Dead's Bruce Campbell and RoboCop/Buckaroo Banzai portrayer Peter Weller among others), but also a surprising number of sports figures (including Texas legend Earl Campbell, no relation to Bruce). There will be lots of comic book writers and artists. There will be panel discussions such as "How to Write Comics" and "Diversity in Geek Culture." There will be lots of comics and colletables for sale and lots of people in elaborate costumes.

There will also be a handful of local artists in what's known as the "Artists Alley." One of those artists will be Tim Doyle, who's found himself in the surprising position of being able to support not only himself but also his family and a small staff by creating the art he's always loved. Despite his success, he still finds himself making air quotes when he discusses his "art career." 

"If you told me that I was in a coma and these last six years had been a dream, then I'd be like 'Oh, that makes sense,'" he says. That six year figure refers to "Change Into a Truck," a painting he did in 2009 that parodied Shepard Fairey's famous Barack Obama "Hope" poster. That image, featuring Optimus Prime in the place of Barack Obama, became a viral hit and essentially started the money-making portion of Doyles' career.

His work is a good fit for an event like Wizard World, because much of his inspiration comes from pop culture, particularly from the geekier edges of pop culture. His painting subjects have included, among many others,  Mad Max director George Miller, Godzilla, and the set of Ghostbusters. "I've been a geek since the '80s," Doyle says, "And so it's soaked into every atom of my being, and that's just going to come back out on the page."

This Saturday night, The Vortex is hosting 'Salvador Dali's Naked Feast," a performance/cocktail party that will also serve as a fundraiser for the upcoming Vortex season.

The entire Vortex compound (which now includes the theater space itself, the Butterfly Bar,  and Patrizi's Italian Restaurant) will be overtaken by the party, which will feature aerial performances, live music, dance, food, cocktails, and more. 

It's meant to be a surreal experience, influenced by the art and aesthetic of Spanish painter Salvador Dali. And, in a pretty big coup, they've convinced the great artist to overlook his 1989 death and travel to Austin to serve as the host of the party.

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