Mike Lee | KUT

Senior Producer: Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, Sonic IDs

Mike is a features producer at KUT, where he’s been working since his days as an English major at the University of Texas. He produces Arts Eclectic, Get Involved, and the Sonic ID project, and also produces videos and cartoons for kut.org. When pressed to do so, he’ll write short paragraphs about himself in the third person, but usually prefers not to.

Several years ago, he featured a young dancer on his Arts Eclectic program, and she was so impressed by his interviewing skills that she up and married him. Now they enjoy traveling, following their creative whims, and spending time with their dogs.

From Six Square, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

 

Six Square – Austin’s Black Cultural District (formerly known as Austin’s African American Cultural Heritage District) is the first black cultural district in the state of Texas and the only cultural arts district in the city of Austin. The organization was created in 2013 as an outgrowth of the City Council’s African American Quality of Life Initiative, which detailed widespread disparities, racial biases, and a decreasing Black population. Since inception, Six Square has been dedicated to improving the quality of life for African American residents through preservation of historic Black spaces, artistic cultivation, and by serving as a catalyst for social and economic development.

Artist Benjamin Muñoz loves to create art, but he might like talking with people about the art he has created even more. It’s the dialogue he enjoys, he says – simply giving an artist talk to a crowd often feels too one-sided for his liking. “I think I get the most out of my own work when I hear how other people react to it,” Muñoz says. 

UT’s Blanton Museum of Art, like the rest of the university, closed its doors to visitors on March 13 and has remained closed ever since. But the museum still has art on display and a staff full of people who want to share that art with the community, so the team quickly began planning ways to share their exhibitions and permanent displays in a virtual way. 

Even a couple of months ago, the organizers of Stay Black and Live were hoping to put on a traditional Juneteenth event, complete with a parade and lots of people gathering together to celebrate. “Like a lot of nonprofits and organizations doing signature events, we kept thinking okay, let’s not call it yet, let’s not pivot yet. It could happen,” says Pamela Benson Owens, the acting executive director of Six Square and a member of the team that’s creating the festival.

During the early weeks of lockdown, Tom Booker of the Institution Theater noticed a facebook posting from his friend  Jeremy Moran, which recounted a dream Moran had the night before. In the dream, there was a big party at the Institution that was broken up because everyone was breaking quarantine. The story of that dream quickly inspired Booker to create Quarantine Dream: The Movie, a collection of short videos submitted by anyone who felt inspired to create something.

From El Buen Samaritano, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

El Buen Samaritano is an outreach ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas committed to helping Latino and other families in Central Texas lead healthy, productive and secure lives through high-quality family literacy programs, food assistance, economic-stability services, health education, as well as access to health care.

Leon Alesi

“At Forklift Danceworks, we make dances with people you don’t think of as dancers,” says Forklift’s associate artistic director Krissie Marty.

That’s very true: Over the years, Forklift has created large-scale dance pieces centered around workers from Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, city sanitation workers, and firefighters, just to name a few. 

With their gallery space still closed for the foreseeable future, the folks at Northern-Southern have been looking for ways to continue to share art with the people of Austin without asking those people to gather together in a room. The result of that quest is the new group show Left in Leaves. “

You know, we have to keep working,” says gallery director Phillip Neimeyer. “This is what we do. So [this is] a way to contextualize, a way that we that we could all work and do what we do and have an effect, a positive effect.”

Dana Stringer

Seventeen years ago, while living in New York, pianist Peggy Stern attended a jazz festival and was surprised to discover that it was an all-male lineup. “There were no women performing, and certainly no women leading bands,” Stern says. “And so a friend and I got together and created the Wall Street Jazz Festival in Kingston, New York, where all the leaders are women.”

From The SAFE Alliance, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

The SAFE Alliance supports survivors of abuse and works with communities to prevent violence from happening in the first place. We provide shelter, healing, and support in the Austin area to anyone who has experienced domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, or sex trafficking. Learn more at safeaustin.org

Charlie Pearce

With her new web series Do Better, Amie Darboe is living a childhood dream. “Essentially I’ve been writing since I was probably 7,” she says. “[I] always knew I wanted to write for TV, but I didn’t do anything about it until I was an adult.”

Austin’s Fusebox Festival was started by Ron Berry over fifteen years ago, and every year since then, it’s brought together local, national and international artists to spend five days performing, interacting, and discussing performance arts of all disciplines. “They’re artists that are coming from all different kinds of artistic backgrounds, but usually there is some element of ‘liveness’ that’s being explored,” Berry says. “So live performance really is at the center of this festival.”

courtesy Trinity Street Players

“One of the things that is very important to us at Trinity Street Players… [is] to build community amongst artists in Austin,” says Trinity Street Players artistic director Ann Zárate. So when the theater closed its doors in March, Zárate started looking for new and different ways to keep the Trinity Street community connected.

Courtesy of ColdTowne Theater

“We had a staff meeting on March 13 and the consensus was that we were closing the theater,” says ColdTowne Theater’s artistic director Will Cleveland. “And without batting an eye, the owners of ColdTowne – Mike Jastroch, Dave Buckman, [and] Rachel Madorsky – told us their plan to pay us through this crisis.”

Austin Playhouse was supposed to open their production of Paula Vogel’s Indecent this week. That didn’t happen, of course, because the theater was closed along with most other gathering places in town (they are now hoping to mount Indecent in the fall). Like many local theaters, the playhouse began looking at how they could continue to connect with their patrons during a time when they couldn’t perform onstage. Without much of a back catalog of recorded plays to share online, co-producing artistic director Lara Toner-Haddock began thinking of another upcoming project, Today’s Gratitude.

Lisa Scheps

“Theater by its very nature sort of needs the gathering of humans together to make it work,” says Ground Floor Theatre co-artistic director Lisa Scheps. “And so, as theater artists, we have got to, during this time, find other ways to create that same magic without having people physically with us.”

The Vortex Theatre – like all theaters right now – is closed for an undetermined amount of time, but the folks who run the theater are doing what they can to continue providing their unique brand of entertainment to the Austin community. They’ve wasted no time in putting together a wide variety of programming online. 

“We’re doing a mix of like rebroadcasting older, vintage, and more current Vortex productions,” says Melissa Vogt, Vortex’s managing director. “And then we’re also doing some individual live performances – we’re doing some play readings… there’s some live music, there’s some burlesque.”

Steve Rogers

In the new reality we’re all living in now, heading over to the local bar and/or going out to see live music isn’t really a thing anymore. So pianist and musical director Ammon Taylor is doing what he can to bring a cocktail lounge directly into your own home.

Looking for some way to encourage people to stay inside, he’s created the Social Distance Piano Lounge, a sort of virtual cabaret show performed live in his apartment and streamed to anyone who wants to tune in from the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Kaci Beeler

The members of Parallelogramophonograph, the in-house improv comedy troupe of the Hideout Theatre, love performing together but also respect the CDC’s current social distancing guidelines. That’s why, this past Saturday night, they decided to put on a show even though the Hideout was closed to the public.

Jenna Cockburn

When Jo Carol Pierce wrote and performed the semi-autobiographical one-woman musical comedy Bad Girls Upset By The Truth 30 years ago, she became a local legend and the show became a cult classic. That might be a little surprising, considering Pierce says she never even really wanted to perform the show herself.

From Women's Storybook Project of Texas, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

About the Women’s Storybook Project of Texas:

Our mission is connecting children with their incarcerated mothers through the joy of literature. Women’s Storybook Project of Texas is a special program that helps incarcerated mothers do what moms have always done to comfort and nurture their children — read them bedtime stories, using their own voices to love, reassure, and encourage them from miles away. According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, "Without intervention, children of incarcerated parents are six to eight times more likely to become involved in a criminal lifestyle.”

Actor John Christopher says he’s been preparing for his current stage role for years, starting long before he even auditioned. He’s starring as Martin Luther King Jr. in The Mountaintop, the 2009 play by Katori Hall that imagines a fictionalized vision of Dr. King’s last night on earth.

“Being able to carry the weight of such a significant figure in American history – world history, really – it’s an honor and it’s a burden,” Christopher says. "But it’s a burden I’m happy to carry, because it’s something I’ve wanted to do my whole life.”

The Tin Woman, by playwright Sean Grennan, is currently being staged at Wimberley Playhouse. The play centers around a woman who’s received a heart transplant and who is currently going through a bit of an existential crisis. And, according to Wimberley Players executive manager Simone Corprew, despite the heavy subject matter, it’s really funny. 

Christopher Shea

The play Arden of Faversham was first published in 1592 and is credited to “anonymous,” though many scholars and Shakespeare aficionados believe it was written (or at least co-written) by the bard himself. That includes Beth Burns, the artistic director of The Hidden Room Theatre and a veteran director of Shakespeare’s work.

Now in its sixth year, Austin’s OUTsider Festival is one of those rare yearly fests that’s purposefully trying not to become bigger every year. Curran Nault, the creator and artistic director of the LGBTQ+ arts festival, says that staying small and intimate is central to the mission of OUTsider. “One of our intents is actually always to, in some ways, not get bigger. To kind of stay super-intimate,” Nault says. “Because one of the things that OUTsider, I think, does really well is creating a sense of intimacy between the audience and the artist.”

SaulPaul’s Alien Adventure, a new family-friendly musical, was inspired by musician SaulPaul’s mission to spread positive messages into the world and also – perhaps more surprisingly – by his catching a dance competition show on TV.

“I was actually inspired by watching ‘World of Dance’ … a show I’d never seen before and really wasn’t into,” SaulPaul says. “But I was amazed by the beautiful sets. And each week they’d have these dancers and they’d create this world and they would dance.”

From Dress For Success Austin, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

At Dress for Success Austin, we transform lives with an all-in-one solution to help anyone who identifies as a woman secure gainful employment and career advancement through career and image consulting. The mission of Dress for Success Austin is to empower women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire and development tools to help them thrive in work and in life.

For the next few months, the Neill-Cochran House Museum will host If These Walls Could Talk, a collaborative art piece from actor Jennifer Cumberbatch and sculptor Ginger Geyer. It’s an ambitious undertaking, featuring dozens of Geyer’s porcelain works, several performances by Cumberbatch, filmed pieces, discussions and more.

Geyer says she’s fitting her sculptures in all around the house. There are 78 pieces on display, “tucked into the bedrooms, into the parlors, and actually hidden in plain sight,” Geyer says. “The visitor’s going to be a little fooled by trying to find them, because they are of the tradition of trompe l’oeil, or ‘fool the eye.’ You might call it a scavenger hunt or an Easter egg hunt.”

SoundSpace, the ongoing hybrid art series produced by Steve Parker at UT’s Blanton Museum of Art, returns this weekend with Not Bad Muzak, a new installment inspired by elevator music and its close cousin, telephone on-hold music.

“It aligns with a current exhibition by Ed Ruscha at the museum,” Parker says. “[Ruscha] uses text a lot in his work, and he often paints landscapes in the back. The text is the subject but the landscape in the back he refers to as ‘elevator music."

It might not seem like a natural partnership, but Sky Candy, the aerial arts studio and training center, and the Umlauf, Austin’s venerable sculpture garden and museum, have recently gotten into the habit of hosting galas for one another. “We got in touch through mutual friends, and Sky Candy was kind enough to perform at our other fundraiser, Garden Party, last year,” says Sarah Story, Umlauf’s executive director. 

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