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.

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. 

From The Settlement Home For Children, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

                                                                                                                                    

About The Settlement Home for Children

At The Settlement Home for Children, our mission is to promote healing and growth in children, young adults and families by providing a continuum of care, support and resources. We serve individuals who have experienced severe emotional trauma, abuse and neglect.  

“I think so often, people see someone performing – like a comedian – and they assume they’re confident and sort of have it all figured out,” says performer Stephanie Thoreson. “But there’s actually a huge intersection between mental health [issues] and the arts community.”

Scott Paxton

For several years now, the folks at Soundwaves Art Foundation have been creating and selling original art to raise money for charity. Their new endeavor is called W’ALL Austin, and while it’s got a similar goal, it’s a much larger project. It’s an actual wall that’s (at its highest point) fifteen feet tall and growing.

Kirk Tuck

Zach Theatre’s musical version of A Christmas Carol is now in its sixth season, but the idea for the show was kicking around in artistic director Dave Steakley’s brain for years before making it to the Topfer stage.

“This has been percolating for me for about fifteen years,” Steakley says. “[And] this version of A Christmas Carol has evolved every year.”

Annie Winsett

Eighteen years ago, the folks at Blue Genie decided to throw together a small art show, to sell off the employees’ art to holiday shoppers.

Dana Younger, one of Blue Genie’s founders, says they didn’t really expect to keep putting on that holiday show every year for the next couple of decades, but that’s what happened.

From We Are Blood, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

We Are Blood is the nonprofit blood center serving Central Texans since 1951, when they were founded as the “Travis County Medical Society Blood Bank.” Sixty-eight years later, We Are Blood continues to collect blood donations at three donation centers and numerous mobile blood drives across 10 counties in Central Texas, providing a life-saving resource for our neighbors in need. 

Colton Matocha

Robert Segovia, the writer and director of the new comedic two-act play Losers in Space suggests that the play might not exist if he hadn’t lost his job a while back. “I started writing it three or four years ago, and… didn’t think I was a good enough writer,” he says “And I got laid off, which is sad, but it did give me time of like, oh, it’s kind of now or never to write this thing.”

Alan Trammel

Mark Pickell, the artistic director of Capital T Theatre company, has long been a fan of Chicago-based playwright Mickle Maher, so he was eager to produce Maher’s new work here in Austin.

“He wrote this new one – it just premiered in Chicago this summer – and he sent it [to me], and it was brilliant,” Pickell says.

Julia Mann

When Wizard World returns to the Austin Convention Center next weekend, there will be celebrity guests and panel discussions and lots of cosplay and lots of very nerdy stuff to buy or just gawk at. There will also be local art. 

Every year, the Artists’ Alley section of the convention features artists showing, selling and talking about their work. This year, Austin’s Theresa Schlossberg and Julia Mann will be two of the participating artists.

From HomeAid Austin, this month's Get Involved spotlight organization:

HomeAid's mission is: "Building new lives for Austin’s homeless through housing and community outreach."

Ryah Christensen

The Rosewood-Zaragosa Neighborhood Center is one of six Austin Public Health facilities that offer social and health services to Austin residents. It’s also now the home of “The Community Quilt,” a large-scale mosaic artwork that was created by the members of the community themselves.

Jessica Arroyo

“I’ve been thinking about doing this for about six years,” says tango lover and Guardia Vieja founder Pooja Kumar. “I had already kind of started to meet different people who were looking at tango as not just a dance – they had other aspects of it that they were really interested in. I’ve just kind of been thinking about how I can bring them all together.”

According to Penfold Theatre’s producing artistic director Ryan Crowder, the musical Ghost Quartet “started out as a kind of concept album of spooky things. There are tons of stories inspired by various sources, [such as] 1001 Arabian Nights and Fall of the House of Usher, and the Grimm’s Fairy Tales – all of these different ghost stories are packed into it.” 

Steve Rogers

The new show Angola uses the improv comedy format to take a look at an unexpected subject matter – mass incarceration in America. It’s a heavy topic to discuss with comedy, and Angola aims to eschew easy laughs to take a grounded but satirical approach.  

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